1. Don't Assume People Will See the Movie Based on the Name
In 1995, Batman Forever opened and was a huge success, making $52.78
million in its opening weekend and $336.53 million overall. After
this, Warner Bros. commissioned a sequel with a release date of 24
months to open in June 1997. The average film takes about 18 months
from script to screen, and Schumacher praised this decision as a way
of keeping the film under budget and on track.
No other franchise besides James Bond had this much of a high
expectation to it. High hopes lead to high disappointment.
2. Don't Use A Movie To Sell Toys
The studio brought in toy companies, like Kenner, to be involved with
pre-production, including the design of concept art and character
illustrations. This led to some of the more bizarre choices of costume
and vehicle design. What are the odds that Batman would design a full
arsenal of costumes and weapons for himself, and Robin, in case he
ever fought a villain that could spontaneously generate ice and snow?
It makes perfect sense to a toy company since the more types of Batman
toys they sell, the more money they make.
But, giving free reign to a toy company to design a film was a
disaster. The film companies never did that again even when they made
the G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra movie years later.
The decision to turn the franchise into a 110 minute commercial for
toys appears to have come from the top down. It could have worked with
other superheroes like Green Arrow or Wonder Woman, but Batman's whole
motivation is that he has a tortured soul. Without that, the character
just looks like what he is: a weirdo in a mask.
As the script was being written, Joel Schumacher had the goal of
lightening up the character which led to the casting...
3. Don't Do Stunt-Casting
The casting of the new film began in earnest. It wasn't based on
Apparently, during the filming of Batman Forever, the temperamental
Val Kilmer, who played Batman / Bruce Wayne, clashed with the
According to Val Kilmer, he wasn't available for the sequel because of
a scheduling conflict with The Saint. According to Joel Schumacher he
was "childish and impossible" and they "kind of fired him." Either
way, after drawing a cowl on a poster on George Clooney from Dusk Till
Dawn he felt he had his new Batman.
Clooney was at the height of his career at this point, starring in the
hit television show E.R. and was named People magazine's "Sexiest Man
Alive." Schumacher wanted an actor that could play up the comedic
elements of the script and Clooney is the best in the business at
The role of Batman takes more than comedic timing though. The actor
wears a 30 pound rubber suit that covers his entire body and face
while trying to do a voice that his close friends wouldn't recognize.
Adam West, Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer recognized that and chose to
play the comedy with a deadpan. That's why the famous "chicks dig the
car" line worked in Batman Forever and fell flat in Batman and Robin.
Chris O'Donnell reprised his role as Robin / Richard "Dick" Grayson.
Uma Thurman (Dr. Pamela Isley / Poison Ivy) stepped into the role as
Joel's first choice. She looked forward to the Mae West quality the
Several prominent actors, like Patrick Stewart and Anthony Hopkins,
were considered for the role of Mr. Freeze / Dr. Victor Fries. Joel
wanted an actor that looked like he was "chiseled out of a glacier" so
he went with a former bodybuilder. This is odd considering he wore a
full battle suit through most of the movie. So, the role of the main
villain went to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had previously sworn off
playing villains after The Terminator.
This was a good and bad choice, because Arnold is famous for being
menacing and infamous for his comedic talents.
The oddest piece of casting was the role of Bane / Antonio Diego by
WWE wrestler Robert "Jeep" Swenson. In the comics, Bane is an equal to
Batman in intellect, but superior in physical strength. In the movie,
Bane just follows Poison Ivy around grunting and lifting 500lb Bat-
signals. His strength came from a steroid called Venom which, like
Mark McGuire, required constant injection or he deflated into a 90lb
The casting was ridiculous, but was designed to bring maximum name
value to the film. Stunt-casting in films was common at the time
though. How else would you explain casting basketball star Shaquille
O'Neil as a superhero?
They learned their lessons though. Batman Begins cast a virtual
unknown, Christian Bale, as Bruce Wayne\Batman and most superhero
films now cast actors based on acting skill instead of name value.
