The History of Batman Forever and It’s Nightmare Production

While Batman Returns is viewed favorably today in 2024, back in 1992, its macabre charm wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Eager for a change, Warner Bros. decided to take the Batman franchise in a new direction with Batman Forever, placing Joel Schumacher at the helm for a lighter, more family-friendly approach. Swapping directors wasn’t the only big change—Val Kilmer replaced Michael Keaton, donning the cowl and bringing a new face to the famed vigilante.

Despite inheriting the directorial mantle with earnest intentions for the franchise’s success, Schumacher’s choices stirred controversy, particularly in the realm of casting. He brought on board acclaimed actors like Tommy Lee Jones, riding high with his Academy Award for The Fugitive, and comedy sensation Jim Carrey, who was at the top of his game following hits like Ace Ventura and The Mask. The only problem? They hated each other, and it almost ruined the film.

Despite its backstage drama and production challenges, Batman Forever soared at the box office, becoming 1995’s second-highest-grossing film after Toy Story. Nevertheless, many of those involved with the making of the blockbuster look back on the experience with more regret than fondness – read on to learn why!

Joel Schumacher Asked Tim Burton For His Blessing To Direct ‘Batman Forever’

Photo: Warner Bros.

After Burton found out he was being scooted out of the director’s chair for the third Batman film, he was summoned to a lunch with Joel Schumacher. The new director had just been tapped to take over the film while working on The Client, and while it was a huge step up for him, he wanted to get Burton’s permission before officially taking the plunge.

He explained his meeting with Burton as something that had to happen after Warner Bros. offered him the job

Well Tim Burton is a friend of mine, so I have to go and ask Tim first. Because if he doesn’t want me to do it I’m not going to do it, because this is his franchise. I had lunch with Tim and he said, ‘Oh take it, take it please!’ And I understand what happened on the sequel, because it happened to me on Batman and Robin.

Michael Keaton Quit Because Joel Schumacher Froze Him Out

Photo: Warner Bros.

Michael Keaton really likes working with Tim Burton. The two worked together three times over the course of five years – a trio of films that helped establish A-list stardom for both – and in 2019, the two reunited for the live-action adaptation of Dumbo.

As for Joel Schumacher – who took over behind the camera of Batman Forever after Burton helmed the first two installments – Keaton says he initially tried to touch base with the director to work out ideas for the story. When he was ignored, however, he decided he didn’t appreciate that treatment and moved on – regardless of how much money he might lose by withdrawing from the role. Keaton explained to Marc Maron during his 2013 appearance on the WTF podcast: 

The guy who’s doing them now, Chris Nolan, he’s so talented, it’s crazy. [Christian Bale] is so talented. It’s so good… You look at where he went, which is exactly what I wanted to do when I was having meetings about the third one. I said, ‘You want to see how this guy started. We’ve got a chance here to fix whatever we kind of maybe went off. This could be brilliant…’ I could see that was going south.

Robin Williams Was Supposed To Be The Riddler, But He ‘Wouldn’t Commit’

Photo: Warner Bros.

Prior to the production of Batman Forever, there were rumblings that Robin Williams was going to take on the mantle of the Riddler. It wasn’t the first time his name had floated around the Batman universe; he was famously used as bait to get Jack Nicholson to take the role of the Joker.

Before hiring the rubber-faced Carrey for the role, Schumacher wanted Williams to play the Riddler, but he claims the actor kept playing coy with the studio, forcing him to move on to other casting options. Schumacher told Forbes

I was going to make it with Michael Keaton, and then Robin Williams – I met with him a few times, he wanted to play the Riddler. But I don’t know, for some reason he just wouldn’t commit. I don’t know, we would meet and it would be a great meeting, and then he wouldn’t commit yet.

Tommy Lee Jones Could Not Sanction Jim Carrey’s Buffoonery

Photo: Warner Bros.

There’s no rule in Hollywood requiring stars to get along while working together. Though it’s nice to imagine an on-set utopia, that’s often not the reality – and certainly wasn’t in the case of Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey during the production of Batman Forever.

In the late ’90s, there were rumblings about Jones’s antagonistic behavior during the shoot, specifically towards Carrey, although the Riddler actor never substantiated the claims. That changed in 2014 when Carrey was promoting Dumb and Dumber ToWhile speaking with Howard Stern, Carrey explained that he was looking forward to working with Jones, but was disappointed when the actor turned out to be not only cantankerous but disdainful in a pointed, personal way:

I love [Jones]. I mean, he’s amazing. But he was a little crusty… I walked into a restaurant the night before our big scene in the Riddler’s lair and the maître d said, ‘You’re working with Tommy Lee Jones, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘I am.’ He said, ‘He’s in the back corner.’ I said, ‘Oh, great. I’ll go say hello.’ And I went up to say hi and the blood drained from his face in such a way that I realized that I had become the face of his pain or something. And he got kind of shaking and hugged me and said, ‘I hate you. I really don’t like you.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, okay, what’s going on, man?’ And he said, ‘I cannot sanction your buffoonery.’

