Joe Dante Wanted John Lithgow As The Joker In Batman Movie That Was Never Made

Before Tim Burton's Batman hit the silver screen, it was stuck in various stages of development [...]

Before Tim Burton's Batman hit the silver screen, it was stuck in various stages of development for quite some time.

The prolific superhero project had many other writers,directors, and even actors previously attached to it, but ended up as a box-office smash hit starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as The Joker.

Joe Dante, a director mostly known for his B-horror cult films like 1978's Piranha and eventually the hit film Gremlins, was one of the directors considered for Batman.

In a recent interview with Psychotronic Blog, Dante revealed that it was the maniacal allure of the Clown Prince of Crime that caused him to step down from the "very different" Batman movie that he would have directed.

He also said he wanted to cast Oscar-winning actor John Lithgow, who at the time was known for films such as Terms of Endearment, Harry and the Hendersons, and The Manhattan Project, as The Joker. Although he did have some star power at that point, he was no Jack Nicholson.


First, Dante discussed the version of Batman he was set to direct:

"Well, the Batman that I was going to do would have been completely different from what they ended up making. This was right after Gremlins, and Tom Mankiewicz, who had written a lot of James Bond movies, had done this take on Batman which was certainly not Chris Nolan-dark, was certainly darker than the TV version. 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 his reasoning for dropping the film:

"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."

How he wasn't really the right man to direct the film because he wasn't in love with the superhero:

"But in the end, I think I was not the right guy to do the movie. It's like when they came to me to do The Flintstones movie, I said "look, you know, I didn't really like 'The Flintstones.' I liked 'The Honeymooners,' which, you know, but not 'The Flintstones.' And what you really need to do is find a guy who loves 'The Flintstones' to make this picture." And they went out and found a director who apparently had Flintstones soap in his bathtub. And that's the way it should be, you should find the right people to do the job."

Dante has no regrets:

"And 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."

Ironically, in the Batman we ended up with, The Jokers performance did overshadow The Caped Crusader. But no one was mad about it. In fact, Burton's Batman is highly regarded as a definitive superhero movie, held dear to our hearts.