What the Hell Happened to Michael Keaton?

Michael Keaton 2013

Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton started out as a manic comic and grew into an unlikely leading man and an even more unlikely super hero.  As the first big-screen Batman, Keaton was able to make deals that secured him A-list work.  But when he walked away from the Bat-franchise, Keaton’s opportunities dried up.  Eventually, he all but disappeared from the spotlight.

What the hell happened?

keaton - mr rogers

Michael Keaton – Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood

After failing to break into stand-up comedy, Michael Keaton worked as a cameraman at a public television station in Pittsburg.  He started appearing onscreen in TV shows like Where the Heart Is and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood where he played one of the Flying Zucchini Brothers.  Keaton was a production assistant on Mr. Rogers and hosted a tribute show on PBS following Fred Rogers’ death in 2004.

I kind of blew past that stand-up comedy career, didn’t I?  Wanna see a clip?  Of course you do.  Here’s an early Michael Keaton stand-up routine.

Keaton left public television to start a career as an actor.  He appeared on TV shows like Maude and The Mary Tyler Moore Hour.  Here’s a clip of Keaton doing a song and dance number with a pre-fame David Letterman and Mary Tyler Moore.

Man, I do not miss variety shows.  But that was pretty awesome.

As Keaton was entering this phase of his career, he was asked to change his professional name.  Keaton’s real name is Michael Douglas.  In fact, it is still his legal name.  But there was already a famous actor named Michael Douglas and Mike Douglas was a famous TV host.

Ironically, Michael Douglas’ father, Kirk Douglas, was born Issur Danielovitch.  If he hadn’t changed his name to Douglas when he came to Hollywood, the name Michael Douglas would have been available for Keaton to use.  If that had happened, Michael Douglas would have been Michael Danielovitch and Michael Keaton would have been Michael Douglas.

The internet insists that Keaton chose his stage name after reading an article about Diane Keaton on a plane.  However, this is not true.  It’s funny how the internet feeds off of itself some times.  Someone posted the original story without citation and soon it became cited all over the place including Wikipedia.  But Keaton has publicly denied the story.  Keaton picked the name without giving it much thought.  But he has said Buster Keaton was an influence.

rabbit test

In 1978, Keaton had a cameo role in his first movie, Rabbit Test.  Rabbit Test starred Billy Crystal as the world’s first pregnant man.  There was nowhere to go from here but up.

keaton working stiffs

Michael Keaton – Working Stiffs – 1979

In 1979, Keaton starred opposite Jim Belushi in the short-lived sitcom, Working Stiffs.  Keaton and Belushi played brothers who lived together and worked as janitors.  Nine episodes of the show were produced, but only four episodes were aired.

I’m not sure which is worse.  A pregnant-man film directed by Joan Rivers or a sit-com co-starring the lesser Belushi.  Fortunately for Keaton, one of the writer’s on Working Stiffs was also working on a screenplay for Ron Howard and introduced them.

Michael Keaton – Night Shift – 1982

That screenplay was Night Shift.

Night Shift was released in 1982 and starred Henry Winkler as an accountant-turned-pimp  and a pre-Cheers Shelley Long as a hooker with a heart of gold (a novel concept if ever there was one).  Ron Howard directed his former Happy Days co-star in what was intended to be a career change for both of them.  Howard was a novice director and Winkler was trying to get away from his Fonzie persona.

Keaton absolutely stole the show.  His motormouth idea man, Billy “Blaze” Blazejowski never stopped rattling off one crazy idea after another to the point where even the Fonz lost his cool and told him to shut up.

But Keaton’s over-the-top performance made the studio nervous.  According to Keaton,

“They saw the dailies and they were telling Ronnie I had to stop chewing gum, I had to get my hair cut. Eventually they were, like, ‘We have to fire him! What the fuck is he doing?’ They didn’t get it. To Ronnie’s credit, he told ’em to wait and see until it was all cut together.”

Night Shift got mostly favorable reviews and performed reasonably well at the box office.  It set off a string of prostitution-themed comedies in the 80’s that included Risky Business and Doctor Detroit.

Keaton - mr mom

Michael Keaton – Mr. Mom – 1983

Following Night Shift, Keaton was offered the John Candy role in Ron Howard’s Splash.  But he turned it down fearing that the role was too similar to the side-kick he played in Night Shift.

Instead, Keaton opted for a starring role in Mr. Mom in 1983.  John Hughes’ script for the high concept domestic comedy appealed to Keaton as did the fact it allowed him to grow as a leading man.

Reviews at the time were mixed to positive.  Many noted that the film felt a little like a TV sitcom.  But Keaton elevated the material.  Mr. Mom was a hit at the box office.

Next: Johnny Dangerously and Gung Ho

Posted on March 16, 2011, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 516 Comments.

  1. I’ve never been a big fan of bill murray. I guess you could say i like tommy lee jones. I’ve enjoyed his work in several movies. I definitely think edward norton is underrated. Did you see american history x? Because i haven’t and ed’s performance garnered so much acclaim


  2. watch lost in translation his best work tommy leee jones was amazing no country for old men. I saw American history x amazing edward norton is perfect go rent it now lol


  3. ed harris is also good actor.


  4. if u want some light edward norton movies watch keeping the faith hes charming in it and shows a funny side


  5. I’ve seen keeping the faith, he was very charming in it and seemed to have a touch for comedy. Ed harris is a good actor, i’ve always liked him. What are some movies with him you like?


  6. apollo 13 truman show pollock hours right stuff places in heart. He is a good actor rarely the lead but good u also good watch norton in primal fear good movie.u like denzel


  7. peyton i like your taste in movie give me your facebook


  8. I do like denzel. Did you see flight? Powerful acting. I’m sorry, i don’t have a facebook page. I still need to see primal fear. I’m kinda disappointed in myself for not seeing it sooner.


  9. u can watch primal fear on youtube whole movie flight ws amazing inside man training day malcol x hurrican he has too many good movies to name hes a great actor hes my 4th fav actor right after hanks costner and hackamn i cant really a movie of his i hatted hes awesome


  10. I didn’t know primal fear was on youtube, thanks for that. Did you see american gangster? Denzel was great in that too. I loved him in training day, especially that character.


