In 2019, Joaquin Phoenix wowed critics and audiences alike when he took on the role of Arthur Fleck for Todd Phillips’ Joker. Not only did Phoenix nail the part, he also picked up an Academy Award for Best Actor.
But did you know that long before Phoenix put on the make-up to play the Joker, the actor almost played Batman! Yep, it’s true – way back at the beginning of the ’00s Joaquin Phoenix was in the frame to play the Dark Knight.
The project was Darren Aronofsky’s unproduced Batman: Year One. The film was one of multiple Batman movies that Warner Bros. Pictures had in development at the end of the 1990s/beginning of the 2000s (Batman: DarKnight, Batman: Unchained etc), but it never came to pass.
Ultimately, the studio decided to push ahead with 2005’s Batman Begins – the Christopher Nolan-helmed movie that kick-started a very successful trilogy. Batman Begins borrowed elements from Year One, but then moved in a different direction.
But had Aronofsky’s movie made it into production, the director wanted Joaquin Phoenix to play the Caped Crusader. However, it would appear some studio push-back may have scuppered that plan.
Speaking to Empire about the long-abandoned project, Aronofsky said: “The studio wanted Freddie Prinze Jr and I wanted Joaquin Phoenix.”
He added: “I remember thinking, ‘Uh oh, we’re making two different films here.’ That’s a true story. It was a different time. The Batman I wrote was definitely a different type of take than they ended up making.”
Aronofsky’s Batman: Year One would have taken inspiration from films such as Taxi Driver (1976), The French Connection (1971) and Death Wish (1974). The film would have reinvented the Batman movie series – following the critical and commercial failings of Batman & Robin (1997) – and would not have pulled any punches.