Tim Burton’s dark vision for Batman Returns was a hit with audiences and critics, and is considered one of the great comic book sequels. We’re telling the story of how it was made via 25 amazing facts.

Written by , 2nd October 2023

Considering the staggering box office success of Batman (1989), it seemed logical for Warner Bros. to green-light the sequel, Batman Returns. Released in 1992, Returns managed to break several box office records and, even though its darker tone caused some controversy, the film still managed to garner critical praise. Here’s 25 interesting facts that dive deep into the film’s production.

1. Tim Burton and Michael Keaton hadn’t originally signed up in advance for a sequel

It would seem strange now to see a sequel to Batman without the likes of Tim Burton and Michael Keaton. However, neither Burton or Keaton had signed up in advance for a sequel. The director only came on-board after the script had met all of his demands. Previously, he hadn’t been entirely happy with the screenplay for Batman. Keaton only agreed to return after a significant increase in his salary. He also wanted reassurance from Burton that the film would be a stand-alone movie rather than a direct sequel to the first film.

2. Batman Returns was originally planned as a direct sequel to Batman

The first draft of the script for was originally intended to pick off where the first film left off. Certain subplots and continuity would have been addressed, these included showing gift shops selling fragments of the destroyed Bat Wing, further revelations into the past of Jack Napier and even Bruce Wayne proposing to Vicki Vale.

However, Tim Burton was uncomfortable with the idea of making a direct sequel, so a new script was written and even a new Gotham was designed. Several plot points from the original script did manage to find their way into the final draft. These included the alliance between the Penguin and Catwoman, their plan to frame Batman, and his escape via the Bat Glider. Other elements like the invasion of Wayne Manor and the Batcave popped up in the third film, Batman Forever (1995).

3. The original screenplay had Penguin and Catwoman seeking treasure

Strangely, Sam Hamm’s original screenplay featured the Penguin and Catwoman going after hidden treasure. However, that storyline didn’t work for Tim Burton so he brought in Daniel Waters who had written the screenplay for Heathers (1988) and Hudson Hawk (1991). It was Waters who came up with the concept of an evil business mogul, working with the Penguin to become mayor of Gotham.

4. Originally, the initial attack on Gotham Plaza was far more elaborate

Waters’ treatment went into far more detail than what we see in the final film. Thugs invade the plaza before the tree-lighting ceremony begins. They infiltrate Max Shreck’s penthouse office before taking Max, Chip, the mayor and Selina hostage. Batman has to fight his way up there to rescue them all, leaving his Batmobile behind in an alley. In the process, Batman forgets to put the shields up on the Batmobile. The Penguin’s thugs take photographs of the vehicle, which provides an explanation as to how the Penguin managed to get plans for it. Interestingly, the novelization indicates that the Penguin got the plans from a disgruntled engineer who helped design the Batmobile.

5. Wesley Strick was drafted in to come up with a solution to a problem

Every villain needs a good master plan, but the Penguin lacked a decent one in Daniel Waters’ screenplay. Screenwriter Wesley Strick (Cape Fear (1991)) was brought in to develop the Penguin’s motivation. Strick claimed that he was presented with “the usual boring ideas to do with warming the city, or freezing the city.” The idea of a villain freezing Gotham would be recycled in Batman & Robin (1997). He was inspired by the Moses parallels of Daniel Waters’ prologue, in which the infant Oswald Cobblepot was bundled into a basket and thrown into a river. Strick came up with the Penguin’s plan to kill the firstborn sons of Gotham. Both Warner Bros. and Burton were impressed by the concept, although toy manufacturers were a little worried by the dark tone.

6. The character of Robin was set to be introduced in Batman Returns

Tim Burton had collaborated with DC Comics artist Norm Breyfogle to redesign the Robin costume for the introduction of a new Robin. The final costume ended up being designed by Neal Adams, however the new Robin “R” symbol and bow staff were influenced by Breyfogle’s presentation. Kenner Toys even produced a corresponding action figure, but the filmmakers decided not to go ahead with the introduction of the character. However, Kenner released the toy anyway as the character had been newly rendered in the comic books.

7. Marlon Wayans was almost cast as Robin

Perhaps best known today for his work in Scary Movie (2000), comedian Marlon Wayans was attached to Batman Returns. He was set to be cast as Batman’s sidekick, Robin. However, this caused controversy for some ‘fans’ who questioned the appropriateness of Robin being African-American. Others were more concerned that Wayans was a comedic actor, and therefore the film would be more comedic in nature.