Val Kilmer Was ‘Childish And Impossible’ On The Set

Photo: Warner Bros.

For those who follow behind-the-scenes Hollywood drama, Val Kilmer’s prickly on-set behavior is no secret. As the iconic title character in Batman Forever, he was apparently in vintage form. It certainly wasn’t the only film set on which he caused problems – in fact, he famously soured the experience for virtually everyone on the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau a year later – but it was the highest-profile.

Kilmer’s behavior may not have reached Moreau levels on Batman Forever, but director Joel Schumacher did say the actor was a pain to deal with. In Entertainment Weekly’s coverage of Batman and Robin, Schumacher said Kilmer was “childish and impossible.” In a later article, he admitted it was a mistake to cast Kilmer and Jones when he knew they were famously difficult. Schumacher said:

I was told that Val was difficult and wasn’t [right] for me… I’m tired of defending overpaid, overprivileged actors. I pray I don’t work with them again.

Casting Robin Was Very, Very Difficult

Photo: Warner Bros.

The casting process for Robin, Batman’s ward and sidekick, proved to be surprisingly difficult. While Chris O’Donnell eventually ended up in the role, there was a nationwide search to find someone to play the character. Not only were there open auditions for fresh actors to take on the role, but Schumacher reached out to up-and-coming stars about throwing on the tights.

One young actor approached for the part was Leonardo DiCaprio. At the time, he was coming off major roles in This Boy’s Life and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination) but had yet to make the leap into big-budget projects. DiCaprio says he turned down the role after meeting with the director because he wasn’t ready for a role in such a massive movie. He told Shortlist

I never screen-tested. I had a meeting with Joel Schumacher. It was just one meeting and, no, I didn’t end up doing it… As I recall I took the meeting, but didn’t want to play the role. Joel Schumacher is a very talented director but I don’t think I was ready for anything like that.

After starring in The Basketball Diaries and The Quick and the Dead, DiCaprio landed Romeo + Juliet and, a year later, the career-defining blockbuster Titanic.

Marlson Wayans Was The Original Choice To Play Robin

Photo: Requiem for a Dream/Artisan Entertainment

A longstanding rumor about Batman Forever asserted that Billy Dee Williams received a paycheck for being replaced as Harvey Dent by Tommy Lee Jones. While Dee refutes that claim, one actor who still receives residuals for not appearing in Batman Forever is Marlon Wayans. His payday goes all the way back to Tim Burton’s Batman Returns.

During pre-production for Burton’s sequel, he wanted to include Robin, which he saw as a young Marlon Wayans. But as the film started to become overstuffed with villains, Burton had to remove pieces of the puzzle. Among the casualties was Robin’s role, which was cut with the intention of including him in the third film. When Schumacher took the reins, Wayans was fired and replaced with Chris O’Donnell. For his part, Wayans is okay with getting fired, mostly because he still got paid: 

I still get residual checks. Tim Burton didn’t wind up doing three, Joel Schumacher did it and he had a different vision for who Robin was. So, he hired Chris O’Donnell.

Tommy Lee Jones Never Really Understood The Screenplay

Photo: Warner Bros.

According to producer Peter Macgregor-Scott, Tommy Lee Jones didn’t understand the Batman Forever script when he initially read it, and that he only took the role because Scott twisted his arm. He told The Hollywood Reporter:

I sent Tommy Lee the screenplay down in Texas, and two hours later, he calls me up and he says, ‘I don’t get it.’ I said ‘Why don’t you reread the f*cking thing and remember that the Academy Award-winning actor Tommy Lee Jones is playing the f*cking role!’ And I hung the phone up. A few hours later, he calls back and says, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ And then he got on a plane and flew into Burbank the next day, and we went to work. No management. No nonsense. The deal was obviously going to be worked out.

Costar Jim Carrey believes that this lack of understanding can be seen on-screen, citing Jones’s resistance to throwing himself completely into the role. Carrey says the two were never on board with the same tone, and that the film suffers for it:

[Jones] did not want to work with me at the point, and I said, ‘Well you know I think this part requires – the tone of this thing is kind of like child-like evil and I think you might be having some trouble getting there. So, I wish you the best.’

There Was A Batmobile Accident On The First Day Of Shooting

Photo: Warner Bros.

The Batmobile in Batman Forever is huge. During the design phase, the vehicle went through myriad incarnations – and at one point, even featured work from HR Giger (Alien). Ultimately, Giger’s ideas didn’t look quite right when the thing was finally built.

The Batmobile ended up being constructed by an effects team that was new to big-budget studio productions. They went above and beyond the previous designs and built a giant Batmobile that was so hard to drive, a stunt driver wrecked it on day one. Production designer Barbara Ling told The Hollywood Reporter

Unfortunately, the first day the stunt guy drove the Batmobile, he actually had an accident. The fins acted as a very big wing. For a stunt guy getting used to that, when you go to make a turn, it’s the weight value of how that wing created a flow to the back tires. He tried to do a 360 and that wing flipped him around. That was the first day and we saw the driving and we said ‘Oh great! Repair.’ Then they got the hang of it. It’s not a normal car.