Few people know that before Val Kilmer ended up donning the cape and cowl in 1995’s Batman Forever that there were actually plans for a third Batman film starring Michael Keaton, who personified the role in 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns. The story behind why that film never took place is an interesting one and is full of information you may not have otherwise known, which all leads to the “leaked” photos from today that show not only that the production team had been working on a third movie – or at least a suit for it – but that they actually (mostly) created a physical suit!
But first, let’s talk about why the film didn’t happen. You may be surprised to hear that the first Tim Burton-directed Batman film was the largest grossing film of ALL TIME when it was released in the summer of 1989. It outgrossed Ghostbusters 2 and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, two movies that were coming off of highly successful previous films. While it may seem like common sense that a character as popular as Batman would outgross two of the most beloved franchises of all time (Just ask Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Kristen Wiig), the movie wasn’t as much of a sure thing as you may think. Thanks to the popularity and camp involved in the 1960’s, ie. Adam West’s (RIP!) version of the character, people didn’t really take Batman seriously in the late 80’s. Warner Brothers brought in director Tim Burton to bring not only Batman and the Joker to life, but Gotham as well. His aesthetic was something that people really hadn’t seen before and was a big part of what made Batman special.
Because of its mammoth success, Warner Brothers obviously fast-tracked a sequel. That film, while successful in its own right, wasn’t as successful as it’s predecessor ($266 million to $400 million, respectively) and was extremely dark, even for a Batman film. That darkness lead to some complaints from parents and a drop in toy sales, which is the most important aspect of these films when it comes to global revenue. Newspaper, like the LA Times, published angry letters from parents who thought that it was inappropriate that a film with a creepy Danny DeVito, who brilliantly played The Penguin, was associated with Happy Meal toys. One such letter from June 27, 1992, said, “Violence-loving adults may enjoy this film. But why on Earth is McDonald’s pushing this exploitative movie through the sales of its so-called ‘Happy Meals?’ Has McDonald’s no conscience?”
Judge for yourself, here’s a McDonald’s commercial from that era that pushes that lack of “conscience”… Also consider that people aren’t more outraged about nothing these days, they just no longer have to write physical letters to the LA Times, they can just Tweet it.
Because of these letters, literally, Warner Brothers decided to drop Tim Burton for Joel Schumacher, whose main directive was to essentially make a movie that was lighter, campier and more child-friendly (aka toy-sales friendly). That is why we ended up getting the halfway decent Batman Forever, and probably the worst movie of all time, Batman & Robin. So, while writer/director Christopher Nolan came in and not only salvaged Batman as a film concept but changed cinema forever, it’s hard not to wonder what Tim Burton and Michael Keaton would’ve done in Batman 3. There were rumors that Robin Williams was attached as the Riddler (As he lost out on the Joker role at the last minute when Jack Nicholson stepped in) and Michelle Pfeiffer would return as Catwoman.
About that third film, Burton said, In the Shadow of the Bat documentary. “I remember toying with the idea of doing another one. And I remember going into Warner Bros. and having a meeting. And I’m going, ‘I could do this or we could do that.’ And they go like, ‘Tim, don’t you want to do a smaller movie now? Just something that’s more [you]?’ About half an hour into the meeting, I go, ‘You don’t want me to make another one, do you?’ And they go, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, no!’ And I just said, ‘No, I know you!’ So, we just stopped it right there.”
Either way, for whatever reason images leaked today that show which direction the production was going in terms of the suit for Batman 3. While it shows a lighter color that’s just how the design works, it’s not necessarily the color they’d actually use. You may notice a distinct lack of Bat-Nipples. The suit from the ’89 Batman was iconic, but was reportedly completely hellish to wear (Especially if you had to go to the bathroom). It looks like they’ve streamlined the suit a bit if you compare it to the suit from ’92’s Batman Returns.
There are stark differences between the suits (Outside of the color). For example, it looks like they were toying with the idea of ditching the monochrome look of the classic suit (As they do use black on the gloves of the suit, above). They also appear to tone down the abs a bit, which makes sense considering Michael Keaton has never been a huge guy (Do you even lift, Bro?). The best part about it is that it looks like it’s not just one big piece (that requires Batman to turn around completely if he wants to turn his head, something addressed head on in The Dark Knight). So, while I can’t really complain about what happened to Batman in the mid-to-late 90’s (As it brought us the Nolan-verse and the best movie of all time, The Dark Knight), it still would’ve been amazing to see how Batman 3 turned out. Especially if all the casting rumors were true and that suit ended up looking even remotely similar to the above photo!