20 Things You Might Not Have Realised About The 1997 Film Batman & Robin
1997’s Batman & Robin was the fourth film in the Warner Bros big-screen franchise based on the classic DC superhero. After the success of Batman, Batman Returns and Batman Forever, hopes were high that the next adventure of the Caped Crusader would go down as well with critics and audiences – but that wasn’t how things turned out.
Disregarding the gloomy, Gothic mood of previous films, Batman & Robin went back to the camp and colourful approach of the Adam West 1960s TV series, and this approach didn’t exactly pay off. On release, it was widely blasted as one of the absolute worst Hollywood blockbusters ever made, and the film’s reputation hasn’t improved with time.
Below are some things that you might not know about Batman & Robin.
20. Chris O’Donnell compared it to making a children’s toy commercial
Landing the role of Dick Grayson/Robin in 1995’s Batman Forever had been a major career move for Chris O’Donnell.
His second film in the role should have been an even bigger deal, with his character’s name featuring in the title.
However, the actor has said since that he had grave concerns about the film, even whilst it was being shot.
Speaking in the documentary Shadows of the Bat, O’Donnell remarked that “everything got a little soft the second time.”
“On Batman Forever, I felt like I was making a movie. The second time, I felt like I was making a kid’s toy commercial.”
Director Joel Schumacher would later acknowledge this, saying that the studio’s strategy for the film was too “toyetic” (i.e. too focused on creating tie-in toys and merchandising).
19. William Baldwin and David Duchovny were considered for Batman
However, when director Tim Burton departed the franchise under studio pressure to go more family-friendly, Keaton soon followed suit.
This led to a change of the guard on 1995’s Batman Forever, which saw Val Kilmer take over as the Dark Knight with Joel Schumacher calling the shots.
However, the Schumacher-Kilmer marriage was not a happy one, and Kilmer wound up pulling out of the Batman Forever follow-up to make The Saint (although accounts vary as to whether Kilmer quit, or was fired).
As his replacement, Schumacher was initially keen to cast William Baldwin as Batman/Bruce Wayne, having worked with the actor on Flatliners. Another actor considered was David Duchovny, then at the height of his fame on TV’s The X-Files.
18. It could have seen Anthony Hopkins play Mr Freeze alongside Julia Roberts as Poison Ivy
The Caped Crusader himself wasn’t the only role up for grabs when Batman & Robin got off the ground.
The film’s eclectic list of supervillains could have featured a number of different famous faces had the film’s casting process had gone just a little bit differently.
Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris were said to have been considered for the role of Dr Victor Fries (better known as Mr Freeze). It was also rumoured Patrick Stewart was in the frame, although Joel Schumacher later refuted this.
Of course, the role of Mr Freeze ultimately went to Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose casting prompted significant rewrites to the script.
Meanwhile Julia Roberts, Sharon Stone and Demi Moore were all on the wish list for Poison Ivy before the part went to Uma Thurman, who won the role thanks to her comedic ability as well as her beauty.
However, the filmmakers only ever had one choice for the other new key role of Batgirl, and that was Alicia Silverstone. (We’d say “good for her,” but the role didn’t really do her any favours in the long run.)
17. Arnold Schwarzenegger insisted on receiving top billing despite Mr Freeze’s limited screen time
While his star had fallen a little by 1997 (thanks in no small part to the infamous Last Action Hero), the bodybuilder-turned-action star still pulled a lot of weight in Hollywood.
Schwarzenegger took full advantage of his star power on Batman & Robin, demanding a $25 million salary and top billing.
This wasn’t without precedent, as Jack Nicholson was billed above Michael Keaton for playing The Joker in Batman, and also earned far more money than Keaton.
Even so, it’s a bit of an eye-popping sum when you consider that Schwarzenegger’s Mr Freeze is only on screen for about 30 minutes of Batman & Robin.
Nor was that the biggest payday Schwarzenegger ever got for a single movie, as six years later he received a then-unprecedented $30 million upfront for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
16. The toy-makers got the designs before the props and costume departments
It was not unreasonable for Chris O’Donnell to feel like he was shooting a toy commercial whilst working on Batman & Robin.
By the admission of the filmmakers, the toy companies were intimately involved in the production from the very beginning.