8. Michael Keaton was highly paid to reprise his role as Batman

As previously mentioned, Michael Keaton had agreed to return for the sequel as long as he received a pay increase. He allegedly earned $11 million for reprising his role, although the Warner Bros. executives weren’t too happy about this. Burton believes that Keaton was worth every penny.

Keaton Returns to Gotham
Credit: Warner Bros.

9. Keaton requested a lot of his dialogue to be cut

According to screenwriter Daniel Waters, Keaton went through the script and requested a lot of his dialogue to be removed. Once he had seen the final film, Waters confessed that Keaton “was exactly right” in his decision.

10. A zipper was added to the pants of the Batsuit

As you may remember, Keaton experienced a serious case of claustrophobia when wearing the Batsuit during filming of Batman. Donning the costume for a second time, Keaton requested one major modification to the suit, a zipper for the pants! Other modifications to the suit were made including changes to the colour scheme and the chestplate logo.

11. Meryl Streep was considered for the role of Catwoman

Three times Oscar winner, Meryl Streep, was briefly considered for the role of Selina Kyle/Catwoman. However, Tim Burton wasn’t convinced that she would be suitable for the role due to her age.

12. Other actresses were desperate for the role of Catwoman

Pop stars Madonna and Cher along with Demi Moore were eager to sink their teeth into the role of Catwoman. However, Tim Burton went with the well-respected Annette Bening, who was far less well-known than the other candidates. Shortly after being cast, Bening discovered she was pregnant, and decided to step aside.

13. Michael Keaton’s ex-girlfriend secured the role of Catwoman

Michelle Pfeiffer was almost cast as Batman’s love interest, Vicki Vale, in the previous Batman film. But she was romantically involved with Keaton, who voiced his concerns about her being cast. He was also trying to reconcile with his wife, Caroline McWilliams at the time. When it came around to filming the sequel, Keaton and McWilliams had divorced, so it was less awkward for him to act alongside Pfeiffer. She accepted the role, on the basis that her salary would be $3 million, which was three times more than Bening was offered.

14. Pfeiffer’s could only wear her Catwoman suit for a short time

Michelle Pfeiffer explained that once she was fitted into her costume, it was vacuum sealed for a tighter fit. She had a short amount of time to perform her scenes before she needed the suit to be opened, otherwise she would become lightheaded and pass out. Pfeiffer admitted that while being taught how to use a whip, she accidentally cut her trainer’s face. In her own words, “he acted like a complete gentleman and continued training.” She also went through 60 catsuits during the six month shoot, at a whopping cost of $1000 apiece.

15. Police became involved after Catwoman posters were stolen

Warner Bros. had to constantly submit new Catwoman posters for various cities, as many of the bus stop ads were being stolen. In fact, it got so bad that police officers started to patrol bus stops in an attempt to catch perpetrators before they could break the Plexiglas containers. The large scale Catwoman bus ads are now worth a great deal of money.

16. Michelle Pfeiffer trained hard to get into the role of Catwoman

Pfeiffer trained at a kick-boxing gym for six months. The actress also practiced yoga, weight lifting and karate, and spent three months training with a 12-foot bullwhip. Her training paid off as she whipped the heads off the mannequin dolls for real, and in one take. Another example of Pfeiffer getting into character occurred when she had to put a bird into her mouth. She thought the bird puppets all looked too fake so she decided to use a real bird instead! She said that playing Catwoman was one of her most challenging roles, but her hard work paid off as many critics praised her for a “intelligent, intimidating, and fierce embodiment of feminism.”

Pfeiffer in her vacuum sealed Catwoman suit
Credit: Warner Bros.

17. The role of the Penguin was written with Danny DeVito in mind

Screenwriter Daniel Waters has stated that he specifically wrote the part of the Penguin for Danny DeVito, even though the actor hadn’t officially been cast in the role. Dustin Hoffman, Joe Pesci, Christopher Lloyd and even Rowan Atkinson were considered for the role before DeVito. At first he was reluctant, and had to be convinced by his close friend, Jack Nicholson. DeVito became so devoted to the role, that he remained in character between takes.

18. Stan Winston was brought on board for the Penguin makeup effects

Legendary make-up and special effects artist Stan Winston was hired to create an “over-the-top Burtonesque” visual for the Penguin, without obscuring DeVito’s face. Concept artist Mark McCreery had drawn several different sketches for the look. However, Winston was unhappy with the “pointy nose” shapes and began sculpting ideas with clay. Winston explained that years ago he had worked on The Wiz (1978) and had created crow characters with enormous beak faces, which involved the whole forehead and brow appliances. He had always loved that design; and despite crows having nothing to do with penguins, he felt that he could use a similar concept for the Penguin.

19. DeVito spent three-hours in the make-up chair

Danny DeVito had to spend a whopping three hours in make-up every morning. As he had to spend such a long time in the make-up chair, one of the cabinets in his trailer was removed, and a LaserDisc machine and television was put in its place so DeVito was able to watch his favourite movies, which he would watch in the mirror. Due to the secrecy surrounding his character’s appearance before marketing, DeVito was not allowed to discuss it with others. Warner Bros. took the secrecy very seriously; when a photo was leaked to the press, they hired a firm of private investigators in a failed attempt to track down the source.

20. David Bowie was the first choice for the role of Max Shreck

Singer and actor, David Bowie was the first choice for the role of the ruthless industrialist, Max Shreck, having previously been considered to play the Joker in Batman. He may have seriously considered taking on the role of Shreck, but ultimately took a role in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). Christopher Walken ended up in the hot seat, but casting director Marion Dougherty said that Burton was uncomfortable with Walken. He told Dougherty “that man scares the hell out of me.” However, the decision must have ultimately grown on Burton, as he later cast Walken in Sleepy Hollow (1999). He was also cast to play Brainiac in the aborted Superman Lives project.

21. Michelle Pfeiffer got lost on set

The Gotham city sets were so vast that they were spread across seven soundstages on the Warner Bros. lot (the largest of which had 70 ft ceilings). It was reported that at least 50 percent of the Warner Bros. lot was taken up by the Gotham city sets. The sets were all constructed to be mobile, and were often moved between days of filming. They were so large and vast, that Michelle Pfeiffer routinely became lost on her way to filming each day.

22. The film features numerous references to Germany’s Weimar Republic

Batman Returns has a very distinctive look, but it’s a deliberate reference to the short-lived Weimar Republic that existed from 1919 to 1933. During this period, German Expressionism was a cinematic movement that thrived. The Penguin’s appearance and outfit are based on the title character from the German Expressionist film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). A lot of the scenery and set designs for Batman Returns, were also inspired by the same film.

The film’s villain, Max Schreck, was actually named after German Expressionist star, Max Schreck, who starred in Nosferatu (1922). The references to the Weimar Republic don’t stop there. In the film, Schreck makes a suggestion to the Penguin to make a “Reichstag fire.” Those familiar with their history, will know the events surrounding the burning of the historic German government building, which was perceived as a terrorist act that the Nazi party used as a pretext to seize political control.

23. King Penguins were flown to the US for the film

A total of 30 African penguins and 12 King Penguins were used during filming. The rest of the penguins featured in the film were a mix of CGI, robots and even people in penguin suits. The production team wanted to use King Penguins, but the only tame ones in captivity were located in a bird sanctuary in the Cotswolds in the U.K. These penguins were flown to the US in the refrigerated hold of a plane.

The penguins were given their own refrigerated trailer and swimming pool with half a ton of fresh ice being delivered every day, along with fresh fish coming direct from the docks. They also had their own around-the-clock bodyguard. A newspaper reported that the total refrigeration bill for keeping the penguins comfortably cool was $1 million! The birds must have enjoyed their experience starring in a big budget blockbuster, as most of them mated and produced eggs.

24. Danny DeVito was bitten by a monkey

The crew had a very hard time trying to get a shot where a monkey delivers a letter from Batman to Penguin. The reason for the uncooperative monkey was that it was scared of DeVito’s make-up and costume. The animal was so spooked that it ended up biting the actor in his crotch. Fortunately, DeVito was unaffected by the monkey’s attack due to padding. Still, he decided it would be best to put a metal shield in that part of his costume, just in case the monkey tried it again.

DeVito as the Penguin
Credit: Warner Bros.

25. A scene was shot where Catwoman survived

Although it wasn’t part of the script, Warner Bros. wanted to have Selina/Catwoman survive, just in case they wanted her for a sequel. However, Michelle Pfeiffer wasn’t available for the scene, so a body double was used instead. The shot ended up costing the studio $250,000.

And you’ve reached the end – 25 huge facts about Batman Returns. Please share on your social media channels, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for lots of great video content.