  11. him and crowe always deliver pelican brief and Philadelphia more good actors are gibson and sean penn


  12. u have an email we can chat at


  13. Yeah, i have email. Do you?


  14. yes tell me your i can sned u pics of the tiff and actors there when i go there


  15. What celebs do you hope to meet?


  16. lol too many to name gosling so he can sign notebook underatted actor then costner so he can sign upside of anger tobey so he can sign cider house rules then michael keaton


  17. I’m a huge fan of gosling, do you like him?


  18. yes he was amazing at notebook crazy stupid love lars real girl so many to name underrated actor i was pissed when i found out he turned down batman he was dumb for doing it


  19. I loved him in lars and the real girl and of course the notebook. Did you see blue valentine? Amazing performance. Can’t believe the academy nominated michelle and not him.


  20. yes that half nelson good Oscar snubbed so many times. him michelle good chemistry i liked like how in last ten years he proved he was more then heartthrob played really good roles


  21. Half Nelson was a good one, incredible performance. Did you see drive?


  22. yup he barely talks in it but he expresses alot with facial expressions


    • I have “Lars and the Real Girl” on disc (my kind of film right there; offbeat), “Blue Valentine” (viewed it on Showtime, liked the film’s tone and performances) and “The Notebook” (read it on a plane once after my future ex-wife loaned it to me, and I think the book’s translation to screen was done well. I always liked the casting of the main character for both time periods).


  23. That’s the best kind of acting. Let me know how it goes if you get a chance to meet him.


  24. gluestry u have good taste in movies u too peyton and if i do meet him ill tell u say hi it is good actitng its hard too do. harrison ford(who i usually don’t care for ) did it amazing in witness he was not even monotone in that he projected his voice amazingly in it they showed it in my drama class as a example of good acting


  25. Pierce Brosnan Nearly Played Batman:

    Before Michael Keaton, Tim Burton asked Pierce Brosnan to play Batman. No, really.

    Against all odds, Michael Keaton’s turn as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie has become a generational icon. If you’re old enough to remember, his casting wasn’t exactly met with universal acclaim…even in the pre-internet age. Nevertheless, Keaton delivered a haunted, intense performance, but he wasn’t Tim Burton’s first choice for the role. One of those was future James Bond, Pierce Brosnan.

    Keep in mind, Brosnan had yet to play Bond in 1989 despite long being eyed for the role, as his Remington Steele commitments prevented him from replacing Roger Moore. In a Reddit AMA, Brosnan revealed that Tim Burton came to him about stepping into the cowl. He turned it down.

    "I went and met with Tim Burton for the role of Batman. But I just couldn't really take it seriously, any man who wears his underpants outside his pants just cannot be taken seriously. That was my foolish take on it. It was a joke, I thought. But how wrong was I? Don't get me wrong, because I love Batman, and I grew up on Batman. As a kid in Ireland, we used to get our raincoats and tie them round our neck and swing through the bicycle shed..."

    For a bit of perspective, this meeting probably took place in 1987 or 1988. We were only about a year out from The Dark Knight Returns, and the prevailing vision of Batman in the non comic book reading segment of popular culture was still Adam West’s brightly-colored comedy do-gooder. Hard to believe, considering that now the general impression of Batman is now that of an armored, utterly humorless semi-fascist who misses his parents. I kid because I love.

    Now, how’s this for symmetry? Adam West also claims that he was offered the role of James Bond in his post-Batman days. Dude, that’s some spooky stuff. It’s like if you put on Wizard of Oz and Dark Side of the Moon at the same time. Actually, it’s nothing like that. In fact, never do that. Please don’t be that person.

    In all seriousness, though, Mr. Brosnan certainly would have looked like he stepped right out of a Neal Adams Batman panel, wouldn’t he?


  26. pierce would have been a better batman he can play the bruce wayne charm and batmans intensity hes good at action roles he can do it.the batman movie would helped him land better roles to be a list but james bond gave him the chance he didnt reall capitalize on it hes a good actor but he hasnt had a hit 08 mamma mia in that movie he kind of got lost with the huge cast.november man looks like crap matador proved he can act he needs a serious roles i look at clooneys roles its unfair clooneys gets them pierce would be so good at those roles better too


  27. any chance u will add paltrow on the list. her career died since Shakespeare in love. Another my friend and i had a debate he think pierce is an list cause of sucesss of bond films altohught pierce is good the bond films were not success because of him he just happen to get a role in an already estbalhed role. it did give him roles that would help bring him to a list but it failed


  28. I think she’s a giant snob, but Gwyneth was in three iron man movies, which were hugely successful. Downey may have been the star, but she had an important role. It’s just like you said with diane lane in man of steel.


  29. i forget about iron man but besides those she had lots of flops i think she is a snob too she seems arrogant her mom is sweeter and down to earth i thought she owes her oscar to dench or cate blanchett


  30. i guess paltrow dosent need to be on the site as much i thought i only watch first iron man its been forget she was in it . her and diane lane are still doing better then richard gere who i wouldnt say is a huge box office he has a couple of hits but never been consistent he makes 1 hit then makes crap for the 8 years


  31. birdman getting good reviews i see it resurrect his career maybe going the michael caine route strong supporting roles as he gets older with a few successful leading roles


  32. to the person above who said freeman caine r not a listers driving miss daisy miss made a lot of money so did kiss the girls dolphin tale those movies sold on his name had his name in above title so morgan freeman is an a Lister he had movies sell on his name and made money before he just chooses mostly to take supporting roles nothing wrong with it but he is still a lister he can carry a successful movie as from michael caine Alfie ital in job educating rita all were hits he was the lead in. to be honest he was the top leading man from 60s to 80s then his career died in mid 80s took supporting roles in hits but once in a while he leads in hits like quit American. my point both those guy are a listers had success in leading roles before but rather do supporting roles now.Michael was a successful leading man in his prime like tom hanks and leonardo dicaprio but as he got older not a lot of lead roles for someone his age so he rejevantd himself as a successful actor plus like i mentioned before he made poor choice in mid 80s that forced him into being a successful character actor but once in a while he has success in lead roles like quiet American Morgan freeman was a late bloomer he had his breakthrough role at 50 with supporting role in street smart he had sucess in lead roles before as i stated above so he is an a lister but unlike caine at freemans prime he wasnt mostly leading man he mostly supporting roles with a few successful lead roles but still a lister since he was hit his big break at 50 there werent many roles with guys his age but still a lister


  33. along came a spider grossed over100 million with budget of 60 million morgan freeman was the lead so a Lister to me i would say michael caine and morgan freeman are more a listers then keaton they had more sucess in leading roles. batman cant count cause people didnt go to see the film for him mr mom and birdman are the only ones i can think of


  34. birdman has oscar buzz comeback


    • The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made:

      1. Jack Frost

      If you can make a strong family-targeted Christmas movie, it’s the gift that keeps on giving: you get an audience starved for holiday entertainment, and fresh revenues every damn year. But if you make a terrible family-targeted Christmas movie, well, you end up with Jack Frost. It’s the story of a rock star (Michael Keaton) who puts career over family and dies in a Christmas car wreck. (Happy Holidays!) A year later, he comes back to life — in the form of a CGI snowman that’s, inconveniently enough, more terrifying than the villain of the cheapo horror movie that shares Jack Frost’s title. Frost was an expensive flop that contributed to Keaton’s infrequent film appearances over the last decade and a half; when you hear Birdman described as his “comeback” movie, this is part of what he’s coming back from.


