25 Years Ago: “Batman” Released

25 Years Ago: "Batman" Released

On June 23rd, 1989 Warner Bros. released “Batman” directed by Tim Burton and produced by Jon Peters, based on the DC Comics character of the same name. It is the first installment of Warner Bros.’ initial Batman film series. The film stars Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton in the title role, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, and Jack Palance. In the film, Batman deals with the rise of a costumed criminal known as “The Joker”.

After Burton was hired as director in 1986, Steve Englehart and Julie Hickson wrote film treatments before Sam Hamm wrote the first screenplay. Batman was not greenlit until after the success of Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988). Numerous A-list actors were considered for the role of Batman before Keaton was cast. Keaton’s casting caused a controversy since, by 1988, he had become typecast as a comedic actor and many observers doubted he could portray a serious role. Nicholson accepted the role of the Joker under strict conditions that dictated a high salary, a portion of the box office profits and his shooting schedule. The tone and themes of the film were influenced in part by Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Batman on Amazon | Batman on iTunes

The first draft of this movie was written in 1980 by Superman (1978) co-writer Tom Mankiewicz and told the story of Batman’s and Robin’s origins. The villains were The Joker and The Penguin, and Rupert Thorne and Barbara Gordon were also to appear. At the end Robin was to appear in costume (much like Batman Forever (1995)). It was going to be released in 1985 with a budget of $20 million, but with producers Michael E. Uslan and Benjamin Melniker booted off the production, the project was shelved until Jon Peters and Peter Guber picked it up. In 1985, after the surprise success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), the studio offered the job to Tim Burton. Unsatisfied with the Mankiewicz script, Burton and his then girlfriend Julie Hickson wrote a 30-page treatment of the project. This treatment was approved by both the producers and studio. In 1986 Burton met Sam Hamm, who had just received a two-year contract with Warner Brothers, and gave him the job of writing a screenplay based on Burton’s and Hickson’s treatment. However, the writing process stretched too long and Hamm couldn’t write further drafts of the script because of the writers strike. In his place, Burton got Beetlejuice (1988) co-writer Warren Skaaren to continue writing. Nearly three years after working on the project Burton didn’t get the film green-lit until the box-office result of Beetlejuice (1988). Batman (1989) began filming in October and it only took 12 weeks to shoot.

Filming took place at Pinewood Studios from October 1988 to January 1989. The budget escalated from $30 million to $48 million, while the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike forced Hamm to drop out. Uncredited rewrites were performed by Warren Skaaren, Charles McKeown and Jonathan Gems.

Batman was a critical and financial success, earning over $400 million in box office totals. The film received several Saturn Award nominations and a Golden Globe nomination, and won an Academy Award. It also inspired the equally successful Batman: The Animated Series, paving the way for the DC animated universe, and has influenced Hollywood’s modern marketing and development techniques of the superhero film genre.

