Tim Burton’s wildly successful re-envisioning of the Caped Crusader was the blockbuster hit of 1989. Featuring some of the day’s biggest stars - and even some legendary figures from Hollywood’s Golden Age - it erased the cartoonish image Americans carried of the nocturnal vigilante and replaced it with a darker hero in a more sinister world.
With tonight’s debut of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, we thought it would be fun to see what these one-time denizens of Gotham City were up to today. Who’s still hot? Who’s been forgotten? Who’s aged well? Who...hasn’t? Where Are They Now? The Cast Of Batman (1989).
10 Jack Palance - Carl Grissom
Burton took a risk in replacing long-time Gotham crime boss Carmine Falcone with Carl Grissom, played by Hollywood legend Jack Palance. With Grissom, however, Burton was free to make the character darker-and, more importantly, expendable. When Grissom discovers his lieutenant Jack Napier is having an affair with his mistress, he sets Napier up to take the fall for a crooked enterprise. The metaphorical fall turns literal when Napier falls into a vat of chemicals and The Joker is born. While Grissom didn’t survive the film, the violent portrayal of a DC crime boss set the tone for the next three decades of Batman properties.
Sadly, Jack Palance is no longer with us. Born Vladimir Palahniuk in 1919, he died in 2006 at the age of 87, but not before giving us nearly six decades of fine acting work. In his career, he played everyone from Fidel Castro in 1969’s Che to Stanley Kowalski in a Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire (he was Marlon Brando’s understudy, and got his break by breaking Brando’s nose while the two practiced boxing in the theater). It wasn’t until 1991’s screwball comedy City Slickers, however, that Jack Palance finally struck Oscar gold for his portrayal of a grizzled old cowboy with a heart of gold. Memorably, Palance began his acceptance speech by joking, “Billy Crystal? Ha. I crap bigger than him!” The then 73-year-old tough guy then belted out a series of one-handed pushups.
9 Pat Hingle - Commissioner James Gordon
Jim Gordon is a stalwart and indispensable part of the Batman universe. A stalwart defender of the Dark Knight, Pat Hingle’s portrayal of the GCPD boss is one of only two consistent roles in the Burton/Schumacher Batman films.
Pat Hingle himself was a long-working character actor who was once nominated for a Tony award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Never a leading man himself, Hingle nevertheless spent more than a half century in Hollywood, taking on roles alongside Clint Eastwood in Hang ‘Em High and Sudden Impact, Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights, and playing character roles in virtually every classic television show from Rawhide to M*A*S*H*. Hingle almost didn’t survive to have such a career, however. In 1960, he lost a lead role to Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry when he fell more than fifty feet down an elevator shaft, fracturing his skull and losing part of a finger. Hingle died in 2006 in North Carolina.
8 Robert Wuhl - Alexander Knox
In Batman, Alexander Knox was both a comic relief character and a minor hero. Like Superman’s Jimmy Olsen, Knox worked at the local paper and was teamed up with the hero's love interest (in this case, Vicki Vale). Always just out of the know, he was a big fan of Batman, and helped Vicki Vale figure out his secret identity. No slouch himself, he also singlehandedly fought off a number of The Joker’s henchmen.
Following Batman, Wuhl had some success in Hollywood, working with Paul Newman in Blaze, Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard, and starring alongside Eric Idle in Missing Pieces. In the mid-2000s, he had a comedy special called Assume the Position With Mr. Wuhl air on HBO, and is now working on a stage adaptation of the same name. While his interests have turned slightly away from acting in recent years, he’s maintained a public profile, hosting his own sports and business radio show for several years and filling in for former New York Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason on his radio show Boomer and Carton.
7 Michael Gough - Alfred Pennyworth
The second of only two characters to be played by the same actor in all four of the 1980s-1990s Batman flicks, Michael Gough’s Alfred Pennyworth defined the dignified manservant-cum-father figure. His aristocratic bearing, dour disapproval of and wholehearted love for Bruce Wayne were perfect for the role at the time. However, Batman was far from the defining role of Gough’s distinguished career.
Gough was a theater legend, winning a Best Actor Tony in 1979 and nominated again in 1988. Batman did not mark the end of his partnership with Tim Burton: he went on to roles in Sleepy Hollow, The Corpse Bride, and Alice in Wonderland. In those three films, he also worked with Sir Christopher Lee, with whom he starred in ten films over a long career. Gough was also the first of two Alfred Pennyworth actors with ties to Doctor Who: he appeared in stories for both the First and Fifth Doctors; Sean Pertwee, who plays Alfred in Gotham, is the son of Third Doctor Jon Pertwee. Gough died in 2011 at the age of ninety-four.
6 Billy Dee Williams - Harvey Dent
Forever remembered as Lando Calrissian, the suave administrator of Cloud City and reluctant General of the rebellion in Star Wars episodes V and VI, Billy Dee Williams also featured prominently in the first Batman film as District Attorney Harvey Dent. While he was replaced by Tommy Lee Jones when it came time for Dent to morph into Two-Face in Batman Forever, Williams’ rich voice and cigar-smoking tough-guy were a great fit for the role.
