Twenty years later, the director has only a few regrets. Not among them: the Batsuit nipples.
Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin is easily one of the most despised superhero movies ever made. Upon its release on June 20, 1997, critics dog-piled insults on this notorious sequel to 1995’s Batman Forever. The Washington Post compared it to a wounded yeti that dies in a frozen heap; Salon said, “You won’t find any writing, acting or directing to speak of”; The Los Angeles Times said it was a relief when it was finally over; and even in re-evaluations, the general consensus remains that this movie is a stinker. The plot was ice-thin, the movie overall too kitschy, viewers felt that George Clooney underperformed, and nobody could get over those nipples on the batsuit. Fans were so furious that Joel Schumacher even apologized for it years ago, and today, Rotten Tomatoes lists its rating as 11% Fresh.
But here’s how I remember it: Batman & Robin is the best time I’ve ever had watching a superhero movie. I was a kid the first time, but even on every rewatch since, I’ve been tickled by something new, whether it be the various ice puns Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze uses (“Everybody chill,” “let’s kick some ice,” “the iceman cometh”) or Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl pulling a late-night biker babe. I’m even a fan of George Clooney as Batman.
It’s an unpopular opinion, even among Schumacher stans (Batman Forever is the easy winner between the two). But Batman & Robin is wonderfully silly, with an A-list cast, and there’s a delightful comic-book veneer and a sense of humor that the self-serious Christopher NolanDark Knight movies could have benefited from. Schumacher apologized for Batman & Robin again just last week in an interview withVICE (or seemed to), but it turns out this week he isn’t sorry at all. GQ spoke to the director about Batman & Robin’s legacy in gay cinema and his real final words about the film.
GQ: I saw that you just apologized again for Batman & Robin.
Joel Schumacher: I didn’t! I mean, I don’t know how it was interpreted. I didn’t apologize again at all. I did years ago. I said, “I’m sorry if the fans were disappointed.” There were a lot of fans that weren’t, but of course there’s no headline in that. Actually the hard thing about doing interviews is I was laughing through the whole thing, and that never comes across.
Well, I’m not a fan you need to apologize to. This is actually my favorite Batman movie.
Oh, you sweetheart! That’s very sweet, and I know it has a lot of fans. I don’t think I did my best job, that’s all. You know, I’m 78 and I’ve been working all my life and I’m sure you have things where you really feel might not be your greatest success.
I love the first one we did, Batman Forever. But there really are very few directors I can think of that have a big body of work that get it right every single time. I got my dream and I got it bigger than I dreamed it, so I was always working and I made two movies a year some years. So I’m not apologizing, but there are times when you feel you can do better.
I love how muchBatman & Robinlooks and feels like a comic book.
I will say I think it’s gorgeous. But that’s not just me. Barbara Ling designed the film and Bob Ringwood and Ingrid Ferrin did the costumes, and Stephen Goldblatt shot both Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.
There was a pressure on a sequel that I hadn’t experienced. Of course, there have been phenomenal sequels like Godfather Part II and certainly superhero movies and Star Wars, which has never-ending sequels. So there was a lot of pressure, but I’m a big boy. There’s nobody that did anything to me. I’m no victim.
What do you think of The Dark Knight movies?
I think Chris Nolan is so brilliant. One of the really cool things about making the Batman movies was that Bob Kane, who created Batman, was still alive and he would come and visit the set almost every day, and that was fabulous. And we all got to know Bob Kane, and that was really a thrill. But if you look at Tim’s and then mine, there’s a certain innocence to the whole thing, even though Tim was blasted because some parents thought that Danny DeVito was too scary for kids and Michelle Pfeiffer was in that bondage suit. At the studio’s request, we tried to make a more family-friendly Batman.
What’s interesting to me about Nolan’s movies is that it shows you how the audience has changed. I mean, look at where Batman started and then you look at the last one, which is really a social, political, moral tale of the darkness around us.
Yeah, your movies are completely different. What I thought was the most misunderstood part of Batman & Robin was that people didn’t get that it was a comedy.
Well, in Batman Forever, because of Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones, there was a tongue-in-cheek aspect to a lot of it. Maybe the humor wasn’t as good as Batman Forever, but I don’t know. As I say, it’s a long time ago and I haven’t seen the movie in a long, long time.
You open with George Clooney’s ass! How are people not excited by that opening?
I will relay that to George.
Oh good, thank you.
I thought, “Well, I hope I can entertain everyone again,” and so I can’t say I wish I hadn’t made the movie, because that’s not true at all.
And everybody worked their butt off.
