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The untold truth of Batman & Robin

In such widely divisive times as these, it's nice to know there are some things that truly unite people, and one of those things is hating on Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin. The fourth film in the OG Batman franchise and Schumacher's second attempt at a blockbuster Batman movie (the first being the financially successful but kind of terrible Batman Forever), Batman & Robin put an end to the beloved Batman movie series that Tim Burton started in 1989.

The film is so universally loathed that it's become an almost too-obvious cliché to bring it up in lists of the worst films ever made. However, it's worth noting that it's also found a new cult audience, particularly within the LGBTQ community where the film's brazen blend of campy visuals, stilted acting, and unparalleled homo-eroticism is fully embraced and celebrated as being an unexpected trashy hoot to watch. 

But no film with such notoriety happens without a cluster of behind-the-scenes madness, oddball anecdotes, and strange facts surrounding it, and Batman & Robin is no different. Prepare your worst ice-related puns and throw on something extremely tight and uncomfortable as we dive headfirst into the untold story of Batman & Robin.

Schumacher wanted to make Batman & Robin like a cartoon

In what might be the biggest "you don't say" factoid of all time, Joel Schumacher had little interest in pursuing a gritty, realistic Batman narrative with Batman & Robin. In fact, according to actor John Glover (who played Dr. Jason Woodrue), the filmmaker "would sit on a crane with a megaphone and yell before each take, 'Remember, everyone, this is a cartoon!'"

However, while it might difficult for haters of the film to believe, the director is a huge comic book fan who took inspiration for Batman & Robin from two major sources: the Batman comics that he loved as a child and the Batman: The Animated Series — a show that his godson was obsessed with. And speaking to Variety in 1997, Schumacher confessed that his love for the source material strongly informed his work on Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. "When I was given the Batman franchise," he explained, "I went to the comic book stores and got hundreds of comic books — past, present and future, and just immersed myself in them. What you see is color, great graphics, exciting action sequences, and humor."

Clearly, not everyone shared his vision. Re-appraising the movie in 2009 with the LA Times, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman opined, "The worst thing to do with a serious comic book is to make it a cartoon". Ouch.

Schwarzenegger cost a fortune for very little work

As one of the most in-demand Hollywood stars of the '90s, Schwarzenegger set new standards for the upfront fees of top-billed actors. For just six weeks work, he snatched up a cool $25 million dollars. That evens out to a daily fee of around $1 million, which isn't too shabby when you consider he spent most of that time in the makeup chair, smoking stogies with rock stars, and spouting cheesy one-liners when he eventually made his way to set. 

According to a fascinating oral history of the movie by The Hollywood Reporter, an 11-person unit was dedicated to transforming Schwarzenegger into Mr. Freeze — a process that took four hours to complete. But while he was getting made-up and earning mad stacks, the actor was also made to feel right at home thanks to frequent visitations from celebrity friends such as Jesse Ventura and Jon Bon Jovi. In fact, according to makeup artist Jeff Dawn, "Jon Bon Jovi came by, and he brought Cuban cigars for Arnold. So Arnold had them color it white so he could smoke it in the scenes." All in all, not a bad gig, right?

Schwarzenegger still suffered for his art on Batman & Robin

Schwarzenegger wasn't just chewing on cigars and enjoying "Living On a Prayer" singalongs for that $25 million, however. The makeup application was grueling by all accounts, with health and safety violations that would never possibly fly today. 

Though safe-for-humans acrylic paint was applied to Schwarzenegger's skin to give him the frosty look of Mr. Freeze, an LED light was shoved in his mouth for close-ups. Not only did this make delivery of those cringey one-liners more difficult than they were likely worth, LED lights aren't exactly compatible with the wet interior of a human mouth. 

As makeup artist Jeff Dawn explained to THR, "Arnold's saliva would creep into the seams of this thing and attack the batteries. The batteries would immediately start disintegrating and start putting out battery acid into Arnold's mouth." Understandably, the actor was pretty peeved about having a mouthful of acid, prompting Dawn to pack the device into a balloon, instead. 

The other downside? The LED light only lasted 20 minutes before the batteries would die, halting the limited production time to replace the stupid thing which, in all honesty, probably wasn't worth the effort. 

The costumes were a living hell for the Batman & Robin cast

Between the pronounced nipples and prominent codpieces, the notorious superhero garb on display in Batman & Robin were so universally loathed by fans that they continue to draw ire to this day. Apparently, the cast also hated the costumes for their brazen aesthetic and impractical nature. 

In a Reddit AMA, Clooney griped about his "40 pounds of rubber" Batman costume, and added that he "wasn't thrilled with the nipples." The actor was also candid about the challenges the costume wrought for him on-set, saying, "They put you on a flat board, lie you on the ground and bolt you into this thing, and then they just pull the board out and leave you standing. Joel Schumacher goes action, I say 'I'm Batman' and then, cut, they drop me back down on the board and leave me on my back."

