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Darren Aronofsky spills on why his R-rated Batman movie with Joaquin Phoenix fell apart

By Josh Weiss
Darren Aronofsky Joaquin Phoenix

Of all the unmade Hollywood projects that never saw the light of day, Darren Aronofsky's R-rated take on Batman: Year One starring Joaquin Phoenix as Bruce Wayne ranks high on our list. While the scrapped DC film has been reported on before, its erstwhile director spilled a few new details about its troubled development during a chat with Empire Magazine for the publication's June 2020 issue.

According to Aronofsky, Warner Bros. called to offer him the chance to direct a Batman movie before shooting on 2000's Requiem for a Dream (his first big feature) was even finished.

"I was just like, 'What? What are they talking about?' This was before they were putting young directors on superhero films," he recalled. "I wasn't a comic book guy, but I could see that was where the studio wanted to go. So I tried."

Darren Aronofsky

With the help of legendary comic book scribe Frank Miller, he wrote an R-rated screenplay based on Miller's Year One storyline. Published in 1987, it follows Wayne during his first year as a bat-inspired vigilante. The studio wasn't a fan of the script and also clashed with Aronofsky over casting. He wanted Phoenix, but they insisted on Freddie Prinze Jr., who was a hot commodity in the late '90s/early 2000s after I Know What You Did Last Summer and She's All That.

"I remember thinking, 'Uh-oh, we're making two different films here'," the director said.

To avoid any more head-butting, the two camps parted ways. As we now know, Christopher Nolan was the one to bring Batman back to theaters with his Dark Knight trilogy, while Aronofsky focused on standalone — yet no less ambitious — pieces of genre cinema like The Fountain, Black Swan, Noah, and Mother!

Batman Year One cover

Phoenix still ended up in Gotham City, though, submitting an Oscar-winning performance as the troubled Arthur Fleck in Todd Phillips' Joker. However, the acclaimed actor may never have taken that role if he had already played the Caped Crusader for Aronofsky, who never dabbled in major franchise filmmaking ever again.

Matt Reeves will be the next director to tackle Master Wayne (played by Robert Pattinson), in The Batman, which is said to take place during the early days of the character's crime-fighting career. Production on the movie is currently on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. With only a quarter of the shooting schedule finished, the film may not make its intended release of June 25, 2021.

IMDb describes Aronofsky's next effort as an "Untitled Artificial Intelligence Courtroom Project."