Arnold Schwarzenegger's Batman & Robin Casting Caused A Full Rewrite Of Mr. Freeze

Joel Schumacher's 1997 film "Batman & Robin" is a large, clunky, over-designed nightmare. In his two-star review, Roger Ebert referred to the film as resembling "an art-deco garbage disposal," and there often appears to be a consensus that it remains, to this day, one of the worst comic book movies ever made. Director Schumacher has even gone on record apologizing to anyone who might have felt disappointed by his film.

"Batman & Robin," while following the same Batman continuity that began in 1989 with Tim Burton's "Batman," couldn't be farther from the original. Burton's film took visual cues from 1930s German expressionism film, and was shot using shadows and steam. "Batman & Robin" looks like a Las Vegas dance spectacular, rife with bright colors, swirling lights, and neon tubing. Even the film's central villain, Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), has glittery silver skin, a glowing blue mouth, and a busy, light-up suit of armor. He looks like Walt Disney redesigned Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

Mr. Freeze, like many comic book characters, had already rotated through multiple iterations prior to their adaptation to the big screen. Mr. Freeze began his life as Mr. Zero, a coldness-obsessed supervillain first introduced by DC Comics in 1953. His name was changed to Mr. Freeze for the 1966 "Batman" TV series where he was played by George Sanders, then Otto Preminger, then Eli Wallach. Sometime in the late 1980s, Mr. Freeze became less flamboyant and was transformed into a more tragic, brooding figure, trapped by the low-temp suit he requires to stay alive. That more stern version was what fans of "Batman: The Animated Series" saw in 1992.

According to a 2017 "Batman & Robin" retrospective with The Hollywood Reporter, the film's Mr. Freeze was meant to cleave most closely to the "Animated" rendition.

Cool party

Those around in 1997 might recall rumors that actor Patrick Stewart, not yet having played Professor X in Bryan Singer's "X-Men," was in talks to play Mr. Freeze in the then-upcoming Batman film. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Joel Schumacher finally but the kibosh on those rumors, pointing out that Stewart was never contacted, that he never auditioned, and that he wasn't even suggested by anyone. "It's a beautiful idea," the director admitted, however.

Stewart, a classically trained Shakespearean actor, and then fresh off of "Star Trek: First Contact," would certainly have played the role differently than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who more often reached for high camp and who made frequent puns about ice and freezing. (Sample dialogue: "Let's kick some ice.") Indeed, storyboard artist Steve Burgard claims that an earlier version of the script, credited to Akiva Goldsman, didn't have the puns in them. Burgard said that Mr. Freeze was initially written for an actor more like Stewart, containing an element of classical tragedy:

"All the dialogue was for Mr. Freeze, you could tell it was meant for somebody who would deliver it in a Shakespearean fashion. It was hysterical; in my head, I was reading Freeze's dialogue as Schwarzenegger."

When the production landed Schwarzenegger — one of the world's biggest movie stars, making it difficult to say anything but "yes" — the character was altered. Burgard said that it was only after the part was cast that the silly puns were worked into the screenplay. The Shakespearean notes were dropped and the camp, reminiscent of the 1966 "Batman," came creeping in.

A million dollars a day

According to producer Peter MacGregor-Scott, Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $25 million to appear in "Batman & Robin," a massive sum at the time. Indeed, it seemed a great deal of the film's $160 million budget went to its cast. "The cast ate the money up," the producer said. "It's tough when you wake up in the morning and just spent $25 million! Oh, dear." Schwarzenegger was also given top billing, similar to Jack Nicholson in 1989's "Batman." 

One can only postulate if Patrick Stewart or a similarly classical actor would have improved the film's reviews. "Batman & Robin" elicited fits of widespread derisive laughter and largely negative reviews; it currently holds a 12% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While the film wasn't a massive bomb — it earned $238 million worldwide — it wasn't near the hit that studios expected, and the franchise was officially shuttered thereafter. Batman would continue on TV in both animated and live-action (who remembers the "Birds of Prey" TV series from 2002?) for nearly a decade. It wouldn't be until 2005 that Christopher Nolan would make "Batman Begins" and resurrect the character's cinematic potential.

Mr. Freeze, meanwhile, has largely remained in the pages of comics since 1997. In Nolan's relatively grounded approach to Batman, a sci-fi character like Mr. Freeze was perhaps too silly and outlandish. It might take a director like Matt Reeves transforming him into a run-of-the-mill serial killer, a la, the Riddler in "The Batman," to make audiences see the character again.