Batman on Amazon | Batman on iTunes

Did You Know…

  • Robin Williams was offered the role of The Joker when Jack Nicholson hesitated. He had even accepted the role, when producers approached Nicholson again and told him Williams would take the part if he didn’t. Nicholson took the role and Williams was released. Williams resented being used as bait, and refused not only to play The Riddler in Batman Forever (1995) but to be involved in any Warner Bros. productions until the studio apologized.
  • Before the Joker enters the Gotham City Cathedral with Vicki, he requests over the walkie-talkie for “transportation for two” to arrive in ten minutes. Between entering the cathedral and the arrival of the Joker’s helicopter, the action inside the cathedral unfolds in real time.
  • Michael Keaton casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman caused a controversy amongst comic book fans, with 50,000 protest letters sent to Warner Bros. offices. Bob Kane, Sam Hamm and Michael E. Uslan also heavily questioned the casting.
  • In order to combat negative rumors about the production, a theatrical trailer was hastily assembled to be distributed to theaters. To test its effectiveness, Warner Bros. executives showed it at a theater in Westwood, California to an unsuspecting audience. The ninety-second trailer received a standing ovation. Later, it would become a popular bootleg at comic book conventions, and theater owners would report patrons paying full price for movie tickets just to have an opportunity to see the trailer, and leaving before the feature began.
  • This movie was released the year of Batman’s 50th birthday.
  • Michael Keaton was unable to hear while wearing the Batsuit. He said that his claustrophobia helped get him in the proper mood to play Batman. “It made me go inward and that’s how I wanted the character to be anyway, to be withdrawn,” he said.
  • Jack Nicholson revealed in an interview that the strange dance the Joker does when he exits Vicki Vale’s apartment (when he raises his arms, blows a raspberry, and runs off) was something called the “bird dance” which he improvised during the take. He took it from a friend of his, the actor Clegg Hoyt.
  • The highest-grossing movie of 1989.
  • The only live action Batman film to feature only one supervillain from the comics.
  • Don Johnson and Dale Midkiff were considered for Harvey Dent. Billy Dee Williams took the role with the expectation that he would be brought back to play Two-Face and reportedly had a contract clause added reserving the role for him. During casting for Batman Forever (1995) Warner Bros. decided they would prefer Tommy Lee Jones and bought out Williams’ contract.
  • Willem Dafoe, David Bowie, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, and James Woods, were considered for The Joker.
  • Kiefer Sutherland was offered the role of Dick Grayson and turned it down before the character was subsequently written out of the script.
  • During filming, a young Tim Burton was having trouble shooting a scene with Jack Palance. When filming a scene with Palance, Burton called out “Action!” and a few minutes later, Palance didn’t show up in his shot. ‘Tim Burton’ later cut the take and walked on the set, only to find out that Jack had a hearing problem. The deaf, but irritated Palance asked Burton, “I’ve made more than a hundred films, how many have you made?” Burton said, years later, that it was a “whiteout” experience he would never forget. Despite this incident, Burton was happy to have him involved with the film.
  • Upon release, became both the highest grossing Batman movie, and highest grossing film adaptation of any DC Comics character. Both records were eventually surpassed only by The Dark Knight (2008).
  • Adam West, who played Batman in the TV show Batman (1966), admitted that he was disappointed that he was not asked to reprise the role in the movie. Also, in his 1994 autobiography, he stated that, despite belief to the contrary, he was never asked to make a cameo appearance as Thomas Wayne, adding that he would have declined the role if it were offered to him.
  • The Batmobile was 20 ft long, had an 8 ft wheelbase and weighed 1 and 1/2 tons.
  • Alec Baldwin, Jeff Bridges, Emilio Estevez, Matthew Broderick, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox, Harrison Ford, Robert Downey Jr., Kevin Spacey, Patrick Swayze, Dennis Quaid, Kurt Russell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Bill Murray, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Selleck, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tom Hanks, Kevin Kline and Bruce Willis were considered for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Schwarzenegger eventually went on to play Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin (1997).
  • Robin Williams was considered for the role of The Joker; he would later be considered for The Riddler as well. Jack Nicholson got the role of The Joker but demanded top-billing and a lucrative deal that gave him royalties on all merchandise.
  • According to Michael Keaton, his background in comedy proved useful in playing Batman because it gave him instincts in how to shape scenes and build dimension into his character. For example, in the scene when Vicki and Bruce are having dinner, Keaton suggested that they be seated far apart at a very long table and his line of dialogue, “I don’t think I’ve been in this room before.” In another example, he contributed the idea of Bruce hanging like a bat after sleeping with Vicki. “It makes all the other stuff even weirder and darker because you’re thinking, ‘This guy’s off,'” Keaton said.
  • Had the Batwing been built to size it would have had a 35 ft wing span.
  • Eddie Murphy was considered for the role of Robin back when it was thought that the film would have been a campy comedy like the television series.
  • The Bat Cave was created on Pinewood’s stage D and completely filled it’s 18,150 square feet.
  • David Cronenberg was offered a chance to direct but declined.
  • The design of Gotham City is based on the work of architects Antonio Gaudi, Otto Wagner, Shia Takamatsu and Louis H. Sullivan.
  • Rosanna Arquette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ellen Barkin, Robin Duke, Kate Capshaw, Glenn Close, Joan Cusack, Madonna, Geena Davis, Judy Davis, Denny Dillon, Christine Ebersole, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Bridget Fonda, Jodie Foster, Teri Garr, Melanie Griffith, Linda Hamilton, Daryl Hannah, Goldie Hawn, Mariel Hemingway Barbara Hershey, Holly Hunter, Anjelica Huston, Amy Irving, Diane Keaton, Diane Lane, Kay Lenz, Jessica Lange, Lori Loughlin, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Virginia Madsen, Kelly McGillis, Bette Midler, Catherine O’Hara, Tatum O’Neal, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Pfeiffer, Molly Ringwald, Meg Ryan, Susan Sarandon, Jane Seymour, Cybill Shepherd, Brooke Shields, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Sharon Stone, Meryl Streep, Lea Thompson, Kathleen Turner, Sela Ward, Sigourney Weaver and Debra Winger were all considered for the role of Vicki Vale after Sean Young, the original choice, departed.
  • Steve Martin turned down a role in this film.
  • Joker falls to his death during the climactic battle with Batman. In the comics, it had become a long standing trademark for the Joker to appear to be killed at the end of a story, only to return in a later one.
  • The climax of the film; with Batman, Joker and Vicki on the roof of a cathedral, is inspired by the climax of Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Appropriately, there is a second influence from Hugo: the Joker is inspired by Gwynplaine from The Man Who Laughs.
  • In the film Jack Napier, The Joker, is the murderer of Batman’s parents. One of the facts not addressed in the film that has its roots in the comic is that Batman would dream whichever villain he was chasing at the time was the one who murdered his parents. In addition, although this change bothered many fans, it was approved by Batman co-creator Bob Kane, who served as a consultant to the film. He said he would have done it in the comics if he had introduced the Joker at around the same time he had created Batman.
  • In the original draft by Sam Hamm the age of Jack Napier was specified as being 32 meaning that the Joker would be young. After the script went through many rewrites the producers had already secured Jack Nicholson for the role. Warren Skaaren who was the last credited screenwriter made his revisions and the age of Jack Napier changed to suit a middle aged man. The final revelation about the real killer of Thomas and Martha Wayne was a last minute addition by Tim Burton and Warren Skaaren in order to raise the stakes between Batman and Joker.

Batman on Amazon | Batman on iTunes

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