Michael Keaton, who burst on the scene in manic characters like Beeteljuice and Johnny Dangerously, first put on the cape for the darkly reimagined Dark Knight in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), which co-starred Jack Nicholson as the Joker and had a score by Danny Elfman. It was subsquently Batman Returns. The DC Comics movies were blockbuster hits, and the reimagined series was well on its way to being a winning franchise. But Keaton turned down the chance to be in the third movie of the series, Batman Forever. And it wasn’t because of the physically restraining form-fitting suit.
“It sucked,” Keaton told The Hollywood Reporter. “The script never was good. I couldn’t understand why he wanted to do what he wanted to do.”
The script for the 1995 sequel was written by Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler and Akiva Goldsman. According to reports, Warner Bros offered Keaton about $15 million to reprise the role. It wasn’t enough. But Keaton says the problem wasn’t entirely the fault of the screenplay. Keaton puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of director Joel Schumacher.
“I knew it was in trouble when he said, ‘Why does everything have to be so dark?,'” Keaton explained.
Keaton was thrilled to play the iconic comic book hero.
“Yeah, I was glad. Are you kidding? Who gets to play Batman? It was awesome!” he said at press conference promoting the 2015 film Birdman. “It goes down in film lore, film history. What Tim Burton did really reinvented how those modern day superheroes are done. He started a whole thing, and I was part of his pioneering venture.”
Batman Returns, which Burton directed for a 1992 release, was darker than the first film. It co-starred Christopher Walken as the wealthy villain who funded the Penguin, played by Danny DeVito, as he rose from the sewers to eat fish in the face of polite society. The film made $145 million compared with the 1989 film’s global take of $411.3 million.
Burton’s Batman was far away from the campy TV version of the 1960s that starred Adam West. Schumacher turned Burton’s gloomy Gotham City in a neon metropolis. Schumacher, who was also directing an adaptation of John Grisham’s legal thriller The Client, wanted to reinvent the Dark Knight. He envisioned Robin Williams as the Riddler. His team ordered 75 bat costumes which were fitted with Batnipples.
“I would never do it unless it was OK with Tim,” Schumacher told The Hollywood Reporter. “He’s always been a gentleman to me. Tim and I had lunch, and he said, ‘Fine. I’m finished, Joel, so fine.’ That having been done, it was a very exciting prospect. I grew up on Batman comics. I was going to get to make a Batman movie.”
“Michael Keaton was going to play Bruce Wayne/Batman,” Schumacher added. “That was the constant. I was with my friends watching Tombstone. It’s a terrific movie, and Val gave a really scene-stealing performance. When they were all kind of walking down the street together. I said to one of my friends, ‘God, he’d make a great Batman wouldn’t he?'”
Val Kilmer took over the role the caped crusader in Batman Forever, which introduced Chris O’Donnell as Robin. George Clooney put on the cape for the follow-up Batman and Robin. The continuing stories continued to buck the darkness of Burton’s films and led to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy reboot a decade later.
“Later on when we wanted to do the Riddler, it was going to be Robin Williams,” screenwriter Lee Batchler told THR. “With the Riddler, we wrote it with Robin’s voice. He read our script and loved it, they just didn’t make the deal. So when it came to Jim Carrey, he very much did our script. It was just a little less Robin Williams. It was a little more straight. It was very much the same character and the same lines.”
Tommy Lee Jones played Harvey Dent, who doubled as the villain Two-Face. The film also had and Nicole Kidman as Bruce Wayne’s love interest Dr. Chase Meridian.
Batman Forever hit theaters on June 16, 1995 in a then-record-setting $52.2 million opening weekend. It went on to earn $336.5 million globally.
Keaton took his dark mood to the role of the actor turning his back on a successful superhero franchise in Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman.
Keaton will return to the superhero genre when he puts on his wings to play the Vulture Adrian Toomes in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first film co-produced by Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios, which hits theaters on July 7.