Anyone who saw yesterday’s ramblings on Hugh Jackman almost starring in Cats knows that we here at Collider are obsessed with alternate timeline movies, a.k.a. the big projects we almost got before plans fell through. At the top of that list is Darren Aronofsky‘s Batman movie, which the filmmaker came close to making after the success of Requiem for a Dream in 2000. During a recent interview with Empire, Aronofsky revealed that one of the biggest conflicts with Warner Bros. was his desire to cast future Joker star Joaquin Phoenix as the Dark Knight.
According to Aronofsky, the studio had a very different name in mind.
“The studio wanted Freddie Prinze Jr and I wanted Joaquin Phoenix,” he recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘Uh oh, we’re making two different films here.’ That’s a true story. It was a different time. The Batman I wrote was definitely a way different type of take than they ended up making.”
Aronofsky would have been following up the much-maligned Batman & Robin, and apparently went to great lengths to distance his vision from the Bat-nipples of the past. That included working with Frank Miller—one of the comic writers most responsible for shading Batman’s darkest edges—on the script. Interestingly, Aronofsky notes that the duo wanted to take the Caped Crusader into “torture territory”, a thread that would kind of get picked up by Zack Snyder 16 years later in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
“It was an amazing thing because I was a big fan of [Miller’s] graphic novel work, so just getting to meet him was exciting back then,” the director recalls. Apparently even the hard-boiled writer was shocked by how dark Aronofsky was looking to go, with Batman veering into torture territory. “The Batman that was out before me was Batman & Robin, the famous one with the nipples on the Batsuit, so I was really trying to undermine that, and reinvent it,” he explains. “That’s where my head went.”
So, to recap, there is a timeline out there with an insane Batman movie starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Darren Aronofsky, and we live in the timeline that got Batman Forever. To be fair, we also then got The Dark Knight trilogy, plus that one warehouse scene where Ben Affleck whipped all those asses, plus Matt Reeves‘ The Batman starring Robert Pattinson. And, right, Joaquin Phoenix straight-up won an Oscar playing a Batman villain, because, as Arthur Fleck would tell you, life is kind of funny.