Google “worst movie of all time.” The first search result is “Batman & Robin.”
No list of history’s most inferior cinema would be complete without this infamous parade of excess, which opened June 20, 1997. Celebrating 20 years of kitsch imperfection, “Batman & Robin” is so widely mocked that even the people responsible for the film ― well, some of them ― have joined the chorus of disdain.
Joel Shumacher, who led the charge on “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin” after Warner Bros. asked Tim Burton to step aside, apologized for the movie as recently as last week. George Clooney has been issuing mea culpas for years. Arnold Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, has no regrets.
I admit I’m something of a “Batman & Robin” apologist, having worshipped Poison Ivy’s slithery eccentricities as an 8-year-old. Today, I see it as an admirably atrocious time capsule, from Mr. Freeze’s puns (”The Ice Man cometh!”) to the Dynamic Duo’s skates. Now that comic books rule Hollywood, a superhero train collision this singular must be treasured, rubber nipples and all.
In 2014, when I interviewed Uma Thurman with childlike glee, she linked the reception of “Batman & Robin” to audiences’ unwillingness to accept superhero stories that don’t revel in hyper-masculine aesthetics. Whether or not Thurman’s analysis holds weight, she waxed poetic about the evolution of queer sensibilities in a way that I’ll never forget. Thurman resisted applying the word “camp” to “Batman & Robin,” and she’s right. True camp has a certain self-awareness that this film distinctly lacks. It’s just a bloated, silly circus designed to produce toys and flashy marketing tie-ins and a best-selling soundtrack featuring Jewel, The Smashing Pumpkins and R. Kelly. That doesn’t mean it’s not also a fun relic of Hollywood’s evolving blockbuster culture.
Until Christopher Nolan put his own gritty spin on Bruce Wayne, “Batman & Robin” ended the big-screen Batman franchise. The reviews were so biting, and the audience interest so lukewarm compared to its predecessors, that Warner Bros. scrapped the next installment. Such a 180 only furthered its notoriety.
In honor of the 20th anniversary, here’s what Schumacher, Clooney, Thurman and others involved have said about the movie over the years.
Joel Schumacher, director
“There was enormous pressure on us to create more inventions in the film that could be turned into toys. I learned a new phrase in my life called ‘toyetic,’ [which means] whether a movie is ‘toyetic’ or not and how many toys people can get out of it. Hence, a lot of toys in this movie.” (2005)
“I broke a rule of mine, which is never to do a sequel of anything. … But I was shooting ‘A Time To Kill’ and the studio had been very generous to me, and much was expected of me by the toy manufacturers and the Warner Bros. stores. I’m responsible for everything. I said, ‘yes’ and I took it on. It’s not my favorite movie I’ve ever made, but I’m proud of my cast and I’m proud of all the artists who worked on it. I take full responsibility for ‘Batman & Robin.’” (2011)
“I was the problem with ‘Batman & Robin.’ I never did a sequel to any of my movies, and sequels are only made for one reason: to make more money and sell more toys. I did my job. But I never got my ass in the seat right.” (2014)
“I want to apologize to every fan that was disappointed because I think I owe them that.” (2017)
“They obviously had very high expectations after ‘Batman Forever.’ But perhaps it was the more innocent world in comparison, I don’t know. I just know that I’ll always go down over the nipples on Batman starting with ‘Batman Forever.’ … Such a sophisticated world we live in where two pieces of rubber the size of erasers on old pencils, those little nubs, can be an issue. It’s going to be on my tombstone, I know it.” (2017)
George Clooney, Batman
“I’ve been in those ‘Pluto Nash’ kind of movies ― ‘Batman and Robin’ cost $160 million ― and you know they’re a waste of money.” (2002)
“I just thought the last one had been successful, so I thought I was just going to be in a big, successful franchise movie. [And] in a weird way I was. Batman is still the biggest break I ever had and it completely changed my career, even if it was weak and I was weak in it. It was a difficult film to be good in. I don’t know what I could have done differently. But if I am going to be Batman in the film ‘Batman & Robin,’ I can’t say it didn’t work and then not take some of the blame for that.” (2011)
