Batman Returns (1992) - Tim Burton

Why didn't we get a third Batman movie from Tim Burton? Christopher Nolan recently completed a trilogy of films based on Batman that made millions. Back in the 80’s, director Tim Burton also made films based on the Caped Crusader, but stopped at two. Batman (1989) is a classic and Burton was considered the king of superhero movies, but his follow-up film was filled with controversy. If everyone loved Batman so much, why didn’t Burton make a third one?

1. Are McDonald's Happy Meals For Children?

Around the time the marketing for Batman Returns started, fast food giant McDonald’s released a line of "Happy Meal" toys. It included Batman Returns packaging, six collector cups and toys featuring a Batmobile, Bat-Motorcycle, Bat-Ski-Boat, Penguin’s roadster with a spinning umbrella, and a Catwoman car with a wagging tail.

McDonald's was supposed to be the "Official Restaurant of Gotham City." Then, the trailers started showing up and parents were outraged the movie’s extreme violence and sexual innuendo were being marketed to children. NBC reporter Faith Daniels had a whole episode of her daily talk show, A Closer Look With Faith Daniels, called ''Parents Against Batman Returns.'' She wasn’t going to take her 5-year-old to see the movie and was challenging the restaurant for its marketing plans. ''It's fine to make Batman Returns an adult film, but don't market it to kids," she said. "It's rated PG-13, but who's buying the action toys? Not 13-year-olds.'' One reviewer said Batman Returns should have been rated R for its "sexual tension and implied horror."

The parents' group "The Dove Foundation" started a protest of the restaurants, saying, "Parents trust McDonald's. So, why is McDonald's promoting a movie to little kids that's filled with gratuitous graphic violence?'' The protests became louder and louder as the movie got closer to release. Finally, McDonald’s shut down the promotion. Jack Daly, McDonald's communications Vice President, released a statement disavowing the film and saying, "The objective of the (Happy Meal) program was to allow young people to experience the fun of Batman the character. It was not designed to promote attendance at the movie. It was certainly not our intent to confuse parents or disappoint children."

Warner Bros meanwhile said, "Clearly Batman is not meant for 5-year-olds. As for whether it's appropriate to Happy Meals, that's up to McDonald's. We don't tell them their business." While in the public it was seen as a minor issue, the fast food giant’s cross-promotion is a multi-million dollar business and was taken very seriously by the studio. They definitely considered the consequences of this happening again if Burton did a third Batman.

2. PETA Bites Back

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protested the film for the movie’s treatment of the live animals on the set. They used the scene where Michelle Pfeiffer put a live bird in her mouth and the penguins led by Danny DeVito as examples. They released a statement, "While PETA says it does not believe any of the three dozen penguins were mistreated during the filming, it objects to the animals being forced into an unusual environment and fitted with weapons and gadgets. Dan Mathews, the group's director of special projects, says they are ‘protesting the use of exotic animals in all films.’"

Warner Bros. released a statement that the penguins' headgear consisted of "very lightweight plastic, which the real animals quickly became used to." In fact, the trainers said the penguins enjoyed the shoot and the studio spared no expense in making the animals comfortable. Before Richard Hill (the penguin curator) would agree to let them use the penguins, he had a long list of demands which Warner Bros complied with. "On the flight over the plane was refrigerated down to 45 degrees," recalls Hill. "In Hollywood, they were given a refrigerated trailer, their own swimming pool, half-a-ton of ice each day, and they had fresh fish delivered daily straight from the docks. Even though it was 100 degrees outside, the entire set was refrigerated down to 35 degrees." They even had an armed guard protecting them 24-hours a day. Of course, not all the penguins in the film are real animals. They used actors in suits for some scenes. The scene with the penguins shooting rockets was done with life-size animatronic penguins created by the special effects department.

Despite all this, Batman Returns had yet another publicity nightmare on their hands. They didn't want this to happen again with another Batman film.

3. Family Friendly Movies Rules
Batman Returns had the biggest first-weekend gross in movie history, but the studio was disappointed it didn't make as much as the first film and cost twice as much. The studio learned their lesson. The mixed reviews and bad publicity meant they wanted a more mainstream film for the Batman Returns sequel. They wanted a movie that would appeal to children and adults and would look nice on a Happy Meals box.

