Back during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Batman movie franchise was going strong, with Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), and Batman Forever (1995) putting the Caped Crusader on the big screen in big budget feature-length adventures. Then came the fourth entry in the Batman Anthology, Batman & Robin – the final chapter in the run of Bat-flicks.
But was Batman & Robin always intended to be the final entry or was a fifth Batman film supposed to happen? In this post I will explain the reasons why Batman & Robin ended the series and what happened with Batman 5.
Change in tone
To understand why Batman & Robin was the final film in the Batman Anthology it is important to understand where the Batman movies started. Back in 1989, when Tim Burton’s Batman opened in movie theatres it was somewhat of a revelation for fans.
The movie was dark, gothic, edgy – it was completely different to the light, campy adventures that the Caped Crusader had previously been involved with during the ‘60s Batman TV show and spin-off film, Batman: The Movie (1966). Audiences liked this darker Dark Knight.
As the series progressed into Batman Returns, the tone was adjusted ever so slightly to make an even creepier, more macabre version of Batman. However, while fans may love the movie now, the audiences of 1992 were not quite on board and it was not as successful as Batman ’89.
Batman Returns was seen as being too dark and some parents in particular were not keen on their children watching such a grim version of Batman. As such, when a third film went into development, the mandate from Warner Bros. Pictures – the studio behind the Batman movies – was to lighten things up a bit and make the Dark Knight a bit less dark.
Batman Forever was seen as the answer to the perceived problems with Batman Returns and audiences in 1995 agreed. The movie was commercially more successful than its predecessor and it appeared that a lighter approach was favoured.
Going into the fourth entry the objective was to turn up the brightness even further. A brighter Dark Knight would mean more families could become invested in the film and in turn, more merchandise (including toys) could be produced and sold.
And therein lies the first problem with Batman & Robin – the tone. While it seemed to make commercial sense to go lighter for the fourth movie, for audiences it seemed a rather bizarre choice.
The lightness on display in Batman & Robin – which was akin to the tone of the ‘60s Batman show – was the complete opposite of what had been on display in Batman ’89 and Batman Returns. So much so, that many fans felt the film was in no way a continuation of what had come before – it was simply too different.
This change of tone was meant to encourage audiences to enjoy spending time with the Caped Crusader. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect.
When Batman & Robin opened in cinemas, critics did not like the movie. Reviews were bad – very bad – and as a result the film debuted to a great deal of negativity which it never recovered from.
The tone was criticised, as was the over reliance on special effects and one-liners. The film’s $125 million budget was clear for all to see on the big screen, but that didn’t make up for a shortfall in other areas of the movie, including characterisation.
In his review of the film, prominent film critic Roger Ebert awarded the movie two stars and said: “My delight began to fade at about the 30-minute mark, when it became clear that this new movie, like its predecessors, was not *really* going to explore the bizarre world of its heroes, but would settle down safely into a special effects extravaganza.”
Ebert’s review was typical of other write-ups in 1997 and it was difficult to find many critics who had a good word to say about the movie. In a world where reviews can make or break a film, Batman & Robin had a difficult battle.
But it wasn’t just the reviews – audiences were simply not on board. That’s not to say the film wasn’t a commercial success, it made money, but it wasn’t the sizeable hit that Warner Bros. Pictures had hoped for.
No desire to continue
So, did a fall in profits put Warner Bros. Pictures off making a fifth entry in the series? According to Batman & Robin director, Joel Schumacher, no – the studio had plans to continue with another movie.
In the documentary, Shadows of the Bat – The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight, Schumacher said: “The studio wanted me to do a fifth Batman, which would have been my third, which would have featured the Scarecrow and I just couldn’t do it. I just… it wasn’t really in me anymore. It has to be a true passion – it can’t be a job, and it can’t be because people expect you to do it.”
Had Schumacher agreed to direct another Batman movie, a fifth entry in the Batman Anthology would have gone ahead. But because he declined the studio took a step back to reassess the direction of the Batman movies.
With Schumacher out, the studio spent a long time trying to work out its next move. As a result, various potential Batman movie projects were thrown into the mix, from a Batman vs. Superman movie (not the one that arrived in 2016) to a Batman Beyond film.
I’ve previously written a post about six unproduced Batman movies that were in the works post-Batman & Robin, so if you would like to read more details about these projects, click the link. Suffice to say, none of those projects ever got off the ground.
What was clear during this period of time was that Warner Bros. had no desire to continue down the route of lighter Batman tales. Batman & Robin simply hadn’t worked in the way the studio had hoped and it was something which needed to be addressed.
To take the Batman movie series forward, a new direction was needed. This didn’t have to be a continuation, it simply needed to be a film that could convince audiences to return to theatres.
Ultimately, the decision was made to reboot the franchise – to take the Batman movies back to the beginning. Not just reset the series, but to also reset Batman, with a new face, new gadgets, and a new sense of purpose.
The project was not conceived as a fifth Batman movie, but rather the beginning of something new. The film was Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins – the title being a reference to the subject of the film, as well as the studio’s desire to restart the series.
As time has proved, Batman Begins was a hit and paved the way for The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and every other Batman film that has followed. But had it failed then maybe audiences would have seen a sequel to Batman & Robin.
It might seem unlikely to say, but it could have happened – let’s not forget, in 2004, just a year before Batman Begins made its debut, Catwoman hit cinema screens. Not only was the film closer in tone to Batman & Robin than it was Batman Begins, it also included a nod to Michelle Pffeifer’s Catwoman from the Batman Anthology, suggesting the studio was still keeping its options open.
But that was then. Batman 5 never came to pass and will never come to pass. And now you know.