When Tim Burton was set to direct a Catwoman film, starring Michelle Pfeiffer

Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman/Selina Kyle in Batman Returns (1992)
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The 1990s produced three Batman films. However, there were plans for Michelle Pfeiffer to headline her own solo Catwoman film, we take a closer look at the story.


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Arguably the biggest breakout character from Batman Returns was Michelle Pfeiffer’s take on Catwoman, a performance so good that no other interpretation of Gotham City’s most famous feline has managed to reach the same level of popularity.

The stories of Joel Schumacher’s Batman films could probably fill a book on their own, but the main point is that when Batman Forever was eventually released, Tim Burton wasn’t behind the camera. He was nominally listed as producer, but that was more a courtesy credit.

Just as Batman Forever was entering pre-production in 1993, Catwoman, a spin-off/sequel to Batman Returns, was also announced. Pfeiffer was attached to reprise the role and Burton would direct. It was the same creative team behind the camera too who’d brought Batman Returns to the screen, as screenwriter Daniel Waters penned the script and producer Denise Di Novo would also return.

By January 1994 though, things were already looking rocky for the project. Burton had a choice to make – to make Catwoman, or The Fall Of The House of Usher, an adaptation of the story by Edgar Allen Poe. We have yet to see Burton’s take on that story, but a year later, coincidentally on the day that Batman Forever was released on the 16th June 1995, Waters submitted his Catwoman screenplay to Warner Brothers. Waters joked at the time that “”turning it in the day Batman Forever opened may not have been my best logistical move, in that it’s the celebration of the fun-for-the-whole-family Batman. Catwoman is definitely not a fun-for-the-whole-family script”.

He was right on that front.

Building on Burton’s darker vision for the Batman universe, the plot of Waters’ script would have seen the action move from Gotham City to Oasisberg, described in the screenplay as a “gorgeous urban island in a sea of dirt and sand.”. Presiding over this paradise are a group of self-proclaimed superheroes known as The Cult Of Good. They are made up of large, caped Mammoth, the red-hooded Spooky, who is “lithe and limber and Asian…definite whiff of androgyny”, the jetpack wearing Adonis, with his “perfect blond hair”, cocky, leather jacketed Cactus, who sports a cannon arm and the Cult’s leader, Captain God, described as “ultimate stiff straight white B-movie male authority figure”.

As the story goes on, it becomes apparent that these heroes are actually anything but. Waters said that “I made these fictional superheroes the villains of the piece, so Catwoman can be the one to mess them up and kind of be their trickster”.

We revisit Catwoman in a support group meeting, where we discover she has amnesia, a result of the brutal beating received at the climax of Batman Returns. Returning to her hometown of Oasistown, she witnesses the Cult Of Good in action, uneasy with the level of punishment dished out to a group of thugs. She noticed a hunchbacked older woman following her, who vanishes, leaving a black cat in her place. We discover that she is the one who delivered Selina’s body to the hospital in Gotham city after she almost died.

The plot continues, and involves a black key, a chest, and Selina Kyle’s memories returning. The rest of the film deals with Selina’s love life, a rag tag group of Catwoman imitators and what is described as a “spectacular ballet of violence”.

You can read a detailed plot summary over at Bloody Disgusting, where they sat down with Waters to discuss the screenplay.

Batman Returns: Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman

While the ending to Waters’ script sees Selina burying her costume in the desert, it was open ended enough for there to be a sequel. Waters explained that “I did that nine lives thing, and she did have one life left … [but] I had not thought to where Catwoman would go after Batman Returns. I didn’t think she was gonna be the next James Bond. I didn’t think about what her Thunderball was gonna look like. I put everything into this draft. But she does live at the end”.

However, upon reading his screenplay, the feedback was less than stellar. In fact, Waters got no notes at all, with bizarre complaints that his screenplay was too similar to the story outline.

With radio silence from executives and Tim Burton quickly moving on to direct Ed Wood – that he moved to after walking away from the high budget Mary Reilly – the project stalled before it even started. Burton would never return to Gotham City, and Pfeiffer would leave Selina behind too.

Catwoman returned, though. It would be over a decade before her film finally landed in cinemas in 2004. Halle Berry took on the title role, to almost unanimous criticism, infamously (and with remarkable good grace and a sense of self-deprecating humour) turning up to the Razzie Awards to collect hers in person. She was quoted as saying that “If you aren’t able to be a good loser you’re not able to be a good winner”. Berry won the Best Actor Oscar just two years previously for Monster’s Ball.

Waters, incidentally, was not a fan of the finished film. Asked if he takes any credit for the 2004 box office bomb, he laughs and explains that “a dump truck comes to my door, backs up and throws 36 scripts on my front lawn, asking if I wanna arbitrate for credit for Halle Berry’s Catwoman … I read the 36th script, and I said oh thank you, no. I don’t need to arbitrate. It’s all yours. I’ll let you and Pitof [the film’s director] have this one”.

It was a decision that cost Waters money, but he’s good with that. Still, there was a moment where a Catwoman film in the guise Waters imagined might have been a thing. Even Pfeiffer herself still mourns the lost opportunity.

While Catwoman lives on in other Batman media, including Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises and Zoe Kravitz’s recent take on the character in The Batman, Michelle Pfeiffer arguably remains the most iconic interpretation, and while her solo film may never have made it to the screen, we at least have enough detail to imagine what might have been. But this was one project that, ultimately, ran out of lives…

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