The company handling Batman & Robin’s toys were Kenner, who knew a thing or two about movie merchandising after making a fortune on the Star Wars line.
Producer Peter MacGregor-Scott recalls, “we involved the toy company [early on]. We let them be involved in how the Batmobile was going to look, how Batman’s gadgets were going to be.”
Because of this, the designs for the sets, costumes, vehicles and gizmos were frequently in the hands of the toy company before they made it to the relevant departments on the film itself.
Joel Schumacher recalled new designs being “[ripped] out of your hands… to make moulds for the toys, so that toys will be out when the movie’s coming out.”
15. George Clooney’s scenes had to be scheduled around his commitment to ER
George Clooney had been a jobbing actor for well over a decade, but had only recently found fame as Dr Doug Ross on TV’s ER when he was offered the role of Batman.
The actor admits he wondered, “do I want to be the third Batman in the fourth Batman picture?”, fearing that “the only thing [he could] do is screw it up.”
Nonetheless, Clooney (whose biggest film roles at the time had been 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn and One Fine Day) recognised it was too great an opportunity to pass up.
Even so, the actor was still appearing on ER at the time, so his scenes on Batman & Robin had to be scheduled around this commitment.
Clooney worked Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays on ER, and would be on the Batman & Robin set the rest of the week.
Producer Peter MacGregor-Scott praises the actor’s work ethic: “the guy is amazing, he worked seven days a week for months.”
14. Director Joel Schumacher told the cast and crew he was trying to make “a cartoon”
It was already well established that when Schumacher came abord the film franchise with Batman Forever, he did so knowing full well what studio Warner Bros wanted.
After complaints that Tim Burton’s Batman movies had been too dark and weird, Batman Forever was deliberately made far more colourful and upbeat.
Batman & Robin takes this bright and cheerful approach to an extreme – and this was not in any way an accident.
Actor John Glover recalls, “Joel would sit on a crane with a megaphone and yell before each take, ‘Remember, everyone, this is a cartoon.'”
The actor recalls this “kind of set the tone for the film;” indeed, the performances are larger-than-life across the board.
The irony is, Batman: The Animated Series was in production at the time, presenting a take on the universe that fans and critics agree was far more grounded and serious than Schumacher’s films.
13. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chris O’Donnell never filmed a scene together
Generally speaking, one would expect the top-billed actors in a major movie like Batman & Robin to share a lot of screen time.
Viewers would be forgiven for assuming this had been the case for Robin actor Chris O’Donnell and Mr Freeze actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
After all, the heroic Boy Wonder and the cold-blooded villain do appear in a number of scenes together.
However, it seems this was all done by the wonder of editing, as O’Donnell says he only ever shot scenes opposite Schwarzenegger’s stand-in.
O’Donnell recalls, “I was in a lot of scenes with Mr Freeze, but I didn’t work a single day with Arnold, not a single day.”
Even so, the actor confirms, “I was on the set with him a lot… to hang out and talk to, and [later] I did a lot of publicity with him.”
12. Alicia Silverstone was body-shamed by the crew
It came to light many years later that Alicia Silverstone was bullied on the Batman & Robin set over her weight.
The Clueless actress, who was only 20 when the film went into production, had already received some flack in the tabloids regarding her physique.
Silverstone then became the subject of cruel mockery on the Batman & Robin set when rumours spread that she didn’t fit into her Batgirl costume.
A storyboard artist on the movie drew a caricature sketch of a fake movie poster entitled Clueless 2: The Casting of Batgirl.
The drawing showed the heroine struggling to get into a corset. Copies of this were later circulated around the crew.
Reflecting on the experience later, Silverstone says, “It was hurtful but I knew they were wrong… I knew that it was not right to make fun of someone’s body shape.”
11. Uma Thurman blames the backlash on homophobia
The late 90s weren’t necessarily the best time for Uma Thurman professionally, as she starred in two of the most reviled flops of the era.
The first of these was, of course, Batman & Robin, in which she plays the villainous Poison Ivy; the other was 1998’s The Avengers, an update of the 60s TV series in which she plays Emma Peel.
However, unlike most of her co-stars, Thurman has reflected on Batman & Robin as an enjoyable experience, and has argued that much of the vitriol it attracted was rooted in homophobia.
