07/22/2012 01:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Might the Next Batman Movie Franchise Try to Set Itself Apart from Previous Incarnations?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

By Mark Hughes, screenwriter and Forbes blogger

I'm going to answer this, but I want to begin by noting honestly and upfront that I plan to try everything I can possibly think of to get someone at DC Entertainment or Warner Bros. to let me pitch them my rather detailed plans for a new Batman series. I have the specific stories already mapped out in some detail.

First and foremost, everyone should be clear that the upcoming film The Dark Knight Rises will formally end this version of Batman on film. After that film comes out, there will be no more Batman films using that version of Batman or his "world" from these last three films. The Christopher Nolan Batman and Gotham City are going to be totally finished, and no more films will be possible with that Batman or his world.

That means that the next Batman movie franchise will start all over from scratch, and won't have any relation to the previous films at all. It will have a brand new director, an entirely new cast, and whatever happened in all of the previous films will be totally erased. It will be as if no Batman films were ever made before, basically.

Okay, so having said that, a new franchise has to be able to learn from the past. Some things were incredibly popular and worked extremely well, and those things say something about what most audiences like best in Batman films. It will be important to understand what those things are, and to understand the need to carry that over to the new films but in a brand new and unique way. I agree very much that there's no need for a new origin story, and that there is a need to recognize why Nolan's films were popular -- they got the character right in terms of what works best and what appeals most to audiences, and it would be pointless to ignore that. The franchise should be guided by a desire to tell the best stories, and should use what is best for the character, and I think it's obvious that Nolan hit upon the key ingredients that drive Batman's popularity (which I'll get to in a moment).

But it will also be necessary to understand that you can't follow up the amazing and acclaimed Nolan franchise by trying to imitate it, audiences will see right through you and reject it. So a "personally" original approach by the new filmmakers is crucial to the success of a new series in that regard.

To me, what this tells us is that we have to see clearly how much audiences love the illusionary realism of Nolan's films, and that a Batman film that has aliens and monsters will have far less appeal. Batman is one of those characters who works best on film by understanding that a big part of the appeal is the impression that "maybe he could be real some day." Of course, it's absurd to think he could really be real, but it's a true part of mainstream popular appeal for Batman. He's got no superpowers, and so people think of him as being "attainable." I won't go into why he isn't, but the point is that Batman is most successful on film when he doesn't cross the line and start fighting monsters and aliens. Because at that point, he tends to get depicted too overtly as being beyond any remotely seemingly plausible character and has to be portrayed as if he almost has superpowers.

BUT -- the use of illusionary realism needs to push the boundaries a bit farther than Nolan did in some regards, in order to bring something new to the table. The series needs to use the easier suspension of disbelief at certain "realistic" moments as a currency to buy extra suspension of disbelief for more fantastical moments. There is room to push the boundaries of sci-fi and the implication of more Gothic horrors, and to avoid necessarily trying to explain the logic/science/etc behind every invention and moment. What I mean is, the films should embrace the concept that Batman has advanced technology, and that he faces foes who likewise have advanced technologies and abilities, and that this all happens in a city that has fallen over the edge into insanity, absurdity, and the extremes of just about everything.

And finally, I think they should plan to build a Batman franchise that will continue long into the future as new filmmaking teams come and go, maintaining a loose concept of continuity like the James Bond franchise (this is something Elliot S Maggin mentioned in his answer, and which I and many bat-fans have long lobbyied for). The rule being, assume the previous films happened and don't directly contradict them, and try to maintain a basic adherence to the "world" that has been created in the past films by remembering your new film takes place in that world, but feel free to bring in new actors and new characters and find ways to test and push the boundaries while setting new boundaries as well.

So that's my basic answer. Now, if you want to keep reading, I'll go nuts and just tell you precisely how I would reboot Batman and make it stand out from the previous incarnations. I've thought about this a LOT and put a lot of time into figuring out the different stories and arcs etc. (The below explanation is built around my previous attempts to explain this on Facebook and in message board discussions elsewhere, and is a decent distillation of what I think should be done.)


