Warner Bros. fast-tracked development for Batman & Robin following the box office success of the previous film, Batman Forever. Schumacher and Goldsman conceived the storyline during pre-production on A Time to Kill, while Val Kilmer decided not to reprise the role over scheduling conflicts with The Saint. Schumacher had a strong interest in casting William Baldwin in Kilmer's place before George Clooney won the role. Principal photography began in September 1996 and finished in January 1997, two weeks ahead of the shooting schedule.
In Gotham, one year after the defeat of Two-Face and the Riddler, Batman and Robin attempt to thwart Mr. Freeze from robbing diamonds from the natural history museum, but he steals one and flees. Mr. Freeze was originally Dr. Victor Fries, a doctor working to develop a cure for MacGregor's syndrome to heal his terminally ill wife. Fries was forced to wear a cryogenic suit powered by diamonds after becoming unable to live at normal temperatures following a lab accident.
At a Wayne Enterprises lab in South America, the botanist Dr. Pamela Isley is working under the deranged Dr. Jason Woodrue, experimenting with the Venom drug. She witnesses Woodrue use the formula to turn the violent, but diminutive, convicted serial murderer Antonio Diego into a hulking monstrosity dubbed "Bane". Woodrue and Isley argue over the use of the drug which ends when Woodrue attempts to kill her by overturning a shelf of various toxins. Despite Woodrue's efforts, she is resurrected, transforming into the beautiful and seductive Poison Ivy before exacting revenge; she kills Woodrue with her poisonous kiss. She finds that Wayne Enterprises funded Woodrue, thus she appropriates Bane as a muscle-bound thug, taking him with her to Gotham City. Meanwhile, Alfred Pennyworth's niece, Barbara Wilson, makes a surprise visit and is invited by Bruce Wayne to stay at Wayne Manor until she goes back to school.
Wayne Enterprises presents a new telescope at a press conference interrupted by Isley. She proposes a project that could help the environment, but Bruce declines her offer, which would kill millions of people. That night, a charity event is held by Wayne Enterprises with special guests, Batman and Robin, and she decides to use her abilities to seduce them. Freeze crashes the party and steals a diamond from the event. Although he is captured by Batman and detained in Arkham Asylum, he eventually escapes with the help of Ivy and Bane. Meanwhile, Dick discovers that Barbara has participated in drag races to raise money for Alfred, who is dying of MacGregor's syndrome.
Batman and Robin begin to have crime fighting relationship problems because of Ivy's seductive ability with Robin, but Bruce convinces Dick to trust him. Ivy is then able to contact Robin once more; she kisses him but fails to kill him due to Robin wearing rubber lips. Meanwhile, Barbara discovers the Batcave, where an AI version of Alfred reveals he has made Barbara her own suit. Barbara dons the suit and becomes Batgirl. Robin and later on Batman become trapped, but are rescued by Batgirl, who reveals her identity.
Batman, Robin and Batgirl decide to go after Freeze together. By the time they get to the observatory where Freeze and Bane are, Gotham is completely frozen. Batgirl and Robin are attacked by Bane. They eventually defeat him by kicking apart his venom tubes, stopping the flow of venom to his body. Bane collapses before transforming back to his original diminutive size of Antonio Diego and is left helpless on the ground. Meanwhile Batman and Freeze begin to fight each other, with Batman defeating Freeze. Batgirl and Robin manage to unfreeze Gotham; and Batman shows Freeze a recording of Ivy during her fight with Batgirl. Freeze learns that Ivy has betrayed him over the death of wife. Ivy blamed Batman for Nora's death, but she informs Batgirl that it was her idea. Freeze is angered by the betrayal and is informed by Batman that his wife is not dead; she is restored in cryogenic slumber and has been moved to Arkham waiting for him to finish his research. Batman proceeds to ask Freeze for the cure Freeze has created for the first stage of MacGregor's Syndrome to administer to Alfred. Freeze atones for his misunderstanding by giving him medicine he had developed. Ivy is detained in Arkham alongside Freeze, who promises to torment Ivy during their sentence. After Alfred is cured, everyone agrees to let Barbara stay at Wayne Manor.Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dr. Victor Fries / Mr. Freeze
A Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist and two-time Olympic decathlete who suffers a terrible accident while trying to cryogenically preserve his terminally ill wife. As a result, he is transformed into a criminal forced to live in a special sub-zero suit powered by diamonds. His goal is to hold Gotham to ransom in order to get the money he needs to complete his research to find a cure for his wife's disease.
George Clooney as Bruce Wayne / Batman
A billionaire industrialist who witnessed his parents' murder as a young boy. At night, Bruce becomes Batman, Gotham City's vigilante protector. Val Kilmer, who played the character previously in Batman Forever, was originally planned to reprise his role, but after many problems with Joel Schumacher, the actor declined the offer to play Batman again and Clooney was cast.Eric Lloyd portrays him as a child in a flashback.
