Imagine this: after the George Clooney-led Batman & Robin in 1997 took a dark turn for Warner Bros. (too dark for The Dark Knight to weather), the studio brought on filmmaker Darren Aronofsky to make a new future for the Caped Crusader with Joaquin Phoenix as Batman. Of course, none of that actually happened, but it could have if the WB took to his movie concept.
During the press tour for his new film mother!, Aronofsky revealed the Her and Inherent Vice actor was his pick to lead the Batman movie that never came to fruition.
“I always wanted Joaquin Phoenix for Batman,” he told Yahoo Movies. “It’s funny, I think we were just sort of out of time with our idea. I understood that [with] comics, that there’s room for all different types of titles, but I think Hollywood at that time was still kind of in the Golden Age of comics, and they were still just doing the classic titles in classic ways.”
Aronofksy’s take was loosely based on Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, and he even brought Miller on to co-write the script. As he explained to The Guardian in 2007, “It was a hard R-rated Batman. What I pitched them was Travis Bickle meets The French Connection — a real guy running around fighting crime. No super-powers, no villains, just corruption. For the Batmobile, I had him taking a bus engine and sticking it in a black Lincoln. Real low-tech geek stuff.”
“It was the first time I worked on a Batman project with somebody whose vision of Batman was darker than mine,” Miller said in an interview last year. “My Batman was too nice for him,” he added. “I’d say, ‘Batman wouldn’t do that, he wouldn’t torture anybody.’”
The project never moved forward because the Warner Bros. executive at the time “wanted to do a Batman he could take his kids to.” A few years later, Christopher Nolan would come into the superhero genre with Christian Bale in Batman Begins, not exactly a classic kid-friendly take.