The first film made $750 million in merchandising alone. If they couldn’t sell a pair of Bat-pajamas to a 3-year-old, they'd lose a lot of money. The decision was made that Batman 3 would be lighter than the second film. There was only one problem.

4. "Batman Light" Wouldn’t Work With Burton Directing

''It's too dark. It's not a lot of fun,'' one Warner Bros executive told Entertainment Weekly. The chief of an unnamed rival studio said, ''If you bring back Burton and Keaton, you're stuck with their vision. You can't expect 'Honey, I Shrunk the Batman'.'' The studio realized if they were going to make a different kind of Batman movie, Burton had to go.

In the Batman Returns DVD commentary Tim Burton said, "I remember going into a meeting, toying with the idea of doing another one, and they [Warner Brothers studio executives] trying to talk me out of it. I think they got a lot of flak from their tie-in partners on this movie [Batman Returns], they think that they were happy that I didn't do another one."

On another Batman Returns DVD special feature "Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight Part 4: The Dark Side of the Night," Tim Burton said, "I remember toying with the idea of doing ... one, and I remember going into Warner Brothers, and having a meeting, and going, 'We could do this, we could do that,' and they go, 'Tim, don't you wanna do a smaller movie now? You know, just something that's more..,' and like, about half hour into the meeting, I go, 'You don't want me to make another one, do you?,' and they're like, 'Oh, no, no, no, no, no,' and I just said, 'No, I know you don't,' and so I just stopped it right there." The studio had already decided Burton wasn't making another Batman film.

5. Batman Forever Killed Burton's Batman Projects

While Burton was taken off the Batman sequel as the director, he was still attached to Batman Forever as producer. He was still planning to be a director in the Batman universe, though. Burton began working on a Catwoman spin-off movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer and was planning to direct. But the script was turned in the same day as the opening for Batman Forever, which was a smash hit. It was a box office juggernaut and made more than the first and second movie did. It seemed to confirm the studio’s belief that Batman needed to be less dark. In the book, Film Review, writer Daniel Waters joked, "turning [the Batman 3 Catwoman script] in the day Batman Forever opened 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."

The project was shelved and Burton was taken off the project. That was his last involvement on a Batman film. It wasn't a big deal for him, though.

6. Burton Really Didn’t Want Another Batman Movie

Tim Burton did try to pitch a third Batman film, but maybe his heart wasn't really in it. While Burton directed the first film, he didn't feel like he had enough creative control. He described the movie as "a little boring at times" and didn't want to do another sequel. But, after months of the studio begging, he agreed to do the Batman sequel. He said, "Oftentimes with sequels, they're like the same movie except everything gets jacked up a little. I didn't feel I could do that; I wanted to treat this like it was another Batman movie altogether. But if I was going to do it, I had to do what I do. What I had to offer was to make it feel fresh.''

Throughout the making of Batman Returns, a long line of Warner Bros. executives wandered through the sets discussing what could or couldn't be turned into toys. At one point Tim Burton sighed,  "I often felt they forgot we were making a movie. It seems like they wished the process of making the film didn’t have to happen and they could cut immediately to the merchandising."

In the end, he was talked into a second movie, but would never have wanted to do it a third time. The amount of control the studio wanted wouldn't have made his "six months of agony" worth it.

In the end, it was Burton that killed Batman Returns.  It turns out the public just wasn't ready for a true Burton-esque superhero film. It took too many risks. Hollywood and the public just weren't ready for it. For all Batman Returns' flaws it stands as a testimony of the visionary director.

He tried to make a Superman film, but that's another story.

Would you have wanted a third Tim Burton Batman movie

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Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Ironic considering how dark the Dark Knight movies have been.
PETA didn't like guns on the penguins, huh?

Jox said...

You should have started with #6 which is the the start and end of it.

Burton never hide about not being a BATMAN fan and not wanting to return.

He did try to make a CATWOMAN though.

Pat Dilloway said...