Thurman said in 2014, “the idea of taking a male superhero and having fun with it and someone using the c-word [campy] on it caused people to be very nasty.”
“I think that’s the reason some people were particularly annoyed. They didn’t like seeing that tone applied to their heterosexual male icon.”
Thurman goes on to argue that director Joel Schumacher, who was openly gay, was “threatening” to the mainstream in the late 90s, due to “deep-seated discrimination… hatred and fear” that is more challenged by our culture today.
10. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s costume left battery acid in his mouth
If you thought the worst thing to fill Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mouth in Batman & Robin was screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s dialogue, you’d be wrong, believe it or not.
To become the blue-skinned, freezer-suited supervillain, Schwarzenegger had to undergo six hours of make-up for every day of shooting (including a bald cap, as the actor refused to shave his head).
For a special added touch, the actor was fitted with a blue LED light inside in his mouth – but this proved hazardous.
Make-up artist Jeff Dawn recalls, “When you put it in Arnold’s mouth, Arnold’s saliva would creep into the seams… The batteries would immediately start disintegrating and start putting out battery acid into Arnold’s mouth.”
Unsurprisingly, Schwarzenegger wasn’t too happy about getting a mouthful of this hazardous substance, reportedly shouting, “It tastes like s**t! What’s in my mouth?”
For safety’s sake, a special balloon was packed around the device – but it still proved costly and time-consuming, as the batteries would only last 20 minutes at a time, hence the blue mouth light is only visible in a few shots of the final film.
9. Joel Schumacher didn’t realise putting nipples on the Bat-suits would upset people
Whenever haters of Batman & Robin want a convenient pinpoint for where things went wrong, the first charge usually brought up is ‘nipples on the Bat-suit.’
True enough, the suits worn by our heroes in the film are a tad bit more anatomically correct than in previous films, and this did not go unnoticed.
Joel Schumacher admitted afterwards that he hadn’t anticipated this aesthetic choice being the cause of such consternation.
The director explained the suits were inspired by “Greek statues that have perfect bodies… and they’re anatomically erotic.”
“It never occurred to me not to put nipples on the men’s suits, because I didn’t know that the male nipple was a controversial body part.”
However, Schumacher says they were a little more concerned about this when it came to Batgirl: “we would have seemed sexist to leave her out, so hers are a little subtler.”
8. 500 cameras were confiscated from extras on the set
As is usually the case on major big-budget blockbusters, studio Warner Bros were very concerned about secrecy on the set of Batman & Robin.
The success of the franchise and the popularity of its central cast meant that wherever they were shooting, the paparazzi were never far behind.
There were also concerns that the extras hired for the film’s many large-scale crowd scenes might leak information or illicitly-acquired images to the press, or online.
For this reason, all newcomers to the set were forced to walk through a metal detector, just in case they had concealed cameras or recording equipment.
These concerns proved well-founded, as the crew reportedly seized in the vicinity of 500 cameras from 200 extras.
Chris O’Donnell recalls crew members carrying boards to conceal himself and his co-stars on their walk from their trailers to the sets, in order to keep their costumes hidden.
7. George Clooney admits he peed himself whilst stuck in the Bat-suit
Actors taking on superhero roles have to be prepared to spend a great deal of time in their elaborate costumes.
Batman might be a dream role for many, but George Clooney has described wearing the suit as a nightmarish experience.
The actor recounts lumbering around in “40 pounds of rubber,” in which simply walking was a struggle, never mind fighting.
Considering how cumbersome the suit was, and how much time it took to get in and out of it, Clooney resorted to desperate measures at times.
The actor has admitted that, on more than one occasion, he choose to wet himself rather than have to get in and out of the suit for bathroom breaks.
Of course, Clooney is by no means alone in his problem; battling the call of nature seems to be a rite of passage for all superhero actors.
6. Bane actor Robert Swenson died two months after the film was released
Batman & Robin features the first live-action take on the villain Bane, since made more famous by Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises.
Bane’s representation was yet another thing that die-hard Bat-fans were unhappy about in the film, as the character – an intelligent and formidable adversary in the comics – was reduced to a brainless henchman.