4. Make Sure the Costumes Are Good
While the costumes in Batman Forever were horrid, with erect nipples
and comically over-sized codpieces, the designers decided to up the
ante for the sequel in several ways. The Batman and Robin suits now
boasted ginormous 3D logos and slightly lighter colors.
Designing the new Batgirl costume, they decided to bolt two round
globes on the chest that some might mistake for breasts if not for the
inhuman positioning of the pointed nipples. Alicia Silverstone was
ridiculed for being fat. Frankly, only a teenage boy could have
squeezed into this monstrosity and not looked absurd.
The scariest thing about the risqué costume is that old Uncle Alfred
designed it for her, making you wonder what he thought when he looked
at his nubile young niece.
Poison Ivy could have been very sexy and vampish, but instead they put
her in bizarre hair and make-up that covered up anything that could
have been attractive about her.
Bane looked ridiculous in a leather dog collar and mask with green
veins painted on his pasty skin.
The costume designers felt completely free to design whatever they
wanted regardless of how faithful it was to the comics.
Later superhero films like Spider-Man went to great pains to replicate
the costume from the comics and the costumes looked great. In fact,
usually a press release of the costume is the main way superhero
movies generate buzz for the film.
Now, the studios recognize how important it is.
5. Don't Treat It Like A Cartoon
During filming, the actors began to feel something was wrong.
Chris O'Donnell said "I felt like I was making a kid's toy
commercial." Reportedly, Joel Schumacher would sit on a crane with a
megaphone and yell before each take, "Remember everyone, this is a
cartoon." John Glover, who played Pamela Isley's attempted killer, Dr.
Jason Woodrue, said, "It was hard to act because that kind of set the
tone for the film."
Well, the writer Akiva Goldsmith said it best, "What got lost in
Batman & Robin is the emotions aren't real. The worst thing to do with
a serious comic book is to make it a cartoon."
Films at the time, like The Shadow were played for campy fun.
Television directors like Kenneth Johnson were given superhero films
like Steel and expected to crank out a high quality film.
After the debacle of Batman & Robin later films brought in directors
that wanted to take the film seriously. Directors like Chistopher
Nolan, Kenneth Branagh and Sam Raimi all wanted to the film to be as
realistic as possible and focus on the inherent drama of a hero.
6. Don't Start Working On the Sequel Before the Movie Comes Out
Two weeks after wrapping up filming Batman and Robin, Warner Bros.
Chairmen Robert A. Daly and Terry Semel saw the dailies and excitedly
commissioned a fifth sequel to be titled Batman Triumphant with
rumored villains Egghead, Mad Hatter, King Tut and\or Scarecrow. You
know. All the big villains of the comics.
This time, while Schumacher agreed to return as director, Mark
Protosevich took over writing the script.
Schumacher was so confident of his success that, when asked about his
rumored 10 million paycheck, he said, "I'm overpaid, overstimulated,
over hyped and overage, but I have the distinction of being the only
person in our business who'll admit it."
This is a mistake movie companies still make, but like with Raimi's
Spider-Man 4 they're willing to pull the plug on a sequel if it looks
like it's going to fall flat.
The Final Result
The film suffered massive criticism and left a trail of failure in
it's wake. Arnold Schwarzenegger suffered a massive drop in popularity
after this film, not having another success until 2000 with The 6th
George Clooney jokingly apologized for ruining the franchise, but went
on to quirky roles that revitalized his career. Chris O'Donnell and
Alicia Silverstone, while poised to be the new heartthrobs, haven't
had a major role since.
What everyone in charge failed to realize is that no film can coast on
the strength of popularity. Without a good script, believable acting,
competent direction and decent production values no one is going to
enjoy a film. Batman Forever had none of this, but it was entertaining
enough that the audiences couldn't forgive it a second time.
Thankfully, the huge bomb of Batman and Robin with its bad casting,
bad costumes, cartoony direction and the mentality of just cranking
out one bad film after another died a slow death and led the way to
the great superhero films like The Dark Knight, X-Men and Iron Man.
Thank you Joel Schumacher.