|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
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
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?
- 8 60’s Batman Gadgets That Are Now Real
- 25 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About BATMAN (1989)
- 8 Surprising Facts About the Batarang
- The Influence of ‘Metropolis’ On Tim Burton’s Batman