I didn't really like Batman Returns so it was just as well, though unfortunately that ushered in the Joel Schumacher era.

Maurice Mitchell said...

How quickly things change Alex.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Good point Jox. But he did have some ideas for another sequel.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I thought Batman Returns was horrid until I saw the later films.

Tom Badguy said...

Am I the only one on the planet that hated the Burton Batman movies?


When they took the dark and gritty out, it let the squeaky nipple suits in!

Tony Laplume said...

Except Batman Returns is not a great movie. It's not even technically a Batman movie. It's Penguin: The Movie. Which is fine. It's not a bad movie. But history has proven that there are far better Batman movies (the Nolan trilogy) to be made with a similar idea of controlling the product creatively. Bottom line, Burton's vision was ultimately not really a Batman vision. Even in the 1989 film the hero is kind of a creep.

The Blue Grumpster said...

A fun-for-the-whole-family Batman makes me sick. There, I said it.

Hobgoblin238 said...

I am the only one on the planet that hated the Nolan movies.

KLB said...

I found Burton's Batman movies very tedious and self indulgent. It's clear that Burton held a disdain for the character and despite being a life long Batman fan, I find myself disliking Batman after suffering through Burton's films.

Tom Badguy said...

Phew, good. Glad someone else can see what I see.

Tom Badguy said...

I only hated the last one.

Dean_G said...

I remember the cups being from Taco Bell NOT McDonalds

Cat Damon said...

When will they ever make a Batman movie based around the vision of Neal Adams? Fuck it. They would rather take "Batman" and "Camp" and let them run together because it's "fun for the whole family." -puke- why bother?

Bob Boogie said...

Batman was never intended to be 'fun for the whole family', he originated in Detective Comics which was meant to be crime thrillers. Each villian was based on a different psycological problem. It was always meant to be dark. Want to make a 'fun for the family' film? Pick a different subject matter. Making Batman fun is like trying to make Santa dark.

Adam Sockwell said...

MacDonald's and Walmart are the main reasons. No one really bought into the 1989 Batman as far as Merchandising went. Taco Bell was the only place that had Batman's face on a cup if I remember and then BAM! Batman became one of the biggest movies of the late 80's and when every one signed on for merchandising they had no idea Tim Burton was going to take the ball and run with it and the second film would have a very darker antifamily feel to it. All the parents take their kids to see it and it's very ...mmmhmmmm....and then MacDonald's and Walmart have it plastered every where.

Keaton nor Burton wanted to do the Sequel but the money is what made them do it. When the third one was in the works they offered Keaton 15 million and he turned it down and then at the last minute of the last hour he told them 20 million up front and he would do it and that was the end of it.

The third one would have been much like Batman Forever was. Robin Williams would have been the Riddler and De Williams would have returned as Dent and Mac Sherk's son would have played a part in it as well. The logo was going to be Black and White...Batman would have arrested Catwoman in the final scene which would have led to the Catwoman Spin off Burton wanted to do with Catwoman facing Harley Quinn played by Madonna and a Cameo by both Batman and Jack Napier.

What happen to Tim Burton's Batman films is the same that happen to all of them....Money.....Joel was told to make his films very toy like for merchandising...Even though Forever made more money then Returns they were talking about a fifth one not long after they finished Batman & Robin and Nic Cage was set as Scarecrow and at one point Mel Gibson was going to play an older Batman.......people behind the scenes were calling the shots and then BAM....they give it all to Chris Nolan and let him do whatever an he turns it into over a billion dollars at the box office alone yet put so many limits on Burton.

Watch Birdman and it will explain a lot about how crazy it was.

But imagine for a moment if you will....If Burton and Keaton unite for third batman film...

bigcountry said...

i look back at batman forever and batman and robin and think how good it could have been if burton had directed them :( batman and batman returns still my favorite batman movies they were done so well.

Kevin Lee Myers said...

"writer Daniel Waters joked, "turning [the Batman 3 script] in the day Batman Forever opened may not have been my best logistical move" You mean the Catwoman script.

Kevin Lee Myers said...

It wasn't a Batman Morotcycle, either, in the Happy Meal. It was the Batskiboat.


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