When 1997's Batman & Robin proved to be a critical disaster, Warner Bros scrapped plans for a direct follow-up and spent more than half a decade trying to figure out how to revitalize the Batman film franchise. One of the projects that was considered was Darren Aronofsky's take on Batman: Year One, which would have been a loose adaptation of Frank Miller's origin tale. Had Aronosfky's Batman: Year One movie moved past the scripting phase, the director was surprisingly keen on having Joaquin Phoenix play the Caped Crusader. He recently said:
I always wanted Joaquin Phoenix for Batman.
While plugging the release of his new movie mother! to Yahoo, Darren Aronofsky dropped this interesting bit of casting trivia, which has us wondering what might have been. The Walk the Line star has traditionally eschewed blockbusters in favor of smaller, more cerebral features, but the thought of him playing Batman is intriguing. Around the time Aronofsky started working on his Batman: Year One movie, Phoenix had appeared in Gladiator, so moving from ancient Rome to donning the cape and cowl would have been an interesting shift. This also isn't the first superhero that Phoenix has been associated with, as he was in talks to play Stephen Strange in Marvel's Doctor Strange movie, but that role eventually to Benedict Cumberbatch.
Several years after Batman & Robin's release, Warner Bros approached Darren Aronosfky about rebooting the Batman film series with Batman: Year One after he had initially pitched a cinematic version of The Dark Knight Returns, another Frank Miller tale. However, while all the theatrically-released Batman movies so far have been mostly faithful adaptations, Aronofsky's Batman: Year One would have taken significant creative liberties with the Dark Knight's mythology, such as giving it a Taxi Driver-like tone and turning the Batmobile into a Lincoln Continental with two bus engines. Perhaps a weird superhero movie like that would have better appealed to Joaquin Phoenix's creative sensibilities.
In the end, Warner Bros decided that Darren Aronofsky's Batman: Year One movie was scrapped, though the studio was still keen on providing a fresh take on the Batman mythos. That ended up being Batman Begins, and the rest is history. Aronofsky recently noted that his Batman story probably came 15 years too early, but with DC now forming a banner for alternate, one-off movies set outside of the DC Extended Universe (like a Joker origin story), as well as the success of non-conventional superhero movies like Deadpool and Logan, perhaps we've finally reached a time where an outlandish idea like Aronofsky's can finally be fully realized.