Michael Keaton explains why he turned down ‘Batman Forever’

michael keaton batman

Joel Schumacher replacing Tim Burton at the helm of the Batman franchise marked the beginning of the end for the Dark Knight’s original series of big screen adventures, with the Gothic trappings and tangible sense of atmosphere that defined the first two installments replaced by a pair of garish neon-and-nipple blockbusters designed to sell toys.

Michael Keaton knew what was coming, turning down a $15 million offer to return as Bruce Wayne in Schumacher’s Batman Forever, with Val Kilmer suiting up as his replacement instead. In an interview with In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast, the veteran star explained why he wasn’t interested in reprising the role for a third time once he found out the new direction the franchise was heading.

“It was always Bruce Wayne. It was never Batman. To me, I know the name of the movie is Batman, and it’s hugely iconic and very cool and [a] cultural iconic and because of Tim Burton, artistically iconic. I knew from the get-go it was Bruce Wayne. That was the secret. I never talked about it. [Everyone would say] Batman, Batman, Batman does this, and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Y’all are thinking wrong here.’ [It’s all about] Bruce Wayne. What kind of person does that?… Who becomes that? What kind of person [does that]?

And then when the director who directed the third one [came on] I said, ‘I just can’t do it.’ And one of the reasons I couldn’t do it was—and you know, he’s a nice enough man, he’s passed away, so I wouldn’t speak ill of him even if he were alive—he, at one point, after more than a couple of meetings where I kept trying to rationalize doing it and hopefully talking him into saying I think we don’t want to go in this direction, I think we should go in this direction.

And he wasn’t going to budge. I remember one of the things that I walked away going, ‘Oh boy, I can’t do this.’ He asked me, ‘I don’t understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,’ and I went, ‘Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read… I mean, it’s pretty simple.'”

To put that into perspective, $15 million in the mid-90s equates to well over $25 million when adjusted for inflation, so Keaton declined what would have comfortably been the biggest payday of his entire career. While money isn’t everything, it does talk louder than anything else in Hollywood, so Burton’s Caped Crusader should be commended.

On the plus side, Keaton is back on our screens as Batman this November when The Flash comes to theaters, while he’s also been confirmed for HBO Max’s Batgirl as he makes a triumphant return to the cape and cowl after a 30-year absence.