Believe it or not, Batman Returns has been out for 25 years. Tim Burton’s follow-up to his original Batman film pitted Michael Keaton’s Dark Knight against the dastardly schemes of the Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), and was the third highest grossing film of 1992.
Whereas Burton toned down his distinctive style somewhat the first time around, Batman Returns represents the director well and truly cutting loose. The end result is a movie that’s even more visually impressive than its predecessor, and a story that’s darker and quirkier than any Batman adventure to date. It received mostly positive reviews from critics, however Burton’s approach to the source material divided fans (a debate which still rages even now on online message boards!).
Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, Batman Returns is an undeniably iconic piece of cinema, and its journey to the big screen (and what followed after) is a fascinating one.
Indeed, there’s plenty of interesting factoids surrounding the film’s production – ranging from outlandish early scripts through to crazy planned spin-offs. Of these, we’ve boiled it down to only the very best trivia, and present for your enjoyment 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Batman Returns.
15. Penguin And Catwoman: Treasure Hunters?
Seriously – an early draft of the Batman Returns script revolved around Penguin and Catwoman hunting for hidden treasure! As evil plans go, it’s more than a little goofy, especially for the gothic fever dream atmosphere that Burton’s take on the Dark Knight was shooting for. Dissatisfied with his villains’ proposed wicked plot, Burton brought in a new scribe, Daniel Waters, to concoct something more high-stakes.
Waters would pen a revised screenplay that introduced the “Penguin runs for Mayor of Gotham City” plotline, and laid the groundwork for the development of Christoper Walken’s corrupt businessman character, Max Shreck.
While other fiendish plots would be introduced in subsequent script revisions, only to be dropped and recycled for later Batman films (read on for more on that), the concept of our two baddies grabbing spades, metal detectors and maps marked with an ‘X’ was quickly and permanently ditched.
14. It Was Originally Going To Be A More Direct Sequel
While Batman Returns is certainly a sequel to Burton’s original 1989 blockbuster, the film is a mostly standalone affair, with only the returning cast members and a handful of lines of dialogue serving to connect the two. This was not the initial plan, however – screenwriter Sam Hamm’s early drafts placed a greater emphasis on continuity between Batman Returns and its predecessor.
Along with the return of Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale as Bruce Wayne’s love interest, some of the interesting ideas later scrapped included fragments of the destroyed Batwing jet being sold as souvenirs and a subplot delving into the past of Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
Ultimately, Burton wasn’t thrilled by the idea of retreading old ground, and the script was reworked to make the links between Batman Returns and Batman more subdued. Among those that remain are several references to Wayne’s relationship with Vale – and a subtle dig at her infamous unauthorized entry into the Batcave (which Hamm regarded as a mistake).
13. The Final Scene With Catwoman Was A Late Addition
Batman Returns famously ends with a scene of Catwoman facing the bat-signal as it lights up Gotham City’s skyline, revealing to viewers that her earlier apparent demise was fake-out. Given the popularity of the character – and Pfeiffer’s performance – it might come as something of a shock to many fans that this scene didn’t feature in the film’s shooting script! No, this shot was only added during post-production, and with a body double standing in for an unavailable Pfeiffer!
The rationale behind adding this moment to the film’s finale was in order to firmly establish that everyone’s favorite femme fatale had indeed survived her latest brush with death (already hinted at) and to set up a planned Catwoman spin-off (more on that later).
As an added bonus, concluding on Catwoman gazing out at the Bat-Signal also provided a nice visual callback to the closing visuals of the first Batman movie, which ended with Batman in a similar pose.
12. Two-Face / Harvey Dent was set to appear
Another aspect of the original Batman film that was supposed to be carried across to Batman Returns was Harvey Dent, better known by his criminal alias Two-Face. Portrayed by Billy Dee Williams in Batman, the character was set to undergo his tragic transformation from crusading district attorney to disfigured crime boss due to a run-in with a taser during the flick’s final confrontation scene. This fate was, of course, transferred to Max Shreck (along with the rest of Dent’s scenes) in the finished film, with more fatal results.
Williams, who signed on for Batman with the understanding that he would be playing Harvey – and then Two-Face – across multiple entries in the series, reportedly had his contract bought out, and the dualistic gangster would instead be brought to life in follow-up Batman Forever by Tommy Lee Jones, in a performance that was widely panned by critics and fans alike.
11. Annette Bening Was Originally Cast As Catwoman
Michelle Pfeiffer’s smouldering turn as Catwoman has proven so iconic, it’s hard to believe that she wasn’t even Burton’s first choice to fill Selina Kyle’s black leather jumpsuit! But it’s true: before Pfeiffer came on board, Annette Bening had been cast in the role, only to drop out shortly after she discovered she was pregnant.
