George Clooney

George Clooney is perhaps among the most respected and successful actors of his generation. So much so, in fact, that on June 7th he is due to be honored with the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. But even in a career as distinguished as his, there are some “achievements” less worthy of the name than others.

Certainly, every actor has projects they’re less than proud of. In Clooney’s case, that list is topped by Joel Schumacher’s 1997 disasterpiece ‘Batman & Robin’. The film, which often feels more like a neon-lit fever dream crossed with a toy commercial than a Batman movie, isn’t exactly something that any of the cast brags about. But for Clooney in particular, it came at what proved to be a critical moment in his career, as he was beginning to break into higher profile film projects following his initial success on ‘ER’.

But while it would be easy to look back at ‘Batman & Robin’ as an embarrassment, Clooney treats it as more of a teachable moment. Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter ahead of the AFI’s award ceremony, he cited the film as perhaps the most personally influential of his career:

“It’s really easy to pick: ‘Batman & Robin’. That’s not a joke. Up until that moment, I was an actor only concerned with finding work. After the failure of that film creatively, I understood that i needed to take control of the films I made, not just the role. My next three films were ‘Out of Sight’, ‘Three Kings’, and ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?'”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Clooney’s attitude toward ‘Batman & Robin’ is a remarkably – and indeed, refreshingly – positive outlook on his work on a film that even twenty years later tends to be held up as an example of everything that can go wrong with superhero cinema. Though say what you will about the film; ‘Batman & Robin’ is many things, but it is never boring. That may be a tepid defense (really, the only kind possible) but in the spirit of Clooney’s ability to find the positive in his own experience with the movie, it only feels right to close this article on the same note.