Tim Burton showed just how big a comic book-based movie could be with his 1989 blockbuster Batman. Richard Donner’s Superman and Richard Lester’s Superman II aside, movies about superheroes had a pretty sketchy history up to that point. Many in Hollywood felt that the Man of Steel was the only one “big” enough to pull in mass audiences. Those people were wrong.
Batman became the biggest hit of the year, earning $251 million in North America. That translates to $577 million in today’s dollars. The 1992 sequel, Batman Returns, wasn’t as big a hit, making $162 million, and some people complained that the tone was too dark. Nevertheless, it was a solid hit that gave us Michelle Pfeiffer’s iconic turn as Catwoman. Both movies remain an important part of the Dark Knight’s cinematic legacy. They demonstrated that there were big bucks to be made in taking superheroes off the page and putting them onto the screen.
There are some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories tied to Burton’s two Batman efforts. They involve casting decisions that didn’t happen, physical injuries, a backstage romance, and much more. If you enjoyed Batman and Batman Returns, we think you’ll also enjoy learning about the crazy things that went into making them.
Here are 15 Crazy Secrets Behind Tim Burton’s Batman Movies.
15. Pierce Brosnan and John Lithgow turned down the lead roles
Batman and the Joker are iconic figures in pop culture history, so you’d think actors would have been dying to play them onscreen. It’s true that many big names were under consideration, but two notable stars also passed.
Pierce Brosnan met with Burton to discuss playing the Dark Knight, only to turn the role down.
During a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, Brosnan explained, “I just couldn’t really take it seriously. Any man who wears his underpants outside his pants just cannot be taken seriously.” He added that he viewed the role as “a joke.”
John Lithgow, meanwhile, was Burton’s first choice for the Joker – and he only has himself to blame for not getting the role. “I tried to persuade him I was not right for the part, and I succeeded,” Lithgow told Vulture. “I didn’t realize it was such a big deal.”
14. Keifer Sutherland was supposed to play Robin
When Batman came out in the summer of 1989, many Dark Knight fans wondered why Robin wasn’t part of it. The beloved sidekick didn’t get a mention, nor was there an indication that he would appear in any potential sequels. Truth be told, Robin was supposed to be part of the movie at one point, and Keifer Sutherland was approached to play the character.
Sutherland, whose career was hot coming off of Stand By Me and Young Guns, told On the Box that producers contacted him to gauge his interest. “I got a call which asked me if I would be interested in playing Robin,” he said. “I was like, ‘as in Robin with tights? No!’ I didn’t realize they were going to make the coolest movie ever!”
13. Michelle Pfeiffer’s whip accident
Michelle Pfeiffer was a big fan of Catwoman as a little girl, so she felt heartbroken when a different actress, Annette Bening, was cast as the character in Batman Returns. Luck was on her side, though, as Bening had to drop out after becoming pregnant. Pfeiffer stepped in and was excited to play the feline villain.
One of the things she did to make her performance extra credible was to spend months taking lessons in how to properly use Catwoman’s signature whip. The actress told The Hollywood Reporter that those lessons didn’t exactly get off to a great start. On the very first day, she accidentally nicked her trainer’s face with the weapon, drawing blood. “It completely shattered me,” she said of the mishap.
12. A tense backstage love triangle
In Batman, Bruce Wayne and the Joker compete for the affections of Vicki Vale. It makes for a juicy cinematic love triangle. A real love triangle took place behind-the-scenes involving two of the movie’s stars and one of its key crew members. It’s possibly even juicier.
Producer Jon Peters told the Hollywood Reporter that, during production, he physically took hold of Kim Basinger’s husband, who he alleges was abusive to her. As a result of this protectiveness, he became close friends with the actress, and before long they began having “a big affair.”
Furthermore, Peters says that this made Michael Keaton jealous, despite the fact that he was married. “Michael Keaton had the eye for Kim Basinger,” he claims. “I remember he got mad at me when she and I hooked up. He felt rejected ’cause he was the star. He’s Batman.”
11. Sean Young’s injury prevented her from playing Vicki Vale
Sean Young’s career was on fire in the late ’80s, thanks to hit movies like Blade Runner, No Way Out, and Wall Street. Tim Burton was sufficiently impressed with her diverse work that she became his first choice to play Vicki Vale in the initial Batman installment.
Then tragedy struck. One day, several weeks into pre-production, Young went to practice horseback riding for a scene and fell off the horse, breaking her arm. There was no way that she’d be able to perform in the film with such an injury. Consequently, the production team had no choice but to replace her.
Kim Basinger took over the role at the last minute.
In an interview on the Batman DVD, Young points to this as a negative turning point in her career, saying that participation in a blockbuster of this type might have helped her secure better parts going forward.
10. The penguins were pampered as much as the actors
Batman Returns used real-life penguins for some sequences in which they serve as minions to Danny DeVito’s character, the Penguin. This outraged animal rights activists, who disliked the fact that the creatures were made to wear rockets on their backs.
Hollywood has a scattershot track record when it comes to animal safety on set, so there were concerns that the flightless birds might have been mistreated.
Those fears were unfounded, as the penguins were actually pampered as much as the actors were, and maybe even more so. For starters, the set was kept refrigerated in order to maintain their comfort. When they weren’t performing for the cameras, they lounged in a special section of the studio lot created just for them. It contained a private swimming pool, in addition to “dressing rooms” that, like the set, were kept at a nice cold temperature.
9. Weird Batsuit product placement
One of the major selling points of 1989’s Batman was the suit. From the earliest trailer, it was clear that the movie was going to present a credible Dark Knight. However, there was one weird aspect to the Batsuit that you couldn’t really see onscreen.
Batman wore Nike boots.
