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

Michael Keaton as Batman in Batman Returns

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It is crazy to think about, for the first time since 1992’s Batman Returns, that Michael Keaton is returning to the role of the Dark Knight for one of the most anticipated upcoming DC movies, 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 superhero movies which are just as intriguing, starting with a glimpse at what the film could have been without its legendary director at the helm.

Jack Nicholson as The Joker in Batman

Tim Burton Was Initially Reluctant To Direct A Batman Sequel

While 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.

Batman Returns' almost Robin Marlon Wayan in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

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 Tim Burton returned for a third movie, which we will touch on again later.

Batman Returns' almost Catwoman Annette Bening in Bugsy

Annette Bening Was Originally Cast As Catwoman

There are many who still consider Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman as the definitive depiction of the anti-heroic, feline-esque femme fatale, 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 as Selina Kyle, but had to drop out after becoming pregnant, allowing the very excited, self-described Catwoman fanatic Pfieffer to step in. However, before the MCU’s future Janet Van Dyne in Ant-Man and the Wasp was a lock, many other actresses vied for the part, including one who may have gone a little too far to show her interest.

Batman Returns Catwoman hopeful Sean Young in Blade Runner

Sean Young Infamously Auditioned For Catwoman In Her Own Cat Costume

Actress 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 ever. 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.'

Sean Young herself 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 as Max Shreck in Batman Returns

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 villains, like how Batman Forever had Riddler and Two-Face, and Batman & Robin had Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy. Yet, many forget that, in addition to Catwoman and Danny DeVito’s Penguin, the sequel has a third villain in the form of Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck - a completely original character whom many believe was 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 the Gothamite, Shreck was originally going to be the brother of Oswald Cobblepot whom his parents kept - an intriguing subplot of sibling rivalry which was ultimately scrapped.

Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne in Batman Returns

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 Michael 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.

Daniel 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

Penguin’s Black Saliva Was Danny DeVito’s Idea

Like many think of Michelle Pfieffer as the definitive Catwoman, I like to think of Danny DeVito as the definitive Penguin - a man, born Oswald Cobblepot, 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 Pfieffer lets a bird exit her mouth in Batman Returns

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, Danny DeVito was not the only Batman Returns cast member who went to extreme lengths for his villainous role. In fact, I would say that Michelle Pfieffer 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 Tim Burton but left Pfieffer looking back on the moment wondering, “What was I thinking?”

Not Michelle Pfieffer as Catwoman in the final shot from the Batman Returns ending

Batman Returns’ Ending With Catwoman Was Added Last Minute

Michelle Pfieffer 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 Pfieffer, which was actually discussed, but to no avail in the end, much like Tim Burton’s Batman Returns follow-up.

Michael Keaton in Batman Returns

Discussions Of Tim Burton Doing A Third Batman Movie Ended Quickly

Despite his aversion to directing Batman Returns in the beginning, Tim 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 Tim 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, but I think it is a great definitive Tim Burton movie, and admire its unique visual style 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.

Jason Wiese
Jason Wiese

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.