For the role, Joel Schumacher cast Robert ‘Jeep’ Swenson, a 6’4″ wrestler who weighed in at 405 pounds.
A veteran of World Championship Wrestling, it was claimed that Swenson had the biggest biceps in the world at the time.
Tragically, Swenson died of heart failure in August 1997 aged 40, barely two months after Batman & Robin hit screens.
At Swenson’s funeral, eulogies were read by his WCW colleague Hulk Hogan and actor James Caan, who co-starred with Swenson in 1996 film Bulletproof.
5. Its commercial failure was blamed on internet fan site reviews
Batman & Robin hit screens at a time when the world at large did not fully appreciate the power of the internet.
There were many in the Batman & Robin camp who felt that the internet was to blame for the film’s box office failure.
Fan-written reviews from early screenings were published on such movie fan sites as Ain’t It Cool News and Dark Horizons, and none of them had anything nice to say.
This reaction amongst the core Batman fanbase meant there was a swell of negative buzz surrounding the film before it even hit screens.
As these were for the most part amateur reviews which did not come from officially sanctioned press screenings, many in the film industry were angered, with no idea how to deal with this response.
Ultimately, there was little they could do. Although Batman & Robin made a respectable $42.8 million on its opening weekend, negative word of mouth led to a 63% drop-off in its second week.
4. Its failure forced the cancellation of a sequel called Batman Unchained
Whilst many involved in the movie may have had their doubts about Batman & Robin’s quality, no one expected it to essentially kill the Batman franchise.
However, this was exactly what the movie wound up doing, once it was met with utterly scathing reviews and poor audience reaction.
It wound up being the lowest-grossing live-action Batman film to date, making $238 million from a budget of $160 million, and this failure meant that plans for a fifth Batman movie went down in flames almost immediately.
Schumacher says he had initially been asked to come back and do a fifth movie, which had the provisional title of Batman Unchained.
The director says this film would have featured the Scarecrow, who ultimately showed up in Christopher Nolan’s reboot Batman Begins, portrayed by Cillian Murphy.
It’s also been said that Batman Unchained would have featured Harley Quinn, recently portrayed by Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey.
3. It almost destroyed the careers of Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone
Alicia Silverstone and Chris O’Donnell had both been on a hot streak in the 1990s – but Batman & Robin put a stop to that.
Silverstone had become a major celebrity thanks to Clueless – but it’s fair to say her career never got back on track after playing Batgirl, a performance which ‘earned’ her the Worst Actress Award at the Razzies.
The actress mostly played smaller supporting roles in movies in the years that followed, including Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed and Stormbreaker.
Similarly, O’Donnell has described Batman & Robin as a low point in his career, one which stopped him from accepting any film roles at all for the next two years.
In more recent years, O’Donnell has been kept busiest by his role on TV series NCIS: Los Angeles.
O’Donnell has appeared on the show since it started in 2009 and has shot upwards of 200 episodes.
2. George Clooney still cannot bring himself to watch it
For a time, it looked like Batman & Robin might also have ended the Hollywood leading man career of George Clooney before it had even begun.
The actor has never minced his words about his part in the film’s failure, saying that he “so terribly destroyed” the role.
Clooney has admitted, “I thought at the time that this was going to be a good career move [but] it wasn’t.”
The actor still cannot bring himself to watch the film, and in 2015 revealed that he once feared he had completely brought about the end of Batman on the big screen.
The actor recalls, “let me just say that I’d actually thought I’d destroyed the franchise until somebody else [director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale] brought it back years later and changed it.”
Happily, Clooney was able to bounce back from Batman & Robin with such acclaimed films as Out of Sight, Three Kings and The Perfect Storm.
1. Its soundtrack won a Grammy
It may have been a terrible film, but like the previous entry in the franchise Batman Forever, Batman & Robin had a fantastic soundtrack.
Notably, the film’s theme song was The End Is the Beginning Is the End by The Smashing Pumpkins.
The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the biggest rock groups around at the time, and were perhaps the only ones to fare well from Batman & Robin.
The End Is the Beginning Is the End earned the band a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance.
In fact, the Batman & Robin soundtrack album proved far more successful than the film itself, ultimately being certified platinum.
Other popular artists of the day to feature on the record included R.E.M., The Goo Goo Dolls and R Kelly.