We have a lot of time for Tim Burton’s Batman Returns around these parts, a dark and bold blockbuster movie that in many ways – not least because of the number of villains in it – was ahead of its time. The film, though, didn’t do the business that Warner Bros was hoping for, and thus the studio opted to go down a lighter path for the next film, that would become Batman Forever.
Batman Forever has a nominal producer’s credit on it for Burton, but it only takes minutes (if that) to spy that he had very little to do with the film.
Over the last few weeks, the fascinating documentary The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened? has successfully told the story of Tim Burton’s never-made Superman film. But what went wrong with Catwoman?
Well, the project certainly got going and the ingredients were in place. Michelle Pfeiffer was left out of Batman Forever (as this 1993 Variety article confirms), with the idea being that her take on Catwoman would instead move into her own movie. Daniel Waters, screenwriter on Batman Returns, was hired to write the screenplay, and Tim Burton was seemingly attached to direct the film.
He signed a development deal with Warner Bros, and in 1994, he was weighing up whether to direct Catwoman or an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s story, The Fall Of The House Of Usher. He would, of course, go on to make neither.
But Tim Burton’s Catwomandid stay active for a while. In fact, Daniel Waters would turn in his draft of the screenplay in 1995.
Speaking to Film Review magazine in the summer of that year, he described the plot as “after the traumas of the Batman Returns she has amnesia, and she doesn’t really remember why she has all these bullet holes in her body, so she goes to relax in Oasisburg. What Gotham City is to New York, Oasisburg is to Las Vegas-Los Angeles-Palm Springs. [It’s a] resort area in the middle of the desert. It’s run by superheroes, and the movie has great fun at making fun at the whole male superhero mythos. Then they end up being not very good at all deep down, and she’s got to go back to that whole Catwoman thing”.
Waters delivered his script on the day that Batman Forever was released in cinemas, and that film would go on to become the biggest grossing feature of 1995. It would also bring in more cash for Warner Bros than Batman Returns. Going down the darker path suddenly didn’t seem to bode very well.
Pfeiffer told the New York Times around the same time that she was still interested in the project, but also that she was juggling other commitments at the same point. It would be fair to say that things were looking a little dicey at this stage.
Eventually, the project ran out of steam, and both Pfeiffer and Burton would move on to other films. Warner Bros was more interested in pursuing the lighter world of Batman that director Joel Schumacher had uncovered. “For a while, like a brief time, Tim was interested in maybe doing a Catwoman movie,” Pfeiffer told Empire back in 2012. “But that didn’t really last very long.”
Not that Warner Bros lost interest, even if Burton did. Recasting soon became an option, and Ashley Judd for a while was mooted as the new big screen Catwoman, and then Nicole Kidman (who had appeared in Batman Forever in a different role).
Ultimately though, Halle Berry would land the role in director Pitof’s $100 million 2004 movie. It would go on to be named Worst Picture Of The Year at the Golden Raspberry awards, and Catwoman has become notorious as one of the worst comic book movie adaptations of all time.
Berry also picked up a Worst Actress gong at the Razzies, and to her credit, turned up to collect the prize. “First of all, I want to thank Warner Bros. Thank you for putting me in a shit, god-awful movie. It was just what my career needed,” ran her acceptance speech.
Tim Burton’s Catwoman film, meanwhile, would join Superman Lives as a project swallowed up in development hell…