The Black and White Batman Returns Spinoff Movie That Almost Happened


Believe it or not, the dreadful 2004 Catwoman was not the movie Warner Bros. set out to make. After Michelle Pfeiffer‘s stunning turn as Selina Kyle in Batman Returns, nobody initially thought, “Yes, but what if we get some terrible French commercial director to shoot a story about a different cat lady fighting a budget-Emma Frost like it’s a perfume ad?” In the truth, the Catwoman project went through many iterations, not landing on the laughable mess that stalled the career of Halle Berry (who’s actually quite good in Catwoman) until the early 2000s.

Recently, Batman Returns screenwriter Daniel Waters shared some ideas about the original treatment for a Catwoman spinoff that director Tim Burton himself wanted to make after his Batman sequel. As revealed to IndieWire after a screening in Los Angeles in December, Burton had no intention of continuing the superhero route for his Catwoman film. Instead, the idiosyncratic director wanted “to do an $18 million black and white movie, like the original Cat People, of Selina just lowkey living in a small town.”

To put those numbers into perspective, Batman Returns had a budget of $80 million and Batman had a $48 million budget. Furthermore, while Cat People is indeed a horror movie, it gets its scares from the psychological tension stemming from a man called Oliver Reed (played by Kent Smith, not by Oliver Reed) whose fiancée Irena (Simone Simon) believes that she has been cursed to turn into a panther when aroused. The film certainly has its scary scenes, as when a panther stalks Irene’s rival Alice (Jane Randolph) at an indoor pool. But as with most of the films that Val Lewton produced for RKO in the 1940s, Cat People veers toward the romantic, building terror through shadows and suggestions.

For his part, Waters went in the opposite direction, leaning into the possibilities of blockbuster superhero storytelling. “I wanted to make a Batman movie where the metaphor was about Batman,” he told an audience after a screening of Batman Returns. “So I had her move to a Los Angeles version of Gotham City, and it’s run by three asshole superheroes. It was The Boys before The Boys.” In other words, Waters was going for superhero satire before it was cool. Why didn’t Burton go for this version? According to Waters, “he got exhausted reading my script.” Per IndieWire, Waters said Burton was interested in making more of an “intimate drama” about the villain.

While the thought of a satire in the vein of The Boys might sound exciting now, it’s hard to see how audiences would go for that in the mid-90s. The Boys works, in part, because it exists during a period of superhero saturation, and riffs on Superman and the Justice League make for easy metaphors about real-world powers. Superheroes were far more niche in the mid-90s, and the success of Batman and Batman Returns were more of a fluke than a sign of things to come. One need look only at the flop that was 1999’s Mystery Men to see that general audiences weren’t yet interested in subversive takes on superheroes.

Still, even if the Waters or Burton plan had its shortcomings, it’s hard to believe that anything could be worse than the actual Catwoman movie that hit theaters.

The post The Black and White Batman Returns Spinoff Movie That Almost Happened appeared first on Den of Geek.

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