I think the goal should be to continue putting Batman into a world that looks like the real world, but distinguish it from Nolan's "illusionary realism" by being willing to get more crazy with it, perhaps, and using villains who might seem too fantastical to fit into Nolan's bat-world. Push the edge of the envelope, in other words, and continue creating a stark contrast between the ordinary world around them and these extreme characters, with the rest of the world looking on in shock as Gotham is overrun with outrageous villains, and the only solution is this dude dressed up in a mask and cape.

I'd go right into Batman as an established vigilante in Gotham, focus on detective stories, and use several villains who haven't been on film yet or who haven't been on film in a long time.

For the FIRST trilogy, I'd start with a Hugo Strange 'monster men' story to show how this new series is different from Nolan's and to set up the new Batman world, with the main villains being the 'monster men' (Killer Croc and Solomon Grundy), based on my old idea for how to depict this storyline on film (you can find it here, among other villain suggestions, although now I'd delete Bane from the list of "monster men" -- ).

Then, for the second film of this initial trilogy, I'd do a story about the Penguin and Riddler as follows: I'd make the Riddler a former IRA bomb-maker and cypher/hacker guy. He wears his old green military jacket and pants and has tattoos all over his body that are puzzles and codes etc nobody can figure out. He comes to Gotham to find the Penguin and kill him, because the Penguin was a member of the Protestant paramilitary groups that fought the IRA in Ireland, and Penguin killed the Riddler's brother or friend. So Riddler comes to Gotham hunting the Penguin, hacking computers, files, and banks while also setting up elaborate bombs to destroy businesses and drug houses owned by the Penguin, all to bring down the Penguin's mob. Then Batman intervenes, and he figures out some of the puzzle tattoos on the Riddler's hands or face (maybe give him a question-mark tattoo on his face, like tear drops under his eye?) and the Riddler becomes obsessed with "besting" Batman in a battle of wits. (Maybe when the Riddler is out setting bombs in town, he puts on a green ski-mask with a question-mark on it or something, if the question-mark tattoo idea is too cheesy.) Penguin would be a very violent, crazy mobster who takes over organized crime in Gotham, and he is the first mobster to merge the traditional mob people with the new "freak" criminals in town.

Follow that with a third and final film adapting "The Mad Monk," but don't make it "proven" whether he's really a vampire or not -- he may just be a cult leader who drinks blood and is insane, but leave hints that it's not certain one way or the other. This should be a really Gothic horror-type story, challenging Batman's typical certainty in science and rational thinking and deduction.

There you have a trilogy that begins with a movie using science to prop up a monster story mixing realism and fantastical elements, followed by a more crime-detective type gangster storyline to swing back toward more realism, then finally right back in the other direction even farther with a story about a cult that might be controlled by a vampire. To me, that really sets a strong tone right out the gate, with big stories offering all fans something they love, and establishing a Batman series that has one foot in realism and the other at the edge of the envelope.

Then, to start off the SECOND trilogy, I'd do a story with Black Mask and the False Face Society taking over Gotham, with cameos by other villains like Clayface (I've got a pseudo-realistic but fantastical and wild way to adapt him to film). That would take us back toward the gansters-and-detective realism realm, but now it's taking on a more outlandish, freak-centered structure, mixing the two. Follow that with a Mr. Freeze film (rather than relate my version of Mr. Freeze here, I'll link to it since it's very long -- Batman (comics, movie & creative franchise): How could Mr. Freeze be portrayed in the world of Chris Nolan's Batman?). Finally, to end the second trilogy, do some form of adapting the Joker tale "The Man Who Laughs," and I'd go for an aesthetic more like the Alex Ross painting:

That's two trilogies, for a total of six films.

I'd have Harvey Dent in all of the films, moving his way up to DA in the last two films of the second trilogy. So, to start off a THIRD trilogy, I'd have the seventh film depict Dent turning into Two-Face (after being attacked in court by the False Face Society) and waging a vicious war against the mobsters and "freak" villains in Gotham, turning the city into a big war zone. Next, bring back Hugo Strange for a "Prey" story (but make the fake vigilante character Azrael, perhaps). Finally, end the third trilogy with the Joker taking over Arkham Asylum and some big storyline that involves all of the characters -- this would NOT be a direct adaptation of "Arkham Asylum" though, it's just a similar situation. I'd have the Joker involved in a bigger scheme and releasing the worst criminals back into Gotham so that Batman has to hunt them all down while the Joker goes about some insidious plot that is the climax of the film.

