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The story of how Bill Murray was almost cast as Batman

Superhero cinema, pre-Millennium, was a strange creative landscape. A melting pot of different styles, approaches and tones, superheroes like Superman and Batman were reduced to mere cartoon characters plonked into nonsensical narratives. Such would change at the turn of the 1980s with Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman and 1989s Batman, which would help steer the sub-genre in the right direction even if they still elicited the goofy characteristics of their series predecessors.

Later revolutionised by filmmaker Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman would spark the characters great cinematic success, starring Michael Keaton as the titular hero alongside a charismatic Jack Nicholson as archnemesis The Joker. As Tim Burton recalls in the book Burton on Burton: “I was never a giant comic book fan, but I’ve always loved the image of Batman and the Joker”. Continuing, he added: “The reason I’ve never been a comic book fan – and I think it started when I was a child – is because I could never tell which box I was supposed to read. I don’t know if it was dyslexia or whatever, but that’s why I loved The Killing Joke, because for the first time I could tell which one to read”. 

Batman was announced in late 1983 and went through an extensive pre-production process which initially included Ghostbusters’ Ivan Reitman in the director’s chair. Known for his comedy proficiency, Reitman’s vision for the film fell in line with his own interests, wanting to make Batman take on a new humorous tone. To enact his plan, Reitman extraordinarily wanted to cast Bill Murray as the Dark Knight, with Eddie Murphy as his sidekick, Robin. Once the script went through several writers hands, however, other directors were considered and eventually, Reitman and the dream of Bill Murray in tight spandex departed. 

Addressing this during an interview in 2014 with David Letterman, Bill Murray commented: “You know I’ve heard that story too,” said Murray, adding, “Really, I have. And God, I would have been an awesome Batman”. Continuing, Murray notes how much he loved the final film from Tim Burton, along with Michael Keaton’s performance, stating, “But actually I loved…but I don’t think that’s true…but I thought Michael Keaton’s Batman was great. I thought he was really cool as Batman. He was like one pissed guy. He was Batman alright”. 

Standing at a distance both from himself and the film industry his career has been shrouded in, Bill Murray is an ironic, coolly detached cultural icon who has come to inspire a whole new generation of like-minded individuals. Appearing in the films of multiple iconic directors, including Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch, it’s perhaps the greatest disappointment in popular film history that he could never work with Tim Burton on Batman. The mere idea of Bill Murray as the caped crusader makes us weep with joy. Alas.

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