BATMAN ON FILM, since June 1998!

“Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.
So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.
I must be a creature of the night.
Black. Terrible.
I shall become A BAT!”
Bruce Wayne, DETECTIVE COMICS #33 (November 1939)

"The Burton/Schumacher Series," Part 1
Author: Jett

(EDITOR’S NOTE: While we aspire to be historically as accurate as possible, rumor is used at times when it is of historical significance. There also may be an element of the author’s opinion found at times in these articles.)

In 1989, the first serious live-action movie featuring The Batman arrived in theaters surrounded by a frenzy of “Batmania.” BATMAN, starring Michael Keaton as The Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker was a huge hit and the highest grossing film of the year ($251 million domestic). The success of the film was the culmination of a decade long effort to bring a serious, dark version of the character to the big screen.

In 1979, Michael Uslan (left) and Benjamin Melniker secured the film rights from DC Comics to The Batman. As Uslan told BOF in a 2005 interview, he was turned down by every studio in Hollywood. The reason he was consistently given: Batman was from the funny pages and wasn’t supposed to be taken “serious.”

Uslan and Melniker took their idea to Peter Guber at Casablanca where Uslan says Guber “got it,” and signed them up to a joint venture. The team hired screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (who had worked on SUPERMAN) to write the screenplay. The script that Mankiewicz hammered out was used as the basis for the film for several years and was titled simply THE BATMAN. It provided a long, drawn out origin for The Batman and was epic in tone much like 1978’s SUPERMAN. It featured The Joker as the main villain as well as an almost cameo-like appearance by The Penguin. Robin even showed up during the last act of the script. The project then milled around in development hell for years.

The project "came home" to Warner Bros., where the success of the 1986 graphic novel THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS helped move the project up off of its sickbed out of the ICU. A light bulb seemed to have gone off in the heads of Warner Bros. execs -- maybe this “serious, dark Batman” just might make for a successful movie.

And tons of money of course.

Young director Tim Burton (right with Keaton on the set of BATMAN), director PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE for Warner Bros., was hired to direct the project. The Mankiewicz script was tossed away and Burton then hired Sam Hamm to write a brand-new screenplay that would now be titled just BATMAN. The Hamm script went through several drafts during ‘87 and ‘88, while director Burton was working on BEETLEJUICE for Warner Bros. -- A film that proved to be a modest hit at the box office. The success of that movie, according to Tim Burton, is what finally led Warner Bros. to give the final greenlight to the project with him at the helm.

By mid-1988, BATMAN was moving full steam ahead. The producers and Burton went hard after Jack Nicholson for the role of The Joker. Landing Nicholson had been a longtime goal of Michael Uslan, and all were ecstatic when the legendary actor finally accepted. Having Nicholson as part of the cast would give BATMAN the needed credibility to be taken seriously.

Things were proceeding nicely until a huge cloud of controversy arose over the casting of The Batman himself.

As producer Michael Uslan tells it, he received a call from the studio informing him that Burton had cast Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Ulsan believed the call to be a joke and says it took 20 minutes to convince him otherwise.

Uslan was livid. “This can’t be a comedy,” the producer exclaimed and a meeting with director Burton was arranged. Uslan believed he was witnessing all the hard work he had done to get a serious Batman film made go right down the tubes.

A screening of Keaton’s film CLEAN AND SOBER was arranged for Uslan and his partner Benjamin Melniker. While the film convinced Uslan that Keaton was a superb dramatic actor, he was still couldn’t buy “Mr. Mom” in the role of The Dark Knight. Burton steps in and asks Uslan of all the actors that he met with, Keaton was the only one he personally could buy dressing up like a bat and fighting crime. “But he looks nothing like Bruce Wayne,” Uslan told Burton, “he’s short and doesn’t have a square jaw.” Burton’s reply: “A square jaw does not a Batman make.”

And that made a believer out of Ulsan, but not necessarily the fans of The Batman.

In July of 1988 it was announced that BATMAN would star Jack Nicholson as The Joker and Michael Keaton as Batman. The public -- particularly Bat-fans -- came unglued!

