In 1989, the world was introduced to an entirely new kind of superhero. Where comic adaptations in the past had been defined by being flighty and funny, a movie came out that tried to incorporate dark comedy, deeper motivations, and inventive designs. It may have still been campy as hell, but 1989’s Batman, directed by Tim Burton, was a massive shift in the general consciousness of comics. It and its somehow darker sequel, Batman Returns, were foundational pieces of pop culture in those decades, and proved to be great building blocks for the superhero-centric box office we have today.
While they might not be the best Batman movies in the world (seriously, these things almost go out of their way to mess up the Batman from the comics, but that is its own article), these oddball blockbusters are still a fun superhero romp throughout. A surprising but perfect cast go all out in these deceptively campy films, but they manage to strike gold for the most part. And it’s important to look back at the growth and development of the character. But even with all that adoration and impact, there’s plenty about the movies that have faded away from the public eye. These include earlier ideas that were dropped from the film, complications and innovations while filming, and the outcome of the success and failures of the films. Here are 15 things you don’t know about the Tim Burton Batman movies.
15. They Almost Had A Black Robin
It seems that, in recent years, the idea of Robin has really fallen out of favor with audiences. Batman’s sidekick and arguably most trusted ally has been a mainstay of the comics. The role has even been filled with other characters over the years, with some even going to on to big name roles. Even Burton thought so, as Robin was planned for both Burton films at different times of production. He almost had a cameo in the first movie, to leave a door open for an expanded role in the inevitable sequel. But he was seriously considered for Batman Returns, and had a role in the film for much of pre-production. He was even cast – and could have been the trailblazer for blind casting in super hero movies. The race of comic characters is a hot button issue for some when movies cast actors of different ethnicity or race than the comic book characters they are based on. But Marlon Wayans was actually cast to play the usually white Robin, and could have shifted views on the subject exponentially. However, he was removed from the script, just like another black actor who was a part of these movies, who we will get to later.
14. Poor Sean Young And Her Homemade Costume
Sean Young desperately wanted to be in these movies. The actress – after appearing in a string of movies during the 1980s – was the initial actress cast as Vicki Vale, the reporter/love interest from the first movie. She even got to the rehearsal stage before a horse riding accident left her with a broken arm. Following the injury deep in the middle of pre-production for a massive movie, she was let go and recast by Kim Basinger. When Warner Bros. started looking for an actress to play Catwoman in the next film, she decided to go all out and win the part she deserved. This strategy, unfortunately, included showing up at the Warner Bros. lot dressed up in her own handmade leather Catwoman costume and demanding to see Tim Burton. It, uh, it did not endear her to the people making the movie, and she did not get the part. It ultimately went to Michelle Pfeiffer.
13. We Almost Got Billy Dee Williams Two-Face
Billy Dee Williams has had a very successful career as a character actor, even though that’s not what he’s most known for. No, that would be his role as the semi-traitorous but good-intentioned former scoundrel, Lando, from the original Star Wars trilogy. But the world was this close to identifying him as another major nerd icon: Two-Face. Williams appears in the first Burton Batman movie as Harvey Dent, a crusading DA who’s preparing to run for office. He’s set up to become a major player in the next film, and has a few appearances throughout the film. But his role in Batman Returns was eventually relegated to evil businessman Max Shrek, and the Two-Face turn (which was initially supposed to be a cliffhanger for the third movie) was removed. Instead, Williams was recast when the movies shifted over to Joel Schumacher. And that sucks! Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face sounds amazing! Though, as a mythology gag, Williams did appear as Two-Face in the Lego Batman movie. I guess that’s something.
12. Batman Is Pretty Savage In These Movies
It’s one of the basic rules of Batman, across almost every incarnation of the character: Batman does not take a life. Not with guns, not with knives, not with lasers, not with anything. Batman does not kill. Someone should tell the Burton Batman about that. Because this guy is a full on killer. In two movies, he straight-up slaughters many of the henchmen that Joker and Penguin throw his way, ranging from tossing them off buildings to engulfing them in flames with his rocket car. At one point, he even sticks a bomb on a henchman and then smiles at him. That is some savage stuff right there! It’s a move that really stands out against the other incarnations of the character, where even leaving someone to die or pulling a mercy killing (like Batman Begins or Gotham) are treated like big, character-defining moments.