Chris O'Donnell as Dick Grayson / Robin
The crime-fighting partner to Batman and ward of Bruce Wayne. He has begun to chafe against Batman's authority.
Alicia Silverstone as Barbara Wilson / Batgirl
Her parents had previously died in a car accident. Alfred, her uncle, was very close to her mother, Margaret. She is Alfred's niece and is an orphan.
Uma Thurman as Dr. Pamela Isley / Poison Ivy
A botanist who becomes a crazed eco-terrorist after Woodrue attempts to kill her by pushing her into vials of chemicals, poisons and toxins, which replace her blood with aloe, her skin with chlorophyll and filled her lips with venom, making her kiss deadly. She also uses pheromones which make men fall in love with her. Julia Roberts, who worked with director Joel Schumacher in A Time to Kill, was heavily rumored to be in contention for the role, but the rumours were dismissed by Schumacher, saying that if she would have wanted to get the role, she would have called him.
Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth
The trusted butler for Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Alfred is dying of a rare disease from which Mr. Freeze's wife also suffers. He was later cured at the end.
Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon
The police commissioner of Gotham City. He is close to Batman and informs him of numerous crimes.
John Glover as Dr. Jason Woodrue / Floronic Man
A deranged scientist who aims to create Venom-enhanced "supersoldiers" to sell to dictators and warlords in order to make millions. He is responsible for the creation of both Bane and, though unintentionally, Poison Ivy, the latter of whom kills him with a kiss from her toxic lips. This is the one of the instances where the character is portrayed as a normal human rather than a mutant.
Elle Macpherson as Julie Madison
Bruce Wayne's girlfriend. She proposes to Bruce, but he does not respond, fearing for her safety.
Vivica A. Fox as Ms. B. Haven
Mr. Freeze's sexy assistant who flirts with him once and only once in the film. He is unresponsive, as he is still in love with his wife.
Robert "Jeep" Swenson as Bane
Poison Ivy's bodyguard and muscle, who was originally a scrawny serial killer. Transformed into an enormous abomination, which Woodrue dubbed a "super-soldier" by the strength-enhancing drug "Venom", he was seen getting Mr. Freeze's suit back from Arkham Asylum, as well as fighting against the main heroes several times. Despite holding his own against Batman and Robin on numerous occasions, he is eventually defeated by Robin and Batgirl after they find a way to stop the venom flow to his brain. Swenson was suggested for the role by one of the stuntmen of Batman Forever. Batman & Robin was Swenson's final film role, as he died from heart failure two months after the film's release.
Michael Reid MacKay portrays Antonio Diego
Vendela Kirsebom as Nora Fries
Mr. Freeze's beloved cryogenically-frozen wife.
Elizabeth Sanders as Gossip Gerty
Gotham's top gossip columnist.
Jesse Ventura as Arkham Asylum Guard
Patrick Leahy as himself
Jack Ingle as the Doctor
Jack Betts as Party Guest
Nicky Katt as Spike
With the box office success of Batman Forever in June 1995, Warner Bros. immediately commissioned a sequel. They hired director Joel Schumacher and writer Akiva Goldsman to reprise their duties the following August, and decided it was best to fast track production for a June 1997 target release date, which is a break from the usual 3-year gap between films. Schumacher wanted to homage both the broad camp style of the 1960s television series and the work of Dick Sprang. The storyline of Batman & Robin was conceived by Schumacher and Goldsman during pre-production on A Time to Kill. Portions of Mr. Freeze's back-story were based on the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Heart of Ice", written by Paul Dini.
While Chris O'Donnell reprises the role of Robin, Val Kilmer decided not to reprise the role of Batman from Batman Forever. Schumacher admitted he had difficulty working with Kilmer on Forever. "He sort of quit," Schumacher said, "and we sort of fired him." Kilmer said he was not aware of the fast track production and was already committed to The Saint (1997). Schumacher originally had a strong interest in casting William Baldwin in Kilmer's place, but George Clooney was cast instead. Schumacher believed Clooney could provide a lighter interpretation of the character than Michael Keaton (in Batman and Batman Returns) and Kilmer. The shooting schedule allowed Clooney to simultaneously work on ER without any scheduling conflicts.
Patrick Stewart was considered for the role of Mr. Freeze, before the script was rewritten to accommodate Arnold Schwarzenegger's casting. Schumacher decided that Mr. Freeze must be "big and strong like he was chiseled out of a glacier". Schwarzenegger was paid a $25 million salary for the role. His prosthetic makeup and wardrobe took six hours to apply each day. Thurman took the role of Poison Ivy because she liked the femme fatale characterization of the character. Alicia Silverstone was the only choice for the role of Batgirl.
