Before the MCU or even Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, the first Batman movie—directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader—was the dominant force in the superhero genre. In 1992, the duo came back for Batman Returns, which was another financial success (though it didn't make quite as much money as the 1989 original). But when director Joel Schumacher took over for 1995’s Batman Forever, Keaton opted to walk away from the franchise. Now that enough time has passed, the actor is talking a bit more openly about why he decided to leave Bruce Wayne behind.
Michael Keaton turned down Batman Forever over creative differences
Keaton recently talked in detail about his decision to turn down Batman Forever on the Backstage podcast. To Keaton, it all came back to his understanding of the character.
“It was always Bruce Wayne. It was never Batman,” Keaton said. “To me, I know the name of the movie is Batman, and it’s hugely iconic and very cool and cultural iconic and because of Tim Burton, artistically iconic, [but] I knew from the get-go it was Bruce Wayne. That was the secret. I never talked about it. [Everyone would say] Batman, Batman, Batman does this, and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Y’all are thinking wrong here.’ [It’s all about] Bruce Wayne. What kind of person does that?… Who becomes that?”
This clashed with the vision of Joel Schumacher, who wanted to go in a more comic book-ish direction. It marked a large departure from the darker noir tones evoked by Tim Burton’s two films. “And then when the director who directed the third one, I said, ‘I just can’t do it,’” Keaton remembered. “And one of the reasons I couldn’t do it was—and you know, he’s a nice enough man, he’s passed away, so I wouldn’t speak ill of him even if he were alive—he, at one point, after more than a couple of meetings where I kept trying to rationalize doing it and hopefully talking him into saying, ‘I think we don’t want to go in this direction, I think we should go in this direction.’ And he wasn’t going to budge.
“But I remember one of the things that I walked away going, ‘Oh boy, I can’t do this,’” Keaton continued. “He asked me, ‘I don’t understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,’ and I went, ‘Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read… I mean, it’s pretty simple.’”
Keaton stuck to his guns, and in the end, it only made his take on the character all the more iconic. And now, 30 years later, he’s returning to the role in The Flash this November.