From Quentin Tarantino to Tim Burton: Michael Keaton’s 10 Best Film Performances
“Filmmaking is the ultimate team sport.” – Michael Keaton
American Actor Michael Keaton is known for his bold and wonderful performances in films like Birdman and Beetlejuice, among others. He even played the iconic role of Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 take on the comic book classic. His career’s most acclaimed work was in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2014 film Birdman, a performance for which he received a Golden Globe Award as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Keaton studied speech for two years at Kent State University, where he appeared in plays and after which he moved back to Pennsylvania to pursue his acting career. He first rose to fame for his roles on the CBS sitcoms All’s Fair and The Mary Tyler Moore Hour and his comedic performances in films like Night Shift (1982) and Mr. Mom (1983).
On his 69th birthday, we take a look at ten of his best film performances as a tribute to the unique talent of Michael Keaton.
Michael Keaton’s 10 Best Films:
10. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino – 1997)
Based on the 1992 novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard, Tarantino’s film boasts a star-studded cast including illustrious actors like Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Robert De Niro and Keaton himself. Keaton plays the role of Ray Nicolette, an ATF agent. He played the same character in one scene of 1998’s Out of Sight, starring George Clooney and based on another Leonard book.
“We go out on Sunset Boulevard (Los Angeles), Quentin has us drinking Jagermeister,” Keaton revealed. “Firstly, who drinks Jagermeister man? Anyway, I don’t know what happened but the next thing I’m heading home and I’m doing the movie.”
9. The Founder (John Lee Hancock – 2016)
An account of how McDonald’s grew into a fast-food chain, Keaton plays Ray Kroc, a struggling but ambitious salesman. He convinces the owners of McDonald (played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) to expand their thriving local business into a franchise. He figures out a way to make it profitable and soon buys out his partners. Keaton is fantastic as a visionary businessman.
The actor said of the film, “What John did really well as a storyteller and director is he didn’t paint the darkness of it with a big, thick brush, with red flourishes. There are some very funny and amusing things here, an odd almost Rockwellian tableau. But woven underneath the surface is a lot of stuff. People like to throw the word darkness around.”
8. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich – 2010)
Keaton delivers a stand-out voice acting performance in Disney’s highly anticipated blockbuster sequel to the immensely popular franchise Toy Story as the famous Ken doll. He is smug and narcissistic but always in a hilarious manner. As a living doll, he oozes personality.
While speaking about his preparations for such a role, Keaton joked, “Because of the solidity, let’s say—maybe it’s the hair spray—but because of the, well, hardness, the texture of Ken’s (plastic) hair, it’s very difficult to get inside his head.”
7. Mr. Mom (Stan Dragoti – 1983)
Keaton plays the role of automobile engineer Jack who, after losing his job, has to stay home and take care of his three children while his wife goes out to work. The reversal of performative “gender roles” ushers Jack into a lot of misadventures, from navigating grocery store trips to playing poker games with housewives.
“Mr. Mom was quite successful,” Keaton recalled. “Especially since it was made for very little money. I was bankable and hireable. Mr. Mom was a John Hughes script. It was his first big thing. I remember telling him that he should direct it, but he didn’t.”
6. The Paper (Ron Howard – 1994)
Ron Howard’s 1994 drama stars Michael Keaton as Henry Hackett, a dedicated editor of New York tabloid who finds it hard to strike a balance between his professional and personal lives. He decides that he will change his job but a compelling story pulls him back in.
The film really captures what it means to be working on a story you believe in while being subjected to budget costs and deadline rushes. Keaton delivers a self-assured performance that is characterized by an angry impatience.
5. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy – 2015)
Tom McCarthy’s Academy Award-winning film deals with the difficult topic of child sexual abuse by the Catholic Church and the subsequent cover-up. Keaton and his co-stars, including the likes of Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, deliver sensitive and bold performances as members of “The Boston Globe’s” investigative team, dedicated in their quest to uncover the truth.
Keaton expressed his admiration for the film, “When I watched how well it was handled with this material and how ballsy it was to go brutally against — you know, I was raised very Catholic — to go after [the church]. I’ve read the script, I said the words, I was there, I knew what happened. But seeing it tonight, I thought, Holy shit, you’re naming names!
“There’s an enormous responsibility with that, you’re naming names. You’re saying that guy, that person exists — not a character. That’s tricky stuff. Things like this can go really wrong. This one goes really right in my opinion.”
4. Night Shift (Ron Howard – 1982)
There is a perfect on-screen balance between Chuck (played by Henry Winkler) and Bill (played by Keaton), a couple of night-shift workers at a New York City morgue. Chuck is timid, leaving his life stressful life as a stockbroker to work an easy job, whereas Bill is always on the lookout to make more money.
When Bill finds out that Chuck’s neighbour, a sex worker, is looking for a place to work, he decides to turn the morgue into a brothel. Keaton is fantastic as a manic hustler in Howard’s 1982 comedy.
3. Batman (Tim Burton – 1989)
Often regarded as the first modern superhero film, Burton’s 1989 effort changed Hollywood’s conceptualisation of comic book stories. Michael Keaton plays the legendary superhero who blurs the distinctions between the binaries of good and evil by making his Batman nuanced and complex, very similar in a lot of ways to the primary antagonist Joker (brilliantly played by Jack Nicholson).
“It was an extremely difficult undertaking and Tim is a shy guy, especially back then, and there was so much pressure. We were in England for a long time shooting at Pinewood and it was long, difficult nights in that dank, dark, cold place, and we never knew if it was really working,” Keaton reflected.
“There was no guarantee that any of this was going to play correctly when it was all said and done. There had never been a movie like it before. There was a lot of risk, too, with Jack looking the way he did and me stepping out in this new way. The pressure was on everybody. You could feel it.”
2. Beetlejuice (Tim Burton – 1988)
Michael Keaton is fantastic as the titular poltergeist in Burton’s 1988 whimsical and nightmarish film about the undead. It is funny yet menacing and boasts a stellar cast of top actors like Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder, and Keaton. The film is a manifestation of a vision that could only come from Tim Burton’s imagination.
“The things that interest me the most are the things that potentially won’t work,” Tim Burton elaborated. “On Beetlejuice, I could tell every day what was going to work and what wasn’t. And that was very invigorating. Especially when you’re doing something this extreme.
“A lot of people have ragged on the story of Beetlejuice, but when I read it, I thought, ‘Wow! This is sort of interesting. It’s very random. It doesn’t follow what I would consider the Spielberg story structure.’ I guess I have to watch it more, because I’m intrigued by things that are perverse. Like, I was intrigued that there was no story.”
1. Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu – 2014)
Iñárritu’s 2014 film remains one of the best films of the last decade, winning Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. A meta-fictional take on the process of artistic creation, it stars Michael Keaton as a faded star who is struggling to put on a Broadway production.
For his brilliant performance, Keaton won a Critics’ Choice Movie Award as well as a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.
“You would have to go from funny to disturbing to deeply sad back to darkly funny,” Keaton revealed. “And because of the nature of how it was shot, you didn’t have the luxury of edits, where you can do 15 takes of that one line from that angle. You had to get it all in one, and be word perfect, and in the right place physically to accommodate the camera.”