‘Beetlejuice’ Fan Theory Gives the Movie a Dark Spin

‘Beetlejuice’ is packed with dark humor, but one element of the movie may be even darker than it appears on the surface. According to some fans, Adam and Barbara’s deaths in the beginning of the film were no accident.

"It's showtime!"
"It's showtime!" / Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Few movies straddle the line between horror and comedy as well as Beetlejuice. The 1988 classic follows Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin)—a married couple who die in a car crash within the film’s opening minutes. They immediately return to their beloved home as ghosts, and are eventually forced to share the space with an eccentric family who buys their home. That’s a bit heavier than your typical comedy premise and, according to one fan theory, the set-up may be even darker than it appears on first watch. 

As Screen Rant explains, Beetlejuice leaves room to interpret Barbara and Adam’s deaths as a murder rather than an unfortunate accident. The theory, which originates with the Reddit user u/StrawberryUwUGirl, relies on information given to the viewer in the movie’s introduction. As Barbara and Adam prepare for their vacation, they receive a visit from Jane Butterfield (Annie McEnroe), Barbara’s cousin who also happens to be a real estate agent.

Jane forces her way inside the house to pitch Barbara on selling their home to a buyer in Manhattan who wants to move to the country with his wife and daughter, foreshadowing the arrival of the Deetzes later in the film. Jane promises them a big profit, but Barbara makes it clear they aren’t interested. Barbara’s reaction to Jane’s persistence makes it clear she won’t take the Maitlands’ no for an answer. Which has led some viewers to speculate that Jane had something to do with what happens next.

Adam and Barbara are driving over a bridge when an unleashed dog walks in front of their car. This causes them to crash into the water, ultimately killing them and dooming them to a monotonous afterlife. 

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A surface-level read of the film paints the accident as totally random and even comedic. But according to the theory, Jane intentionally caused their deaths by leading the dog into their path. If she was determined to make money off the Maitlands' house and they were unwilling to move, she may have viewed killing them as her only option.

Beyond the greedy and aggressive behavior we see in her short screen time, there aren’t many clues to confirm this interpretation, but the script goes further to depict Jane as someone who could be capable of murder. The introduction of her character reads: “She's divorced three husbands and buried another for good measure. She's ruthless but is weirdly, seamlessly pleasant.” With the fan theory in mind, the phrase “buried another for good measure” has disturbing implications. 

Thirty-six years after the premiere of the original, Tim Burton is bringing Beetlejuice back to the big screen in 2024. The sequel, titled Beetlejuice Beetlejuice, will see the return of Michael Keaton in the title role as well as Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder. Jenna Ortega will also star in the new role of Lydia’s daughter. Few details about the plot have been revealed, so fans will have to wait for September to see if the fan theory surrounding the Maitlands’ deaths is refuted or confirmed.