For as many what if scenarios as the comic movie industry has presented the world over the past few decades, there may be none more baffling than the one we’re about to talk about. In hindsight, casting Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne in Batman feels like a stroke of genius. But back in the day, it seemed like a move that only a laughing stock could make.
And yet somehow, Warner Bros thought that Steven Seagal somehow made a better choice for the Batman lead, something that the film’s screenwriter Sam Hamm recently discussed in an interview. And in his recounting of the situation, this was the studio though process at work at the time:
There were a lot of people at Warner Brothers who wanted to cast it with an action star. They wanted to cast the part as Batman, as opposed to casting it as Bruce Wayne. You have to make Bruce Wayne work, because Batman is, for the most part, going to be a stunt guy, or it's going to be somebody running around in a costume in long shot. You don't need the martial arts expertise of, say, Steven Seagal or somebody like that, because you can fake all of that kind of stuff. Seagal was one of the people that was suggested to us.
Looking at a character like Batman, it’s easy to think that on the outside, the action would be the first thing to worry about. There’s a long history of fights between the Caped Crusader and various street toughs and masterminds that would do Gotham City harm. But what Tim Burton’s Batman remembered to keep in mind was something that all of the best iterations of the character have never lost sight of: Bruce Wayne has to be just as believable as Batman.
So while Steven Seagal looked like the type of guy you’d cast as a costumed vigilante, especially when fresh off landing a studio contact on the back of his debut hit Above The Law, that works for half of the role. It’s the Bruce Wayne part that would have suffered, and Sam Hamm knew it right from the start.
Though it doesn’t sound like this prospect got too far, as while SyFy Wire continued to ask about this experience, Hamm followed up with this anecdote:
Believe it or not. He had just kind of appeared on the scene, people thought holy cow, this guy's badass. He could be Batman. I don't think it ever got to the point where he read for it. He was just one of the names that was floated.
As history would prove, Steven Seagal would go on to make several other action movies for Warner Bros, but Batman would not be one of them. Meanwhile, Michael Keaton, to his temporary chagrin, would win the role of both Batman and Bruce Wayne, starting a fruitful career as men who prefer their suits winged in the comic book firmament. Sometimes, history gives you what you need to deliver that happy, fitting ending.
Batman (1989) is currently available on digital HD, as well as on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD; with a complete 4K box set coming in September.