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10 facts you didn’t know about Tim Burton’s unmade third Batman film

The famous “I’m Batman!” exclamation is an indelible part of Michael Keaton’s take on the eponymous character that has fascinated audiences and fans for decades. Director Tim Burton introduced the world to a superhero story that, at the time, was largely unconventional, with sweeping shades of dark, gothic themes that stood in stark contrast to animated serials like Super Friends or Adam West’s live-action campy iteration of the Caped Crusader that came before. For that reason, Keaton’s version of Batman will forever be imprinted in the minds of cinema fans.

Of course, Burton always planned to continue his work in Gotham, creating a trilogy of films with a killer threequel. However, the director moved on to other projects after Batman Returns, abandoning his ideas and hopes for a third Batman film due to a confluence of events that ultimately saw him be replaced by Joel Schumacher (The Phantom of the Opera, Phone Booth). Still, one has to wonder what could have been in some alternate universe where Burton’s third Batman film saw the light of day. While little is known about the potential plot that Burton had in mind, there are several tidbits of information that have surfaced over the years concerning the unmade Batman film.

Batman Continues?

Michael Keaton as a thoughtful Bruce Wayne in Batman Returns
Warner Bros. 1992 / Warner Bros.

Look, Batman Forever may have not been the greatest title for a purported threequel in the Batman series. And even if we would rather have had Burton round out a trilogy, the title for his next live-action film was actually worse — if you can believe it. The unmade third film in the unfinished Burton trilogy would have been called Batman Continues.

It doesn’t get any more on the nose than that, right? And if it was put into production, surely level heads would have prevailed and kicked that horrid title to the curb. But nevertheless, it was the designation for this legendary nonexistent film.

Burton’s films were too dark for Warner Brothers

Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as Joker.
Warner Bros.

It’s hard imagining this being the case with the ultra grimdark worlds the Nolan Batman trilogy, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and The Batman have brought us, but at one point, Burton was too edgy for some studio execs. In fact, this is the reason that Batman Continues was never put into production. It was decided that Batman should be more approachable for a family audience, which is why director Schumacher was brought in for Batman Forever.

In 1992, just after Batman Returns hit theaters, Entertainment Weekly reported that studio execs were grumbling behind the scenes because of the dark nature of Burton’s Gotham. The crude puns, innuendo, and random violence were ultimately blamed for the film’s rapid drop-off in box office returns and this is one reason why Batman Continues never saw the light of day.

Toys played a role in the demise of Burton’s possible third film

Warner Bros.

If you were either a parent or a child when Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns came out, then you might remember the McDonald’s Happy Meal toy line that complemented the film’s release. Parents would soon be dismayed to find that Batman Returns was far too dark for their small children. The backlash over the McDonald’s toys would reach a fever pitch, eventually causing McDonald’s to respond with a statement that the fast-food chain never intended to promote the film, but only spark interest in the Batman character. Right.

After moving on to Schumacher, the lighthearted nature of the film furthered Warner Bros.’s merchandising efforts when it came to children’s toys. Clearly, the McDonald’s fiasco was a memory WB preferred to put in the Batmobile’s rearview mirror.

Billy Dee Williams would have reprised his role as Harvey Dent

Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent in Batman
Warner Bros.

Fans of the original 1989 film were keenly aware of Billy Dee Williams’ role in the film as the district attorney Harvey Dent. The character famously goes on to become one of Batman’s primary foes after a conflict with the mobsters Dent seeks to lock away leaves him physically scarred on half of his face. While there have been various iterations of the story, the most notable version of events is the one seen in writer Jeph Loeb’s Batman: The Long Halloween, in which Harvey’s face is splashed with acid by a gangster in a courtroom.

Batman Forever featured Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) in a villainous role alongside Jim Carrey’s Riddler. However, the film was rather zany and avoided the dark and twisted themes seen in Burton’s films. Little is known about the overall plot of Batman Continues, but Williams likely would have reprised his role as Two-Face in Burton’s Batman future. The change in directors, however, seemingly changed everything, including Two-Face’s casting.

Marlon Wayans was set to play Robin

Marlon Wayans in Scary Movie
Dimension Films

If you thought that Burton never considered having the Boy Wonder be a part of his Batman world, you’d be mistaken. In fact, the director cast Robin for Batman Returns. Marlon Wayans was set to play the other half of the Dynamic Duo. In an interview with Gizmodo, Wayans explained that he had signed a contract and was even fitted for the suit. His character was cut from the film, however, when it was decided that the cast was too bloated.