Burton responded to the outcry with the same argument he made to Uslan. However, this did not calm the fears of the fans. There were campaigns, protests, and petitions made voicing the displeasure of Keaton’s casting which evidently unnerved the studio. One can just imagine what it would been like if the internet existed back then! Nonetheless, Keaton was not replaced and production moved on.

Just prior to filming, screenwriter Warren Skaaren was brought on board to “polish” the Hamm script. Skaaren’s contributions are threefold. One, he cut the Robin subplot (Yes, Robin was intended to be in the film). Two, he added the “The Joker/Jack Napier was the Wayne murderer” twist. And three, according to Mark Reinhart’s THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY, he made The Batman more of an “action hero” so the film would be more assessable to the mainstream.

The cast was filled out with Michael Gough as Alfred; Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon; Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent; Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale (Basinger was a last-minute replacement for Sean Young); Robert Wuhl as Alexander Knox; and Jack Palance as Boss Carl Grissom rounded out the main cast.

Filming on BATMAN began in the U.K (Pinewood Studios near London) in the fall of 1988 and proceeded into the following year. In January of ’89, Warner Bros. released a teaser trailer of the film. The point of this was most likely to help dispel the worries over Keaton and the direction the film was taking. The preview clearly showed that BATMAN would indeed be a “serious” Batman film and not the movie version of the old 60s TV show (Frankly, when I first read that Keaton had been cast, I too thought they were re-making the old TV show into a film).

As 1989 progressed, “Batmania” began to swell.

BATMAN premiered on June 23, 1989 with a bang. Critical reviews were generally positive (BATMAN has a “78% Fresh” overall rating according to the website ROTTEN TOMATOES). Fans enjoyed it as well as the film was a box office blockbuster in 1989. And the rest, as they say, is history.

BATMAN is by no means a flawless Batman film. The greatest achievement of this movie is that it helped remove the preconceived notion that Batman was a “funny guy in tights” out of the public’s mind. For that, fans of the The Dark Knight should be eternally grateful.

Michael Uslan sums it up best, "[Historically], BATMAN is the Bob Kane/Bill Finger Batman of 1939. BATMAN BEGINS is the best Batman movie. BATMAN was revolutionary. When you discuss the BATMAN films, you must always talk about that first film in context to the time it came out, I mean it was totally revolutionary. And it impacted - and will impact - comic book and genre movies for decades."


* BATMAN was the most successful movie of 1989.

* Ricky Addison Reed was actually cast as Robin, but was dropped when the character was removed from the film.

* Robin Williams was considered for the role of The Joker.

* Sean Young was originally cast as Vicki Vale, but broke her collarbone during rehearsals and the part was recast.

* Alec Baldwin, Charlie Sheen, Bill Murray, Pierce Brosnan, Dennis Quaid, Kevin Costner, Harrison and Burt Reynolds were said to have been considered for the role of Batman at one time or another.

*The Batman costume weighed a little over 70 lbs. * BATMAN made over $750 million in merchandising!

* Kim Basinger wears flats in her scenes with Michael Keaton.

* The artist who hands Knox the picture of “The Bat-Man” is not the real Bob Kane; although his name appears on the drawing.

* Joe Dante and Ivan Reitman were once considered to direct.

* Jack Nicholson was always wanted for The Joker. Producers once allegedly wanted William Holden as Commissioner Gordon and David Niven as Alfred.

* “Alexander Knox” was created for the film.

* “Corto Maltese” is a European comic character. The name is also found in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS as an island country.

* Adam West wanted to play Batman in the movie!

* The Bat-logo on the costume has two extra points on the bottom, making it different than the comic book logo of the time.

* The first "Special Edition" DVD of the film was not released until October of 2005 -- 16 years after the film's release.

* The plastic surgeon's weird surgical tools are originally from another LITTLE SHOP OF HORROS (1986). They were the dentist tools owned by Orin Scrivello.

* Martin Landau turned down the role of Carl Grissom.

