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1998-2004 was a weird period for Batman, as following Batman & Robin getting a critical beatdown, Warner Bros was desperate to find a way to reinvent the Caped Crusader for the big screen. Ultimately Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins was chosen to launch a new cinematic era for the superhero, but before then, among the projects that were in consideration was a Darren Aronofsky-directed Batman movie.
Had the Requiem for a Dream filmmaker gotten to make the Batman movie he wanted, he would have cast Joaquin Phoenix as Bruce Wayne. However, it turns out that the main reason Darren Aronofsky left the project is because Warner Bros wanted Freddie Prinze Jr. for the main role. As Aronofsky put it:
I remember thinking, 'Uh oh, we're making two different films here.' That's a true story. It was a different time. The Batman I wrote was definitely a way different type of take than they ended up making.
Darren Aronofsky was working on his Batman movie from late 2000-2001; at that time, Joaquin Phoenix had appeared in movies like Parenthood and Gladiator, while Freddie Prinze Jr. was best known for feature like I Know What You Did Last Summer and She’s All That. Considering how much of a teen icon he was, one could certainly make the argument that Prinze was the more famous of the two back then, and evidently Warner Bros was interested in having a more “clean cut” Bruce Wayne.
Alas, Darren Aronofsky didn’t agree with this casting decision and stepped away. Eventually this Batman project was set aside and Batman Begins was chosen as the character’s film appearance, with this continuity being continued in 2008’s The Dark Knight and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Similar to Batman Begins, Darren Aronofsky’s Batman movie would have explored Bruce Wayne’s superhero origins, specifically by being a more direct adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, from which Batman Begins only borrows a few elements. Aronofsky even worked with Miller on the script, which would have had nods to Death Wish, The French Connection and Taxi Driver.
The Batman that was out before me was Batman & Robin, the famous one with the nipples on the Batsuit, so I was really trying to undermine that, and reinvent it. That's where my head went.
While neither Joaquin Phoenix and Freddie Prinze Jr. got to play Batman, Phoenix did eventually contribute to the Dark Knight’s mythology when he starred in Joker as Arthur Fleck, the man moviegoers watched transform into the Clown Prince of Crime. As for Prinze, while he hasn’t starred in any comic book projects, he has left his mark on geek culture as the voice of Kanan Jarrus in Star Wars Rebels.
As for what the future of Batman on film, Matt Reeves has taken the directorial reins on The Batman, which stars Robert Pattinson as the eponymous protagonist. That movie is scheduled for release on June 25, 2021, although given that the production is on an indefinite hiatus, it’s possible that like what’s happened with so many movies lately, it could end up being pushed back.