Out of all of the live-action Batman movies so far, Batman & Robin is easily the most infamous of the bunch, let alone being one of the most infamous superhero movies, period. Director Joel Schumacher’s second DC movie after 1995’s Batman Forever sees George Clooney don the cape and cowl along with Chris O’Donnell returning as Dick Grayson to defend Gotham from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy with some unexpected help from Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone).
Speaking as a lifelong Batman obsessive, it is easy to see why the biggest Batfans do not have the fondest opinion of the campy, cartoonish 1997 comic book adaptation. However, speaking as a movie fan, I can also understand why some people do have a soft spot for it -- such as the over-the-top humor and eye-popping aesthetic -- especially after researching some of the following behind-the-scenes facts. Maybe you will find yourself looking at Batman & Robin in a new way after learning these details, such as the late director’s memory that may explain how the film turned out the way it did.
Warner Bros. Wanted Batman & Robin To Be “More Toyetic”
It is no secret that the backlash Batman Returns received for being too dark inspired the comparatively lighter take on the character we saw in Batman Forever. As Joel Schumacher recalls in Shadows of the Bat: Batman Unbound -- a making-of documentary included on Batman & Robin’s 2005 DVD release -- Warner Bros. wanted the filmmaker to go even lighter for the follow-up, but not just for the moviegoers’ sake. Schumacher had a unique description for it:
If you, when you first saw Batman & Robin, felt like you were watching a feature-length toy commercial, it is certainly not by accident. However, you have to admit that -- from a child’s perspective, at least -- those are some pretty cools toys the crew made. For instance…
Goodyear Created Special Tires For The Batmobile
To be honest, I personally think that George Clooney’s main vehicle in Batman & Robin is one of the weakest cinematic Batmobiles so far. However, I have reason to dislike it a little less now after watching Maximum Overdrive: The Vehicles of Batman & Robin.
On that making-of doc also included on the Batman & Robin DVD, vehicle supervisor Allen Pike talks about how he ordered custom-made tires from his contacts at Goodyear with tread that would leave Bat-logo imprints on the ground. I don’t know why the tire manufacturer did not make this design open to the public because that would sell like crazy.
Val Kilmer’s Third Act Batsuit Was Repurposed For George Clooney’s Silver Suit
Speaking of big sellers, what child from the late 1990s did not have the action-figures that recreated the Batfamily’s silver costumes from the third act of Batman & Robin? For any older viewers who could not help but feel like George Clooney’s special Batsuit looked particularly familiar, your instinct was correct.
On the DVD featurette Dressed to Thrill: The Costumes Of Batman & Robin, special costumer Linda Booher-Ciarimboli recalls how, with only three weeks given to produce the special suits for the third act, the costume department took Val Kilmer’s Batman Forever suit and placed the new silver appliances onto it. Despite how completely unnecessary this sudden costume change is, its lack of Batnipples makes it something to be thankful for in retrospect.
Mr. Freeze’s Suit Consisted Of More Than 500 Individual Pieces
The costume department had nothing from any previous movie (within or outside of the Batman movies franchise) to recycle for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s outfit in Batman & Robin. In fact, the Mr. Freeze costume would prove to be one of the film’s most challenging and costly props.
According to costume designer Dragon Dronet, a total of seven Mr. Freeze suits were constructed, consisting of more than 500 parts made out of hand-hammered aircraft aluminum. However, that was not counting the 10,000 blue LED lights used for each suit, which required them to purchase just about every one of that kind of light available in the continental United States at the time. Dronet adds that, despite its painstaking construction and weight, the suit was relatively comfortable, which is why it was surprising to learn that Schwarzenegger did not actually wear it as often as you might think.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Rarely Shot Any Scenes With The Rest Of The Batman & Robin Cast
It is obviously not uncommon for movie productions to use doubles to fill in for their stars in certain scenes, such as to perform dangerous stunts. However, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s double for Batman & Robin was on set more often than the Mr. Freeze actor was. In fact, he never actually shares the screen with Batman or Robin.