“They put nipples on the Batsuit. I didn’t know they would do that. If Batman had to wear the suit that you have to wear, everyone would die. … Joel is very funny because he’d be like OK, George, remember, your parents are dead, you have nothing to live for, and action!” (2012)
“I think since my Batman I was disinvited from Comic-Con for 20 years. I see the comment sections on all you guys. I just met Adam West [backstage] and I was like, ‘Hey, I’m really sorry.’ He goes, ‘Give me a fist-bump,’ and I was like, ‘Just hit me.’” (2014)
“I always apologize for ‘Batman & Robin.’ I actually thought I destroyed the franchise until somebody else brought it back years later and changed it. I thought at the time this was going to be a very good career move. It wasn’t. The suit’s brutal. At the time, particularly, it weighed like 60 pounds.” (2015)
Chris O’Donnell, Robin
“I thought [‘Batman Forever’] was terrific. I really thought it was well made. With ‘Batman & Robin,’ I think Warner Bros. got piggy. It was too soon. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t too far after ‘The Fugitive’ came out. And if I remember correctly, ‘The Fugitive’ was kind of a mess when they were making it but they figured it out and it was a huge hit. And I think for a while, Warner Bros. was like, “It doesn’t matter. We can throw enough money at it and it’ll be a huge hit.” There needs to be a certain amount of time before people had the appetite, “I need another ‘Batman.’” We had just finished and all of a sudden it was, like, boom, here’s another one. There was a lot of waste. I felt it wasn’t tight and it wasn’t thought out. People just got greedy. That being said, I had a great time doing it.” (2015)
Uma Thurman, Poison Ivy
“It came out in a different time when people were still being bitchy about campy. Humor being campy and campy being a code word for gay has changed. … I think at the time the idea of taking a male superhero and having fun with it and someone using the C-word [campy] on it caused people to be very nasty. 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 male icon.” (2014)
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Freeze
“It’s always easy to be smug in hindsight, right? I don’t regret it at all. I felt that the character was interesting and two movies before that one Joel Schumacher was at his height. So the decision-making process was not off.” (2012)
Alicia Silverstone, Batgirl
“I feel like I could do a much better Batgirl now than I did then. It would be fun to tackle it again. Because I’m older and my acting is better. I know I would bring so much more to it. … That costume was so uncomfortable. Maybe something more comfortable would be nice. Something you can sit in. Something you can get out of to pee.”” (2017)
Vivica A. Fox, Ms. B. Haven
“Woo! Got to work with Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was so cool. You know, my fondest memory of Ms. B. Haven is how Joel Schumacher came up with my name. [Laughs.] I said, ‘Where’d you get Ms. B. Haven?’ And he said, ‘Well, I was hanging out with my friends and we went to a state fair. And we’re walking, and one of the things they were doing was a display on monster trucks, and one of the trucks was Ms. B. Haven.’ And I said ‘That’s going to be one of the characters in my movie.’ And he met me and he knew it was going to be Vivica Fox. So I got the role. I was so excited, but I must tell you, my skin consumed so much glitter from that costume that my skin was extracting glitter for weeks. Glitter would just pop up, because your skin will absorb it.” (2010)
Akiva Goldsman, screenwriter
“What got lost in ‘Batman & Robin’ is the emotions aren’t real. The worst thing to do with a serious comic book is to make it a cartoon. I’m still answering for that movie with some people.” (2009)
Kevin Feige, current Marvel Studios president
“That may be the most important comic-book movie ever made. It was so bad that it demanded a new way of doing things. It created the opportunity to do ‘X-Men’ and ‘Spider-Man,’ adaptations that respected the source material and adaptations that were not campy.” (2009)
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