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8 Unmade Batman Movies & Why They Never Happened

Bill Murray as the Dark Knight? Nicolas Cage as Scarecrow? The possibilities were once endless.

8 Unmade Batman Movies & Why They Never Happened
DC Comics

The story of Batman in the movies is a long one. It may be hard to imagine, but there was a time when no one wanted to make a Batman film. Now we get one almost every year. Harder to imagine is the fact there are almost more unmade Batman projects than made ones. Since the '70s, writers have tried selling Hollywood on different versions of the Dark Knight and, for a number of reasons, only some ever saw the light of day. This is a breakdown of what could've been. 

1. Return of the Batman (1979)

Producers Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker purchased the film rights to Batman from DC Comics in 1979 with the intent of making a dark version of the character similar to Bob Kane and Bill Finger's original creation. But Uslan and Melniker found it hard to sell the idea. Studios wanted a campy version like the old Adam West television show. Dejected, Uslan wrote a script himself and called it Return of the Batman. Producer Jon Peters and Casablanca FilmWorks, headed by Peter Guber, joined the project but Casablanca was absorbed by PolyGram soon after. Uslan and Peters left the company and headed for Warner Brothers where a Batman project would get underway, but it wouldn't be Return of the Batman.

8 Unmade Batman Movies & Why They Never Happened
DC Comics

2. The Batman (1983)

With the Batman rights now at Warner Brothers, the studio moved ahead with a script from Tom Mankiewicz (Superman) titled The Batman. The plot was inspired by Batman: Strange Apparitions and featured the origin stories of Batman and Robin as well as Silver St. Cloud as the love interest and the Penguin and Rupert Thorne as villains. Ivan Reitman was tabbed to direct and he had plans to cast Bill Murray as Bruce Wayne/Batman, David Bowie as the Joker, and Eddie Murphy or Michael J. Fox as Robin. The project never got underway and, by 1986, Tim Burton was attached to direct and Batman (1989) was on the way. 

8 Unmade Batman Movies & Why They Never Happened
DC Comics

3. Batman Forever (1995)

Yeah, this movie was eventually made, but not with Tim Burton and Michael Keaton as originally planned. Warner Brothers was dismayed with the underachieving (especially merchandise-wise) sequel to 1989's Batman, Batman Returns, and replaced Burton with Joel Schumacher. Keaton was offered $15 million to come back but he rejected the offer. Had Burton stayed, Keaton would have also. In addition, Burton envisioned a cast of Robin Williams as The Riddler, Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent (reprising his role in Batman), Rene Russo as Chase Meridian, and Marlon Wayans as Robin. There were also rumors Burton was toying with the idea of casting Winona Ryder as Robin. Instead Schumacher took over and Val Kilmer replaced Keaton as Bruce Wayne.

4. Batman Unchained (1997)

After the box office successes of Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever and, impressed by the dailies on Batman and Robin, Warner Brothers was onboard to make a fifth movie. Schumacher hired Mark Protosevich to write the script, titled Batman Unchained, and the story sounded like a hit. Scarecrow was the villain, Joker would've appeared in hallucinatory sequences, and Harley Quinn would've had a role as Joker's daughter out to avenge her father's death (which happens in 1989's Batman).

Also, the good guys of of Batman and Robin would've reprised their roles. George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell and Alicia Silverstone were all tabbed to return and Schumacher wanted Nicolas Cage to play Scarecrow. The project was scrapped when Batman and Robin was released to hugely negative reviews and a low-end return at the box office.

8 Unmade Batman Movies & Why They Never Happened
Warner Brothers

5. Batman: DarKnight (1998)

Comic fan and writer Lee Shapiro pitched Warner Brothers with a new script called Batman: DarKnight in the Summer of 1998. The story would've focused on an older Bruce Wayne forced out of retirement when Scarecrow inadvertently creates Man-Bat and he runs amuck in Gotham. Warner decided to pass on the script in favor of Batman: Year One and Batman Beyond.

6. Batman Beyond (2000)

By 2000, Warner Brothers had two scripts in development centered around the Caped Crusader. Batman Beyond would be a live action adaptation of the animated series of the same name. Sci-fi novelist and cult hero Neal Stephenson was tabbed to pen the script along with Paul Dini and Boaz Yakin with Yakin directing. However, the writers soon lost interest and Warner abandoned the project in favor of...

7. Batman: Year One (2000)

Batman: Year One would've been an adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name with Darren Aronofsky co-writing (with Miller) the script and directing. The plan was to reboot the character and Christian Bale was approached to star. But, by 2002, Warner Brothers abandoned this project too. 

8 Unmade Batman Movies & Why They Never Happened
DC Comics

8. Batman vs. Superman (2004)

In 2001, Andrew Kevin Walker pitched Warner Brothers a script called Batman vs Superman and the studio liked it so much, they attached Wolfgang Petersen to direct and asked Akiva Goldsman to rewrite Walker's script. The story saw Bruce Wayne suffering from a mental breakdown after five years of retirement. Robin, Alfred, and Jim Gordon are all dead, but Wayne has support in the form of fiancée Elizabeth Miller.

In Metropolis, Clark Kent has his own problems after his divorce from Lois Lane, but he gets it together enough to stand as best man at his buddy Bruce's wedding. But somehow, the Joker kills Elizabeth on the honeymoon and Bruce blames Clark for holding him back at the time. Lex Luthor also figures into the plot as Batman and Superman go at it. Bale was offered the role in this film as well while Josh Hartnett was offered Kent/Superman. Filming was set to begin in 2003 but Warner cancelled development to pursue separate Batman and Superman projects. The Superman movie never got off the ground, but Batman Begins would move forward in 2005 with Christopher Nolan at the helm.

Fun fact: Akiva Goldsman inserted a defunct Batman vs. Superman billboard in I Am Legend, which he also wrote around the same time. It was intended as an inside joke.