Michael Keaton Passed On ‘Kingpin’ Because Its Script Was Too Joke-Laden (& Other Roles He Turned Down)

Is it too early to declare that thanks to Birdman Michael Keaton is officially back? Not that he ever went completely away, but we all know Michael Keaton movies have been rather scarce over the past two decades. I enjoyed his brief screen time in The Other Guys, and while I didn’t see the RoboCop reboot, I’m sure he was pleasant enough. As far as movies with Michael Keaton in the lead though, we had Multiplicity in 1996 and White Noise in 2005, and that’s about it. It’s not necessarily that he wasn’t being offered lead roles in the 90s, it’s just that he wasn’t taking them, choosing instead to work when he wanted to on small projects and enjoy spending time with his sons. He gave a in-depth interview earlier this year on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast where talks about his seclusion and it’s certainly worth a listen if you’ve been wondering “what the hell happened to Michael Keaton?”

Back to those roles that Michael Keaton was offered and declined though — there’s been a lot of them. Most of the bigger ones happened to be between 1985 and 1995 when he had considerable industry heat thanks to movies like Mr. Mom, Beetlejuice and of course, Batman. Personally, I think Keaton could have turned in a performance just as good or better than a few of the actors that landed these parts. (Sorry, John Travolta.) Here are 10 roles that could have been Michael Keaton’s.

1. Police Academy (1984) — Back in our movie facts post dedicated to Police Academy, it was revealed that Bruce Willis went up against Steve Guttenberg for the part of Mahoney. Before the part was finally given to “the Guttes” it was rejected by Michael Keaton and Judge Reinhold.

2. Splash (1984) — Don’t get me wrong, Tom Hanks is great in Splash, but Michael Keaton could have been just as good if not better. For starters, Michael Keaton would have never put up with his mermaid girlfriend shrieking in an electronics store and blowing up thousands of dollars worth of pricey merchandise. Keaton was offered a role in comedy, with some sources saying it was Tom Hanks’ part and others claiming it was John Candy’s. Michael Keaton doesn’t seem to be entirely sure, but he knows he turned it down. Via Grantland:

Daniel: Tom Hanks’s part in Splash?

Michael: Yes.

Daniel: And why —

Michael: Because … Wait a minute, was it Hanks? Or was it Candy’s part? I think it was Candy’s part.

3. The Fly (1986) — Keaton was offered the part of mad scientist Dr. Seth Brundle in the incredibly gross sci-fi classic, but turned it down to work on Gung Ho and Touch and Go instead. Jeff Goldblum of course was chosen to make the man-to-bug transformation.

4. JFK (1991) — Kevin Costner was just one of several actors considered by Oliver Stone for the part of Jim Garrison. Besides Michael Keaton, Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, and Michael Douglas were all discussed as possibilities.

5. Leap of Faith (1992) — Michael Keaton has never said why he decided not to do the comedy/drama about a shady televangelist, but was already signed on to play the lead role when he abruptly quit the project. The movie was a flop at the theaters, so it wasn’t really much of a loss on Keaton’s part when Steve Martin took over for him.

6. Batman Forever (1995) — The Batman franchise was heading downhill after Tim Burton left when Warner Brothers complained that Batman Returns was “too dark.” The studio brought in Joel Schumacher and that’s when Keaton hit the road. On Marc Maron’s podcast, Keaton said he wanted the third movie to go in a direction similar to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.

“You look at where he went, which is exactly what I wanted to do when I was having meetings about the third one,” he continued. “I said you want to see how this guy started. We’ve got a chance here to fix whatever we kind of maybe went off. This could be brilliant.”

7. Get Shorty (1995) — Get Shorty was a solid follow-up to Pulp Fiction for John Travolta, but Keaton could have been great in the Chilli Palmer role, maybe even adding a bit more humor. Unfortunately, he turned it down along with Bruce Willis and Robert De Niro. Travolta had also turned it down, but reconsidered after Quentin Tarantino told him to take the part.

8. Kingpin (1996) — Michael Keaton was signed on for the role that would go to Woody Harrelson, but then backed out at the last minute. Keaton had shown interest and agreed to do the project when he read the first draft, but then decided not to do it after the script was given a rewrite. Apparently, he had wanted the project to be “character-driven rather than joke-driven.” The production company, Rysher Entertainment, tried to make peace with the actor and even offered to film the original script, but it was too late, Keaton took his ball and did Multiplicity instead.

9. Lost (2004) — Keaton wasn’t ready to fully commit to a long-running TV series in 2004, but he was up for making a very brief foray into TV. In the early days of Lost’ development ,before Matthew Fox had the part, Keaton was cast in the role of Jack with the belief that his character would be killed in the pilot episode. When J.J. Abrams told Keaton that Jack’s role was going to be extended Keaton backed out. Via iO9:

“I wouldn’t do it if the guy was going to be in the show every week,” he says. “An hour show every week… I’ve got stuff to do, I’ve got a life to lead. When would I fish?”

10. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) — Tim Burton had always planned on using BFF Johnny Depp for the role of Willy Wonka, but Warner Brothers tried to get to him to look at other actors. The studio unsuccessfully pitched Jim Carrey, Nicolas Cage and Burton’s old pal Michael Keaton, before finally giving up and allowing Johnny Depp back on the Warner Brothers lot.