Batman Returns: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Tim Burton's DC Movie Sequel

Michael Keaton in Batman Returns
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

It is still crazy to think about how Michael Keaton returned to the role of the Dark Knight for the first time since 1992’s Batman Returns in The Flash. Yet, there are some who believe Tim Burton’s sequel to 1989’s Batman teases the multiversal crossover with what appears to be a reference to the original Flash, Jay Garrick, during the masquerade ball scene. 

While that connection feels like a bit of a stretch, there are plenty of other confirmed behind-the-scenes facts about one of the most unmistakably unique live-action Batman movies (and most interesting superhero movies in general) which are just as intriguing. We shall start with a glimpse at what the film could have been without its legendary director at the helm.

Jack Nicholson in Batman.

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Tim Burton Was Initially Reluctant To Direct A Batman Sequel

While the best Tim Burton movies are known for having a distinct style, no one could ever accuse the filmmaker of repeating himself, which is exactly what he feared when discussions of a Batman follow-up arose. On the fourth part of the documentary series Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight, included on the Batman Returns special edition DVD, original screenwriter Sam Hamm recalls how Warner Bros. convinced the Edward Scissorhands director to return to Gotham by literally describing the sequel as a potential “Tim Burton movie” on which he could do whatever he wanted without as much fidelity to the source material. The filmmaker certainly took that idea to heart with Batman Returns, yet there were some attempts to properly honor the character’s DC Comics roots which ended up on the cutting room floor.

Marlon Wayans in Requiem for a Dream

(Image credit: Artisan Entertainment)

Marlon Wayans Almost Played Robin In Batman Returns

The Dark Knight’s young sidekick, Robin, is absent from both of Tim Burton’s Batman movies, but that was almost not the case, as there was apparently talk of incorporating the character into Batman Returns. On The Tonight Show, actor and comedian Marlon Wayans explained how he was cast as Robin for the sequel, and even got paid, before his part was ultimately scrapped due to there being too many characters. He went on to say that he might have appeared as Dick Grayson in Batman Forever, instead of Chris O’Donnell, had Burton returned for a third movie, which we will touch on again later.

Annette Bening as the Supreme Intelligence in Captain Marvel

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Annette Bening Was Originally Cast As Catwoman

There are many who still consider Michelle Pfeiffer’s whip-wielding Selina Kyle as the definitive on-screen depiction of Catwoman, but the makers of Batman Returns originally had another actress in mind for the role. Four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening was initially cast, but had to drop out after becoming pregnant, allowing the very excited, self-described Catwoman fanatic Pfeiffer to step in. However, before the MCU’s future Janet Van Dyne was a lock, many other actresses vied for the part, including one who may have gone a little too far to show her interest.

Sean Young in Blade Runner

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Sean Young Infamously Auditioned For Catwoman In Her Own Cat Costume

Sean Young had been considered to play Vicki Vale in 1989’s Batman before the role ultimately went to Kim Basinger, which must have made the Blade Runner star even more determined to be a part of the franchise when the sequel was announced. Her attempt to be cast as Catwoman has gone down in history as one of the oddest behind-the-scenes facts about Batman Returns. Take it from Warner Bros. executive Mark Canton’s description from the Shadows of the Bat doc:

My office door flew open, which says a lot about how different security is these days, and Michael Keaton and I saw Sean Young dressed as Catwoman leap over my sofa and say, 'I am Catwoman!' We looked at each other and went, 'Whoa.'

Young also appears in the doc and explains that she felt an aggressive approach would help her land the part because “that’s what Catwoman would have done.” Perhaps, but it also might have helped to at least make a call first.

Christopher Walken in Batman Returns

(Image credit: Warner Bros. / DC)

Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck Was Originally Written As Penguin’s Brother

Batman Returns is the first in the original Batman movie franchise to incorporate two main antagonists, but many forget that the sequel has a third villain in the form of Christopher Walken’s underrated Batman movie character, Max Shreck. Those who do have an appreciation for the seedy industrialist believe he was initially written as Billy Dee Williams’ return as Harvey Dent right before becoming Two-Face. In reality, as writer Daniel Waters reveals in a short DVD featurette about the corrupt Gothamite, Shreck was originally going to be the brother of Oswald Cobblepot whom his parents kept in an intriguing subplot of sibling rivalry which was ultimately scrapped.

