A Comprehensive Look Back At Michael Keaton’s 1980s Cinematic Mastery

02.19.15 4 years ago 37 Comments
As an ’80s baby, Michael Keaton was a big star when cycling through films on Betamax or rented VHS from the neighborhood West Coast Video. Sure Batman and Beetlejuice were staples in the movie watching diet, but so were some of Keaton’s more enjoyable ’80s films like Mr. Mom and Gung Ho.

Keaton’s cinematic accession to Best Actor nominee began in the early ’70s with appearances on Mister Rodger’s Neighborhood. After giving stand-up comedy a try, he decided that it would behoove him to try his hand at acting. Following a string of comedy hits throughout the ’80s, he became a major cinematic star when he teamed up with Tim Burton at the end of the decade to create two iconic films: Beetlejuice and Batman.

The brilliant Keaton is a heavy favorite to snag Best Actor at the Oscars this year. Let’s take a cinematic journey through the former Bruce Wayne’s ’80s playbook in reverence of his storied career…

Night Shift (1982)

Michael Keaton started off the decade as a parole officer in the failed TV series Report to Murphy. His next gig, however, would be his first feature film role in Ron Howard’s Night Shift. Keaton garnered attention for his performance, and the film was a launching pad for his soon to be successful career.

Critic: “Reality would catch up a lot sooner were it not for the antics of Mr. Keaton, who is making his memorable screen debut. Mr. Keaton is former improvisatory comedian whose timing is as good as his gags and who doesn’t miss a beat when he is sparring with Mr. (Henry) Winkler.” Janet Maslin, New York Times

Keaton Quote: “The character I invented was a combination of some people I knew and some things I made up, and afterward there [were other projects and offers] that would have meant trying to repeat that over and over, to be the ‘glib young man,’ whatever that is, but that held no interest for me.” Los Angeles Times

Mr. Mom (1983)

Keaton eased into his leading man potential with this 1983 film that made it okay to be on fun-employment. His character, Jack, takes over the household duties when he gets laid off from his job. Christopher Lloyd and Jeffrey Tambor also pop up in this John Hughes-scripted comedy.

Critic: “It’s clear immediately that Mr. Mom benefits substantially from Keaton’s almost unreasonably charismatic turn as the title character, and there’s little doubt that Keaton’s top-notch work goes a long way towards initially drawing the viewer into the admittedly familiar proceedings.” David Nusair, Reel Film

Keaton Quote: “I read that John Hughes script for Mr. Mom and I thought, This guy is a funny writer. I went: You ought to stick around and direct this thing. But he didn’t, he left, and look what he became. A really legendary comedy director.” Esquire

Johnny Dangerously (1984)

Keaton kept the comedy ball rolling in 1984 with this farcical send-up of gangster films. Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) directed while Joe Piscopo, Peter Boyle, Dom DeLuise, and Danny DeVito appeared in supporting roles. The film was hit-or-miss with many critics.

Critic: “The opening scenes of “Johnny Dangerously” are so funny you just don’t see how they can keep it up. And you’re right: They can’t. But they make a real try. The movie wants to do for gangster films what Airplane! did for Airport, and Top Secret! did for spy movies.” Roger Ebert

Keaton Quote: (As Johnny Dangerously) “The years hadn’t softened Moronie. He continued to murder the English Language, and anyone who got in his way.”

Gung Ho (1986)

Howard teamed up with Keaton again in 1986 for this workplace dramedy about a man who must negotiate the rough waters of his gig when a Japanese company buys out his car manufacturing factory. As a child, I watched this over and over just to see Keaton’s performance. He’s a whirlwind of comedic talent.

Critic: “Watanabe and Keaton conspire to outsmart the owners and the workers and save the plant, and they also conspire to almost save the movie, by adding unexpected twists and turns to the dialog. They’re good.” Roger Ebert

Keaton Quote: (On filming in native Pittsburgh) “Eventually I said to Ron (Howard), ‘You know, we could do that in Pittsburgh.’ He said, ‘I know. I’ve been thinking about that, but I didn’t want to get your hopes up.’ One hour after they saw the city they said, ‘This is it.’” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 

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