Clooney has long been rumored to have urinated in the suit, which is believable considering he could barely stand upright in it. Alicia Silverstone had similar issues with her own costume, and said it "was so uncomfortable," and that she would have liked "something you can get out of to pee," which is a pretty reasonable request.

Silverstone was mercilessly body-shamed throughout Batman & Robin

Fresh from her success in comedy classic Clueless, Alicia Silverstone was at the time considered to be one of the most beautiful and promising stars of her generation. However, that didn't stop the whole world from having an absolute field day when the teenage superstar gained a few extra pounds, which made her costume even more difficult to fit into. 

Prior to production, Entertainment Weekly sniped that Silverstone "looked more Babe than babe" at her recent appearance at the Oscars. Batman & Robin storyboard artist Tim Burgard recently confirmed that he drew an unflattering cartoon of the star, and that "the guys in the art department" circulated it around. "I heard that she was in the costume department being synched into a corset," Burgard explained to THR, "so I did a cartoon of what that looked like."

The Guardian also reported that during the furor, Silverstone was subsequently chased through airports by gangs of journalists chanting "fat girl ... fat girl" to the Batman TV show theme. Schumacher has emphasized that the experience was understandably hurtful and "terrifying" for Silverstone, who was simply "a teenager who gained a few pounds — like all of us do at certain times". 

Let's all be thankful that our own teenage years didn't involve press junkets and skintight rubber because yikes.

Batman & Robin had no room for Val Kilmer's alleged ego

Like a supervillain tossed into the dark corners of Arkham Asylum, Joel Schumacher threw Val Kilmer back into the proverbial Hollywood bad boy heap following the actor's stint in the Batsuit for Batman Forever. After all, during his '90s heyday, Kilmer was racking up quite a reputation for being a difficult man to work with.

The actor opted not to return to the franchise, but from the sounds of it, he wasn't exactly invited back either, with Schumacher recently adding that the world tour for Batman Forever "really went to his head." William Baldwin was optioned as a replacement (what a movie that could've been) before it was revealed that Clooney had claimed the role. 

Soon after the news of the new Batman broke, Entertainment Weekly published a damning report which dubbed Kilmer as "Mr. Unpopularity." It also stated that, "Many in Hollywood are loath to work with him." Even Schumacher added to the negative testimonies by calling the actor "childish and impossible". 

Speaking to Variety in 1997, the filmmaker declined to comment directly on stories of on-set difficulties with Kilmer, but he did address the rumors by saying, "A lot of film time these days is unfortunately spent just waiting for stars. I have no patience with overpaid, overprivileged people who cannot have the dignity and courtesy to be professional. I don't tolerate that kind of behavior."

Schumacher is sorry, okay?

It's now been over 20 years since Batman & Robin was released ... and since Schumacher first issued an apology for Batman & Robin. In other words, it might well be time to cut the poor man some slack.  The filmmaker has time and again reiterated that he wants to accept sole responsibility for how the film turned out and for how it may have disappointed fans of the superhero. 

During a now infamous promotional interview for Batman & Robin in 1997, Schumacher quite openly and sincerely stressed that he would "really want to apologize" to fans whose expectations weren't met with the movie. More recently, during the film's 20th anniversary, Schumacher was still apologizing for Batman & Robin, telling Vice that he takes "full responsibility" for how it turned out, explaining, "A lot of it was my choice. No one is responsible for my mistakes but me". 

He furthermore added that he feels his hardworking crew suffered the worst for his mistakes. "Everybody worked really hard under very long hours," he said, "So I feel like their work wasn't acknowledged like it could have been." So yeah, maybe it's time to ease off on Schumacher and his batty disaster.

Schumacher is less sorry about those Batnipples

If there's one particular aspect of Batman & Robin that continues to pull the greatest amount of venom from fans, it's those eternally controversial nipples. Though Schumacher is deeply apologetic for the overall disappointment caused by the film, he appears to be deeply tickled to this day "that two rubber things, the size of pencil erasers would be a big f*****g deal". Quite

While the nipples only add to the costume's overall homoerotic appeal, Schumacher's decision to make the costume anatomically ornate in this way makes at least a little more sense once you know why he chose to take the Batsuit in that direction.

Theorizing that the outcry over the controversial Batnipples is proof that the movie was released in a "more innocent world", Schumacher has said that the nipples came about thanks to the designs of lead sculptor Jose Fernandez and due to rubber molding becoming much more advanced. As Schumacher put it, "I said, let's make [the suit] anatomical and gave [Fernandez] photos of those Greek statues and those incredible anatomical drawings you see in medical books. He did the nipples and when I looked at them, I thought, that's cool."

For the record, he had no idea everyone would be so angry about the whole thing. So there.

Thurman is a staunch defender of Batman & Robin

As Poison Ivy, Uma Thurman is arguably one of the highlights of the much maligned movie, with the actor serving up a campy Mae West impression which verges on drag. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, she remains passionate about defending Schumacher's vision for the film and in challenging why audiences and critics were so resistant to seeing their beloved hero through an arguably queer lens. 

