The period between the horror that was Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin and the redemption that was Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins was a turbulent time for the Batman movie franchise. Lots of ideas were thrown around, one of which was an adaptation of Frank Miller's Bat-origin Batman: Year One by Darren Aronofsky.
And you won't believe who he wanted for the Dark Knight.
In his book Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made?, David Hughes devotes an entire chapter to lost Batman pictures, one of which is Aronofsky's Year One. After Bat-fans branded him Public Enemy #1 in the wake of Batman & Robin's release in 1997, Schumacher himself was hoping to redeem himself by adapting Year One—widely considered one of the greatest Batman comic book stories—for the big screen.
Two years later, though, Warner Bros. opted to pass Year One on to Darren Aronofsky, then a very green filmmaker who'd just come off his breakout indie feature, Pi. According to SlashFilm, when executives asked him what he'd do with the property, he had some rather ... extreme ideas:
"'I told them I'd cast Clint Eastwood as the Dark Knight, and shoot it in Tokyo, doubling for Gotham City,' he says, only half-joking. 'That got their attention.' Whether inspired or undeterred, the studio was brave enough to open a dialogue with the avowed Bat-fan, who became interested in the idea of an adaptation of Year One."
With Miller's help, Aronofsky set out to create something that would be the polar opposite of Batman & Robin. He planned to refuse to shoot on sets and instead set his film in the American inner city. He compared the young Jim Gordon of the graphic novel to Al Pacino's Serpico, and Batman himself to Travis Bickle from Martin Scorsese's vigilante story Taxi Driver. He pitched the film as "Death Wish or The French Connection meets Batman."
That was enough to get Warner Bros. interested in a script, in which Miller and Aronofsky radically re-invented the Batman mythos to make it much more, well ... Frank Miller-y. Batman is always grim, but this particular movie would have stripped him not only of his parents, but of his billions of dollars as well. In this version, Bruce Wayne is found in the street after his parents' murder by a mechanic named "Big Al." Big Al takes young Bruce in, and he spends his childhood working in an auto shop, watching the darkness of the inner city around him.
Eventually the whole vigilante thing takes off, and in the absence of high-tech gadgets to help him out, Bruce opts for a more makeshift approach. He blacks out the windows of a black Lincoln Continental and turns it into his Batmobile, and begins prowling the night as the Batman. The flick would have also offered other glimpses into more familiar Batman stories and characters, including an early version of Selina Kyle and a reference or two to the Joker.
Of course, it never got made, and Aronofsky says he totally gets why:
"I think Warners always knew it would never be something they could make. I think rightfully so, because four year-olds buy Batman stuff, so if you release a film like that, every four-year-old's going to be screaming at their mother to take them to see it, so they really need a PG property. But there was a hope at one point that, in the same way that DC Comics puts out different types of Batman titles for different ages, there might be a way of doing [the movies] at different levels. So I was pitching to make an R-rated adult fan-based Batman—a hardcore version that we'd do for not that much money."
Even with a likely Batman reboot on the horizon in the next decade or so, it's unlikely we'll ever see something this radical hit the big screen. Still, it would have been interesting to see if Aronofsky was serious about the whole Eastwood thing. After all, he was almost Superman, too, once, and you can't help but wonder if he would have brought a Dirty Harry approach to the cape and tights business.