While you might expect Pfeiffer to have felt a little insecure at signing on to play a part previously earmarked for someone else, but considering she ended up being paid a salary $2 million higher than what Bening had been offered, any such concerns likely evaporated.
At this point, it’s also worth mentioning a slightly better known – but endlessly repeatable – controversy surrounding the Catwoman casting process involved the actress Sean Young. Young, who had been replaced as Vicki Vale in Batman after she broke her collarbone during filming, was adamant she should have been cast as Catwoman as payback. The fiasco surrounding her campaign for the part reached its high (or low) point when Young went so far as to arrive on set in a homemade costume and demand an audition. The move didn’t exactly go down well with Burton on the Warner Bros. executives…
10. Over 50% Of Warner Bros. Studios’ Lot Space Was Taken Up
Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California is a sprawling, 62-acre compound – which gives you an idea of just how big a production Batman Returns was, given the film’s sets hogged over 50% of the available space! Burton approached the sequel with an “old school Hollywood” vibe, opting to film predominantly on studio sound stages and lots, rather than by using re-dressed real-world locations.
Considering that Batman Returns’ plot called for several scenes set in Gotham Plaza and the Penguin’s cavernous underground lair, this obviously required a bucket load of construction work, with the lair itself requiring particularly impressive specifications. In addition to boasting a half-a-million gallon water tank, Penguin’s zoo-based hideout was also chilled to a fowl-friendly 35 degrees, in order to accommodate the live penguins that populated the set.
9. Max Shreck = Max Cobblepot?
On a list of “most-hackneyed plot twists of all time”, the long-lost family member reveal must surely rank somewhere near the top. Fortunately, Batman Returns avoids this cliché, all though at one point, the plan was for Max Shreck to be unmasked as the Penguin’s older brother. Yes, ol’ Maxie-boy was going to turn out to be the “golden child” of the Cobblepot family – and if that seems a little far-fetched, his decision to give the family name the heave-ho at least makes sense!
Whether or not this revelation would have improved Batman Returns is debatable. Admittedly, the notion of contrasting the privileged upbringing of Shreck with the decidedly unpleasant formative years of deformed outcast Penguin is intriguing.
Ultimately, though, Burton and the screenwriters made the smarter choice of abandoning this plot thread. Instead, they focused more on the similarities – and differences – between Penguin and another former character with a traumatic childhood: Batman.
8. The Plot Was Inspired By The 1966 Batman TV Show
There’s a very vocal contingent of fans who can’t seem to embrace the campy delights of the 1966 Batman TV show, starring the late, great Adam West. What those fans probably fail to realize is that Batman Returns owes a not-insubstantial debt to the classic series – the Penguin running for Mayor was inspired by (read: ripped off from) a two-part story “Hizzonner The Penguin” / “Dizzoner The Penguin”.
Perhaps as a tip of the hat to the connection between his film and its small screen predecessor, Burton initially cast original Penguin actor Burgess Meredith in the cameo role of Penguin’s father. Sadly, Meredith’s poor health prevented him from taking part, and Paul Reubens – who collaborated with Burton on Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure – stepped in to do the honors.
7. Stan Winston Designed The Penguin’s Prosthetics
The Penguin of the comics is essentially a regular guy – sure, he’s got a beaky nose and he’s a little dumpy, but he’s by no means disfigured. This wasn’t really enough to get Burton’s motor running, so for Batman Returns, he turned to make-up effects legend Stan Winston to dream up something more… extreme. And boy, did he not disappoint.
Winston – the guy behind the Oscar-winning prosthetics in Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Jurassic Park – and his team crafted a striking look that incorporated webbed hands, spiky teeth, straggly hair and fat suit.
The entire get-up took 2 hours to be applied to DeVito, and was complemented by a mouthwash/food coloring cocktail that the actor swigged on occasions that required the Penguin to drool an ooze-like bile. For his part, DeVito found wearing the costume an unpleasant experience (but drew on those feelings to fuel his performance), while for his own efforts, Winston nabbed himself yet another Academy Award nomination.
6. Batman Almost Teamed Up With Robin
Life’s tough when you’re a teen sidekick: if you’re not being used as a human shield, you’re being axed from major motion pictures. That’s how it was for Batman’s crimefighting partner, Robin, who was featured in drafts for both Batman and Batman Returns, only to be cut both times!
Whereas Robin’s origin in Batman was going to be roughly in-line with the “orphaned circus acrobat” schtick of the comics, Burton had other ideas for the sequel. The first of these revamped approaches to the Boy Wonder was to make him a juvenile gang leader-turned-hero, later evolving into an adolescent garage mechanic.
