Superheroes have become the most popular and financially successful genre in the movie industry. You could say the release of X-Men in 2000 birthed this craze. Or perhaps Spider-Man two years later, which became the first film to gross more than $100 million in its opening weekend.
But in reality, there were two notable superhero franchises before the turn of the century and they have a couple of things in common. Yes, we’re talking about Superman and Batman, both of which are DC properties. Not only that, but four movies were produced for each hero, with the fourth outing cratering both series. In the case of the Dark Knight, Batman & Robin kind of killed the genre for a few years (sorry, Blade), and even its screenwriter agrees.
Akiva Goldsman, who penned both Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, spoke with Collider about the franchise and admits that despite good intentions, they made a bad movie, saying:
“As for Batman & Robin, that one just confused me. I mean, we didn’t mean for it to be bad. I swear, nobody was like, ‘This will be bad,'” Goldsman told Collider. “I mean, here’s the irony: There was a reel that was put together halfway through [filming] where it actually looked dark in an interesting way. It just is what it is and I’m sorry. I think we’re all sorry.”
It’s been twenty three years now, so I think fans have gotten over it. After all, if not for the over-the-top Adam West-style set pieces, the Bat nipples and Mr. Freeze’s constant ice puns, we may never have gotten Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. And there will always be love and passion for Batman, so folks are pretty forgiving.
Of course, the failures of Batman & Robin forced Warner Bros. to course correct the franchise. Instead of bringing on another director-for-hire (apologies to Joel Schumacher), they took a chance on a young filmmaker in Nolan and he managed to ground the material into something akin to Blade Runner and Heat.
After Marvel burst onto the scene with the fun and energetic Iron Man, Warner Bros. then embraced a darker tone and pallet, which resulted in an up-and-down run of movies. But they’re still nowhere near as bad as Batman & Robin.
Goldsman may’ve gone on to win an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, but he’ll always be connected to a dark period (not intentionally) in superhero lore. And if it wasn’t for the 1997 film, George Clooney wouldn’t have more than 20 years of self-deprecating material to use.