Wayans, however, still received payment for the role and was going to finally make his debut appearance in Batman Continues. Of course, as is the trend with all of Burton’s plans for Continues, everything changed when the director’s chair shifted over to Schumacher.

Michael Keaton opted out of the cowl

Michael Keaton as Batman with his mask off in The Flash.
Warner Bros.

Keaton, the shining star of Burton’s Batman movies, was always set to reprise his role as the Caped Crusader in Batman Continues. Burton wouldn’t have it any other way. When the director was replaced by Joel Schumacher, Keaton was still in the position to play the role. However, Keaton favored Burton’s direction for the character in the unmade Batman Continues film.

After reading Schumacher’s script and seeing the direction the new director was taking Batman Forever, Keaton opted out of the role. Warner Bros. was prepared to offer Keaton a whopping $15 million payday to keep him on board. However, that didn’t stop the actor from jumping ship.

Burton asking Brad Dourif to play Scarecrow never happened

Brad Dourif in Child's Play
MGM/UA Communications Co.

There has been an enduring rumor that has existed over the years that Burton had mulled over using the famous Chucky actor Brad Dourif in the role of the twisted psychology professor Jonathan Crane, who becomes the villainous Scarecrow. Famously, Scarecrow uses a hallucinogenic drug known as fear toxin to induce horrific visions in his victims centered around their worst fears.

Whether Burton truly considered the idea of bringing Dourif on board is unknown. However, the portion of the rumors that state that Burton discussed the role with Dourif is false. In an interview with Birth.Movies.Death, Dourif shared the following:

Y’know, I’ve heard that! One time I saw Tim Burton on an airplane and he was looking at me very interestedly. But I never spoke to him about it, and I think I wouldn’t have been big enough a star for anyone to cast me in that role. He might’ve been interested, but I doubt the powers that be would’ve let him do it.

While the idea seems interesting, Dourif and Burton never actually met over the possibility.

Michelle Pfeiffer would have returned

Catwoman in a close-up talking to someone in Batman Returns.
Warner Bros.

Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman would eventually become an icon after overcoming the hurdle of parental condemnation of the character’s overt sexualization. Later, Pfeiffer’s version of the character would become regarded by many as one who owned her sexuality and was an empowering figure. Batman Returns saw the character slink off into the shadows, with Bruce longing to see her once again. Pfeiffer was always set to reprise her role in a future Batman film.

But what’s even more interesting is that Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was once set to have her own spinoff film directed by Burton. Of course, this plan dissolved the moment Burton left the director’s chair of the third Batman film. But fans still wonder about what could have been. Certainly, any film headlining Pfeiffer’s take on the character would have been infinitely better than the Catwoman film we did receive.

Burton left because he felt the studio didn’t want him

Batman and the Batmobile in Batman Forever
Warner Bros.

While it’s obvious that the studio had other plans in mind following the public reception to Batman Returns, Burton still met with Warner Bros. to discuss a threequel. However, the leadership effectively “beat around the bush” when it came to letting the director know how they felt about a third film. Burton essentially had to read the room to get the idea.

Burton described the meeting after sharing his ideas for a third film:

I realized halfway through my meeting with Warner Bros. that they didn’t really want me to do the movie. They kept saying, ‘Don’t you wanna go back and do a movie like Edward Scissorhands? Something smaller?’ I said, ‘You don’t want me to do the movie, do you?’

The writing was on the wall, and Burton knew when he wasn’t wanted. He was never outright removed from the job but maintains that the studio pushed him out in favor of a different vision.

A true sequel

Michael Keaton back in the suit as Batman in The Flash.
Warner Bros.

At the end of the day, Batman Continues would have been nothing shy of a bona fide sequel to Batman Returns. As the title implies, there would have been a distinct level of consistency between the films instead of the disjointed world of Batman Forever — a film that would ultimately confuse fans due to its position in Burton’s canon despite Gotham and its characters (except for Michael Gough’s Alfred) being entirely different.

A script for Batman Continues never came to fruition, which is why Burton’s intended plot is still largely unknown. Even the director was merely in the “ideas” phase of the film’s development. Still, it’s hard not to wonder what a true sequel to cap off a Burton Batman trilogy would have been like. Now, we’ll just have to settle for The Flash as Keaton’s “third” Batman film.

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Christopher Hinton
Chris is a passionate and creative writer whose abiding fondness for cinema, video games, television, novels, and comic books…
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