Wow, The 1989 Batman Movie Was Almost a Disaster
If it were a person, Tim Burton's Batman would probably be anxiously reevaluating all of its life choices right now, because it turned 30 this week! Yes, it's been three whole decades since Michael Keaton swooped onto screens in a distinctly nipple-less black rubber outfit. It's impossible to overstate the crazy hype this movie generated at the time, from giant billboards to toys to video games to its own sketchy Bitcoin-like currency.
To mark the occasion, there have been a number of interviews and retrospectives surfacing online that delve into the making of the movie. And while a gritty Batman movie may seem like a creative given today, getting the movie made back in the '80s was a real pain. According to a lengthy piece in The Hollywood Reporter, the film rights to Batman were somehow purchased by some random dude, Michael Uslan. A lawyer in the film industry and a fan of comics, Uslan approached DC about bringing the Caped Crusader to the big screen, and amazingly, the publisher warned him that the franchise was "as dead as a dodo" thanks to the 1960s TV show.
Still, Uslan managed to obtain the rights in 1979, but had to keep paying for them at regular intervals until a movie was produced. Sadly, no studio wanted to fund a darker take on Batman, with many calling it "the worst idea we've ever heard." Uslan and his partner actually turned down the only offer they got, which would have embraced the campy '60s vibe, complete "with the POW and the WHAMS." Batman only came to be thanks to a disco record label that was looking to get into the film business. (In retrospect, we should be glad that the movie didn't find Batman saving Gotham City from the clutches of ABBA.)
Even once the production was a-go a decade later, it could have still been ruined by the wrong casting choice. Reportedly. Warner Bros. wanted an "action star" in the lead, and suggested Steven Seagal, the famous martial artist and carrot connoisseur. Thankfully, that didn't happen. Instead the part was filled by Keaton, who totally nailed it, but also went on network television and spoiled the ending one day before the premiere, like a common Avenger.
It's also worth delving into some of the media coverage from back in '89, such as Rolling Stone's profile of Keaton, which includes important details like the fact that the live bats on the Batcave set were constantly having sex, prompting Keaton to shout from behind the Batcomputer: "Don't make me have to come up there and separate you!" The article also reveals a deleted sequence that would have shoehorned Robin into the third act, after the Joker inadvertently kills Dick Grayson's parents. Then, presumably because the 1980s were godawful, the Joker would randomly make a joke about Batman being gay. And a pedophile.
Somehow, all of these haphazard elements managed to sidestep abject failure and congeal into the hit movie we know and love. So happy birthday, Batman. We'll see you in ten years for your Bat-midlife crisis.
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