* Vicki Vale and Alexander Knox examine a map of Gotham City which has been marked sightings of The Batman. The map is actually a map of Vancouver, British Columbia.


The success of BATMAN led to a sequel three years later -- BATMAN RETURNS.

Director Tim Burton, who allegedly was reluctant to helm a second Bat-film, was finally persuaded by Warner Bros. to return for the follow-up. Cast members back for another go-around were Keaton, Gough, and Hingle. To ensure Burton’s directorship, it has been said that the studio gave him virtually carte blanche on the direction of the sequel.

This time around, The Batman would face multiple villains. This pattern, often critcized by fans and critics, continued through the next two Bat-films as well. The Penguin (Danny DeVito) -- a sewer living, deformed freak-creature if you will. Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) -- mousey secretary murdered, then reborn (She was resurrected by cats -- therefore “Catwoman”). And Max Scheck (Christopher Walken) -- a power hungry Gotham City businessman (He is also the murderer of Selina Kyle). Schreck (The name is a nod to the star of the 1922 film NOSFERATU) was created for the film and was originally intended to by D.A. Harvey Dent. The Penguin of RETURNS is nothing like his comic book counterpart -- a wealthy, aristocratic crime lord. Catwoman, while changed quite a bit from the comic books, was considered by fans to at least have the "spirit" of the fictional character (Annette Bening was originally cast as Catwoman, but had to pull out due to her pregnancy).

RETURNS was much, much darker than BATMAN. It also is viewed by many as an overly strange, morose, and macabre film that has become very divisive among Batman fans. It is without a doubt, a love it or hate it film.

Sam Hamm, the primary screenwriter for BATMAN was commissioned to produce a script for the sequel. Hamm’s story was a direct follow-up to BATMAN and had Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale character as one of the characters. Hamm’s screenplay also (again) included Dick Grayson in the latter part of the story. As with the final product, Hamm’s villains were The Penguin and Catwoman who had formed a team to find hidden treasure. Once on board, Burton dismissed Hamm’s script.

Daniel Waters was brought in to concoct a brand new Bat-screenplay. Waters kept the two villains and Dick Grayson (although he changed his back story), but eliminated Vicki Vale. The Water’s script was such a mish-mash, that Wesley Strick was brought aboard for rewrites.

Strick removed the Dick Grayson storyline (Marlon Wayans had been cast in the role and was to be known as “The Kid.” He‘s a mechanic in a shady part of town who helps Batman out with the Batmobile) and made several other minor changes. Strick’s “polish” however, was unaccredited.

RETURNS filmed at the Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, California from the fall of 1991 into early 1992. It premiered in theaters on June 19, 1992 as one of the most anticipated sequels in movie history.

Reviews were mixed -- ROTTEN TOMATOES gives it a score of “86% Fresh” overall, while 3 of the 5 “Cream of the Crop” reviewers gave it a thumbs up. There is no doubt that RETURNS is a creative and unique film in itself -- if you take “Batman” out of the equation. But the question remains whether or not it is a good Batman film. This is a debate that continues to this day among Batman fans. Says reviewer Roger Ebert:

"I give the movie a negative review, and yet I don't think it's a bad movie; it's more of a misguided one, made with great creativity, but denying us what we more or less deserve from a Batman story. Looking back over both films, I think Burton has a vision here and is trying to shape it to the material, but it just won't fit."

On the other hand, says Peter Travers:

"Burton uses the summer's most explosively entertaining movie to lead us back into the liberating darkness of dreams."

The movie made money -- $163 million domestically -- but not nearly as much as its predecessor’s $251 million just three years earlier. But it wasn’t just money, RETURNS turned off mainstream audiences, divided Batman fans, and caused parents around the globe to raise a little Bat-hell. In fact, McDonald's canceled their "Happy Meal" RETURNS promotion when parents protested due to the mature theme of the film! (Not that Batman should be kiddie-fare, but RETURNS is accused of going over the line with its bizarreness and sexual innuendo.)

