Why Val Kilmer left the Batman franchise after Batman Forever

Val Kilmer played The Dark Knight in Batman Forever, but he didn't return to the role for the sequel. Here's why he left the DC franchise.
On the set of Batman Forever
On the set of Batman Forever / Sunset Boulevard/GettyImages

The Batman film series has been a staple of Hollywood since the '80s. It all started with Tim Burton's 1989 classic that starred Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader. The two would team together again on 1992 sequel Batman Returns but after that, the franchise moved in a new direction.

Warner Bros. hired Joel Schumacher to direct a more light-hearted movie and Keaton eventually left the project, with Val Kilmer stepping in to replace him in the title role. Batman Forever premiered in 1995 to mixed reviews, but it did become a box office success, guaranteeing a sequel.

However, Kilmer did not reprise the role and was replaced by George Clooney in 1997's infamous Batman and Robin.

Val Kilmer found playing Batman very isolating

Val Kilmer was only the second actor to play a modern Batman. Michael Keaton had done it before him and returned for a sequel just years later, so he was the only one who knew what wearing the Batsuit was like (and how uncomfortable is can be). Nevertheless, he enjoyed working on both films and even returned to the role three decades later in The Flash. It seems that Kilmer did not share this enjoyment when he donned the cape and cowl in 1995's Batman Forever.

During a recent Amazon Prime Video documentary titled Val, the actor reflected on his experience as The Dark Knight and why he ultimately didn't return to the role in the 1997 sequel. A lot of that reflection discussed the Batsuit, with Kilmer referring to the whole experience as being very "isolating" because the heaviness made it impossible to sit down or stand up without help and prevented him from hearing much - so much so that people just stopped talking to him. He added:

"Whatever boyhood excitement I had was crushed by the reality of the Batsuit. Yes, every boy wants to be Batman. They actually want to be him … not necessarily play him in a movie."

He revealed that he felt the movie limited his performance and that he was envious of Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones, who played villains The Riddler and Two-Face in the film, due to the fact that they could so easily slot into those larger-than-life characters and still enjoy themselves on-set.

This is not the only time that Kilmer has spoke of the isolation he felt while wearing the Batsuit, telling The New York Times that a set visit from Warren Buffett and his grandchildren made him feel invisible as they were more interested in the Batmobile than speaking to Batman himself. He said it was a moment of realization for him as it made him see that there was no one Batman.

"That’s why it’s so easy to have five or six Batmans... It’s not about Batman. There is no Batman."

It's sad that landing such a huge part left Kilmer feeling this way. It really does highlight how uncomfortable these superhero suits can be and the magic that goes into ensuring that they don't look as such on-screen. The suit that Kilmer wore was very detailed, renowned for its Greek God-like physique, which likely would have made it heavier than the more simple designs of the previous two movies.

Batman Forever
Photo: Batman Forever.. Image Courtesy Warner Bros. / DC Universe /

There were rumors that Kilmer had been difficult to work with, which is something that director Joel Schumacher also spoke about during an interview with Entertainment Weekly not long after the release of Batman Forever, claiming that the actor once didn't speak to him for two weeks during filming.

Kilmer himself alluded to the stories, saying, "Everyone has to work out their own salvation. How to live and by what morality, and I found that the part that I feel bad about is hurting somebody in the process."

Two years after Batman Forever, its star-studded sequel Batman and Robin arrived in movie theaters around the world, with George Clooney replacing Kilmer as the Caped Crusader. It was a notorious disaster, receiving an overwhelmingly negative response from both critics and fans of the franchise, putting the Batman saga "on ice" for eight years (before it was rebooted with Batman Begins).

It was probably good for Kilmer's career that he side-stepped that one given how poorly Clooney's Dark Knight was received, but it's interesting to think about what the campy spectacle could have looked like with Kilmer's more stoic Batman at the center of it.

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