  35. birdman its life imitating art kind of like hollywoodland with ben affleck


    • The Real Comeback of the Fake Michael Keaton: Scenes From the Birdman Set


      For all the technical wizardry deployed in Alejandro González ­Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The ­Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), the movie’s most impressive trick might have been getting Michael Keaton to say yes. Though he played Bruce Wayne twice in Tim ­Burton’s Batman movies, Keaton is probably more famous for being the guy who says no: He declined his parts in Beetlejuice and Jackie Brown the first three times they were offered. He quit the sequel to Batman Returns because he didn’t like the kid-friendly direction the studio was pushing it in. He’s said to have turned down starring roles in Splash, The Fly, JFK, Philadelphia, Kingpin, and TV’s Lost, all of which became iconic for the actors who eventually played them. Keaton has been so absent from the screen lately that when he met Barack Obama a few years ago, the president greeted him by asking, “Why don’t you make more movies?”

      But it took only one meeting with Iñárritu for Keaton to sign up for Birdman, the Oscar-contending tragicomedy that closes the New York Film Festival on October 11 (in wide release on October 17). “I always think that I’m not going to be right for a movie, or that there’s someone else who can do it better,” says the actor over a crackling cell-phone connection. He was uniquely qualified for this one, though. Birdman is a magical-realist showbiz satire about an actor, Riggan Thomson, who once ­portrayed a movie superhero but is now, after years out of the spotlight, angling for a comeback as the writer-director-star of a Broadway play. “I got the meta aspect of it, and there were probably nine seconds where I was like, Do I need this? How do I know it’s going to work?” says Keaton. “But then I thought, It would be very cowardly not to do it. I may not be great all the time, that’s for sure, but the one thing I’m not is cowardly.”

      Neither, certainly, is Iñárritu, the Mexican director of bleak, despairing dramas like Amores Perros and Babel, for whom the challenge of making his first comedy was evidently not daunting enough — he also insisted on shooting Birdman’s onstage portions in a real Broadway theater, during Tony season, when few are available. By chance, one was. “It was such a lucky strike, because normally these theaters are booked for years,” says Iñárritu, who managed to get his cast — which includes Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough, and Zach Galifianakis — into the St. James Theatre on 44th Street for two weeks last spring, in between Barry Manilow on Broadway and Let It Be, the short-lived Beatles musical. (Brigitte Lacombe shot these photos for New York on May 10, 2013.)

      While there, Iñárritu’s actors were constrained not just by time but also by the movie’s demanding visual approach. Virtuoso cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, The Tree of Life) filmed Birdman with a single camera in pieces that were edited together to resemble an unbroken two-hour ­tracking shot, which meant that each scene had to be captured in one take. “If it were judged like an athletic event, the difficulty of this movie would probably be record-setting, like extremely high,” says Keaton. “Everyone who lit the scene, acted in the scene, or handed you a prop had to be perfect.”

      It was like doing real theater — almost, says Norton, who plays one of the stars of Riggan’s show. “In the movie, you never see the totality of the play” — which is based loosely on Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” — “so none of us knew what it was actually about. It was like Rashomon; we all had our own ideas. It’s always a little meta when you have actors playing actors, but this was really funny because nobody, on either level, understood the play we were doing.”

      Norton doesn’t think he was satirizing any of his own persona with his performance as the brilliant but erratic Mike Shiner, but he admits that Iñárritu might have had hidden motives in casting him among other refugees from superhero franchises. “I did The Hulk, Michael did Batman, and Emma did Spider-Man,” he says. “You have a movie starring people who are complicit in the very thing they’re sticking a fork in. I think that was totally by design on Alejandro’s part.” (Actually, Iñárritu would like to stick more than a fork in the superhero genre: “Sometimes these films are just guys in nylon suits picking their asses, which is fine,” he says. “But the ones that pretend to be profound can have a fascist, right-wing point of view. The good guys are always right, and they use their powers to defeat the guys who aren’t on their side. If I made a superhero movie, the hero would die at the end, for being so full of certainty without having learned anything. That would be his lesson, to be dead.”)

      Keaton, who presciently ditched his own superhero series before the Bat-suit got nipples, says he doesn’t identify much with the depressive Riggan, who is tortured by regrets over hanging up his cape. “I related less to him than almost every other character I’ve played, in terms of the desperation,” he says. “There were times in my life when I felt desperate, but it was never about this. It’s a fear-based industry, and if you buy into it, you’re pretty fucked.” But when I press him further on the similarities between his career and Riggan’s, Keaton, apparently in the middle of a photo shoot, ends our call: “Now they’re yanking me for one more picture, and I hate to be rude, but he’s been looking at me like I’m a jerk, so … [click].”

      Like Riggan, though, Keaton — already the subject of Best Actor buzz following Birdman’s ecstatic reception at the Venice Film Festival in August — seems ready for a resurgence. “If you look at my age and how long I’ve been acting, I’m way behind in terms of the amount of films compared to my peers,” he said before getting off the line. “But I’m in the mood to work these days.” Next, he’ll star in Thomas McCarthy’s Spotlight as a Boston Globe editor investigating a Catholic sex-abuse scandal. “It’s a really good cast and a really good script. You might think they’re around all the time, but they’re just not, so I grabbed it. It’s hard to say no.”


  36. Michael Keaton’s film Birdman is releasing this weekend. The film has been gatheriing some awards buzz building up to its release. Keaton even made the cover of this weeks’ Entertainment Weekly, along with a terrific interview, I highly recommend you pick up a copy to read. Depending on how well the film does at the box office and later on during awards season, later down the line you may have to re-adjust the final page of Keaton’s article. Which would be a nice thing! That would mean the film did well and it either gave him a comeback or possibly some awards or box office success again. I myself am intrigued by the movie, I might very well go see it. This is a fine example that almost any WTTH actor, with the right opportunity, can make a comeback of some sorts.