11. It Was Almost Basically Batman Begins
There were a number of different versions of the Batman script during pre-production, ranging in tone, scope, and character. Some were closer to the comics, and brought over characters we still haven’t seen on screen, like socialite love interest Silver St. Cloud or gang lord Rupert Throne. Others were bigger departures, transforming the mythos completely. One script, however, ended up predicting the eventual direction of the character pretty well. One version of the script that was written had the first half of the film follow Bruce during his training to become Batman, under the tutelage of a man named Ducard. This script was abandoned by the studio, but might sound familiar to anyone who’s seen Batman Begins. They even brought the Ducard role back, albeit as a cover for Ra’s Al Ghul.
10. Michael Keaton Got SO Much Hate Mail
Say what you will, but Michael Keaton has proven to be a great actor over the years. He’s funny, he’s intense, and can make a guy with robot bird wings and a bomber jacket feel like a fresh, fully-rounded out character. But there was a time when the actor was only really known for his comedy roles, and not for any the complicated dramatic fare he would bring to the table in future works. So when it was announced that the actor would be playing Bruce Wayne, fan reaction was… mixed. Keaton even ended up getting thousands of pieces of hate-mail, calling him out for him taking the part. The producers even had to release the trailer early (and without music in some scenes) just to try and quell the horrific reaction the fan community had to the casting.
9. Jack Nicholson’s Favorite Role
Jack Nicholson has been one of the biggest stars in Hollywood for almost half a century now, which is insane. He’s appeared in countless iconic roles across five decades of work, and it’s a marvel that he’s managed to shine in all of them. But he’s admitted in the past to having a special place in his heart for a specific role: the Joker. After an exhaustive casting search (that included bringing in Robin Williams and John Malkovich), one of the producers was finally able to get Nicholson on board. He relished the freedom the role gave him to have fun and ham it up, and it shows in the final product. It also didn’t hurt that, due to earning a certain percentage of the worldwide gross on one of the biggest movies of all time, Nicholson ended up making a fortune off the movie.
8. Danny DeVito Was COMMITTED To Being Penguin
The Penguin is a weird character. He’s one of the earliest villains for Batman, but has always felt a little half-baked. Creators have tried a number of different approaches to the character over the years, never landing on a definitive interpretation of the character. But Danny DeVito was committed to making his version stand out. To that end, the actor ended up trying not to break character, even in between filming. He gave the Penguin a darker, grosser, rougher outlook. And DeVito did everything he could to inspire that feeling into his movement and speaking patterns. He reportedly even managed to freak Tim Burton out a few times between takes, which is really saying something. And to his credit, DeVito delivered a memorable performance as the freaky crime lord.
7. Two Of The Biggest Set Pieces Were Accidents
Two of the biggest moments in the first Batman film came when Batman and Joker found themselves confronting each other over a steep drop. And somehow, both of them were accidents. Neither had been planned perfectly, and it leads to some fun background context. The first meeting takes place in the Axis Chemical Plant, which happened to not be the first time movie-goers had seen that set. It was actually the alien nest from the 1986 sci-fi action smash, Aliens, and had to be cleaned at the last minute to be repurposed for Batman. Meanwhile, the cathedral finale wasn’t in the script at all, and wasn’t a creation of Burton’s. Instead, it was actually the idea of a producer, who managed to force it onto Burton in the end. Two of the most memorable places from the movie were happy mistakes.
6. Penguin And Shrek Were Almost Related
One of the main plot beats of Batman Returns follows the Penguin and his battles with rich villain, Max Shrek (played perfectly by Christopher Walken). Their animosity was originally going to be a lot more straightforward however, and would have tied the two together tighter. After Harvey Dent was written out of the script, Shrek was created to fill his roles as the antagonistic business mogul. And to connect him closer to the plot, Shrek was originally going to be revealed to be Penguin’s biological brother. It would have played well into their animosity, and helped push their antagonism to bigger heights. But this wrinkle of their relationship was eventually decided to be too random for the characters, and was removed from the script.