Speaking to The Huffington Post in 2014, Thurman revealed that she believes the film was received so negatively because it was seen as being "campy," and in the '90s, "campy" was "a code word for gay," something that audiences clearly weren't eager to see. 

"I think at the time the idea of taking a male superhero and having with it and someone using the c-word [campy] on it caused people to be very nasty," Thurman said, "And that kind of nastiness was acceptable on those terms. And I think that's the reason some people were particularly annoyed. They didn't like seeing that tone applied to their heterosexual icon." 

Production on Batman & Robin felt like a 'toy commercial'

Joel Schumacher has gone on record time and again about how Warner Bros. executives were pushing for Batman & Robin to be a vehicle for selling a buttload of toys to kids. In fact, the studio was so insistent that their commercial goals appeared to tarnish the quality of production. 

"There was simply too much pressure," Schumacher told The Guardian in 2000. "I was in merchandise meetings with Walmart and K-Mart and McDonalds, and you're being told to make the film more 'toyetic', which means you can sell toys off the back of it. That was the only time when I felt that the box office was more important than the story".

Actor Chris O'Donnell has shared similar grievances concerning the movie's production and said, "On Batman Forever, I felt like I was making a movie. The second time, I felt like I was making a kid's commercial." And those of us who were poor, impressionable children when the film came out likely had the tie-in pop tarts, pajama set, toothbrush, Batpants, and crappy plastic action figures to prove O'Donnell right.

The proposed follow-up could've starred Nicolas Cage

At the time of Batman & Robin's release, publications remained optimistic about the future of the franchise, with industry stalwarts like Variety awkwardly bleating, "It's certain that the series will continue on." Warner Bros. had planned a fifth Bat-pic, which Schumacher was on board to helm. However, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman had wisely stepped away from the project.

Known as Batman Unchained, this fifth and notoriously cancelled film sounds like it had the potential to be even more bonkers than Batman & Robin. Schumacher has stated that the film "would have been very dark," with none other than professional scenery chewer Nicolas Cage lined up to play madcap psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Crane (aka the Scarecrow). 

Much how the character was explored in Chris Nolan's Batman Begins, Batman Unchained was said to follow Batman confronting the demons of his past and conquering his fears after being exposed to Scarecrow's fear toxin. Former Batman stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Jack Nicholson, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, and Danny DeVito were even rumored to reprise their roles during a cameo-stacked hallucination sequence. 

A secondary antagonist was also planned in the form of Harley Quinn. Bizarrely, the character was reimagined in the script as a toymaker who discovers that the Joker is her father. Even weirder, '90s rivals Courtney Love and Madonna were both rumored as casting considerations for the role, which is actually kind of genius. In fact, we're kind of disappointed we never got to see this madness on the silver screen.

The Batman & Robin soundtrack was a roaring success

If you're making a campy, brightly colored, and distinctly cartoonish Batman movie, then you're going to surely want a soundtrack that capably reflects the bombastic tone of your film, right? And that's exactly what didn't happen with the soundtrack to Batman & Robin

The soundtrack is stuffed with odd choices, such as the soul ballad "Gotham City" by alleged sex criminal R. Kelly and a radio edit of folk-yodeler Jewel's warbling love song "Foolish Games," with each artist scoring hits off the back of the movie tie-in as a result. But most curiously, the lead tentpole track of the album is a mercilessly bleak dirge by '90s gloom peddlers the Smashing Pumpkins.

Billy Corgan once confessed that he struggled to "write a song about Batman" because he's "in an alternative band." However, he eventually came up with the track known as "The End is the Beginning is the End," although we're going to say Corgan's music worked way better in the Watchmen trailer than in Batman & Robin

Solely exploring the darker side of Batman (rather than the side who carries a Bat-credit card and puts nipples on his hero costume), the song actually scored the band a Grammy win, and the soundtrack became such a hit that it would go to be certified platinum. 

Kevin Feige says Batman & Robin is super important

Platinum soundtrack and Grammy hits aside, there is another bright side to the failures of this movie: It paved the way for better comic book movies to follow. If anyone's going to be an authority on that, then it's probably Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios since 2007 and the man responsible for the MCU's unstoppable cinematic reign

The Marvel boss has stated that Batman & Robin's colossal failure changed how we tell comic book stories today. "[Batman & Robin] was so bad that it demanded a new way of doing things," Feige told the LA Times, "It created the opportunity to do X-Men and Spider-Man, adaptations that respected the source material and adaptations that were not campy".

Though fans continue to cringe about Batman & Robin and shudder at the mere mention of Schumacher's name, it's interesting to hear Feige put a positive spin on what many consider to be a legendary cinematic misfire. There's every possibility that with less studio meddling, the film could've been truly stellar. But sadly, we'll never know if the movie could've been a Bat-masterpiece.