I'd probably introduce Catwoman as a recurring supporting character somewhere around the fourth film, never having her get caught or being a main villain, but instead being a sort of "Robin Hood" thief who steals from bad people and who also is sort of like a vigilante protecting people in society who are mostly ignored by the cops and even Batman -- she'd watch over the prostitutes and drug addicts, for example, and defend them against abuse. I'd also have Vickie Vale as the main recurring media character, and she'd date Bruce in a film or two but it wouldn't last. Bruce's initial love interest would be Julie Madison, who would be in the first three films but die in the third film (the one about the Monk).

That's a total of nine films, and I think they should really go for a continuous series like James Bond, not rebooting again for a long time. I'd love to see Batman get the "Harry Potter" treatment, to really create a long film series that intends to put as much of Batman's mythos onto the big screen as possible. With those nine films, they would establishcinematic versions of most of Batman's major foes and world.

Now, somehow I think I'd try to fit Robin into all of this, if possible. I'd only have Dick Grayson as a supporting character in one film, taken in by Batman and trained, but not out in the actual fights until near the end, when he helps Batman directly. In the subsequent film, he's older and now goes on patrol with Batman as backup, but they argue and Dick decides to leave because he wants to pursue his own place in the world, and to return to his old part of town to protect it. Batman would be solo again for the next film, then take on a new Robin who dies in that film. The next film would have Dick make a cameo to talk to Batman about the death.

That's the entirety of how I'd use Robin in the films. I think I'd introduce him during the second trilogy, so Dick is a background character in the first film of that trilogy (the Black Mask story), then he's actively on patrol with Batman but then quits in the second film of the trilogy (the Mr. Freeze storyline), and Batman is solo again when he first encounters the Joker in the final film of the second trilogy. But then, in the first film of the THIRD trilogy (the story where Dent is scarred and wages war in Gotham) Batman takes on a second Robin who dies in that film. Batman is guilt-ridden and emotionally weakened, opening him up for the next film's adaptation of the "Prey" storyline, in which Dick come back for a few scenes to try and help Batman deal with the death of the second Robin. For a longer explanation of how I'd directly portray him on film, I'll refer to my detailed explanation here: Mark Hughes's answer to Batman (comics, movie & creative franchise): How could Robin be in a Christopher Nolan-esque Batman (comics, movie & creative franchise) film without camping it up or ruining the mood/tone of the film? Would it be possible without compromising the fundamentals of Robin's character as we know him?

On to casting ideas...

Ryan Gosling is my own top pick to play Batman. Another good choice would be Jake Gyllenhaal. Joe Manganiello would be great as an older incarnation in his late-30's/early-40's.

My Commissioner Gordon would be either Sam Rockwell or Bryan Cranston (who plays Walt in "Breaking Bad"). Cranston is also on my short-list of best actors to play Hugo Strange, though, so I think I'd rather have him as a recurring villain (first he shows up in a "monster men" story, then in later films he's on TV all the time as a psychologist "expert" on Batman. If Cranston were Gordon, then I'd love to see Daniel Day-Lewis as Hugo Strange (he's really my top pick, but is unlikely to take the gig).

For Dent, I want either Josh Lucas or Jon Hamm, and it's a recurring role through the series, so we see Dent for a long time before he ever turns into Two-Face. I really would love to see a long portrayal of the teaming of Batman, Dent, and Gordon in Gotham.

Alfred? John Cleese. Just let that sink in a moment. Imagine the sarcastic, prim butler from Frank Miller's TDK, portrayed by Cleese. My alternate choice is Hugh Laurie, as a 60-ish year old Alfred who is more frequently portrayed with combat medical experience and weapons building skills.