5. Knox Only Exists In These Movies
Knox is one of the best characters in these movies. Deal with it. Seemingly the only honest newsman in Gotham, Knox is fearless, confident, charming, and funny. And yeah, he doesn’t compare to Batman, but who does? He’s Batman! The craziest part of the character is his lack of development in any other form of media, including the comics. That’s right, Knox is wholly created for the movie, and has never appeared in a single page of mainline DC Comics, which just feels weird! He’s an incredibly fun character, and his form of goofy but cutting snark would make for a great addition to any series. But the character never even managed to appear in the sequel, which means he probably wasn’t as loved by everyone else. That is a bummer, because he’s great.
4. Ivan Reitman, Bill Murray, And Eddie Murphy Almost Did It
When the idea of a dark Batman movie was initially pitched to studios, they balked at the concept. At the time, the biggest mass media incarnation of the character had been the knowingly silly 1960’s Batman television series. And most people expected the character to remain a comedic force instead of becoming the more serious character that he’s transformed into over the years. To that end, the initial director hunt (which managed to also include David Cronenberg and Sam Raimi being considered) even led to Ivan Reitman, best known for Ghostbusters. He wanted to do a spiritual successor to the 60’s film, and would have brought on – and this is 100% true – Bill Murray as Batman and Eddie Murphy as Robin. I mean, come on! That would have been insane and also maybe the greatest movie ever made.
3. The Reinvention Of Gotham
Over the years, Gotham City has been a lot of different things, to a lot of different people. It’s been a stand-in for New York, it’s been a fantasy world full of giant billboards and lights, and it’s even been a post-apocalyptic hellscape a couple of times. Seriously. But for a lot of people, the gothic architecture and rising spires have become one of the default interpretations of the city, across movies, video games, and even the comics. And a lot of that comes straight from these movies. Already pretty inspired by gothic work, the director brought that outlook onto Gotham and helped inspire an entire new interpretation of Gotham. Soon, the city became more grandiose but retro, something that felt more like an Impressionist film than the usual nameless backdrops for action movies. It has bled into Batman mythos as a whole, and that’s fascinating.
2. McDonald’s Got Tim Burton Fired From The Sequels
So, as one would expect, the first Batman movie by Tim Burton was a major success. Especially with children, because no one loves Batman as much as little kids do. There were toy deals all over the place, and it’s been estimated that merchandise for the first Burton Batman movie managed to net Warner Bros a massive payday. So it’s no surprise that they wanted to capitalize on that goodwill. Toy deals were planned with various companies, with one of the biggest being fast food juggernaut McDonald’s. They promoted toys for months, trying to get kids excited for Batman Returns. And, to their utmost surprise, the movie was not what anyone was expecting. Outrage among parents (who brought their kids to a fun superhero movie and got a Penguin who bit off noses and a Catwoman who licked herself) forced McDonald’s to rethink their entire toy tie-in deal. It cost a lot of people a LOT of money, and directly led to Tim Burton not being invited back to direct the third film.
1. It Led Straight To The DC Animated Universe
For kids raised in the 1990s, one of the most important touchstones of their pop culture lives comes from a singular, powerful source. And that touchstone was the animated Batman series. With talent like Bruce Timm and Paul Dini behind the scenes, the series became one of the definitive versions of Batman, and one of the best cartoon series of all time. And we all have the Tim Burton Batman films to thank for that. The Batman movies’ success can’t be overstated. It was one of the biggest releases of all time, and Warner Bros. wanted to extend that appeal as long as possible. So, they refocused money on creating a spin-off series that could also exploit the new Bat-craze. This idea transformed into an entire animation empire, and DC to this day is still putting out strong animated DC movies, thanks to the success of the Burton Batman. If nothing else, the Batman films helped elevate superheroes to a place where they hadn’t been in decades, and help set the stage for the genuinely fun and exciting superhero world of today.
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