[Editors Note: Some readers noted a few inaccuracies in the comments section below. I apologize. Some points are based on rumors that have been difficult to verify.]
Like any beloved comic book property, Batman has been crow-barred open and interpreted by a large number of writers, artists, actors and filmmakers; from the firm camp of Adam West’s TV series, to the German Expressionist undertones of Tim Burton’s Batman films, and the gritty realism of both Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and the Christopher Nolan movies it inspired, Batman means many things to many people, and that is the beauty of the character.
Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s seminal creation has taken on many forms over the years, a testament to the versatility and enduring legacy of the character. Whatever the tone or style might be, what remains consistent is that Batman is always going to be about a powerful vigilante attempting to restore hope to a downtrodden city awash in violent crime and totally bereft of said hope.
Comic book movies are notoriously difficult projects to get moving, and that’s why there are so many fallen Batman projects littering the cinematic landscape; even looking at just the last decade-and-a-half reveals 8 Batman films that almost were. Here are the 10 most intriguing, weird, awful and genuinely exciting Batman projects that almost happened…
10. The Batman (1985)
Before Tim Burton got his Gothic mits on the Batman property, producer Michael Uslan had hired James Bond and Superman writer Tom Mankiewicz to write a Batman screenplay, which materialised as “The Batman” in 1983. Mankiewicz’s brief was simple; create an origin story for Batman just as he had for Superman, but include some thrilling, James Bond-esque action sequences that would suit the more realistic Batman character.
Mankiewicz adapted villain Rupert Thorn and romantic interest Silver St. Cloud from Steve Englehart’s Batman: Strange Apparitions comic, while introducing The Joker – who would replace the less-commercial Hugo Strange – in a scheme to reveal Batman’s identity.
Ivan Reitman was drafted in to direct, fresh off his Ghostbusters success, and wanted to cast Bill Murray in the role, which to a modern audience seems totally at odds with the serious tone Mankiewicz intended – which was to follow Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns – yet perhaps such a move would changed Murray’s career trajectory outright?
Reitman would have also cast David Niven as Alfred, William Holden as Jim Gordon, and David Bowie as The Joker. Given that the film was also set to include Robin, several names were bandied about, most ludicrously Eddie Murphy, and perhaps most interestingly, Michael J. Fox, who just might have had the boyish charm to pull it off.
So, what happened? Holden and Niven died, and the script went through 9 re-writes in just a few short years, causing Gremlins director Joe Dante to eventually replace a departing Reitman, though nothing ever came of it in the end.