Paddy Considine is my choice to play the Riddler, he's the guy with the beard and green army jacket in this video (WARNING! HARSH LANGUAGE, NOT SAFE FOR WORK):

Alan Ford is the guy I'd hire to be Penguin, and he'd basically play the part as a British arms dealer who acts just like this (WARNING! HARSH LANGUAGE, NOT SAFE FOR WORK):

My Joker picks fall into older and younger categories. For older, Michael Shannon has long been my favorite. But he's a villain in the Superman franchise, so I don't think he'd take the job. Paul Bettany is another great option for an older Joker. For a younger Joker, Fran Kranz is now at the top of my list. Look at Michael Shannon in Bug:

And that's basically how I'd reboot Batman on film, with three trilogies that each serve a purpose of pushing forward a Batman world on film that tries to represent his full universe and best mythos that haven't been adapted yet. I like the idea of focusing on so many characters who haven't been done before, or who haven't been done in a long time or gotten a definitive modern film incarnation. I think waiting for a long time before the Joker and Two-Face finally emerge is key to helping set this series apart from Nolans. I'd leave out Ra's, frankly, until maybe a fourth trilogy that takes Batman out of Gotham more often and into some world travel and stories that threaten more than just Gotham.

By Ken Miyamoto, working screenwriter

I have a totally different take myself.

First off, I don't think you can beat the Nolan films.

We've had the dark gothic take in the Burton films. We've had the neon tongue-in-cheek take with the Schumacher films. We've had the real world edgy take with the Nolan films thus far.

I don't know how much edgier you can go with The Joker than Ledger's, without the film being given an R Rating, which will never happen. Ledger's Joker was a sick ****. Putting a cell phone in a guy's belly for a detonator.\ Killing the female lead in the end and then pitting two ferry boats and their passengers against each other, making them choose between who deserves to live and who deserves to die.

That's edgy. Unless we're going to go with an R-Rated franchise, nixing one of the key demographics in young boys, I don't see it getting any edgier than that.

I was disappointed that Nolan didn't take on The Riddler. They could have fashioned a serial killer take on it. Serial killer leaves taunting riddles behind. Sure, he can rob banks or whatever, but they could have given a realistic and equally edgy spin on it.

That said ...

So where does Warner Brothers go from here? I think they need to shake it up a bit. Test the waters. Evolve.

So my answer is that they need to delve into the VERY underrated animated series BATMAN BEYOND.

The story opened in 2019 with an aging Batman in a high tech Batsuit, suffering from a heart attack during a "mission". He vows never again to don the Batman persona and closes the Batcave.

Jump ahead years later, 2039, in a Neo-Gotham. Bruce Wayne is a recluse. 17 year-old Terry McGinnis stumbles onto Wayne Manor and discovers Bruce's secret. Terry's father is later killed by the Jokerz Gang. He eventually dons the new high tech Batsuit, taking on the persona of Batman himself as he avenges his father's death and fights crime.

Casting-wise, there's so much potential. You can cast a young lead in the Terry/Batman role, but even more important, you can cast an iconic actor in the role of the elderly Bruce Wayne. Had this happened ten, maybe fifteen years ago, my vote for Bruce Wayne would have been Clint Eastwood. Now? Who knows? You could go Stallone and age him up a bit. You could mix it up and go with Harrison Ford. Who knows? There's so much potential on that front.

Beyond that, you have a new look for Batman, and one that is explainable through the story and not just some obligatory update. You have a new world in the Neo-Gotham. You can do what the Batman Beyond series did and play with the Batman mythos. They eventually brought back The Joker, voiced in the series again by Mark Hamill. Maybe you build to that for a sequel and then cast another brilliant older actor for the role. Maybe the long-awaited Sean Penn take that fanboys were clamoring for before Ledger stepped up.

To me, this would be the logical next step in the Batman franchise. Either that or let it lay low for a 6-7 years while they make Justice League movies, which will happen if The Avengers is a success.

Update: A Batman Beyond feature was actually set up by Warner Brothers in 2000 with Boaz Yakin to co-write and direct and series creators Paul Dini and Alan Burnett writing. This was when WB was looking for concepts for the franchise. They handed in a draft in July 2001. By August 2001, Batman Beyond was put on hold in favor of the Batman Begins concept that eventually came to light with Nolan.

More questions on Batman: