Movie Flashback: Tim Burton’s Batman celebrates its 20 year anniversary today

Batman poster

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.

Batman movie newspaper ad

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.

Batman Novelization

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.

Batman title card 1Batman card 2

Batman card 3Batman card 2

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:

Batman cereal

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!

Original Batman PosterFinal Batman 1 sheet

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.

Batman video game

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:

Batman box office


14 Responses to “Movie Flashback: Tim Burton’s Batman celebrates its 20 year anniversary today”

  1. Thanks for the trip down memory lane Pax. Now I know exactly what I was doing 20 years ago today. I enjoyed the Batman hype, but never totally warmed up to the Tim Burton vision of Batman. Still, the Summer of ’89 holds alot of great memories. I don’t think all the movies that Summer were great (take Star Trek V for instance), but just the list of blockbuster sequels I’ve watched hundreds of times growing up, makes me long for simplier times!

    • Yeah, Jas, I know what you mean. It was the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years in high school. Much simpler times. I’m so glad I kept that box office results newspaper clipping. The list of movies on there is awesome.

      I plan on watching Batman tonight or tomorrow and I’ll post a 20 year review on how the movie holds up. I’m pretty sure I watched it last year or the year before, but I can’t remember.

  2. Wow–20 years ago! I was just a young pup but I can still remember when Batman came out–it was fun reading through the rest of the movies that were in the top 10 that week, but many of them I didn’t see until years later. I think Batman I and Batman Begins are my two favorite Batman movies. George Clooney as batman? Eck! 🙂

    • Trish, the funny thing about Batman & Robin, I thought the casting was great. I loved the idea of Clooney as Batman and Schwarzenegger as Freeze and Thurman as Poison Ivy. However the execution of that movie was complete and utter ass. I almost can’t watch it anymore.

      • If memory serves, Bob Kane himself thought Clooney would make a good Batman. And even then, I believe it was Clooney himself who apologized for the movie later.

  3. Your Former Neighbor Says:

    You know, it is astounding how many iconic movies were out that week.

    STarting from the bottom:

    No Hold’s barred: Hulk Hogan and Tiny Lister, Crappy movie, but Hey, Joan Severance, right before she did playboy.
    RoadHouse- You can never see a man’s throat ripped out too often.
    See no evil, hear no evil: Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, the beginning of the end for 2 comedy geniuses
    Field of Dreams: It’s play catch, not “have a ctach” dammit!
    Star Trek 5: Ooooooh, I see. God’s an asshole.
    Dead Poet’s Society: Oh Captain, My Captain! No Oscar for you!
    Indy and the Last Crusade: Great movie “Nazis. I hate these guys.”
    Ghostbusters 2: craptacular in the extreme.
    Honey I shrunk the kids: douchey kids movie

    • Yeah, ’89 was huge. However, ’84 and ’85 were even bigger. I’ll probably discuss the movie season of 1985 next summer as it hits its 25th anniversary. Stuff like Back to the Future and Clue were all over ’85 and ’84 saw Ghostbusters and Temple of Doom.

  4. oh my gosh, no way its been 20 years already!! Keaton is my fav Batman.

  5. better then "bookworm" Says:

    um “book worm” thats a stupid name and “fav” is NOT a word

  6. prefer what you wrote here. Thank you so much for writng.

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  10. […] particular weekend, June 30-July 2, was exactly one week after the June 23 release of Tim Burton’s first Batman movie.  Below is the top 10 box office results for the weekend.  The Karate Kid Part III finished […]

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