[This story contains spoilers for The Flash.]

Hollywood secrets have become notoriously hard to keep, but Warner Bros. and the filmmakers of The Flash pulled off a doozy with the final moments of their DC film.

After more than 25 years, George Clooney returned to the role of Bruce Wayne, marking a remarkable change of heart for an actor who was unequivocally done with the role. It was also a secret that the studio was able to keep tight for close to six months.

In a mic drop movie moment, one which has left audiences howling, The Flash’s final scenes shows Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) on the phone with Bruce Wayne. The phone call comes after a climactic courthouse hearing and Barry finally returning to his own Earth and timeline. Wayne pulls up to the courthouse in his car and as he gets out, the assembled crowd part to reveal Wayne…as played by Clooney, not the Ben Affleck version Barry expected.

Clooney infamously played Bruce Wayne/Batman in filmmaker Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, the ill-fated 1997 movie considered one of the worst superhero films of all time. The actor has repudiated it over the years, with it being the most visible miss in his storied career.

He told Howard Stern in late 2020 that it was physically painful to watch his work in the role. Said the actor: “The truth of the matter is, I was bad in it. Akiva Goldsman — who’s won the Oscar for writing since then — he wrote the screenplay. And it’s a terrible screenplay, he’ll tell you. I’m terrible in it, I’ll tell you. Joel Schumacher, who just passed away, directed it, and he’d say, ‘Yeah, it didn’t work.’ We all whiffed on that one.”

Clooney was known as a TV actor on the hit medical procedural ER when he was cast as Batman. It was to have been a defining moment for the actor, to become a full-fledged movie star in a time when movies stars, not brands or IP, mattered. Instead, the movie was a nail in the coffin for DC and Batman movies for years, with Batman finally returning to the big-screen with 2005’s Batman Begins.

Clooney’s return to Bruce Wayne was not years in the making. In fact, it was made within a few weeks with some phone calls, two screenings of the movie, and a half day of shooting in January.

It was also the third ending crafted for the film, which director Andy Muschietti made through three separate regimes at Warners. The Flash serves as a study of a movie that survived and evolved in a rapidly changing media landscape, facing the dictates of several sets of studio heads and a multi-billion dollar acquisition.

The Flash began life under the studio regime run by Toby Emmerich and his lieutenant, DC Films boss Walter Hamada. Most of the shooting and post-production was undertaken under that leadership, with the movie as part of Hamada’s plan to have Flash build to a major reset of the entire DC cinematic universe, departing from the one established by filmmaker Zack Snyder with Man of Steel a decade ago. Hamada planned a Flash sequel and then wanted to move to a movie inspired by the 1980s classic comic event, Crisis on Infinite Earths

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The Flash, as it was originally conceived and shot, ended on the courthouse steps with Supergirl, played by Sasha Calle, and Batman, played by Michael Keaton, who was already featured throughout the movie as a returned Batman. It was meant to highlight that Barry did not reset the timeline as he thought he did. It was an ending that was screen tested several times, one that reversed the deaths of Supergirl and Batman earlier in the film.

However, the movie got caught in the lightning storm that was Discovery’s acquisition of Warner Bros. in 2022.  Emmerich and Hamada were ousted, and Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav was on the hunt for an executive to run DC. In the meantime, Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy were installed as Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairpersons and CEOs. They were tasked with overseeing DC in the meantime, and suddenly and certainly not unexpectedly they had their own plans. 

A new The Flash ending was conceived. This new version was still on the courthouse steps, but now Calle’s Supergirl was joined by Superman, played by Henry Cavill, and Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot. Keaton also remained. De Luca and Abdy believed they were being strategic with the ending. Cavill was going to cameo for DC movie Black Adam and was being teed up to return to the role in a brand new Superman movie. Supergirl was retained because even though the executives were killing the development of a standalone Supergirl movie, they were open to her returning in some form and didn’t want the last image audiences saw of her to be her death at the hands of a supervillain (Michael Shannon’s General Zod).

Meanwhile, the studio was developing a third installment of Wonder Woman with filmmaker Patty Jenkins and star Gadot. This was a nice way to keep Wonder Woman in the cultural conversation. This ending was shot in September involving Miller, Cavill and Gadot as well as Keaton and Calle. 

Then came another lightning strike. In November, Zaslav announced that filmmaker James Gunn and producer Peter Safran were to run DC Studios, overseeing all DC film and television efforts. And suddenly and certainly not unexpectedly, they had their own plans.

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Knowing they were resetting the DC universe under their own vision, Gunn and Safran saw that having Cavill and Gadot in the new ending was potentially promising something their plans were not going to deliver. One of the first actions the duo took was to scrap the Cavill Superman film, and they parted ways with Jenkins, effectively killing the third Wonder Woman installment. 

The filmmakers, according to multiple people associated with the movie, then looked for alternatives but wanted to keep the germ of the idea: Barry Allen thinks all is right, but then has the rug pulled out at the last moment. They also went back to an idea joked about earlier in the filmmaking process: “How many Batmen can we get?” Clooney was brought up as a long-shot, but Gunn and Safran jumped on the notion. 

The duo reached out to Clooney’s agent at CAA, Bryan Lourd, showing him a cut of the mostly finished film. He liked it and then showed it to Clooney. Clooney liked it and agreed to be a part of it.

A shoot was quickly assembled and on a January morning on the Warners lot, Clooney was there as Wayne, back for the first time in 26 years. Also on set was Miller, making their first appearance on the lot since the fateful day in August where they met with De Luca and Abdy to discuss their controversial behavior (including multiple arrests) and steps forward.

Miller was in top form that day, sources say, for what was described as a quick and efficient shoot. Clooney and Miller spent some time together in between takes with the veteran actor having a talk with the younger actor, giving encouraging advice about handling being in the public eye and behaving in public. 

Warner kept the new ending tucked away as much as possible. The studio didn’t even screen test it. And when it screened the movie at CinemaCon for theater owners and press in April, it stopped short of revealing who came to the courthouse steps. The first time the new ending was seen by anyone other than the filmmakers was at screenings for press the week of June 4, and then at the movie’s premiere last June 12. 

“It’s rare that you have a movie in post-production that faces three separate regimes with three separate agendas,” notes one insider. “None of them were scrapped because of ill will, just different visions.” 




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