George Clooney explains why Batman & Robin had the biggest influence on his career

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Jun 5, 2018, 12:15 PM EDT

Failure can be a great teacher, even if you're a movie star, and George Clooney is one of the most easily recognizable movie stars in the world. He's got millions of dollars, Oscars, Golden Globes, and he's an acclaimed humanitarian who also happens to have the industry influence to get most any film he'd really like to work on made. Clooney's career over the past two decades could make an aspiring actor envious, and he traces much of that back to one film: Batman & Robin.

When Clooney took over from Val Kilmer to don the cape and cowl in 1997, he was riding a wave of fame thanks to the success of his television series ER, but a series of missteps led to the film being branded as one of the most infamous superhero failures in cinema history. Clooney is well aware of this, even as the film has undergone a bit of a re-evaluation in recent years, and he's spent more than his fair share of time apologizing and joking about Batman & Robin's failings. Today, though, he considers working on that movie to be one of the great learning experiences of his career. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter just days before he received a lifetime achievement award from The American Film Institute, Clooney explained why.

"It’s really easy to pick: Batman & Robin," Clooney said when asked which of his films had the biggest influence on his career. "That’s not a joke. Up until that moment, I was an actor only concerned with finding work. After the failure of that film creatively, I understood that I needed to take control of the films I made, not just the role. My next three films were Out of Sight, Three Kings and O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

In the years since Batman & Robin didn't work, Clooney has indeed taken more control over his films, becoming an acclaimed director and producer on films like Good Night and Good Luck and Argo, and spending less time devoted to the quantity of his work and more time devoted to the quality. That doesn't mean there haven't been other missteps (he did Tomorrowland, after all), but it does mean Clooney's learned to be more mindful, and that seems to have began in earnest after taking off Batman's cape.