On the DVD bonus features, costume designer Graham Churchyard says that producer Jon Peters informed him of a product placement agreement between Warner Bros. and Nike. He wanted to know if there was any way to incorporate some of their sportswear products into the costume. Churchyard didn’t think that would mesh with the 1940s-era look he was trying to accomplish.
Then the idea struck to allow Nike to make Batman’s boots, using one of its cross-trainer shoes as a model. Michael Keaton was said to love them, as they were quite comfortable.
8. Catwoman was spared at the last minute
Michelle Pfeiffer received abundant praise from both critics and audiences for her performance as Catwoman in Batman Returns. Everyone agreed that she was, pun intended, the cat’s meow. What you may not have known is that the actress did not play the character in one prominent shot.
Catwoman was supposed to los her life at the end of the movie, but at the last minute, Warner Bros. decided to reshoot the ending to suggest that she survived and was still kicking around Gotham. This would allow her to pop up in any future installments, or even get her own spinoff.
According to the “Shadows of the Bat” documentary on the DVD, WB spent $250,000 for a brief shot of someone else in the Catwoman outfit looking up at the Bat-signal in the sky.
7. Jack Nicholson’s massive payday
Jack Nicholson was already one of the biggest movie stars in the world when he agreed to play the Joker in Batman. He was also an Academy Award winner, which gave him extra clout. For that reason, he was able to command a $6 million fee for his services, as well as top billing over Michael Keaton, who played the title character.
Aside from being a talented actor, he also had a reputation as a shrewd businessman. Nicholson and his management team negotiated to get him a percentage of the movie’s gross, above and beyond the basic salary. When Batman went on to become one of the biggest blockbusters ever released to that point, it translated into an amount reported to be somewhere between $60 million to $90 million.
6. Marlon Wayans was hired and fired
Robin was not included in Batman, so a lot of people just assumed that Burton would feature him in the sequel. For a time, the character was indeed supposed to be there. Warner Bros. even hired Marlon Wayans to play the Boy Wonder.
Wayans told The AV Club that he went so far as to be fitted for his costume before WB and the producers had a change of heart. They felt that adding Robin when the movie was already introducing the Penguin and Catwoman would make things too cluttered, so they opted to put him on hold until the next installment.
Wayans was then paid to play Robin for Batman Forever, only to lose the role when Joel Schumacher took over the franchise and hired Chris O’Donnell instead. There were no hard feelings. Wayans’ response: “I was like, ‘Hey, as long as the check clears, baby.'”
5. The major cameo that didn’t happen
The Penguin is a much-loved villain in comics lore and pop culture in general. Having him as one of the main villains in Batman Returns was therefore cause for excitement, especially once it was announced that Danny DeVito would be playing him.
Burton had an idea to cast Burgess Meredith, the actor who portrayed the Penguin on the ’60s Batman TV series, in a cameo role.
Specifically, the director wanted him to play the Penguin’s father during the film’s opening scene. It would have been a nice little Easter egg for the fans. Meredith was game to do it, although he became seriously ill shortly before production began, preventing him from doing so.
4. Michelle Pfeiffer put a real bird in her mouth
Without a doubt, one of the freakiest moments in Batman Returns arrives when Catwoman puts a small bird in her mouth, holds it there for a few seconds, then allows it to fly out. What’s astonishing about the sequence is that it doesn’t look like “movie magic.” It looks real — and that’s because it is.
CGI was very rare back in 1992, when the movie was released. It was still in its early days, not widely used yet. That meant Michelle Pfieffer had to actually perform this act for the camera.
“I look back and say, ‘What was I thinking? I could’ve gotten a disease or something from having a live bird in my mouth,'” Pfeiffer told the Hollywood Reporter. “It seemed fine at the time. I don’t think the bird was drugged or anything. We did that scene in one take.”
3. Michael Keaton’s voice trick
In 2015, Michael Keaton told MTV News that he is “kind of a logic freak.” This quality has served him well as an actor. It also influenced a key decision in how he decided to play Batman.
The logic of the Bruce Wayne/Batman connection eluded him. He thought that it would be way too easy for the other characters to realize that Bruce and Batman were one and the same. “There’s no way this guy doesn’t just look at me and say, ‘That’s Bruce Wayne, everybody! I figured it out!'” he told the network.
Recognizing that he needed something to make them seem like different individuals, Keaton’s logic told him to lower his voice when in the Batsuit. It was, to him, something Bruce would do to throw everyone else off track.
2. Sean Young’s Catwoman stunt
Sean Young was crushed when she didn’t get to play Vicki Vale in Batman, so she was determined to be in the sequel. Vicki wasn’t part of it, but there was an even better role — Catwoman. When Annette Bening dropped out, Young became peeved that Burton didn’t offer her the job. She took matters into her own hands.
Young dressed up in a Catwoman suit and made her way onto the Warner Bros. lot, where she barged into the office of WB’s head of motion picture production and pleaded her case. She also trolled around the lot looking for Burton, hoping to sway his opinion. It has long been rumored that he hid under his desk to avoid having to deal with her.
1. Major fan backlash
These days, fan backlashes are commonplace. The internet makes it easy for unhappy fans to band together and make a lot of noise when they dislike a casting decision. It was different in pre-internet 1989. That makes the Batman backlash all the more incredible.
Fans of the character were enraged when Michael Keaton — a comedic actor known for Mr. Mom, Night Shift, and Beetlejuice — was hired to play the Dark Knight. They assumed that he would not take the character seriously, and that the film itself would end up being campy as a result. So angry were those fans that they sent a whopping 50,000 letters to Warner Bros. protesting his casting.
The story had a happy ending. Keaton’s performance was so good that most of those fans were won over. In fact, many people still consider him to be the best screen Batman.
Which of Burton’s two Batman movies do you like better? Tell us what you think in the comments.
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