Says Michael Uslan:

"The second film was - in my estimation - the Batman of the 1990s. Almost souless, very dark, almost vampiric.
I LOVED the Catwoman material. Loved it. Great, just great.
There were some really 'interesting' things in that movie. The best part for me was Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman."

Says Michael Reinhart:

"Batman [of RETURNS] is so far removed from the traditional comic depiction of Batman that they hardly even resemble one another. RETURNS’s Batman is a remorseless killer, pure and simple - and as far as I’m concerned, that depiction runs completely counter to what the Batman character has basically been about for decades."

According to this author in my BATMAN RETURNS RETROSPECTIVE:

"Batman is a superhero, yet there is nothing heroic about BATMAN RETURNS. There isn’t one moment in this depressing film where we are given the iconic, heroic Batman. Never does this film offer anything a Batman fan can feel good or proud about. There is nothing about this Batman that makes you want to cheer. Not once does this director offer something onscreen that says, 'This is for you, Bat-fans.' Then again, perhaps he does – the proverbial middle finger."

But according to BOF'er and website contributor Greg Bray, RETURNS is a great Bat-film:

"[BATMAN RETURNS is, in fact, a GREAT Batman film. Above we have studies of the German impressionism influence on BATMAN RETURNS, as well as an analytical reading of the work. But the ideas present in the film are from the comic books source...RETURNS is not a summer blockbuster flick. It's not a popcorn flick, nor does it pretend to be, despite studio bigwigs trying to find lines of merchandising opportunities through McDonalds, for example. It's a film that tries to say something about human relations, human conditions, while using characters that are metaphorically heightened in comic book situations."

Warner Bros. decided to make some changes to their Bat-franchise. It was a “mutual decision” that Mr. Burton would not return, although he would steer the wheel until a new director came on board.

Enter Joel Schumacher.


* In Sam Hamm’s original script, Bruce proposes to Vicki at the end of the film. The script was a direct sequel to BATMAN.

* The Max Schreck character started out as Harvey Dent. Once he became Schreck, he was intended to be the Penguin’s older brother.

* Harvey Dent would have been scarred by Catwoman at the end of the film, setting up his appearance in BATMAN FOREVER.

* Annette Bening was originally cast as Catwoman.

* Dustin Hoffman is said to have been considered for The Penguin.

*Paul Reubens, AKA Pee Wee Herman, plays The Penguin’s father at the beginning of the film.

* When Batman takes off his mask at the end, he is not wearing the black eye make up that he obviously had on a second before.

* The Batman costume weighed about 55 lbs -- about 20 pounds lighter than the one worn in BATMAN. The Bat-logo is different from the previous suit as is the “armor.”

* It took two hours for Danny DeVito’s Penguin makeup to be applied.

* 60 Catwoman suits were used during the shoot.

* The Catwoman costume was vacuum sealed on Michelle Pfeiffer.

* The Catwoman shown at the end of the film is not Pfeiffer, but a double. It was shot after primary filming had ended and cost about $250 million.

* Max Schreck's cufflinks are made of human molars.

NEXT: The Warner Bros. Burton/Schumacher BATMAN Film Series, Part 2

"Jett" is the editor-in-chief of BATMAN ON FILM and BATMAN IN COMICS.


4. "BATMAN (1989)," WIKIPEDIA.COM, accessed on January 1st thru 26th, 2006.
5. Ramey, William E. BATMAN ON FILM (website).
6. INTERNET MOVIE DATABASE, accessed on January 27th and 28th, 2006.
7. ROTTENTOMATOES.COM, accessed on January 1st - 28th, 2006.
8. Interview with Michael Uslan by William E. Ramey, BATMAN ON FILM.
9. "Shadows of The Bat" on the THE BATMAN ANTHOLOGY
10. "BATMAN RETURNS," WIKIPEDIA.COM, accessed January 1st through 29th, 2006.
11. Ramey, William E., "Hammering BATMAN RETURNS," BATMAN ON FILM.
12. Bray, Greg, "Remembering BATMAN RETURNS," BATMAN ON FILM.

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