Before Tim Burton made his version of Batman with Michael Keaton as The Dark Knight and Jack Nicholson as The Joker, Joe Dante was approached by Warner Bros. If he had his way, we would’ve seen John Lithgow as the Clown Prince of Gotham City in a film that would’ve been darker than the Adam West TV series, but not as dark as Christopher Nolan’s take.
Dante discussed the Batman film that could’ve been in a new interview with the blog Psychotronic Cinema. He had come off of making Gremlins and was envisioning a film based on a screenplay by Tom Mankiewicz, who penned the Roger Moore-era Bond movie Live and Let Die.
It started with his parents being killed, and it was a revenge story. But it was very outlandish, had a lot of giant props in it. The Joker was a major character in it. I wanted to hire John Lithgow for that part because I had met him on The Twilight Zone movie. And for whatever reason, I started to gravitate more towards The Joker than towards Batman. And I actually woke up one night and I said to myself, “I can’t do this movie—I’m more interested in The Joker than I am in Batman, and that’s not the way it should be.” So I went and told them that I couldn’t do it, and they looked at me like I’d completely lost my mind.
In the end, he found solace in the fact that he didn’t believe himself to be the right person to make a Batman movie.
I don’t regret not doing Batman, in the sense that I’m not sure what it would have ended up being like. But I certainly can’t say it was a major career-booster, my decision not to make it.
At least Gremlins 2 will forever be immortalized with this Key & Peele sketch!