According to Schumacher, during the scene in which the costumes of the Riddler and Two-Face are seen, he originally planned to put Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze escaping from Arkham Asylum while many other villains saw them from their cells. The scene, however, didn't make it in the final film.
The original start date was August 1996, but principal photography did not begin until September 12, 1996. Batman & Robin finished filming in late January 1997, two weeks ahead of the shooting schedule. The film was mostly shot at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California.
When comparing work on Batman Forever, Chris O'Donnell, who portrayed Robin, explained, "It just felt like everything got a little soft the second time. On Batman Forever, I felt like I was making a movie. The second time, I felt like I was making a kid's toy commercial." He also complained of the Robin costume, saying it was more involved and uncomfortable than the one he wore in Batman Forever, with a glued-on mask which caused sweat to pool on his face. According to John Glover, who played Dr. Jason Woodrue, "Joel [Schumacher] would sit on a crane with a megaphone and yell before each take, 'Remember, everyone, this is a cartoon'. It was hard to act because that kind of set the tone for the film." Production designer Barbara Ling admitted her influences for the Gotham City design came from "neon-ridden Tokyo and the Machine Age. Gotham is like a World's Fair on ecstasy." Rhythm and Hues and Pacific Data Images created the visual effects sequences, with John Dykstra and Andrew Adamson credited as the visual effects supervisors.
According to Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 6: Batman Unbound, Chris O'Donnell revealed that despite hanging out with Arnold Schwarzenegger a lot off set and during promotion for the film, they never worked a single day together. This was achieved with stand ins when one of the actors wasn't available.
Stunt coordinator Alex Field taught Alicia Silverstone to ride a motorcycle so that she could play Batgirl.
Like Batman Forever, the original score for the film was written by Elliot Goldenthal. The soundtrack featured a variety of genres by various bands and performers, showcasing alternative rock on the lead single "The End Is the Beginning Is the End" by The Smashing Pumpkins, on the Goo Goo Dolls' contribution, "Lazy Eye" and with R.E.M.'s song "Revolution". R&B singer R. Kelly also wrote "Gotham City" for the soundtrack, which became the other song featured in the end credits, as well as one of the singles, reaching the top 10 in the United States and in the UK. Eric Benét and Meshell Ndegeocello also contributed R&B songs. Also included was the top 5 second single, "Look into My Eyes" by the hip hop group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Other songs featured included electronic dance elements, including those by Moloko and Arkana. The soundtrack was released on May 27, 1997, a month before the film.
The Batman & Robin film trailer debuted on the February 19, 1997 episode of Entertainment Tonight. Warner Bros. spent $15 million to market and promote the film, in addition to its $125 million production budget. The studio also brought in toy companies to be involved with pre-production, including the design of concept art and character illustrations. Director Joel Schumacher criticized Warner Bros.'s strategy for Batman & Robin as being overtly toyetic.
Various Six Flags parks (Six Flags Great Adventure, Six Flags Over Texas, and Six Flags St. Louis) all debuted coasters themed to the film (all of which have since been closed or re-themed to Batman: The Animated Series). Taco Bell featured a promotional campaign including collectible cups and a contest with a replica of the film's Batmobile as a grand prize. A junior novelization of the screenplay, written by Alan Grant, was published along with the release of the film in 1997.
Batman & Robin was released on June 20, 1997 in North America, earning $42,872,605 in its opening weekend, making it the third-highest opening weekend of 1997. The film declined by 63% in its second week. Batman & Robin faced early competition with Face/Off and Hercules. Schumacher blamed it on yellow journalism started by Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News and other film websites such as Dark Horizons. The film went on to gross $107.3 million in North America and $130.9 million internationally, coming to a worldwide total of $238.2 million. Warner Bros. acknowledged Batman & Robin's shortcomings in the domestic market but pointed out success overseas.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 10% based on 86 reviews, with an average rating of 3.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Joel Schumacher's tongue-in-cheek attitude hits an unbearable limit in Batman & Robin, resulting in a frantic and mindless movie that's too jokey to care much for." On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 28 out of 100, based on 21 critics, signifying "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.
Schumacher and producer Peter MacGregor-Scott blamed the negative reception of Batman & Robin on Warner Bros.' decision to fast track production. "There was a lot of pressure from Warner Bros. to make Batman & Robin more family-friendly," Schumacher explained. "We decided to do a less depressing Batman movie and less torture and more heroic. I know I have been criticized a lot for this, but I didn't see the harm in that approach at all." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times criticized the toyetic approach and Mr. Freeze's one-liner jokes in his two-star review of the film. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times believed the film "killed" the Batman film series, and felt Batman & Robin depended too much on visual effects. Desson Thomson of The Washington Post largely disapproved of Schumacher's direction and Akiva Goldsman's script. Mick LaSalle, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, said, "George Clooney is the big zero of the film, and should go down in history as the George Lazenby of the series." However, Janet Maslin of The New York Times gave a positive review. She praised Uma Thurman's acting, as well as the production and costume design.