Robin’s inclusion in the movie made it far enough along that costume tests were undertaken, an action figure was released, and the casting process was started. Names bandied about early on included obvious candidates like Michael J. Fox through to more left-field options like Cher. Ultimately, Burton and Warner Bros. settled on Marlon Wayons.
It all turned out to be much ado about nothing in the end, however, as Robin was excised from the script so that he could introduced in what would eventually become Batman Forever (where Chris O’Donnell would don the cape and mask instead).
5. Penguin Nearly Stole Mr. Freeze’s Thunder
Remember how Burton and the screenwriters struggled to devise an evil scheme for Penguin? Well, before settling on the triple threat of running for mayor, killing all the first born children of Gotham’s elite citizens, and framing Batman for murder, another plan – familiar to fans of the wider franchise – was considered. Possibly as a nod to Penguin’s metaphorical (and possibly literal) coldblooded nature, one script for Batman Returns had the portly crime boss freezing the entire city!
This later morphed into a plot to overheat Gotham, something that makes little sense. Putting actual science aside – this is a comic book movie after all – the Penguin (and his pets) would struggle to survive in a super warm environment, which makes this course of action seem more than a little suicidal.
Both ideas where eventually scrapped, however they would later crop up in Batman & Robin, where ice-themed villain Mr. Freeze put Gotham into deep freeze, only for the Dark Knight to thaw the city out.
4. McDonald’s Scrapped The Batman Returns Happy Meal
With its violent imagery and fairly overt sexual subtext, it’s safe to say that Batman Returns wasn’t a film universally beloved by parents the world over. Indeed, some objected to the flick’s content (and PG-13 rating) so much that they not only complained to Warner Bros., but to McDonald’s – which was running a Batman Returns-related Happy Meal promotion – as well. This led to the fast food giant pulling the plug on the promotion, rather than deal with the ongoing negative publicity generated by the outcry.
The wider knock-on effect of this backlash – when coupled with box office returns below the studio’s high expectations – is that Warner Bros. decided that the franchise needed to move in a lighter, more “family-friendly” direction. This in turn lead to the neon-drenched campfests that were Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. So if you ever wondered why the sequels took such a creative left-turn, now you know.
3. The Penguins Were Played By Little People In Some Scenes
There’s an old Hollywood axiom that states: “Never work with children or animals.” This is usually a reference to how difficult it is to get either of these unpredictable lifeforms to behave and perform well within the context of a mundane film set. But take living, breathing penguins and drop them into the sheer insanity of the Batman Returns sets – with rockets strapped to their backs, no less! – and the potential for disaster really starts to climb.
This wasn’t lost on Burton or his crew, so in addition to flying in a flock of tame King Penguins from the UK, they also devised several non-flesh-and-blood alternatives. These included fibreglass suits worn by little people, animatronic puppets, and CGI (then in its relative infancy). The fake birds were apparently very convincing, with at least one of King Penguin found snuggled up inside one its mechanical counterparts over the course of filming.
2. Security Around The Set Was Tighter Than The Batcave’s
Batman Returns was shrouded in heavy secrecy by the studio, even by the usual high standards of a blockbuster movie. This took many forms, from the mundane (the art department blinds were never open) to the more extreme (celebrities – including Kevin Costner – were forbidden from visiting the set). On top of all this, cast and crew members were required to carry photo ID badges, and these were branded with the film’s fake working title, Dictel (possibly the worst movie title ever, by the way).
Maybe the most extreme course of action taken by Warner Bros. came after a tabloid rag published leaked photos of DeVito in his Penguin get-up. Outraged studio executives actually went to the trouble of hiring a private investigator to track down the snitch responsible for the leak. One wonders why they didn’t just set Keaton to work on the case, as a method acting exercise to help get into character as Batman!
1. A Direct Catwoman Spin-Off Set In A Resort Spa Was Planned
Yes, you read that right: the original plot for the Catwoman spin-offinvolved an amnesiac, bullet-hole riddled Selina Kyle checking into a resort spa. While there, she would learn that the resort is run by superheroes who are (predictably) actually up to no good, motivating her to reclaim the Catwoman mantle once more.
The script – penned by Waters – was intended as a satire on the genre, and was written while Pfeiffer was still attached to the role and with Burton set to direct.
Due to the existing, hectic workload of its star and director – and quite possibly the bizarre premise of the screenplay – the Catwoman spin-off soon languished in development hell. As the years went by, Pfeiffer was substituted with Ashley Judd, and a revolving door of directors threw their hats in the ring to succeed Burton.
Finally, French director Pitof would take the reigns on a largely unrelated outing (a photo of Pfeiffer is briefly seen on screen) starring Halle Berry. Given how badly that film turned out, who knows – maybe the “superhero resort” Catwoman spin-off might actually have been the better option?
Know of any other interesting Batman Returns trivia? Let us know in the comments!