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20th Anniversary: 5 Things You Might Not Know About 'Batman Returns'

by Drew Taylor
June 19, 2012 10:58 AM
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Batman Returns
2. Annette Bening Was Going To Be Catwoman (Sean Young, Not So Much)
One of the more famous casting swap-outs in recent memory, Annette Bening was originally slated to play the villainous Catwoman. “We had initially cast Annette Bening as Catwoman and did wardrobe things,” Burton said. (One of those wardrobe designs would have had the top half of Bening’s areolas showing. Yes, seriously.) Burton continued: “Really close to shooting, maybe a couple of weeks before, I got a call one morning and there was a long pause on the phone and she said she was pregnant. I’ve never had such a split, mixed feeling – I was extremely happy for her but dropping down a dark abyss at the same time.” Of course once Bening dropped out, the floodgates were opened. “It was kind of a crazy period because every single actress from 20 to 45 on the planet wanted to be Catwoman,” explained producer Denise Di Novi. Indicative of that was the infamous incident involving Sean Young. Casting director Marion Dougherty explained on the DVD: “Sean Young, who had originally been set to play the lead in the first picture, very much wanted to do Catwoman. She appeared in cat costume one day at the studio.” Amazingly, the same documentary team got to get Young to talk about the situation, which seems to (still) be painfully embarrassing for everyone involved. “I thought that it would work to be aggressive in the sense that that is what Catwoman would have done,” Sean Young said, without remorse. “I did a major Catwoman adventure.” “Batman Returns” producer Mark Canton remembers it vividly: “My office door flew open and Michael Keaton and I saw Sean Young dressed as Catwoman leap over my sofa and say, ‘I am Catwoman!’ We looked at each other and went ‘Whoa.’ ” Supposedly, Young got as far as Burton’s office before being escorted out of the building, with Burton, known for his avoidance of any kind of confrontation, hiding underneath his desk and quietly waiting for Young to leave, although he insists he wasn’t there. “I was only told about it,” he said with a mischievous grin. “But the eyewitnesses I believe. I don’t think it was a UFO sighting or a legend of Bigfoot type situation. I think the sources are fairly reliable.”
3. Burton Had Designs For a Third ‘Batman’
By the time “Batman Returns” rolled around, the creative atmosphere had changed. The first film was an experiment to a large degree, to see if the material could be taken seriously and translated for sophisticated modern audiences. While it ended up being a merchandizing bonanza, another iteration was far from a sure thing. “The biggest difference, from the first to the second [movie], was that whole dynamic of the franchise mentality,” Burton explained. “Unlike the first one, before I started the second one, toy companies and T-shirt makers are asking ‘What’s this character going to look like?’ And it’s like ‘Well, we haven’t designed it yet.’ ” Naturally, part of this franchise mentality was prepping for a third film, which at one point Burton had every intention of directing. Burton recalled, laughing: “I remember toying with the idea for another one. And I remember going into Warner Bros. and having a meeting. I was saying, ‘Well, we could do this and we could do that,’ and they said, ‘Tim, don’t you want to do a smaller movie now?’ And about a half hour into the meeting I go, ‘You don’t want me to make another one, do you?’ We just stopped it right there.” While Burton may have bombed out of that studio meeting (he was later retained as a producer, helping choose Joel Schumacher as his successor, as well the writing team of Lee and Janet Scott Batchler for the initial drafts of part three), it’s fairly clear that, once Warner Bros. got a look at the pitch-black direction Burton was steering the Batman franchise in, they wanted out. The biggest evidence of this is the fact that the initial Sam Hamm drafts of the "Batman Returns" script had one of the villains being District Attorney Harvey Dent, who later becomes Two-Face (played, in the first film, by Billy Dee Williams, and in the third film by Tommy Lee Jones), in the place of Christopher Walken's Max Schreck. Yet Burton almost returned to the wheelhouse. A year after “Batman Returns”' release Warner Bros. announced that the Catwoman character would not appear in the fast-developing third film but would rather star in “her own Catwoman film,” with Pfeiffer returning to lead. “Batman Returns” writer Daniel Waters submitted a draft on the day “Batman Forever” opened, which he now admits was a tactical error. “[That] may not have been my best logistical move, in that it's the celebration of the fun-for-the-whole-family Batman. ‘Catwoman’ is definitely not a fun-for-the-whole-family script," Waters later told Film Review magazine. Waters’ script had Kyle suffering from amnesia and taken in by her mother in Oasisburg, a town in the middle of the desert (in the script Waters describes it as “Emerald City meets Las Vegas”) lorded over by a team of superheroes who supposedly do good but repress the local women, and eventually plan to destroy the town, loot it, and fake their own deaths. So, naturally, Catwoman must reemerge and save the day. Warner Bros. let the property languish, while Burton and Pfieffer moved on to other things, eventually setting Halle Berry as the iconic character (under the direction of French visual effects supervisor Pitof), for the critically and commercially ignored “Catwoman” (released almost a decade after Waters turned in that initial draft). Meow!