    • I am also intrigued. But I read an absolutely terrible review of the movie over at The Dissolve. Here is the first line of Scott Tobias’ review:

      Alejandro González Iñárritu is a pretentious fraud, but it’s taken some time to understand the precise nature of his fraudulence.

      Holy crap!

      I guess the praise won’t be unanimous after all. Having said that, it currently hold a 92% approval rating at RT.com. As a Keaton fan (and a Norton fan as well) I definitely want to see it. Since they are both WTHH subjects and this is bound to be an important film for both of their careers I feel compelled to go see it.


    • Give Michael Keaton the Oscar:

      The conversation around “Birdman” has shifted a little bit since early raves out of the Venice and Telluride film festivals. Maybe as expected, a number of writers are taking umbrage with a certain critic depiction in the film. Some reviews go so far as to read like performance art based on that depiction. Nevertheless, there was always going to be a bend in that road, and I’m fine with that. But I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about how Michael Keaton deserves the Oscar for Best Actor walking away.

      No, I haven’t seen performances from guys like David Oyelowo, Oscar Isaac, Bradley Cooper and Jack O’Connell, which lurk on the season’s horizon. So the statement is what it is, one made without all the requisite info. But if you’re asking me, I’m telling you: no one is likely to own a role or the screen with more authority this year.

      I’ve been sort of mortified to watch the narrative around the film bog down so heavily in the meta angle of Keaton playing an actor who owes his fame to a former role as a superhero. It was there in the lead-up to the film’s festival premieres and it’s there now, because it’s an easy, and admittedly interesting, way into talking about the project. As Norton put it to me in an interview, “There’s an understandable and maybe necessary kind of reductivism that comes into the way the media covers something like this.” But at some point you have to let that go and see this performance for what it really is: an absolute showcase and reminder of the range Keaton is capable of exhibiting, all in one place, all in one role.

      Thankfully, the idea is starting to swing around. Scott Foundas’ profile of Keaton at Variety digs in on that point, and this quote from Ron Howard (who directed Keaton in “Night Shift,” “Gung Ho” and “The Paper”) could not say it any better: “Whatever tone he’s operating in, whatever genre, there’s a kind of emotional logic at play, which is why it’s been so easy for him to shift over into tragedy or seriocomic roles. Whatever gear you need, it always comes from a place of character, and it’s never exactly what you’d expect.”

      Andrea Riseborough put it to me a different way when we spoke recently. “The man has a big pendulum swing,” she said. “He has a big palette to draw from and he has so many unusual and interesting responses. To me, the way that Michael responds is just very human. Humans are inconsistent. We are erratic. We have unusual responses and inappropriate responses to things. I always admired him for just being unafraid of showing that. And I think that’s what makes his comedy so funny and so brilliant. Because we all identify with him. We all identify with a crisis.”

      And in “Birdman,” he’s not just putting that range out there in a single film, but sometimes in single scenes. The emotional spectrum of this character, Riggan Thompson — who all actors will identify with at the end of the day, whether they’ll admit it or not — is like a fireworks display. But it’s never graceless or baroque. It comes from such an internal place, like a fed furnace of insecurity and creative desperation. There surely won’t be a portrait more representative of the artist’s plight this year. And that plight is captured with brilliant strokes of humanism and even expressionism by Keaton and director Alejandro González Iñárritu.

      Add to that the physical demands of the performance, so dependent on blocking for the elaborate camera moves, to say nothing of maintaining that tightrope walk for extended 10-minute takes and never, not for an instant, faltering — you have a performance that is simply unlike anything else in the race.


  37. every critically acclaimed movie just has at least one bad review believe it or gladiator was critically acclaimed ebert hated it and iam sre back then there was at least one critic that hated godfather people have different taste in movies just cause one movie is loved dosent there is isnt one person who dislikes it


    • I’m obviously going to hold off forming an opinion until I see the movie. I was just shocked by the extremely negative tone of Tobias’ review given the movie’s positive buzz.

      Incidentally, Ebert may have been right about Gladiator.


  38. i never liked gladiator but iam saying every movie top rated movie has at least 1 bad review not every person likes the same movie but its fair to say there more good reviews then bad for birdman so it looks good if it does bring keaton back well hes never been one for fame i think he will continue to keep low profile hes was never interested in fame before birdman he was doing good because i noticed after success of cars he appeared in alot of work then most of his 2000s stuff box office smashes like other guys and toy story 3 gave him a 2nd career as a respected character actor he became more prolific then robocop other stuff came i think after birdman he go for michael caine kevin bacon like career character actor in hit movies


  39. this off topic but i remember your post saying kilmer could be considerd then u had a post saying freeman and caine never were caine in his prime was the top leading man from 60s to 80s he had tons of hits that scored in his name alone italain job get carter alfie gambit they all were hits in america too a few movies where he played harry palmer dont know the name of the films canines prime he was a top leading man kilmer wasnt its weird u think kilmers prime he was closer to a list then caine yes now if u said caine isnt a list no caine mostly take supporting roles in big hits still hes doing good most of the younger generation forget in his younger days his hits his name was above the title but there arent many leading role written for guys caines age plus his flops in 80s hurt him too but he was a list for 3 decads i would say as for freeman he had hits in his name before along came a spider driivng miss daisy deep impact dolphin tale he didnt have as many leading roles as caine but he is a list had hits in his name just freemn mostly takes supporting roles its hard to see it


  40. A Film Career Derailed: Michael Keaton:

    Published November 9, 2014 07:00PM EST

    With all the Oscar talk over Michael Keaton’s recent performance in the indie hit Birdman, it seems the once reigning star of the 80s is ready for his comeback. Playing a has-been actor who became famous for portraying a superhero, Keaton has been handed his own Sunset Boulevard moment, and the critics are lapping it up. After rising through the ranks of Hollywood playing sardonic anti-heroes in the ’80s, Keaton had less success when he switched to drama during the next decade. Though he’ll always been known as Batman, Beetlejuice and Mr.Mom, Keaton has over three decades of roles that fall somewhere between fantastic and forgettable.

    Toy Story 3 (2010)

    With his signature husky voice, Keaton seemed an unlikely candidate to play Barbie’s longtime paramour, Ken, and yet he went on to steal the show in Toy Story 3. After voicing Chick Hicks in Cars in 2006, Pixar called up Keaton to bring some gravitas to a toy that has been relegated to Barbie’s arm candy for so many years. Keaton captured the repressed energy of the dandyish doll who just wanted to show off his sartorial prowess, and won the favor of critics and audiences in the process.

