Batman came out 25 years ago today and was nothing short of a Star Wars-level giant at the box office. Forget the $411 million it made in the theater, the marketing of the movie was an inescapable wave of merchandise that swept over every mall in America. (I’m fairly certain I had at no less than two Batman beach towels that summer.)
The film paved the way for the current golden age of comic book movies. It remained the most successful superhero film of all time until The Dark Knight was released in 2008, and if you’re one of those people who can only enjoy Nolan’s Batman, buddy, you’re missing out. That’s a discussion for the comments though, the purpose of this post is to go behind the bat cowl and find out how Tim Burton and Michael Keaton brought Batman back from the campy days of the 1960s TV show.
From the Joker makeup to the controversy over Keaton as Bruce Wayne, here are 15 things you may not know about Tim Burton’s Batman.
1. Michael Keaton’s claustrophobia over wearing the suit helped him understand Bruce Wayne. Keaton was not a fan of wearing the suit and found it nearly impossible to turn his head because it was so skin-tight. Wearing the suit sent him into a panic at first, but as Keaton describes actually ended up helping him realize that it functioned as a bizarre security blanket for Bruce Wayne.
“I thought ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this, I’m feeling really scared.’ And then it hit me, ‘I went this is perfect’ this is designed for this unusual dude. The guy who has this personality that’s really dark, and really alone, and really kind of depressed.”
2. Batman’s ears were too tall for the Batmobile. The ears on Batman’s first mask were too tall for the Batmobile’s roof to close. Since the seat couldn’t be lowered costume designers had to make a new mask with shorter ears.
3. Jack Nicholson would fall asleep in the makeup chair. Supposedly, Jack Nicholson had it in his contract that he wouldn’t be on set for makeup any earlier than 9 am. Michael Keaton revealed to Grantland that while filming in London, Nicholson made the makeup artist’s job particularly easy and immediately fell asleep in the chair. The entire process took about two hours, giving Nicholson plenty of time to snooze.
4. Robin Williams had his feelings hurt. Tim Burton and Warner Brothers had always wanted Jack Nicholson as their top choice, but when he hesitated to take the part they began seriously talking to Robin Williams about the Joker role. When Nicholson caught word of this he accepted the part and Williams was left by the curb. Williams was so offended that he refused to play the role of the Riddler in Batman Forever or even do a Warner Brothers production until the studio apologized.
5. Tim Burton filmed Bruce Wayne going into a “bat trance” that never made the final cut. Keaton expressed to Tim Burton that he felt there should be some sort of visual transition from Bruce Wayne to Batman. The scene was left on the cutting room floor, but Keaton said he felt it helped him to better understand the character.
“So there was a thing we did early on that showed him going into a sort of trance and it justified this shift in him. So we did that scene and it never made it into the film but I think helped me in a way. It was part of the way he became this other thing and even if you didn’t see it, it was part of the character and the way we created him. Tim was always open to that.”
6. The Batman movie started at Indiana University. Obviously, there had been a Batman movie before 1989, but the dark Hollywood Batman that we know and love actually started with comic fan Michael Uslan teaching the first college-accredited course on comic books at Indiana University in 1971. Uslan taught the course for several more semesters before leaving for a job at DC Comics and eventually acquiring the film rights to Batman in 1979. Uslan joined forces with producer Benjamin Melniker and helped shift the darker version of a Batman film project over to Warner Brothers.
7. The Joker’s cathedral transportation happens in real-time. The Joker requests transportation for he and Vicki before entering Gotham City Cathedral to arrive in 10 minutes over the walkie-talkie. From the moment they enter the cathedral to when his helicopter arrives is exactly 10 minutes.
8. Tim Burton wrote the gas mask note. When Vicki Vale is given a note with her gas mask at the museum, the handwriting on the note is that of Tim Burton.
9. Fanboys weren’t happy about Michael Keaton. Dark Knight fanboys hating on Ben Affleck is nothing new for the Batman movie franchise. Michael Keaton’s casting of the caped crusader wasn’t met with positivity at first either. Batman fans were worried that the actor would come off as too comical and Warner Brothers received nearly 50,000 letters from angry fans. The controversy was eventually picked up by national news outlets including the Wall Street Journal.
10. In order to shut up the fanboys a teaser trailer was quickly assembled. Warner Brothers was taking a lot of heat during production for the casting of Michael Keaton and released a teaser trailer to be shown at a few L.A. theaters. The trailer quickly became so popular that people began buying full-priced tickets just to watch it.
11. Batman Begins borrowed a cut scene from Batman. On the Special Edition DVD extras, actor Pat Hingle reveals that a scene was filmed that showed a young Bruce Wayne being cared for by commissioner Gordon. The photo of young Bruce being held by an unseen policeman in the newspaper story that Vicki Vale reads is from that scene. The discarded scene was later used by Christopher Nolan and Gary Oldman in Batman Begins.
12. The original script included Robin. The original script included Robin and his parents during the parade scene with the Joker shooting the trapeze artists. The scene was never filmed, but an animated storyboard sequence of the scene was shot with Mark Hamill providing the voice of the Joker.
13. Jack Palance called out Tim Burton’s inexperience on set. In one scene that Burton was filming he called out action and Palance didn’t take his place in the shot. When Burton asked Palance about it he found out the actor was partially deaf. A bit irritated, Palance asked Burton “I’ve made more than 100 films, how many have you made?”
14. Tim Burton felt the film’s first script was too similar to Superman. After the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure Burton was offered the script, but felt it was too similar to the Superman films and didn’t focus on the “freakish nature” of who Batman is. In a 1989 interview, Burton said he felt like a psychology student in that he was trying to give some psychology to what made Bruce Wayne tick and exploring the darker tone of who he is.
15. The Joker’s name is a nod to Alfred from the 1966 TV show. In the comics the Joker’s name is never revealed. His alter-ego, Jack Napier was created by the filmmakers and is a reference to actor Alan Napier, who played Alfred in the old Batman TV show.
*Bonus* When Michael Jackson isn’t available you call Prince. Warner Brothers first contacted Michael Jackson about writing a few songs for the movie, but the singer was unable to commit because of his touring schedule. The studio brought in Prince who was supposed to write only two songs, but was so inspired by Burton’s work that he cut an entire album. Danny Elfman had already scored much of the movie and Burton felt that he couldn’t make the other Prince songs work, admitting that he felt a bit guilty about it.