Can that be true? I almost can’t believe that today Michael Keaton turns 60 yrs of age. Has it really been 22 years since the release of Tim Burton’s Batman? Believe it or not, the answer to that question is yes. It has been that long since the film in which Keaton played Bruce Wayne/Batman hit theaters and truly changed the way movies have been marketed since.
Here is a piece I wrote 3 years ago asking the question why Keaton (who’s been one of my all time favorites) didn’t have the overall career popularity/longevity that Tom Hanks has had. I think the comparison is a fair one considering that both of these fine actors can and have shined in both comedic and dramatic roles.
Here’s hoping Keaton still has a few great roles ahead of him. Happy Birthday Beetlejuice!
WHY didn’t MICHEAL KEATON ever become the SECOND coming of TOM HANKS?
After reading that actor Michael Keaton has been cast as supporting voice of the Ken doll in Pixar’s upcoming TOY STORY 3, it made me think: “Why hasn’t Keaton been more prominent in movies over the past ten years?” I’ve always been a big fan, even before he got cast as Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton’s 1989 original Batman movie. One of my all time favorite films is Ron Howard’s NIGHT SHIFT. Released in 1982, this comedy was Keaton’s first starring role and he was never better. Cast as the film’s comic engine – idea man Billy Blazejowski opposite Henry Winkler’s straight man – Chuck, Michael stole the film.
When the film hit theaters that year critics raved about this new kid on the block and. the movie scored at the box-office. This despite reports that he was close to being fired numerous times when studio executives didn’t like the film’s dailies and seriously considered replacing him. The sleeper success of Night Shift, and the buzz around a new up and coming talent, opened the door for this fresh and energetic actor. From here, Keaton went on to do MR. MOM, a big box-office success, just one year later. After Mr. Mom, Keaton worked consistently, starring in films like JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY, a spoof comedy that I always thought was a very funny although most critics weren’t as kind and the box-office wasn’t so good either. In 1986 he teamed up with Ron Howard for their second movie together, GUNG HO. The film received a mixed response from critics and, while the box-office was alright, it was far from a blockbuster. Personally, I really liked both his work and the movie itself.
It was at this point in his career that he hit his first big dry spot with back to back bombs; the little seen TOUCH AND GO in 1986 and mega bomb THE SQUEEZE one year later. That film was regarded as one of that year’s worst and many feel it was the most sub-par movie in his career. At that point the talented actor was stuck in Hollywood limbo as roles dried up. It wasn’t until Tim Burton cast Keaton in BEETLEJUICE, a part that was originally only supposed to be little more than a cameo, that his stock started to rise once again. After watching the dailies of his performance as the bio-exorcist, or the “Ghost with the Most,” Burton decided to keep beefing his part up and Keaton eventually became the heart and soul of the film. Opening in the summer of 1998, Beetlejuice was both a critical and box-office hit. Keaton, once again, was back on Hollywood’s radar screen.
That same year the actor took on a serious role in CLEAN AND SOBER and the result was astonishing. Nominated for a Golden Globe award, Keaton proved he was multi-dimensional in terms of his acting range, giving a complete and compelling performance as a recovering drug addict. While not a big box-office hit, Keaton garnered the respect of both critics and his peers. It appeared that he was entering the TOM HANKS realm of an actor who could thrive in both comedy and drama, a feat that isn’t easy to pull off. In 1989 Michael would gain worldwide attention when seen on the big screen in Warner Bros mega blockbuster, BATMAN. While many doubted the casting choice, he pulled it off in spades and was riding higher than ever! Two years later he returned for the inevitable sequel, BATMAN RETURNS. While the movie was profitable, it was not as big as the original and fans were spilt on the direction Burton was taking the franchise.
Things turned once again, and not for the better, in his career when he took a pass on the third Batman film, Batman Forever. He reportedly turned down thirty-five million dollars simply because he didn’t like the direction the studio was going in when Burton passed and Joel Schumacher took over. Since 1994 Keaton has only been in one high quality film, a starring role in THE PAPER, the third film he has done with Ron Howard. He’s gone from one bad project to another – DESPERATE MEASURES and JACK FROST in 1998, QUICKSAND, which went straight to DVD in 2003, the mediocre First Daughter in 2004 and the flat out awful WHITE NOISE in 2005, although the film did do well at the box-office. While Tom Hanks’ career thrived in the decade, Keaton’s clearly was the polar opposite. Born Michael John Douglas, Keaton is now 56 years old. Do I ever expect him to become a huge star once again? Probably not! As a big fan, I hope he may still catch a great role and win an Oscar and, yes, I think he’s that good! In a perfect world I would love to see Warner Bros let him put on the bat suit one more time and play an aging caped crusader. That would make a fascinating movie and Keaton could pull it off! Will it ever happen? Probably not. So, am I excited about his involvement in TOY STORY 3? Not really, as I think he can give the world of movies so much more than that and hope that he finds the right vehicle to make it happen.