    Jack Frost (1998)

    Mr. Mom obviously has a soft spot for kid-friendly entertainment, but for someone who prides himself on being picky, this throwaway holiday film should have landed firmly in the “no” pile. All the critical goodwill earned by his appearances in Out of Sight and Jackie Brown went out the window on this saccharine snowman movie, where he plays a workaholic dad who learns the meaning of family. Shockingly, the film had an 85 million dollar budget, so it was doomed never to fully recoup its production costs.

    The Merry Gentleman (2008)

    Keaton made his directing debut purely by accident, after stepping in when the film’s original director has to drop out for health reasons. It was an ambitious move on his part to star and direct himself at the same time, but Keaton seemed up to the challenge in this understated drama about two damaged people finding solace in another. The film showed promise with critics but ultimately bombed at the box office, and Keaton was later sued by the production company behind the film, who accused him of squandering the $4 million budget, phoning in his directing performance and failing to promote the film. But Keaton stood by his performance and insisted the producers forced him to use a different cut for the film, and ultimately ruined the final result.

    Multiplicity (1996)

    After his previous dramatic turns in the likes of My Life and One Good Cop struggled to resonate with audiences, Keaton tried to return to the type of movies that made him a star with the high concept clone comedy Multiplicity. Keaton got to live out all of our fantasies by cloning himself to get more done and gave himself the opportunity to play multiple different versions of himself. It’s an actor’s dream, but in this case, it was too many clones in the kitchen. Treading upon the familiar territory of a dad trying to figure out the whole “parenting thing,” Keaton could once again flex his comedy muscles, but audiences weren’t feeling it. While Multiplicity remains an underrated 90s gem, its failure at the box office spelled the end of Keaton’s leading man status.

    Johnny Dangerously (1984)

    In 1984, everyone was trying to make their own version of the highly successful spoof Airplane, and Johnny Dangerously was one of the hit-and-miss attempts. The crime comedy was directed by Amy Heckerling (before her Clueless fame) and featured a guy-linered Keaton, along with SNL alum Joe Piscopo. While the self-seriousness of mob-movies are ripe for satire, all the jokes felt too obvious, thanks in part to a smorgasbord of four screenwriters vying for punch lines. After the reviews were in, the film tanked at the box office, but it did give us some memorable catchphrases.

    Night Shift (1982)

    Night Shift not only marked Keaton’s feature film debut, but it would also be the beginning of a very fruitful actor-director relationship with Ron Howard. Keaton had been charming television audiences on the The Mary Tyler Moore Hour and Working Stiffs, where he was spotted by the film’s screenwriter, who then recommended him to Howard. The film marked Howard’s directing debut, and was aimed to segue him and his Happy Days co-star Henry Winkler into film. Keaton was relatively unknown at the time, but he absolutely stole the show as the manic, fast-talking idea man and morgue attendant Bill “Blaze” Blazejowski.


    • Before Birdman — Keaton’s Biggest Film Droppings:

      Michael Keaton is many things to many people. Most people know him as Batman or Beetlejuice, while others know him as Schmidt’s best friend from that one episode of New Girl. Either way, his career has withstood the test of time, having started in 1978. Although he has turned in some brilliant performances in movies like The Other Guys and Mr. Mom, he’s also turned in some great performances in other, less brilliant movies. Keaton is getting rave reviews for his performance in Birdman. Here is a look at some of his less than memorable movies.

      Herbie Fully Loaded (2005) dir. Angela Robinson

      In between Mean Girls and her public downfall, Lindsay Lohan starred in this Disney remake of the 1968 movie The Love Bug, about a Volkswagen Beetle with a soul. Keaton starred as Ray Peyton Sr., a former racing pro who has fallen on hard times since giving up racing following an injury. Keaton manages to inject warmth and character into the family’s poorly written patriarch, and Breckin Meyer, who plays Ray Peyton Jr., manages to pull off some funny prat falls. However, the movie isn’t written well, and it’s predictable with some less than stellar acting.

      The Dream Team (1989) dir. Howard Zieff

      This 1989 comedy revolves around four patients of a sanitarium who end up roaming the streets of New York after a field trip gone awry. With a cast including Christopher Lloyd and Peter Boyle, this movie’s unbelievable premise had some promise. Since its release, the movie has been panned for making light of mental illness, and not everyone will find the writing funny. However, it’s got a great cast and some truly funny scenes. So Keaton fans, and fans of 80s comedy in general, should check it out. On a side note, Michael Keaton’s mullet in this movie is so fantastic, it deserves a separate billing.

      Pacific Heights (1990) dir. John Schlesinger

      Two years before Single White Female, Michael Keaton starred as the tenant from hell with Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith in Pacific Heights. The movie is about a mysterious man (Keaton) who rents an apartment in a home owned by Patty and Drake (Griffith and Modine) in San Francisco’s posh Pacific Heights neighborhood. He terrorizes the couple, and eventually manages to steal Drake’s identity at one point. In the digital age, everyone knows that they need to Life Lock their personal information, but at the time in which this movie was released, identity theft was practically unheard of. Keaton plays an excellent psycho, but the movie uses a lot of cliched plot points, and it’s not very fun to watch.

      The Merry Gentleman (2008) dir. Michael Keaton

      As Keaton’s directorial debut, this movie shows a lot of promise. Also starring Kelly Macdonald of Boardwalk Empire, it tells the tale of an unlikely pair who become friends. Macdonald plays Kate, a woman who has recently fled an abusive relationship and finds Frank, a professional killer, at a time when she feels isolated. The movie plods along at a slow pace, and its subject matter is very depressing. Along with that, the ending leaves several loose ends untied, making it feel unfinished and even more depressing.

      Speechless (1994) dir. Ron Underwood

      Michael Keaton teamed up with his Beetlejuice costar Geena Davis in this 1994 romantic comedy about two writers who pair up and then find out that they are working for opposite sides of a conscientious political campaign. While Keaton and Davis had excellent chemistry in Beetlejuice, Speechless’ script doesn’t allow them to find it. Both characters have to muddle through bad dialogue, a slow pace and less than steamy love scenes. If you’re into “I love you, I hate you” romantic comedy, skip this flick and rent You’ve Got Mail instead.

      Multiplicity (1996) dir. Harold Ramis

      Harold Ramis is the comedic genius behind such icons as Ghostbusters, Caddyshack and Groundhog Day, among others, so this movie should be a home run. However, its premise is too simple. Doug Kinney has too much going on in his life, and he solves this by cloning himself. His clone then clones itself and so on. Although the premise can make for some funny moments, it’s not enough to sustain an entire movie, and the joke eventually wears thin. Multiplicity would have worked on a sitcom or in a sketch comedy, but for a full length feature, it’s definitely too much.