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  • pete33 | August 11, 2012 2:25 PMReply

    im in agreement with alot of the comments, Batman Returns is a great batman film, one of the very best. perfectly casted, gotham city looks awsome with the snow, the gothic look, devito was crazy as the penguin! totally demented! the movie is a bit depressive near the end but its a batman movie! it dealt with so many of the problems of duality and darkness that you see in the comic books but without copying the comics word for word. unlike nolan, who's banal films are made strictly for the comics nerd crowd, tim burton actually did his own thing and was original with the material and not trying to please some comic book fanboys, but still kept true to the characters as seen in the comics, just slightly altered to fit a serious live action movie. seriously, the burgess meredith penguin would not work in a big budget serious batman movie. i love how tim burtons character designs have actually influenced the comic books, instead of the other way around. his take on the characters was memorable, mythic and sheer genious, unlike the dull, "realisitic" nolan versions (seriously, nolans scarecrow and catgirl are an absolute bore). i dont hate joel schumachers batman like other people do. batman forever is an awsome movie, just about on par with Returns for me. i loved all the original films. i even have a soft spot for B&R as ai remember going to the theater to see it. it may suck but at least it was FUN. the new movies are just overrated and i fail to see whats so special about them. the new ones have gotten so far away from what batman used to be. being serious is one thing, but taking all the fun elements that made the first 3 batman's so successful to the point that the movies become lifeless and bland no different then any courtroom drama on TV is another. Batman Returns might have got a bad rap back in the day because of its darkness (and yes, it is pretty damn dark, even by todays standards) but looking back in history, today its definetly looked at in a better light. plus, its the movie that spawned the also pretty awsome Animated Series that i grew up watching everyday afterschool.

  • Agent69 | June 21, 2012 9:31 AMReply

    Anyone who grew up in the 90's loved these films.
    I was obsessed by Nicholson's Joker and Pfeiffer's Catwoman. And sine others have mentioned him in the comments, let me say that Nolan doesn't come close to capturing my imagination like Burton did. Too bad Burton seems to have lost his touch as well.

  • [A] | June 21, 2012 12:37 AMReply

    I was gonna say "hey this is more like 5 things you didn't know if.." but no, the words "might not know" are actually in the title. See, that's the way other sites link to you, guys.

  • ChrisGa | June 20, 2012 10:00 PMReply

    I have some appreciation for all the Batman flicks, but Batman Returns in my mind remains the best of the first franchise and either of Nolan's pics(both highly overrated in my book). The real shame was no follow through on the proposed Catwoman spin-off; Michelle Pfeiffer gives possibly the greatest performance(well maybe next to Christopher Reeve) housed in any film based on a comics property.

  • [A] | June 21, 2012 12:39 AM

    Lucky for me, I got to see these movies in the theater -- I don't think I like RETURNS more than the 1st one.. I liked the Penguin and loved Catwoman, but.. I don't know, if wasn't the same thing. Plus, Walken playing Walken.

  • The Bandsaw Vigilante | June 20, 2012 6:36 PMReply

    @ Tim Burthog:

    Actually, the Schumacher films *don't* work precisely because of these exact same reasons you list. One can view the Burton films as arch, demented comedies, and they have moments that are actually really quite funny; coming from an honest, twisted place (even the so-called "campy" moments). The Schumacher films just turn everything into a vaudeville gag, hoping to gain extra-credit points just by winking and being barndoor-broad.

  • The Bandsaw Vigilante | June 20, 2012 6:32 PMReply

    One of my great regrets to this very day is that Tim Burton and Michael Keaton never reteamed to produce one more (perhaps final) Batman film -- a proper trilogy, perhaps covering Two-Face's turn (through Burton's lens) and certain other elements that we'll never get to see, now.

    And although Keaton wasn't fond of the suit, he reportedly turned down something close to $30 million to reprise his role in "Batman Forever" (probably for the best), but one can only imagine what a third picture would've looked like, and where it would've gone. To say nothing of that potential Burton-directed Catwoman movie.

