On a talk show appearance the night before Batman (1989) released in theaters, Michael Keaton accidentally spoiled the movie’s big Joker twist. It’s hard to remember at this point, but before Tim Burton first stepped behind the camera to direct the Caped Crusader, Batman was by no means considered a go-to character in the world of film. Before 1989, Batman had only even appeared in one feature, and that was just an expansion of the 1960s Adam West TV series. With that in mind, Batman (1989) ended up spending a long time in development before finally getting the greenlight at Warner Bros.
It’s amusing to think about now, but when Michael Keaton was first cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne, many fans reacted with disappointment and confusion, as Keaton was primarily known at that point as a comedic actor from films like Mr. Mom and Burton’s own Beetlejuice. If social media had existed back then, there would’ve no doubt been an uproar, similar to the campaigns against Heath Ledger playing The Joker in The Dark Knight and Ben Affleck playing Batman in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Of course, Keaton proved more than up for the role, lending both Batman and Bruce Wayne an unpredictable edge that some would argue hasn’t been seen in subsequent big screen versions of those characters. Many DC fans still consider Keaton the best movie Batman to date, and he’d reprise the role for 1992 sequel Batman Returns. However, the night before Batman (1989) released in theaters, Keaton made an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, and during his conversation promoting the film, managed to accidentally spill the beans on the film’s biggest twist to established DC lore, that The Joker (Jack Nicholson) is revealed to have killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. Check out the clip below, via Dave Itzkoff on Twitter.
While the spoiler is arguably Letterman’s fault, as he presents that scenario to Keaton for confirmation, the actor pretty quickly realizes just how big a mistake he just made. The studio audience also lets loose a round of groans, no doubt annoyed that they’ve now had the big twist of the film spoiled for them, even if it was by the film’s star. Letterman quickly tries to defuse the awkward moment with a one-liner about moviegoers choosing to go see “Raiders of the Ark” again instead of Batman, clearly referring to fellow summer of 1989 blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Thankfully, as we all now know, Batman (1989) wouldn’t be hurt by Keaton’s inadvertent spoiler, going on to earn a massive $411 million worldwide and become the highest-grossing film of its year. To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of making nearly $850 million in today’s money. Of course, Keaton’s lucky he didn’t do the same thing when working for the ultra-secretive Marvel Studios on Spider-Man: Homecoming, or he’d have been unlikely to escape with his life.