Movie Flashback: Tim Burton’s Batman celebrates its 20 year anniversary today
20 Years ago today, June 23, 1989, Tim Burton’s first Batman film with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson was released in theaters.
The release of this movie in 1989 was an event not seen probably since the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983. The merchandising and hype leading up to this movie was at near-Star Wars levels. There were daily news stories, TV specials, t-shirts, hats, posters, toys, product tie-ins etc. The bat signal was seen everywhere. People were talking about missing work to see it opening day.
I totally bought into the Batman hype that summer; hook, line and sinker. I was so excited I bought the movie novelization and read it before I saw the movie. I still have that novel as well as every other Batman movie novelization after it.
A Batman movie had been in development in some form or another since the late ’70s. Superman co-writer Tom Mankiewicz wrote a first draft of what would become the modern Batman movie in 1980. After the success of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in 1985, Warner Bros asked Tim Burton to take over the Batman movie development. Burton threw out Mankiewicz’s draft, wrote his own 30 page treatment and hired Sam Hamm to write the script. However, due to a writer’s strike in the late ’80s, development dragged on and Sam Hamm had to leave the project. Warren Skaaren was hired to finish the script. The final script was green-lit in 1988 after the success of Beetlejuice at the box office.
The Batman movie development went through many iterations before finally landing on the final script and cast; Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Kim Bassinger. Here’s some behind the scene trivia for the movie:
At one point, this movie was conceived by Warner Bros as a big budget comedy with Bill Murray as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Eddie Murphy as Robin.
Other actors considered for Bruce Wayne/Batman: Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr, Daniel Day-Lewis, Pierce Brosnan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Selleck. Schwarzenegger would eventually play Mr Freeze in Batman & Robin, Robert Downey Jr would later play Iron Man, Pierce Brosnan would be James Bond, Alec Baldwin would play The Shadow and Tom Selleck was the original choice for Indiana Jones.
An offer to play Batman was actually sent to Mel Gibson but he had to decline due to scheduling conflicts with Lethal Weapon 2.
The picture below on the left was the originally proposed poster art for the movie. It was scrapped because the studio decided that the poster draws your attention more to The Joker instead of Batman. The final one sheet for the movie was the now famous “bat signal” poster (on the right, below). Click the images to see them BIGGER!
Sean Young originally held the role of Vicki Vale but had to bow out when she broke her collarbone filming a scene with Michael Keaton on horseback. Subsequently, that scene was written out of the film.
Billy Dee Williams, who played Harvey Dent, had a clause in his contract that reserved the role of Two-Face for him in the sequel. Two-Face was obviously not used in the sequel, but during development for Batman Forever, producer Joel Shumacher and Warner Bros decided they’d rather have Tommy Lee Jones and bought out Billy Dee’s contract.
Robin Williams was considered for The Joker in this movie and was also considered for The Riddler in Batman Forever.
Michael Jackson was originally asked to compose and perform songs for the movie soundtrack. Jackson had to decline due to touring commitments which led to Prince stepping in.
The original script included the Flying Graysons performing during the Joker’s parade. All of them would have been killed except Dick Grayson who would go on to don the Robin costume at the end of the movie.
While certainly flawed, this movie has nonetheless entertained millions of people, regardless of the ever increasingly incompetent sequels it’s generated. This movie has definitely earned it’s place in movie history and could possibly be considered as one of the granddaddies of the modern comic book action movie.
Here were the box office results one week after Batman opened: