How Michael Keaton Spoiled Batman the Night Before it Came Out


Summary

  • Batman 1989 movie had a massive cultural impact due to its unique take on the character and dark, gothic setting.
  • Michael Keaton accidentally spoiled the film’s major twist, revealing significant details about Batman’s origin story.
  • Despite the spoiler, the film was a huge success, becoming an iconic portrayal of Batman and dominating the box office.



When Batman was gearing up for release in the summer of 1989, the hype from fans reached a level that hadn’t been seen up to that point. It had been over 20 years since the Caped Crusader made his way to the silver screen, and audiences were looking for a fresh take on the character. While Adam West’s Batman series and film brought the over-the-top goofy aspects of the character to life in an endearing way, people were desperate to see the character taken seriously again. Tim Burton’s reboot of the character promised to do just that as it embraced the gothic elements of the character and put him in a more serious setting. Anticipation was sweeping the nation as the film became a cultural phenomenon even before its release.


Everywhere you looked, there was Batman merchandise and branding. From Happy Meals to cereal boxes, he was everywhere. This was still in an era where superhero movies were few and far between, so to see it take off like this was a monumental achievement. It was a huge deal to get a Batman movie again, and fans were taking full advantage of it. People were buying tickets to other movies just to watch the trailer for Batman, then promptly leaving once they saw what they came for. “Batmania” was in full effect, and it seemed like nothing could halt the wave of momentum the film had built up for itself. That is until Michael Keaton made a huge mistake right at the finish line.

Batman (1989)

Release Date
June 23, 1989

Runtime
126

Writers
Bob Kane , Sam Hamm , Warren Skaaren


The Slip-Up on Letterman


June 22, 1989. The day before Batman was finally set to be released in theaters with excitement at an all-time high. People around the world were preparing to see the Batman they’d been dreaming of in a theater for the first time, and it seemed like nothing could ruin that. Michael Keaton had been going around doing the usual press tour as you do for a film, and with this being his last stop, it looked as if things were about to go off without a hitch. When the film came up in conversation with legendary late-night host David Letterman, he asked Keaton about the dynamic between the Joker and Batman in the film. It was here that he accidentally let the bat cat out of the bag, revealing the film’s biggest twist.

“Bruce Wayne witnesses the murder of his parents when he’s a kid,” Keaton told Letterman, who then asked if Joker was responsible for that, to which he replied, “Yeah, but he doesn’t know it ’till later. I’ve kinda blown the plot here.”


It was a bell you couldn’t un-ring as the surprise was revealed to not just those in attendance, but to hundreds of thousands of people watching at home. The crowd let out a groan in unison as they learned what was going on in the film. It was a big deal to people as this movie had almost unrealistic expectations to live up to. With such an important detail of the plot released, it had some people questioning if that would impact the film’s box office at all.

Nowadays, we’re all familiar with the story of Batman’s origin to the point where audiences are sick of hearing about it. The infamous murder in Crime Alley is common knowledge, but back then it wasn’t as publicized. Even for the most die-hard comic fans, this would come as a shock as it was a drastically different take on the story than what it is in the comics.


Comic and Film Differences

Traditionally, the Wayne family murders are portrayed as a random act of violence. Thomas, Martha, and Bruce happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some no-name criminal took advantage of it. In the comics, that unfortunate man happened to be Joe Chill. He wasn’t a supervillain or someone who had a vendetta against the Waynes, just someone looking to make a quick buck by robbing some rich people he happened to cross paths with. Of course, this inspires Bruce to become Batman and prevent a tragedy like that from happening to anyone else in Gotham. Chill being the man to create Batman in the comics has always been the status quo, as it reinforces why Batman does what he does in the first place.


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Batman‘s bold retelling of the Dark Knight’s origin completely changes the dynamic between him and the Joker. Burton made the change in order to give Bruce a more personal connection to the Joker, allowing this interpretation to stand on its own. Controversial as it may be to many, it adds a whole new layer to their rivalry. The Joker created Batman decades ago by destroying his family, only for Batman to create the Joker years later by knocking him into that vat of acid.


It’s a very poetic story choice that ties the two together in a fascinating way. Neither of the two can exist without the other as they represent mirror images of each other with completely contrasting moral values. With a twist so big, it’s easy to see why audiences would be disappointed about learning it ahead of time. You can learn a lot about how the movie is going to handle these iconic characters with just that little information alone, and it frustrated many that Keaton let such an important detail slip.

How Spoiler Culture Has Changed

Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland hug in Spider-Man: No Way Home
Sony Pictures Releasing

When it comes to movies today, spoilers are everywhere, especially in the comic book movie genre. New “scoopers” are appearing left and right to leak any sort of plot details they can. Anything from the actors on set on a certain day, to the specific shade of red on a costume is revealed years ahead of time. And if they don’t do it, Tom Holland will.


Compare Batman to Spider-Man: No Way Home. Two of the most anticipated superhero movies of all time, but were handled in very different ways. Dozens of leaks plagued No Way Home to the point where all of the biggest surprises were out on the internet months before the first trailer, which also got leaked, was even released.

When Batman was being made, it came as a genuine surprise to fans to see that a new Batman movie was even ready. Michael Keaton’s casting was well known, but they were able to surprise audiences with the film’s existence. The trailer simply played before a movie and that was how they learned it was ready. It makes Keaton’s spoiler even more devastating because that wasn’t something that often happens to these types of blockbuster movies, especially with a twist of that magnitude. There were no leaks or set photos to spoil plot details, and something like this was a huge deal at the time.


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With people chronically online and some fans seemingly incapable of letting a movie be a surprise, it has become nearly impossible to stop spoilers.

Thankfully, the spoiler didn’t affect the film’s box office in the slightest. On a budget of only $48 million, the film managed to bring in an impressive $412 million. That shakes out to be just under one billion dollars when adjusted for inflation today. At the time, it was the highest-grossing Warner Bros. movie and held that title for 7 years. What were people going to do, not watch a Batman movie? Audiences around the world had Bat-fever as the new interpretation immediately became iconic.


Who knows, maybe the spoiler even drew in more people to see this new interpretation of the character. At the time, it may have been a huge mistake, but now it’s just something funny to look back on. Keaton has cemented his legacy as the definitive version of Batman for many people around the world, and a spoiler isn’t going to change that.



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