With The Dark Knight release less than two weeks away here is my recollection of the previous Caped Crusader movies since Tim Burton’s 1989 version.
BATMAN – 1989 – While I wasn’t the biggest of comic book readers I was pretty excited to see this film as Warner Bros produced one of the great marketing campaigns in the history of movies. The time, growing up in New York, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing the Bat emblem poster on bus stops and subway stations. Something also happened that really changed the way films are marketed to this day. The studio took a calculated gamble and decided to air the 3 minute coming attraction trailer on a weeknight on all the network channels, at about the same time, a month before its June 23 release date. It created some great water cooler talk and many people including myself were psyched. The ABC networks magazine show 20/20 also aired a retrospective on the history of the Batman character that was really well done about a week before its release that also got me pumped.
On Friday, June 23, 1989, the highly anticipated film opened to mostly positive reviews with the NY Post giving the film four stars. The film did have some detractors with the trade Variety and Roger Ebert giving the movie negative reviews. I wound up seeing Batman 10 times in its theatrical run. While I knew the movie had flaws, especially in story telling, there was something about it that made me keep coming back. I personally loved the mid-section of the film. The Museum sequence where Jack’s Joker dances around to Prince’s Party Man was super cool. Batman crashing through the sky light ceiling saving Vicki Vale was great and introduction of the bat mobile outside the Flugelheim Museum was perfectly executed. Plus Danny Elfman’s score was as good as it gets and really elevated the whole production. Bottom line – despite being far from perfect, I liked it very much. Tim Burton’s Batman had a 40.5 mil opening weekend on 2201 screens and it had legs. It played in theaters for 25 weeks ending up with a domestic gross of 251mil.
BATMAN RETURNS 1992 – Before Batman Returns went into production there were all sorts of rumors about what direction Tim Burton would go with this one. There were reports of Jack Nicholson coming back to play the penguin since he was so popular from the first film and couldn’t reprise his Joker role because the character was killed off. Rumors swirled that Robin would be introduced with names like Michael J. Fox and even Fred Savage (Wonder Years) being thrown around. Robin (or a variation of the character) was actually written into the story with Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie) cast. That was scraped when the production went behind schedule. Batman Returns opened July 19, 1992. It was generally well received by critics but had many detractors among comic book fans. I really liked it and thought it was the best of the Batman movies until Chris Nolan‘s Batman Begins came along. This film was totally Tim Burton’s world and it had a poetic and tragic feel to it, especially Danny Devito’s Penguin who Burton obviously took a shine to. I love the “Things change” scene at the films half way point where Keaton’s Batman confronts Devito’s Penguin about the possibilities of him running for Major. It’s beautifully directed. I saw Returns four times in its theatrical run. Returns opened to 45.7 mll in business topping out at 162mil.
BATMAN FOREVER – 1995 – I really didn’t know what to expect when the film opened in theaters on June 16, 1995, since it was no longer Tim Burton’s baby, but overall I liked it. Yes, it started to enter the world of camp but not to the point of not being an entertaining film. I really liked Val Kilmer who replaced Michael Keaton and the introduction of Robin was fairly well done (Keaton refused to do the film without Burton’s involment despite being offered a reported 35mill to come back for a third time). Forever opened to a 40.5 mil first weekend and wound up with a solid 184 mil overall. At this point in the franchise I don’t think Warner Bros really cared one way or the other what comic fans thought as long as these movies made a profit. I saw the film twice in its theatrical run.
BATMAN AND ROBIN – 1997 – What can you say other than the movie was made to appeal to the 10 yr old and under crowd. Akiva Goldsman was the real blame here. His script was as juvenile a piece of garbage as one could imagine featuring an unbelievably annoying Robin (wildly overplayed the 2nd time around by Chris O’Donnell) and the ridiculous Batgirl. The film opened to 42.8 mill opening weekend but toxic word of mouth quickly killed it as it topped out at 107 mill. I saw this once and once only in a theater when it opened on June 20, 1997.
BATMAN BEGINS – 2005 – Chris Nolan was a truly a beacon of light when Warner Bros decided to let him get involved with the dying franchise. He did every right. He cast Christian Bale who was not only a great Batman but a terrific Bruce Wayne. He had a great script for an origin story and cast talented actors in supporting roles. Plus, he brought the darkness back to the character. The story had great momentum and a pitch perfect musical score. This was true Batman greatness to me and it hold up beautifully on repeat viewings. What can I say other than I love it! Begins opened to a 48.7 first weekend and, fueled by great word of mouth, grossed 205 mil at the box-office. I saw Begins three times in a theater. It opened June 15, 2005.