I also think that audiences really have to understand, and I think they do, no one sets out to make a bad movie. People don’t sit down and say, “Let us make a bad movie and disappoint everyone.” There are all kinds of fans of any superhero, and it’s kind of hard to please everybody, but that’s okay. I had a ball making them and I’m really glad I did them, but yeah, I’m not going to apologize anymore.
So you were right that I first saw it as a kid, but I re-watched it as an adult, and all the ice puns that Arnold Schwarzenegger makes killed me.
Yeah, I think some of those Arnold made up.
Another delightful thing that I discovered while rewatching this: You make a Marlene Dietrich inBlonde Venusreference. In Josef von Sternberg’s film from 1932, Dietrich performs a number in a gorilla suit, and Uma Thurman does the same thing here, except as a pink gorilla.
Oh my God! How did you know that? I love that you know that. Of course, that isn’t a reference—I stole it!
It was amazing.
I hope that that was very clever. I haven’t seen Blonde Venus in years, but yes, that was a direct steal. If you’re gonna steal, steal good.
I’ve heard a couple people say that’s one of the reasons this movie was an underrated piece of gay cinema.
I never thought of that. I do know that there is definitely a large gay audience for all the Batman films. But yeah, I tried to put in something for everyone. I never thought it was an important moment in gay cinema, but hey, I’ll take it. I think the other surprising thing was the nipples on the Batsuit. It got so much attention.
“I’ve never been closeted. White heterosexual men never have to be labeled. I find that interesting, don’t you?”
Was that like a touch of humor for you?
So many talented people were working with rubber that we got the gift of having the suit being very slim and very body conscious. The suits became sexier. I never thought… I didn’t even know if people would notice. I was like, “Oh my god.”
Maybe this goes back to people saying it’s an important piece of gay cinema, but I liked that it was funnier and softer and sexier.
I think because I am gay, people read into things. For instance, when I did Tigerland, because you have a lot of guys running around in their underwear, of course it’s called homoerotic. It seems to feel a little cockeyed. I made so many macho films. It was just fun.
Were you always openly gay?
I’ve never been closeted. White heterosexual men never have to be labeled. I find that interesting, don’t you?
Well, then we should start saying things like “straight white male director.”
Wouldn’t that be fun?
Yes, I’m gay; yes, I direct movies. I want to say something important about being out: I think that the demands from the straight and gay community, that people must “out” themselves, I think is very unfair. Whether people want to announce anything about themselves is their choice. I understand “don’t hide who you are,” but that should be a very personal decision. Whatever they want to admit—not just homosexuality.
Were there times you wished you had kept that part of your life private?
No, I couldn’t have. To what end? I wasn’t about to say I was straight. I remember a few years ago, a wonder interviewed me and she said, “Do you want to talk about your personal life?” And I said “Whatever you want to know, but do you care?” You know there’s still people, usually women, who will always ask me, “Is Tom Cruise gay?” How do I know?!
“People don’t sit down and say, ‘Let us make a bad movie and disappoint everyone.’ There are all kinds of fans of any superhero, and it’s kind of hard to please everybody. I had a ball making them and I’m really glad I did them.”
But there is that notion that many men in Hollywood are closeted because it would hurt their careers.
Well, I think that’s certainly true for some people, and it was certainly true in the old studio days. I understand but it must be a hard way to live, and my heart goes out to them.
Anyway, Batman & Robin. Wasn’t George Clooney big at this time?
Big on television. Val Kilmer ducked out at the last minute, and Warner Bros. said, “How about George Clooney?” So I went to George’s house and met his pig. And to know George is to absolutely love him, and we decided to do it. George was doing ER four days a week and everybody at ER accommodated us and we accommodated them. He worked seven days a week. He was a big star on television, but hadn’t really hit features by this point. This was the biggest project he had been on but he sure took off after it, that’s for sure. And I’m not saying I did that for him. George is one of the great people I know and he deserves every bit of success. He’s also so cool.
After Batman & Robin, I went on to make some of my best movies. George went on and won an Academy Award. Akiva Goldsman, who wrote it, won an Academy Award for A Beautiful Mind. Arnold became governor. Uma has never stopped working. I ran into Alicia Silverstone on the street when she was doing a play. She looked beautiful and she’s happy.
How does George feel about this film, 20 years later?
Well, he apologized too. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Milky Way commercial where a young woman is giving a biker guy a tattoo and she writes “No Regerts.” And she goes, “Sorry! I was eating a Milky Way!” I think my final words about Batman & Robin are going to be,”Sorry! I was eating a Milky Way!”