      First Daughter (2004) dir. Forest Whitaker

      This sticky sweet tweenage drama was released around the same time as Chasing Liberty, starring Mandy Moore, and pretty much had the same plot. In it, Michael Keaton plays the president of the United States whose daughter, played by Katie Holmes, is trying to break free from a life of being monitored by secret service agents. The movie often gets confused with Chasing Liberty, as there aren’t many distinguishing features in either movie. It’s pretty much a typical princess story with a political spin. Keaton and Holmes are both skilled actors, but even they have a hard time with this boring premise and predictable plot.

      The Last Time (2006) dir. Michael Caleo

      Playing yet another slimeball, Keaton manages pour charisma and a glint of likability into a sketchy character in this 2006 dud. Also starring Brendan Fraser and Amber Valletta, The Last Time sets up an aspirational plot line with a hot shot salesman and his would be protege. This movie offers many twists and turns throughout, and there is a huge twist at the end. However, the ending of the film is markedly more developed than the beginning, and it’s a taxing mental puzzle to figure out how Point A connects to Point B. The movie had potential, but the script wasn’t edited well enough to save it.

      The Paper (1994) dir. Ron Howard

      With the advent of social media, people no longer have to wait for an entire day to find out the latest breaking news. The Paper takes place in a world before smart phone aps — a world in which newspapers had a whole day in which to get you the news. Keaton plays Henry Hackett, a frazzled newspaper editor with a popular New York daily who’s got a baby on the way and a lot of drama with his managing editor Alicia (Glenn Close). The fast paced film takes place over the course of a day in which Hackett finds a cover up and fights to avoid wrongfully accusing two teens for murder. As workplace dramas go, this one is sub-par with typical main characters and no real shining stars. However, it does have a great cast, and offers a mildly entertaining glimpse at the pre-internet era.


      • 10 Comic Book Movie Performances That Ruined Actors’ Careers:

        Michael Keaton – Batman Returns

        Though Keaton has profited recently from his association with comic book movies, there is some uncomfortable tragedy in the notes of the film and in Keaton’s performance. It’s particularly hard to shake the idea that he too was haunted by Batman and his decision to walk away when Tim Burton was canned after Batman Returns.

        It’s probably a little much to say his career died in the aftermath of that decision, but he never again hit the heights of Batman or Beetlejuice, and it says something that Birdman’s critical success had an extra sheen because of how surprising Keaton’s apparent transformation was.

        You get the feeling that Keaton was never quite comfortable with the idea of mega-stardom and that he sabotaged his career consciously. But then perhaps that’s just the easiest way to make films like Jack Frost make sense.

        What He Did Next

        Aside from a handful of good performances (in Jackie Brown, Out Of Sight and maybe even Multiplicity if you don’t pay too much attention), Keaton’s CV reads like a series of missed opportunities.

        Birdman might have been brilliant, but it was only one of very few islands in an ocean of mediocrity.


  41. Entertainment Weekly, in their annual “Best And Worst of 2014″ issue, gave the Best Comeback of the Year award to Micheal Keaton. “Birdman is a long-overdue reminder of Keaton’s singular gifts as an actor”, EW wrote. “It’s a performance that made us realize how much we’d missed him.”


    • Superhero Actors: A Risky Career Move:

      1. Michael Keaton

      Beginning his career, like most actors, in television, Keaton got his first “break” as a semi-regular on The Mary Tyler Moore Hour. Keaton soon made the foray into feature films like Gung Ho, Night Shift, and Mr. Mom. With his manic portrayal of Betelgeuse, in the homophonic Beetlejuice, Keaton seemed to secure a spot for himself as a comedic actor, worthy of utterance in the same sentence as Robin Williams. As a lover of using (and overusing in the case of Johnny Depp) staple set of actors, Tim Burton had no problem selecting Keaton when it came time to cast his new Batman movie. Wildly successful, and brimming with Burton’s uniquely-weird charm, Batman was a massive hit. Catapulting Keaton into international fame, Batman secured his a spot on Hollywood’s “A-list,” and a sequel for both him and Burton. Batman Returns was another hit, although not as successful as its predecessor, as many fans found the Danny DeVito Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman cartoonish and bizarre. After his quick rise to stardom, Keaton seemingly fell off of the map. Making some awful choices (aside from Much Ado About Nothing), Keaton appeared in travesties like Multiplicity, Jack Frost and First Daughter. Will Keaton’s almost autobiographical role in Birdman be his rise back into Hollywood’s good graces? Early reviews seem to suggest so, but only time will tell.


  42. Lebeau I’m back to talk about Michael Keaton and that I hope he wins the oscar for the first time. After that I’m celebrating by watching some of Keaton’s films and praying that he works with Tim Burton and Ron howard again. Because those are the only two directors he’s worked with three times. In my opinion Keaton deserves the glory and the effort and the oscar. I say give it to the man. Enough with Tom hanks and Johnny Depp and their glory all these years, Keaton in my opinion deserves better films to rival hanks, depp and many other actors.


    • I think Keaton’s going to win. And it is a well-deserved honor. I also think he will eventually work with Burton again. Probably on a Beetlejuice sequel. Not sure about Howard.

      Win or no win, Keaton has choices now. What he does with this opportunity is up to him.

      And welcome back!


      • Why Michael Keaton Deserved To Win Best Actor:

        By Mike Reyes

        From start to finish, the Best Actor’s race for the 87th Academy Awards was a hard fought slug fest. Between each its five nominees was a collective pool of talent, history, and general likability that puts most other years to shame. Yet, among the well-deserved nods for work in biopics like The Imitation Game or The Theory Of Everything, there was one candidate who had to create their performance from whole cloth, putting their own image out on the line for all to see. That person was Michael Keaton, and boy did he deserve to win the Best Actor trophy for his work in Birdman: Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance.

        Out of the entire field of the Best Actor nominations, Michael Keaton was the only actor whose role was an original creation. The only basis he had to create the character of Riggan Thomson from was his own experiences, which coincidentally fit the life of Thomson himself, and it made his performance all the better for it. Yet at the same time, for as much as Riggan could have been based off of Michael Keaton himself, there’s a balance of callousness and vulnerability that are on exhibit in his performance. While he could have simply “played himself” and turned Riggan into a character easy to identify with, Keaton instead goes on a full tilt ego trip that pushes the film deeper and deeper into Thomson’s psychosis.

