Batman & Robin

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  • Directed By: Joel Schumacher
  • Written By: Akiva Goldsman
  • Release Date: June 20, 1997
  • Domestic Distributor: Warner Bros
  • Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Alicia Silverstone

Box Office Info:
Budget: $160 millionFinanced by: Warner Bros
Domestic Gross: $107,353,792Overseas Gross: $130,881,927

“I just hope whenever I see a list of the worst movies ever made, we’re not on it. I didn’t do a good job.”
–Director Joel Schumacher

batman & Robin 1997
“After Batman & Robin, I was scum. It was like I had murdered a baby.” — Joel Schumacher

Before Joel Schumacher was self described scum, he had developed a reputation as an easy to work with director of broad commercial fare and he had one of the better box office track records in the 1990s. He had a series of profitable pictures that began with Flatliners (1990), Falling Down (1993), The Client (1994), Batman Forever (1995), A Time To Kill (1996) and that run ended with the failure of Batman & Robin.

Back in 1995 when Batman Forever was still in theaters and on its way to a massive $336.5M global haul, WB wanted to quickly begin development on a fourth Batman entry.  After the three year spaces between the previous installments, Batman & Robin was immediately set for a summer ’97 release.  WB was adamant on continuing the series with Schumacher and writer Akiva Goldsman, as the two had first collaborated on the The Client (Goldsman’s first produced screenplay) for WB and continued to work with the studio on Batman Forever and A Time To Kill.  With the director and writer set for the fourth entry and Val Kilmer and Chris O’Donnell expected to reprise their roles, development actually began one week before filming began on A Time To Kill in early September 1995.  With the extra prep time, the movie could be properly budgeted and cast, without the stress of rushing to get everything in order to beat a mandated production start date.

The budget for Batman & Robin was a gargantuan $160 million, which was financed by Warner Bros.   The trades had pegged the costs on the expensive picture from $150M to nearly $200M, but George Clooney has stated the budget came in at $160M.  Arnold Schwarzenegger was given an unheard of salary of $25M (plus a percentage of merchandising) and Clooney reportedly landed a $10M payday.  After the high salaries of Chris O’Donnell, Alicia Silverstone, Uma Thurman and Schumacher, the above the line talent expenses were approaching $60M.

As development was well under way on Batman & Robin, Val Kilmer decided to quit this embarrassment to go humiliate himself in The Island of Dr. Moreau.  This prompted Schumacher to leave his agency CAA, which also repped Kilmer, as his management was handling negotiations for the actor over The Saint, Batman & Robin and Moreau.  Kilmer decided to ditch the batsuit and went with the two other projects.  Schumacher eventually returned to CAA.  William Baldwin was considered to replace Kilmer, before George Clooney was cast as the worst Batman ever.  A hammy and atrocious Baldwin performance would have fit right at home in this camp schlock, but this ridiculous production was beset with a very stiff and sleepy looking Clooney.

Alicia Silverstone was expected to be the next breakout star after Clueless (1995) launched her into fame and she was cast as Batgirl as her follow up to the teen comedy.  The very brief window of time where she toplined studio movies basically ended two months after Batman & Robin, when her vehicle Excess Baggage (1997) flopped.  She was second banana to Brendan Fraser in the flop Blast From the Past (1999), which ended studio movies built around her name.

Demi Moore was first being courted to play Poison Ivy, but the role eventually went to Uma Thurman — whose quick foray into soulless big budget studio acting began with this turkey and promptly ended a year later with another Warner Bros disaster — the ill fated The Avengers.

Patrick Stewart was looked at to play Mr. Freeze, before Schwarzenegger was cast in the legendary awful role — but Stewart ended up humiliating himself on screen in the summer of 1997 in the turkey Masterminds.  The addition of Schwarzenegger and the justification of his salary was the hope that his massive star power overseas would push the offshore gross past $200M.

Two weeks after wrapping production on Batman & Robin, Schumacher agreed to direct the fifth installment.  Batman & Robin was looked at by the industry and the press as one of three surefire hits in 1997, the other two being Speed 2: Cruise Control and The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  The eventual biggest money maker of ’97 Titanic was looked at as a major gamble and both Batman & Robin and Speed 2 went down in flames.

After Tim Burton’s oddball and demented Batman Returns (1992) had infuriated parental groups and corporations who had tie-in programs, many companies had shied away from promoting Batman Forever.  But once Forever moved the series into safe family friendly territory and was one of the biggest money makers of the year, corporations were lining up to shill for Batman & Robin — an absolutely foul movie that was designed as a marketing venture to sell merchandise.  WB Consumer Products put their full weight behind the picture and secured a reported $125M from promotional partners!  Taco Bell supported the release with $20M in TV spots; Kellogg’s slapped Batman over 13 cereals and committed $10M for TV ads; QVC heavily pushed Batman merchandise; there was a tie-in with Amoco; America Online; Six Flags and dozens more.  WB tapped their sister divisions on TV (Turner Broadcasting) to promote the hell out of Batman & Robin.  It can not be overstated enough just how eventized the marketing push was for Batman & Robin.

With all the mechanisms in place to sell hundreds of millions worth of Batman merch, there was also one of the worst movies of all time to sell to the public.  Despite fanboy complaints about batsuit nipples and cod pieces, Batman & Robin was tracking strong and expected to open just under Forever‘s $52M opening.  The film was dated for June 20 and bowed against My Best Friend’s Wedding.  Critics savaged this fiasco and it opened a bit under expectations with a still solid $42,872,605 — winning the box office frame.  The movie was expected to leg out to $135M – $150M in the states, but auds gave the movie a toxic C+ cinemascore and it sank 63.3% to $15,735,702 in its second frame.  The domestic run flamed out just past the century mark at $107,353,792.

Diminishing returns also continued overseas, where the addition of Arnold did little to sell tickets and the cume stalled at $130.8M.  The worldwide total was $238.2M.  WB would see returned about $131M after theaters take their percentage of the gross — which would cover P&A expenses but leave much of the budget untouched by the theatrical receipts.  The hateful reception and disappointing box office performance killed the fifth installment.  Batman was salvaged by Christopher Nolan in 2005 with his rebooted Batman Begins.

4 Comments

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  1. Batman & Robin sold around 23.38 million tickets, which would equal $210.68 million at today’s average movie ticket price of $9.01. Movie tickets in 1997 cost an average of $4.59.

  2. I always thought Batman & Robin cost $125 million. For once, Box Office Mojo actually UNDER reported the budget instead of over reporting it.

  3. I didn’t realize this movie flopped. I knew it was a critical disaster but I was under the impression it broke even despite that.

    Also, obligatory Bat-Credit Card joke.

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