Williams, now seventy-eight, has made a career of voicing Lando-reprising the role in The Lego Movie, Robot Chicken, Star Wars: Detours, Lego Star Wars, Mad TV, and a slew of video games. The actor is frequently featured at sci-fi conventions around the country. While it is rumored that he is in ill health and often requires the aid of a wheelchair to get around these days, Williams is still acting. He is slated to appear in the upcoming TV movie version of Dirty Dancing, and is a fan favorite to reprise his iconic Lando role in Star Wars: Episode VII.
5 Jerry Hall - Alicia Hunt
As the mistress of crime boss Carl Grissom, Jerry Hall’s Alicia Hunt was trouble, and she found herself more trouble when she got involved with his second-in-command Jack Napier - who would go on to become the Joker, kill his boss, and very likely her (although he tells Vicki Vale she jumped out a window). While not a particularly memorable role, she had a major part in shaping the Burton Batman universe with her part in creation of The Joker.
Jerry Hall was a supermodel and the longtime partner of Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, with whom she has four children. The couple split in 1999, and Hall has remained busy acting, primarily in small roles and/or small films. The acting experience she got in dating a much older man in Batman, however (Jack Palance was thirty-seven years her senior) has likely come in handy lately, as she recently wed 85 year-old Fox/NewsCorp impresario Rupert Murdoch.
4 Kim Basinger - Vicki Vale
Vicki Vale is an on-again-off-again character in the Batman comics, with an on-again-off-again love interest in Bruce Wayne. For Batman, it was definitely in the on-again phase, and supermodel-turned-actress Kim Basinger was cast to fill the shoes of the character allegedly originally based on Marilyn Monroe. While her performance was panned by critics, the character remains a mainstay of Batman fandom.
Kim Basinger was born into a show-business family, and her striking looks kept her busy as one of the world’s top models in the 1970s. Cast as Bond girl Domino in the questionable 1983 non-EON James Bond movie Never Say Never Again, she remained one of Hollywood’s hottest commodities in the 1980s and 1990s. Basinger won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1997’s L.A. Confidential, she still works consistently. Basinger will feature as Christian Grey's ex-lover in 2017’s Fifty Shades Darker.
3 Jack Nicholson - Jack Napier/The Joker
Of all the actors taking on iconic roles in this film, none made a more lasting impression than Jack Nicholson’s bitter, cruel, and bizarre interpretation of The Joker. While the film made significant changes to both the Batman and Joker origin stories, it was Nicholson himself who put the menace behind the clownish smile in this dark and violent take on the character.
Nicholson was already a bona-fide star when he was cast as The Joker, and it was his star power that lent credence to this reimagining of the Batman universe. While critical reactions varied greatly to his performance, it was a fan favorite, and “Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” asked in Nicholson’s distinctly nasally tone, became a lasting pop-culture reference. Since Batman’s release, Nicholson has been nominated for three Oscars, winning Best Actor for 1997’s As Good As It Gets. While not officially retired, the seventy-nine year-old actor has not made a film since 2010’s How Do You Know, and spends most of his time golfing and cheering on the Los Angeles Lakers from his courtside seats.
2 Michael Keaton - Bruce Wayne/Batman
When Michael Keaton was cast in this iconic role, much of the world asked “Whaaaaa?” The actor, who was primarily known as a comic actor and whose dramatic roles consisted of the 1998 flop Clean and Sober, was not a natural fit for the brooding billionaire turned vigilante. However, Tim Burton, who had previously worked with Keaton in Beetlejuice, saw something in the actor he thought would fit. While Keaton neither destroyed the film nor lit the critics on fire, his steady hand far outpaced the initial reaction to his casting.
While Keaton’s star faded somewhat following his two outings as Batman, he worked consistently throughout the 1990s and 2000s. 2014 saw renewed acclaim when his starring turn in Alejandro Inarritu's Birdman earned him a Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He has since appeared in 2015 Best Picture Oscar winner Spotlight. He’s returning to the action world as a CIA trainer in a film adaptation of the late Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp novel American Assassin, and will be reuniting with Burton for the forthcoming Beetlejuice 2.
1 Tim Burton - Henchman/Director
While Burton did not make much of an appearance in the film, he did pop in an uncredited cameo as a henchman of The Joker in the famous museum scene. The director dramatically reshaped the Batman image in the American imagination, single-handedly washing away the campy, cartoonish image from the Adam West/Burt Ward TV series and brought the dark hero into a dark, contemporary world where dangers were real and villains were evil.
While at any given moment, Burton can likely be found drinking absinthe with Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp while listening to Combustible Edison and reading Roald Dahl, he’s also seen no small success as a director. From Planet of the Apes to Sleepy Hollow to the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Burton’s twisted kaleidoscope vision of the world has enchanted moviegoers for decades.
Did we miss anyone? See any favorites or surprises? Let us know in the comments!
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