        Still, throughout the fantastic and maddening journey that Birdman takes throughout its story, we still see Michael Keaton grounding his ever ballooning insanity with a gravitas that makes us believe that he can be both Riggan and Birdman in the same breath. For us, the audience, we believe that he can fly, or move things with his mind, or even put on a performance of a lifetime by blowing off his nose. In equal turn, Keaton’s performance wows us and scares us with each passing moment, as he shows us the portrait of a man on the edge. It’s the type of performance that Best Pictures are built off of, and lo and behold BIrdman banked on Keaton’s performance and took the top prize this year.

        Don’t mistake the case made for Michael Keaton’s Best Actor win as any sort of slight for any of the other nominees in the 2015 pool, particularly this year’s true victor – Mr. Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything is a masterclass on how a perfectly healthy actor, with the right amount of coaching and empathy, can transform into a real life victim of a cruel disease. But despite the well deserved victory in Redmayne’s court, I still can’t help but feel like the Academy missed out on rewarding an actor whose time has truly come. It’s not all bad though, as Michael Keaton got a moment in the sun at the end of the night, telling everyone how he was, “just happy to be there.” If we’re lucky, we’ll not only get to see Keaton back on the stage of the Kodak Theater in the near future, but we’ll get to see him accept a well deserved Oscar trophy of his own.


  43. thing is i think he might too old for big leading roles. Truth is hollywood is ageist not alot of leading roles for his age. But iam sure he will be more in demand


  44. Don’t call it a comeback: Michael Keaton on biding time, waiting for a ‘Birdman':

    ‘I was on a mission,’ the Oscar nominee says of his recent string of projects

    By Kristopher Tapley @kristapley | Thursday, Jan 29, 2015 2:12 PM

    SANTA MONICA — It’s been really easy for the media to talk about “Birdman” and Michael Keaton’s award-winning performance in terms of being a “comeback,” and of course, the meta angle of playing an actor who formerly starred as a superhero is just begging for attention. On one hand it’s a fortunate hook to help sell the movie, but on the other, it’s been a pretty simplistic reduction, not necessarily one that Keaton has had a big problem with, but one that could certainly be discussed with a little more nuance.

    You might have to go back to the late ’90s for examples of the actor’s work that really landed culturally, but in the time since, while he’s certainly taken a few breathers, he’s worked very consistently. He’s done TV spots on popular shows. He’s starred in acclaimed TV movies like “Live from Baghdad” and the TNT miniseries “The Company.” He’s struck up a relationship with Pixar and he’s even cranked out a directorial debut.

    So in wrapping up a series of chats with the actor today, we focus a bit on that, what he’s done over the last decade or so and what’s been important to him during that stretch, the build to “Birdman” and the work that went into a powerhouse performance that now finds him nominated for his first Oscar.


  45. i heard they might reboot amazing spiderman which is a reoboot anyways so it would be neat if keaton played uncle ben lol


  46. A Comprehensive Look Back At Michael Keaton’s 1980s Cinematic Mastery:

    As an ’80s baby, Michael Keaton was a big star when cycling through films on Betamax or rented VHS from the neighborhood West Coast Video. Sure Batman and Beetlejuice were staples in the movie watching diet, but so were some of Keaton’s more enjoyable ’80s films like Mr. Mom and Gung Ho.

    Keaton’s cinematic accession to Best Actor nominee began in the early ’70s with appearances on Mister Rodger’s Neighborhood. After giving stand-up comedy a try, he decided that it would behoove him to try his hand at acting. Following a string of comedy hits throughout the ’80s, he became a major cinematic star when he teamed up with Tim Burton at the end of the decade to create two iconic films: Beetlejuice and Batman.

    The brilliant Keaton is a heavy favorite to snag Best Actor at the Oscars this year. Let’s take a cinematic journey through the former Bruce Wayne’s ’80s playbook in reverence of his storied career…


  47. Michael Keaton: his 10 great screen characters:

    From Batman to Birdman and everything in between, we take a look at Michael Keaton’s top 10 most memorable roles…

    Sometimes, the Oscars have a tendency of giving out awards to actors who are seen to have paid their dues, perhaps not for the best performance of that year or even for the particular actor’s own best performance, but to recognize past work. Michael Keaton is not the most likely of these, but this could be why some speculated that he was an early favorite for this year’s Best Actor award, for his performance in Birdman.

    The later frontrunner Eddie Redmayne rightfully and very graciously wound up taking it home for his work as Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything, though Birdman went on to take home the main prize for Best Picture and a number of other major awards.

    It would hardly have been a major upset if Keaton had won- he’s great in Birdman and has also built a solid reputation as a character actor in the years since he became an unlikely movie star with the worldwide success of Tim Burton’s Batman.

    Many have called his recent success a comeback, but even to call it a resurgence feels like an overstatement. He’s been there all along, just not always in a Bat-suit. Within the last twelve months, before Birdman came along, he had supporting roles as a charismatic podcaster-cum-commentator in Need For Speed and as an unscrupulous CEO in the remake of RoboCop.

    Neither of these were his finest hour, but both showed his ability to elevate a film just by bringing some unconventional charisma and intensity to the table. He’s never seemed interested in staying in the A-list and if you must call Birdman a comeback, he’s done some damn fine work in between superhero-related movies. Seeing as how he didn’t get that Oscar, here are ten of his best characters.

    Captain Gene Mauch – The Other Guys

    A minor role, maybe, but one that makes the list by virtue of being very, very funny. Back before the Jump Street movies perfected the post-modern buddy cop comedy, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg had a good go at it, backed by an ensemble that included Dwayne Johnson, Steve Coogan, Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr and, as their TLC quoting captain, Michael Keaton.

    Captain Mauch seemingly has no idea that all of the tough-talking phrases he thinks he’s coining are actually lyrics by the R&B girl group. It’s a very silly gag, the kind that are a dime a dozen in director Adam McKay’s films, but it keeps getting laughs.

    The character only gets more absurd when it turns out he’s working a second job at Bed, Bath & Beyond, where Ferrell and Wahlberg go and visit him ahead of a third act showdown with the bad guys, to support his bi-sexual son’s dream of becoming a DJ. It really fills out what should be a minor character and gives Keaton ample opportunity for some random character development.

    Henry Hackett – The Paper

    Back in 1982, Keaton broke out in a big way in Night Shift, a Ron Howard comedy starring Henry Winkler and Tom Hanks, playing Bill Blazejowski, a morgue attendant who manages to convert his workplace into a successful brothel with nothing more than irrational enthusiasm and a tenacity for bullshit. Keaton was a stand-out in the film and he went on to more comedic work from there.