On Shadows of the Bat: Batman Unbound, Chris O’Donnell claims that, outside of hanging out on set or going on press tours together, he “never worked a single day with Arnold,” adding that the Terminator star was only on set for close-ups or when Mr. Freeze had dialogue. George Clooney mirrored this claim on The Howard Stern Show, adding that he can’t even say he had any on-set interactions with Schwarzenegger, who was paid $25 million for the role. However, Schwarzenegger says money was not his motivation.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Claims Joel Schumacher Promised To Quit If The Actor Passed On Mr. Freeze
If there is one positive thing that I can personally say about Batman & Robin, it is that I love watching Arnold Schwarzenegger chew the hell out of the scenery as the ice-pun spewing Mr. Freeze. For this we can thank Joel Schumacher, who gave Schwarzenegger quite a reason to take the role, as he says the following from Shadows of the Bat: Batman Unbound:
I mean, if you think about, watching anyone else in the role would probably not be quite as fun.
Celebrities Visited The Batman & Robin Set Just For Fun
Apparently, Schwarzenegger’s presence alone made the Batman & Robin set a fun place to be. In addition to the chance to see the mind-blowing production design, the actor actually attracted the attention of a few celebrity visitors.
For instance, according to a 20-year anniversary article by The Hollywood Reporter, Jon Bon Jovi came by to give Arnold some Cuban cigars, which he had colored so he could use them in a scene as Mr. Freeze. Shadows of the Bat: Batman Unbound also shows footage of Kimi star Rita Wilson passing time on the set with Chris O’Donnell and George Clooney.
Frozen Gotham City Was Filmed Practically On A Life-Size Set
One of the most astonishing sights on the Batman & Robin set was Gotham City after Mr. Freeze covers it in ice with a giant, makeshift freezing ray. While CGI and miniatures were used in the movie often, neither was used for that scene.
Production designer Barbara Ling recalls on the made-for-DVD doc Bigger, Bolder, Brighter: The Production Design of Batman & Robin that they built a full-scale Gotham City set that was later covered in fake ice. They even went as far as building life-size mannequins of Gothamites who suffered Mr. Freeze’s wrath in that moment.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Played Mr. Freeze In A Bald Cap
Speaking of suffering and Mr. Freeze, one can only imagine how challenging it must have been for Schwarzenegger to endure all that icy blue makeup (no pun intended, I swear). But, the actor did get his way on one aspect of his transformative appearance.
In The Hollywood Reporter’s aforementioned 20th anniversary retrospective, Academy Award-winning makeup artist Jeff Dawn reveals he initially convinced Schwarzenegger to shave his head for the role, which would have saved nearly two hours of time in the chair, but he decided against it at the last minute. An outraged Dawn was about to do the procedure anyway until the actor looked back at him with a threatening, shit-eating grin saying, “Jeff, go ahead, I dare you.” That was enough for him to make the thankful decision to use the bald cap.
Alicia Silverstone Faced Public Shaming For Her Weight While Playing Batgirl
The one who did the most suffering for her physical appearance was Alicia Silverstone, who already didn't have the best time playing Barbara “Batgirl” Wilson in Batman & Robin. However, things only got worse for the then-18-year-old after filming commenced, as she told The Guardian in 2020.
The star of the Clueless cast recalls experiencing weight gain on the set of the superhero movie and, after word got out, instead of “Batgirl,” some media outlets, and even paparazzi in person, began calling her “Fatgirl.” This certainly makes all the ridicule that her male co-stars faced for their rubber nipples sound like terms of endearment.
Batman & Robin Bombing Cost Chris O’Donnell His Own Robin Spin-Off
Who knows what Chris O’Donnell’s suit might have looked like in his own Robin solo movie? Well, we will never know, but there was time we might have seen that had things gone differently.
In 2012, the NCIS: Los Angeles star revealed to Access Hollywood that there were plans for him to reprise his DC character in his own spin-off until it was scrapped in light of Batman & Robin’s critical and commercial disappointment. With this and the Nightwing movie’s still unclear fate, who knows if Dick Grayson will ever get his own movie?
Say what you want about Batman & Robin, but based on the behind-the-scenes facts above, a lot of top-notch work, especially on the technical side, was put into its making. So, in terms of making an impression on the state of comic book movies, you could say that they really did “kick some ice.”
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Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.