Michael Keaton in Batman Returns

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Michael Keaton Cut Most Of His Own Dialogue Out Of The Batman Returns Script

Speaking of cut script details, Daniel Waters had attempted to give Batman a larger presence in Batman Returns when he took over screenwriting responsibilities, by giving the hero much more to say. However, as he recalls in the following excerpt from a short DVD featurette called Batman Returns Heroes: Batman, it was Keaton himself who demanded that he have less to say:

He’s the only actor I know who would go through my script and go, 'I should say less here. I should say less here.' I had so many angry Batman rant speeches and he was like, 'Eh, Batman would never say that… Batman should just say this line right here.' And, you know, usually he was right.

Waters goes on to mention how the future Oscar-nominated actor was always game to go darker with the role, too, which is obviously a fitting characteristic for Batman. Apparently, Danny DeVito felt the same about his character and had some unique ideas himself.

Danny DeVito as the Penguin in Batman Returns

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Penguin’s Black Saliva Was Danny DeVito’s Idea

Like many think of Pfeiffer as the definitive Catwoman, I like to think of DeVito as the definitive onscreen portrayal of The Penguin -- a man who gets his nickname from his malformed, animalistic appearance. It would not be too inappropriate to describe the villain as grotesque, especially whenever he emits a strange black sludge from his mouth. When interviewed for a 25th anniversary Batman Returns retrospective by The Hollywood Reporter, DeVito said that he came up with the repulsive effect, which was achieved by mixing mouthwash with food coloring that he would squirt in his mouth before each scene.

Michelle Pfeiffer lets a bird exit her mouth in Batman Returns

(Image credit: Warner Bros. / DC)

Michelle Pfieffer Actually Put A Live Bird In Her Mouth For That One Gross Batman Returns Scene

As that same piece by The Hollywood Reporter reveals, DeVito was not the only Batman Returns cast member who went to extreme lengths for his villainous role. In fact, I would say that Pfeiffer outdid her co-star in revolting acts for the scene in which Catwoman almost eats a live bird, which was not achieved by CGI or with a fake, edible prop. The actress really put that living, winged animal in her mouth, which greatly impressed Burtton, but left Pfeiffer looking back on the moment wondering, "What was I thinking?"

Catwoman in final Batman Returns shot

(Image credit: Warner Bros. / DC)

Batman Returns’ Ending With Catwoman Was Added Last Minute

Pfeiffer should not be too hard on herself, however, because her stunning performance would become the stuff of legend and could have had something to do with Batman Returns’ impromptu ending. According to the aforementioned DVD featurette, the final shot of Catwoman standing up to gaze at the Batsignal was requested by the studio and achieved during post-production over a weekend with someone else wearing the costume. This would also open the door for a Catwoman-led spin-off starring Pfeiffer, which was actually discussed, but to no avail in the end, much like Burton’s Batman Returns follow-up.

Michael Keaton in Batman Returns

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Discussions Of Tim Burton Doing A Third Batman Movie Ended Quickly

Despite his aversion to directing Batman Returns in the beginning, Burton was interested in making a third film. However, he believes the film’s polarizing reception from fans, critics, and McDonald’s (who apparently regretted their Batman-inspired Happy Meal toy deal after seeing Penguin’s black saliva) prevented that. Burton describes how his involvement with the franchise came to an end in the Shadows of the Bat doc with the following story:

I remember toying with the idea of doing another one and I remember going into Warner Bros. and having a meeting. I’m like, 'We could do this. We could do that,' and they go, 'Tim, don’t you wanna do, like, a smaller movie now?'... About half an hour into the meeting, I go, 'You don’t want me to make another one, do you?' And they go, 'Oh, no no no no…' And I just said, 'No, I know you don’t.' And, so, we just stopped it right there.

While Burton would still be credited as producer on the next installment, directorial duties would be passed onto the late Joel Schumacher to make 1995’s Batman Forever a much lighter, more marketable experience.

I know that I am just one portion of the Batman fandom who feels this way, but Batman Returns is actually my favorite of those original four films. I will admit, however, that I do not think of it as a great definitive Batman movie, given the odd, unnecessary liberties it takes with the character -- including breaking Batman's no-killing rule -- but I think it is a great definitive Burton movie and I admire its unique visual style, fun Batman Easter Eggs, and thorough embrace of darkness that the franchise would sadly lose sight of in subsequent entries. Of course, this is also coming from someone who would have loved to see a Penguin toy that squirts black saliva in his Happy Meal and would love to see more upcoming Batman movies with Keaton in some capacity.

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.