Batman & Robin was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film, as well as Best Make-up and Best Costume, but won none. Alicia Silverstone won the Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress. Other nominations at the Razzie Awards included Schumacher (Worst Director), George Clooney and Chris O'Donnell (Worst Screen Couple), Akiva Goldsman (Worst Screenplay), both Chris O'Donnell and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Worst Supporting Actor), Uma Thurman (Worst Supporting Actress), as well as Billy Corgan (Worst Song for "The End Is the Beginning Is the End"). Batman & Robin also received nominations for Worst Picture, Worst Remake or Sequel and Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property. Ultimately, out of 11 nominations, Batman & Robin garnered only one Razzie Award.
Some observers thought Schumacher, a gay man, added possible homoerotic innuendo in the storyline. James Berardinelli questioned the "random amount [sic] of rubber nipples and camera angle close-ups of the Dynamic Duo's butts and Bat-crotches." Similar to Batman Forever, this primarily included the decision to add nipples and enlarged codpieces to Batman and Robin suits. Schumacher stated, "I had no idea that putting nipples on the Batsuit and Robin suit were going to spark international headlines. The bodies of the suits come from ancient Greek statues, which display perfect bodies. They are anatomically correct." Chris O'Donnell, who portrayed Robin, felt "it wasn't so much the nipples that bothered me. It was the codpiece. The press obviously played it up and made it a big deal, especially with Joel directing. I didn't think twice about the controversy, but going back and looking and seeing some of the pictures, it was very unusual." George Clooney joked, "Joel Schumacher told me we never made another Batman film because Batman was gay". Clooney himself has spoken critically of the film, saying, "I think we might have killed the franchise", and called it "a waste of money".
During the filming of Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. was impressed with the dailies, prompting them to immediately hire Joel Schumacher to return as director for a fifth film. However, writer Akiva Goldsman turned down an offer to write the script. In late 1996, Warner Bros. and Schumacher hired Mark Protosevich to write the script for a fifth Batman film. A projected mid-1999 release date was announced. Titled Batman Unchained, Protosevich's script had the Scarecrow as the main villain. Through the use of his fear toxin, he resurrects the Joker as a hallucination in Batman's mind. Harley Quinn appeared as a supporting character, written as the Joker's daughter. George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, and Alicia Silverstone were set to reprise the roles of Batman, Robin, and Batgirl. It was also hoped that Jack Nicholson would reprise the role of the Joker. However, following the poor critical reception of Batman & Robin, Clooney vowed never to reprise his role.
Warner Bros. decided to consider a live-action Batman Beyond film and an adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One. Warner would then produce whichever idea suited them the most. Schumacher felt he "owe[d] the Batman culture a real Batman movie. I would go back to the basics and make a dark portrayal of the Dark Knight." He approached Warner Bros. about doing Batman: Year One in mid-1998, but they were more interested in hiring Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky and Miller developed a Year One script with Aronofsky to direct, but it was ultimately canceled. Christopher Nolan was eventually hired to helm the next Batman film in January 2003, resulting in the rebooted Batman Begins (2005).
In "Legends of the Dark Knight", an episode of The New Batman Adventures, three teenagers discuss their ideas about what Batman is really like. They briefly meet a youth called Joel whose idea of Batman reflects characterizations and costumes portrayed within Schumacher's Batman and Robin. The teens treat Joel's ideas with utter disdain. In Watchmen, director Zack Snyder and comic book artist Dave Gibbons chose to parody the molded muscle and nipple Batsuit design from Batman & Robin for the Ozymandias costume. The film is referenced in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Legends of the Dark Mite!", when Bat-Mite briefly uses his powers to transform Batman's costume into the same suit shown in the Schumacher Batman films, before declaring it "Too icky". The Batman from Batman & Robin later appeared as part of an army of Batmen gathered from across the Multiverse in "Night of the Batmen!", complete with the blue rubber Batsuit. Additionally, there were worries within Warner Bros. surrounding the negative critical reaction to Batman & Robin and how that may come to harm the success of the subsequent direct-to-video animated film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, which was originally planned for release at around the same time as Batman & Robin but was subsequently delayed. However, SubZero received a far stronger positive response from critics than Batman & Robin, with Mr. Freeze's role within it being seen in a much more positive light, returning his popularity as a Batman villain to a level comparable to that reached by him within the two Emmy-winning episodes the character featured in of Batman: The Animated Series.