    For myself, the Joel Schumacher movies do not take place in the same universe as the Tim Burton ones -- once Bruce and Alfred drive off in that limo in the winter snow, holding the cat, the universes diverge, and the Burton-verse Batman has entirely-different future adventures than the Schumacher-verse ones.

    About the only consolation I can take from the Schumacher disasters is that, without them and Joel going so far off the reservation into gay, camp fantasia, we never would've gotten the Christopher Nolan films as a repsonse -- the franchise had gotten *SO* incredibly derailed that the studio needed to regain some measure of grounded credibility by bringing in the director of Insomnia and Memento for a gritty, realistic reboot.

    And I for one couldn't be more thrilled about that end result.

  • zebsdead | June 20, 2012 4:21 PMReply

    All this information including the quotes was lifted from the Batman Returns two disc DVD in the making of feature, in almost the exact order too.

  • [A] | June 21, 2012 12:41 AM

    The only thing missing? Michelle Pfeiffer doing her own whip....what's it called? "whipping"? sorry, not an english speaking person heh

  • jeanrobie | June 20, 2012 12:23 PMReply

    Here's another thing you might not know or remember about this movie: it was accused of borrowing imagery from Nazi depictions of Jews for the Penguin. The producers disputed it at the time, but I don't think Tim Burton really cares who he cops imagery from and if you watch it with this in mind, it's hard to miss--especially the similarities between Moses and the Penguin.

  • Tim Burthog | June 19, 2012 6:46 PMReply

    Strange how this always gets lauded as being poles apart from Schumacher's efforts when the scenes between Penguin and Catwoman, where they're sitting around making bad puns to one another, are just as campy as anything in the later films.

  • peter33 | August 11, 2012 2:38 PM

    seriously, noone used to use the word "campy" when describing tim burtons films until nolan made his ultra-super serious movies. i dont think people know the true meaning of the word. camp was the 60's tv show, something that was obviously not being taken seriously at all. the live action films were half serious, half comic book movie. of course the villians are gonna use quips and clever pun lines. its a COMIC BOOK MOVIE after all, in case people forgot. nothing unusual with a bit humour with the villians. i think it would be weird and strange if there was NO humour at all! thats why i hate the new movies, the lack of humour and fun. the difference was the tone and script. in the burton films, the humour was edgy and sexual, more adult content in the dialogue. the schumacher films, especially B&R, was more for children with the cheesy puns every other word.

  • Mike | June 20, 2012 4:05 PM

    Except everyone involved here knew they were doing something tongue-in-cheek, Schumacher's films... not everyone was on the same page.

  • triguous | June 19, 2012 2:19 PMReply

    I almost forgot how much I hate the deep-voiced trailer narration. So glad it's a thing of the past. Scenes from the film speak for themselves, thank you.

  • vdoun | June 19, 2012 1:57 PMReply

    I find it ironic that Chris O'Donnell didnt like Batman Returns. It was dark, funny, riveting, and very imaginative. Unlike the crap that followed it, oh wait, O'Donnell stared in Batman Forever, hmmm envy much?

  • Chris | June 20, 2012 3:47 PM

    What exactly is "ironic" about that?

  • Christopher Bell | June 19, 2012 1:55 PMReply

    Dope piece, Drew. I think it's time I gave the Burton ones another go through.

  • Hurrah | June 19, 2012 1:07 PMReply

    I adore 'Batman Returns'! Of the original 4 part series it's the only that comes off as a truly great film. I think Nolan's two- now three- efforts are stronger films but 'Returns' is such a nuts, wild crazy flick it still might be my favorite thing Batman.

    P.S. Nice to see when it came to casting Burton wasn't color bind. I'm all for a black Robin. Not to mention they did cast Lando as Harvey Dent.

  • Keith L | June 19, 2012 12:15 PMReply

    I must have watched it over 50 times... I used to watch Batman Returns every other day (rotating with the first Batman) after school when i was 10 or so. Still love the movie!

  • cory everett | June 19, 2012 11:05 AMReply

    One thing to note: I love this movie.

  • The Playlist | June 19, 2012 12:16 PM

    I've never been able to sit through it for more than 10 minutes at a time. Probably have never watched more than 30 minutes of it in total. By the time it came out I had zero interest and I still don't feel bad about this in any way. True story.

  • jimmiescoffee | June 19, 2012 11:04 AMReply

    Michelle Pfeiffer is so hot in this flick. Truly iconic performance.

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