The Development of Batman Begins

Batman Begins, the first film in director Christopher Nolan’s highly acclaimed Dark Knight Trilogy, was a complete reimagining of Batman on film. After the box office / critical disaster of Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin in 1997, Warner Bros. Films knew they needed to go in a different direction in developing a future Batman film. Batman Begins would become the solution.

Batman (Christian Bale, left) holds Jonathan Crain (Cilian Murphy, right) by the throat in the Christopher Nolan film Batman Begins.

The End of Joel Schumacher’s Batman

After the success of Batman Forever, Schumacher himself originally pitched the idea of a Batman: Year One film adaptation. It would be based on the Frank Miller comic book miniseries. However, the project was put on hold. Instead, he worked on a third Batman sequel to the original Batman film from 1989. It was to be called Batman and Robin.

After the flop of Batman and Robin, Joel Schumacher was still interested in carrying the Batman on Film torch forward. But, the studio seemed to lose faith in him and was ready to move on to a new director. And a new vision for Batman on Film.

Warner Bros. Films Develops New Batman Projects

Warner Bros. worked on developing several new Batman projects. One idea was to continue to move forward with a Batman: Year One adaptation. They even found an acclaimed and successful director in Darren Aronofsky to attach to the new Batman project

Another idea was to help revive and revise both the Batman and Superman franchises with a combined film called Batman Vs. Superman. This project is unrelated to the later film Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice by director Zack Snyder. Like Aronofsky’s Batman: Year One, however, this new Superman / Batman project fell apart, too.

Christopher Nolans Develops Batman Origin Concept

Director Christopher Nolan, who found success and acclaim with his prior films Memento and Insomnia, was interested in pitching his vision of a Batman project to Warner Bros. Pictures. Like Aronofsky and Schumacher, Nolan was also interested in creating an origin film somewhat modeled — but this time only loosely based on — Miller’s Batman: Year One Comic.

Nolan is obviously a visionary filmmaker and roughly the equivalent of 1970s / 1980s Steven Spielberg (updated for the 21st century). However, Nolan was not a professional expert in Batman Studies.

Then along came a David S.Goyer.

Christopher Nolan knew that Goyer had the Batman knowledge that Nolan lacked. And Goyer would be able to help fill in the gaps and help bring Nolan’s vision of Batman on film to life in a way that was faithful to the spirit of the character and the history of Batman in comics, film, and television.

Nolan Brings Goyer Into the Batman Begins Development Fold

When David Goyer first heard about Nolan’s Batman project, he didn’t believe it would happen. Because of Goyer’s familiarity with other failed attempts at rebooting Batman (including the Aronofsky take on Batman: Year One and the Batman vs Superman project). He figured Nolan’s Batman would meet the same fate.

Nolan called Goyer and pitched him on his Batman origin story. Goyer was a writer who had previously established his comic book movie bonafides by writing the successful Blade trilogy starring Wesley Snipes. He was obviously the right person for Nolan to call. 

At the time of Nolan’s call, Goyer was working on another project and couldn’t commit to writing Batman Begins. But, the ever-persistent filmmaker, Christopher Nolan phoned Goyer again a few weeks later. This time, Goyer agreed to attach himself to Nolan’s Batman film.

Developing The Story of Batman Begins

In developing their own take on the Batman origin mythos, Nolan and Goyer found a major gap in the traditional comic book’s version. In the comic books, as an adult seeking revenge for the death of his parents who are killed in a tragic mugging gone bad, Bruce Wayne sees a bat crash through the window of Wayne Manor.

Wayne vows to “become a bat” to seek vengeance for the death of his parents and fight the criminal element in his hometown of Gotham City. And then by the next panel, Bruce Wayne is already in full Batman costume, essentially fully formed.

But how did Bruce Wayne get there? How did Bruce Wayne actually create and morph himself into his Batman identity? 

That was a major part of the story that Nolan and Goyer wanted to tell on the silver screen. Frank Miller explored the origin mythos a bit more in Batman: Year One. But Nolan and Goyer wanted to develop the details of Batman’s creation in Batman Begins ever more and really explain the transformation on the screen.

Nolan also wanted the film to be grounded in a form of superhero realism and imbued with deep humanity and emotional depth. Also, it was essential to Nolan that his viewers care as much about Bruce Wayne as a character as they did Batman. It shouldn’t matter to them which identity was on screen at the time or be just “waiting for Bruce Wayne to turn into Batman”.

Nolan and Goyer Pitch Batman Begins to Warner Bros.

Nolan and Goyer began developing the full story for Batman Begins in early 2003. Their goal was to create a Batman far darker and more emotionally truthful than Joel Schumacher’s take in Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, and even more than Tim Burton’s iteration starring Michael Keaton

Once Nolan and Goyer developed the full concept of Batman Begins as a film, it was time to pitch it to Warner Bros. Executives have said it took Christopher Nolan just 15 minutes to convince them to let him direct Batman Begins. The pitch was that impressive and fully formed.

After Christopher Nolan’s 15-minute pitch session, Warner Bros. Pictures hired Christopher Nolan to direct what was to be his take on the Batman origin story. In January 2003. Warner Bros. then followed this move up by hiring David S. Goyer to write the screenplay for Nolan’s story.

At the same time, Warner Bros. and Disney contracted Nolan to direct the film The Prestige. However, he was to move forward first with the Batman project first. Nolan said in an interview in July 2003 that the rebooted Batman project was in the early stages of production at this point.

Batman Begins, as a reboot of the Batman franchise — as well as its follow-up sequels The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises — would change the course of film history, both in the superhero genre and well beyond it. And, I would argue that Christopher Nolan is to date the best thing to happen to Batman since Bill Finger and Bob Kane created the character in their heads and in Detective Comics #27.

If you enjoyed this article on the development of Batman Begins, check out my recent article on the development of The Batman.

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