Whatever Happened to Tim Burton’s Batman 3 | TheReviewGeek Investigates

Riddle me this, riddle me that: Whatever happened to Tim Burton’s Bat?

Or, to forget about the desire to rhyme for a moment, whatever happened to Batman Continues, the proposed follow-up to the Beetlejuice director’s 1992 movie Batman Returns?

For reasons we will discuss below, the movie never came to pass. Instead, Warner Brothers decided to ditch Burton and hire Joel Schumacher in his place for the next instalment in their blossoming new franchise. 

In this article, we look at the Batman movie that never was and delve into the reasons behind its no-show. 

The surprise success of Tim Burton’s Batman

In 1978, Richard Donner made audiences believe a man could fly with his movie Superman. The movie was a box office success and it catapulted its star, Christopher Reeve, into the stratosphere. It also proved to studio execs that a superhero movie could entertain audiences of all kinds, and not just fans of comic books. 

As a result of that movie’s success, several sequels followed as well as a live-action outing for Supergirl but only Superman II matched the first movie for quality. Other comic book movies hit the screens, with studios trying to capitalize on the box performance of Superman, but as these movies included Swamp Thing, Howard the Duck, and The Punisher, none of which received the same level of acclaim, it became clear that superhero movies weren’t a guarantee of box office gold. 

When pre-production began on the next superhero film to hit theatres, Tim Burton’s Batman, comic book fans were worried about what the movie might be. Some considered Michael Keaton to be wrong for the lead role as he was mainly known for his work in comedy. There were also those who thought Tim Burton was the wrong choice for director because his last movie was the cartoonish, silly kids flick Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in 1985. 

Will Tim Burton and Micheal Keaton ruin Batman? Can a superhero movie still bring in audiences? These were the questions being bandied around the tabloids after interviews with Bat fans and industry experts but all fears were allayed when the movie was released into theatres to mostly positive reviews from critics.

Michael Keaton was a much better Batman than people expected, bringing a sense of gravitas to the figures of both Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader, and Tim Burton received some praise for his dark, gothic take on the Batman legend. 

The film made $411.6 million worldwide against a budget of around $48 million, proving that a superhero movie could still bring audiences into theatres.

Of course, the movie’s financial success wasn’t down to box office receipts alone. Burton’s movie was a merchandiser’s dream and made millions off the back of the t-shirts, trading cards, movie posters, and the other assorted items that had Batman’s face plastered all over them. 

As a result of the movie’s success, a sequel was fast-tracked with Burton once again at the helm. The resulting movie, Batman Returns, received mixed reviews, but it still did moderately well at the box office, making around $266.8 million worldwide. Burton was preparing himself for the third movie in the franchise, Batman Continues, but while Batman did indeed continue, the follow-up movie in 1995 had a different director and a different lead actor.

So, why the change of direction from Warner Bros?

What happened to Tim Burton’s Batman 3?

Burton’s third movie in the franchise, Batman Continues, would have starred Robin Williams as The Riddler alongside a returning Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face. Those villains did appear in the third Batman film but with Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones in the bad guy roles under the direction of Joel Schumacher. The movie also starred Val Kilmer, who replaced Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader

The change of director was instigated by Warner Bros who were dissatisfied with the dark tone of Burton’s movies. It didn’t fit well with marketers for McDonald’s and toy companies who had no idea how to tie their products into the decidedly un-family-friendly Batman Returns. This was clearly an issue for the studio which wanted to further its profits off the back of merchandising. 

Of course, Burton was making films for adults and not kids, which was something parents and marketers seemed oblivious to. As such, it is unfair that he (and the studio) received the backlash they received. McDonald’s also came under fire, as exemplified by this letter from a parent published in the LA Times.

” “A woman’s fingers are gnawed until they bleed by a pack of ravenous stray cats. A man’s nose is nearly bitten off in a sneak attack by a fish-eating humanoid. Circus clowns open fire on hapless civilians and women are periodically thrown to their death.”

So begins Kenneth Turan’s review of “Batman Returns” (“The Roar of the Cat, Whimper of the Bat,” June 19), which he describes as “dark” and “oppressive.” Violence-loving adults may enjoy this film. But why on Earth is McDonald’s pushing this exploitative movie through the sale of its so-called “Happy Meals”? Has McDonald’s no conscience?”

Batman Returns screenwriter Daniel Waters was no stranger to the criticisms the film was getting, as he discussed in the 2005 documentary Shadow of the Bat. He said:

“It’s great. The lights are coming up after Batman Returns, and it’s like kids crying, people acting like they’ve been punched in the stomach, and like they’ve been mugged. Part of me relished that reaction, and part of me to this day is like, ‘Oops.’”

Crying kids, angry parents, unhappy merchandisers, a drop in profits… it’s little wonder Warner Bros decided to move in a different direction with their next Batman film. Burton was out and in his place was Joel Schumacher who was hired to direct a family-friendly film that was more conducive to toy sales and other types of merchandising. 

Burton wasn’t the only one to leave the franchise. Michael Keaton, who had successfully donned Batman’s cape and cowl for two movies, also moved on. According to Entertainment Weekly, this was because he was unhappy that Burton had been kicked off the third movie. In an article published by IndieWire, it’s apparent that Keaton may also have been disgruntled about his vision for the next Batman movie not being supported. 

Of course, Michael Keaton did return to the role of Batman eventually for The Flash and the sadly unreleased Batgirl movie. Burton never did get to make another Batman flick but as he has had a mostly successful Hollywood career, we hardly think this has given him cause to have sleepless nights. 

Fast forward a few years and we have to wonder if Warner Bros regret their decision to hire Schumacher. The toy-friendly Batman Forever grossed over $336 million worldwide but at $238 million, Batman and Robin was a commercial disappointment. It was a critical failure too, resulting in the franchise being put on ice (thanks Mr Freeze) until Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman saga in 2005.

Ironically, Nolan’s movies were celebrated for their darker tone, which is the very thing that caused Warner Bros to drop Tim Burton from his planned third Batman movie. Matt Reeves’ 2022 movie The Batman was darker still. Their movies are significantly better than Schumachers’ and arguably better than the movies Burton directed.

As such, perhaps we shouldn’t be sorry that Burton never made his third Batman movie. If he had done so, there’s a chance Warner Bros wouldn’t have seen the need to reboot the Batman saga with Nolan. Therefore, we should be thankful that Batman Forever and the awful Batman and Robin did get made as this change in direction was the instigator for the better movies that followed.

Were you disappointed that Tim Burton didn’t get to direct a third Batman movie? Let us know in the comments below.


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