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Aside from Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton is the director most associated with the Batman franchise. He directed two of the earlier entries in the series: 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns. Those films are known for their dark themes and fascinating sets and costumes.

The aforementioned two movies are among the better-regarded films in the franchise. However, Burton never directed another Batman movie after his second. Burton revealed he had to leave the director’s chair because of a single scene.

Michael Keaton as Batman | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

The ‘Batman Returns’ scene that changed Tim Burton’s career as a director

Batman got attention for being much stranger than earlier superhero films and Batman Returns took things in an even more unconventional direction. The latter film includes a man living in the sewer, a number of biblical allusions, and Catwoman putting a bird in her mouth. Burton said a scene where the Penguin had black stuff coming out of his mouth might have repelled McDonald’s, who had a promotional tie-in with the film. He appeared to be referring to the film’s finale.

According to Uproxx, Burton said “I think I upset McDonalds. [They asked] ‘What’s that black stuff coming out of the Penguin’s mouth. We can’t sell Happy Meals with that!’ It was a weird reaction to [the movie], because half the people thought it was lighter than the first one and half the people thought it was darker.”

The finale of Batman Returns

Burton feels Warner Bros. didn’t appreciate his vision for the series. “I think the studio just thought it was too weird — they wanted to go with something more child- or family- friendly. In other words, they didn’t want me to do another one.”

How audiences responded to the film – and where the series went from there

Of course, Warner Bros. might have overlooked the odd and bleak nature of Batman Returns if it performed well at the box office. Sadly, that’s not what happened, as the film’s profit paled in comparison to its predecessor’s. Box Office Mojo reports Burton’s Batman made a staggering $411 million on a $35 million budget. That’s quite a sum of money for a film that’s 31 years old. 

The trailer for Batman Forever

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Meanwhile, Box Office Mojo also says Batman Returns earned a smaller amount of money ($266 million) on a substantially larger budget ($80 million). Some critics considered the film an improvement on its predecessor. However, consumers clearly liked the first film better.

Burton’s comments on the studio wanting something more family-friendly are notable. After Burton left the director’s chair, Joel Schumacher helmed the next film in the series: Batman Forever. The critical and fan reaction to the movie was mixed but everyone agreed it had a lighter tone than the previous film. In fact, the film had a similar tone to the 1960s Batman television series. It seems Schumacher gave the studio the family-friendly material Burton discussed. 

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