‘Batman’ Icon Still Confused About Comic Book Fans

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Michael Keaton as Batman in 'The Flash' trailer

Credit: DC / Warner Bros.

Many actors have tried to inhabit the role of Batman over the years, with varying degrees of success. Arguably the most beloved of them all is Michael Keaton, but even after all these years, he has revealed he really doesn’t understand why DC Comics fans care so much.

Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne saying "You wanna get nuts?" in 'The Flash'
Credit: DC / Warner Bros.

The backlash to actors being cast in superhero movies is just a fact of life these days, with social media exploding into fury and debate every time Marvel Studios casts a female Silver Surfer or a goth Bruce Wayne. Comic book movies have been the biggest thing at the box office for nearly two decades now, and, like it or not, arguing about who will play Doctor Doom or Robin the Boy Wonder is just a part of modern life.

That was not always the case, however. Once upon a time, a blockbuster superhero movie was an anomaly and the debate over casting choices was held only with a select group of hardcore comic book fans.

Michael Keaton as Batman, looking at the Bat Signal from 'Batman' (1989)
Credit: DC / Warner Bros.

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As such, Michael Keaton must have been blindsided when Tim Burton cast him as the Caped Crusader in Batman (1989), a canny choice that helped the film gross an unprecedented (for a comic book movie) $411 million at the box office. For context, that would be approximately $1.02 billion in 2024; it would be as if a movie suddenly made Avengers: Endgame (2019) money but without 21 prior movies to provide momentum and goodwill.

We should clarify Michael Keaton was not blindsided by Tim Burton’s selecting of him as Batman since the two had already built a solid working relationship with the supernatural comedy Beetlejuice (1988). Rather, he still seems confused by how fervent and angry DC Comics fans were that he was cast as Bruce Wayne in the first place.

Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice
Credit: Warner Bros

In a recent interview with GQ, Michael Keaton revealed that he was still confused about why comic book fans cared so much about his being cast as Bruce Wayne and, really, why Warner Bros. Pictures made a Batman movie in the first place.

Michael Keaton told GQ, “When [Warner Bros.] said ‘We’re thinking of doing Batman,’ I said, ‘Wait, you’re thinking of making a movie about Batman?’… The fact that Tim [Burton] said ‘That guy, I want that guy’… the fact that people cared one way or another so much is still baffling. But that was a ballsy move on his part. We also had a nice working relationship from Beetlejuice, so he felt that he and I could get along and would work well together.”

While Keaton is now an iconic figure in the Batman universe, that was far from certain when he was cast. Infamously, some 50,000 letters were mailed to Warner Bros. in protest, largely focused on the former stand-up’s comedy-heavy resume. In a contemporary profile of the production, the New York Times called Keaton “a controversial choice but an intriguing one; it’s hard to guess how Keaton, with his mercurial comic style, will play the hitherto-stolid character of the Dark Knight.”

Michael Keaton as Batman
Credit: DC

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Even Michael Keaton had doubts, later telling the L.A. Times, “There was no guarantee that any of this was going to play correctly when it was all said and done. There had never been a movie like it before. There was a lot of risk, too, with Jack [Nicholson] looking the way he did and me stepping out in this new way. The pressure was on everybody. You could feel it.”

Catwoman in Batman Returns
Credit: DC / Warner Bros.

Tim Burton and his vision of Michael Keaton as Batman, Jack Nicholson as the Joker, and Gotham City as an art-deco gothic wonderland have since been embraced by fans and critics. The film was followed by Batman Returns (1992), which added Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, and Christopher Walken to the mix, has emerged as a cult classic but was viewed as something of a peculiar commercial letdown in comparison.

Still, history has proven Burton and Keaton right. Most recently, Keaton reprised his version of Batman in The Flash (2023), in which Barry Allen (Ezra Miller) enlists the aged superhero in a multiversal disaster; we may see him show up yet again in James Gunn’s new DC Universe, but it seems the actor himself will never stop being confused about how fans care so much.

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