    He reunited with Howard in 1994 for The Paper, a film which covers a tumultuous day at the office of a fictional tabloid newspaper, the New York Sun. Keaton plays it somewhere between Malcolm Tucker and J. Jonah Jameson as the editor who tries to balance his family life with financial pressures while following a double homicide story.

    Keaton is on urgent, fast-talking form as Hackett, a workaday journalist in a film that aims to neither glamorize nor crucify the profession as many other films about journalism do. If you haven’t ever taken Media Studies and gone through the obligatory screening, or if you just haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth seeking out.

    Ken – Toy Story 3

    On taking the role of Barbie’s plastic paramour in Toy Story 3, Keaton told The Mirror: “I was at home when Pixar called. I love working for Pixar so I was up for it, whatever it was. When they said Ken, the phone literally fell out of my hand. I thought it was really, really funny.”

    Woody, Buzz and the gang meet a bunch of new characters when they’re plunged into the daycare domain of Lotso Huggin’ Bear and his cronies, but Ken is one of the stand-outs. We don’t know him from G.I. Joe, but Keaton makes short work of any notion that he’s not the most obvious choice for that particular role.

    He clearly had a ball with his vocal performance, camping it up as Barbie’s metrosexual “walking accessory” and he’s since reprised the role in a Toy Story Toon short feature, 2011’s Hawaiian Vacation, and hopefully he’ll be back for more in the upcoming fourth instalment.

    Doug Kinney(s) – Multiplicity

    Last year, Tom Hardy starred in Locke, a film about a construction manager whose life falls apart because he can’t be everywhere at once. Back in 1996, Keaton played a character with the opposite problem and his life still fell apart, in the film Multiplicity.

    Written and directed by the late, great Harold Ramis, the film finds Doug Kinney at the end of his tether with work and family commitments. He barely ever sees his wife and kids because he’s so busy at his construction job and he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

    Courtesy of a chance meeting with Harris Yulin’s eccentric scientist, Doug gets the chance to clone himself, with the second copy of him, named Two, going around and doing all of his busy work. This leaves the original Doug exclusively keeping things going at home as his wife goes back to work, forcing him to create another clone, Three, out of boredom.

    Keaton has a lot of screen time in this one, playing multiple different versions of his character. As the original Doug, he’s actually the straight man to himself, with two odd-couple characters coming in the form of the gruff, workaholic Two and the more sensitive homebody Three. There’s also a version of Dough that looks a bit problematic in retrospect, when Two copies himself and the subsequent clone-of-a-clone Four proves to be not all there.

    It looks exhausting, but there are some decent laughs to be had from Keaton’s comic range, which the film is unabashedly showing off- watch it in a double bill with Locke and try not to get whiplash in between films.

    “Carter Hayes” – Pacific Heights

    1990’s Pacific Heights is an under-appreciated film, but an odd one from today’s perspective. Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffiths play a couple who have sunk all of their savings into renovating a property at the eponymous address and eagerly close a deal with a client called Carter Hayes.

    When “Hayes”’ rent check bounces and he locks himself in his apartment, a battle of wits take place between the desperate landlords and their tenant. This was Keaton’s first role after Batman hit big at the box office and he steals the show. In the context of a horror/thriller movie about a sociopath who pantomimes as an affluent white guy to hoodwink other affluent white people, it’s often said that he’s more sympathetic than the lead characters.

    For better or worse, Modine’s tendency to go entirely over-the-top actually accentuates how perfectly Keaton hits the mark. As the film progresses and you get a full picture of his sociopathic M.O and his fearsome sense of entitlement, he makes a terrific and charismatic portrayal of banal evil that elevates the movie he’s in.

    Blaine Sternin – Frasier

    We didn’t necessarily say they were all film roles now, did we? Since hanging up the Bat-suit, Keaton has had a healthy number of TV guest appearances alongside his impressive body of work as a character actor in cinema. These include a voice role as the unhinged artist and convict Jack on The Simpsons and a memorable turn as a janitor in the 100th episode of 30 Rock.

    Of his TV work, the role that stands amongst the best characters he’s ever played came in Wheels Of Fortune, a season 9 episode of Frasier, in which the long-suffering radio shrink’s former brother-in-law Blaine comes rolling back into his life. Frasier is certain it’s a long con, and all that Blaine’s purported disability really means is that someone, somewhere is missing a wheelchair.

    It’s a little like watching a riff on Pacific Heights, except that Blaine’s story of redemption seems absolutely airtight, flummoxing Frasier. Playing a character that comes from ex-wife Lilith’s side of the family, Keaton effortlessly affects some of that moneyed, trans-Atlantic pomp that characterizes the series’ other socialites to hilarious effect, including an absolutely batty delivery of “pass the po-tah-toes, please?”

    But it’s the charm that Keaton brings to the role (which is described by the hapless Dr. Crane as “the viscous oil he uses to grease his flim flam machine”) that makes him one of the best guest stars ever to appear on the show.

    Agent Ray Nicolette – Jackie Brown and Out Of Sight

    This is one of those roles that really cements Keaton as a character actor, particularly in regard to the way he disappears into an ensemble. Quentin Tarantino cast him in his 1997 Elmore Leonard adaptation Jackie Brown as Ray Nicolette, the slimy ATF jobsworth who blackmails our protagonists into helping him catch out gun merchant Ordell Robbie.

    Again, Keaton stands out in each of his scenes with that slightly unconventional intensity. It’s not an especially big role, but it makes an impression, playing the relatively good cop to Michael Bowen’s bad/asshole cop in interrogations, or stressing details of his movements for the tape recording of their operation.

    Yet more remarkable, long before the current age of cinematic continuity, Steven Soderbergh drafted in Keaton for his own, unrelated Leonard adaptation, Out Of Sight, released the following year. Keaton didn’t take a credit or a salary for his one scene cameo as Nicolette, but again, he makes a strong impression as Dennis Farina’s Marshall Sisco takes him to task.

    Bruce Wayne/Batman – Batman and Batman Returns

    When Christian Bale expressed jealousy of Ben Affleck’s casting in the new DC cinematic universe, an interviewer asked Keaton if he felt the same. He gave the greatest possible answer: “No. Do you know why? Because I’m Batman. I’m very secure in that.”

    His casting is one of those infamous stories of an initial backlash turning out to be entirely unfounded. At the time, Keaton was chiefly known for comedies like 1983’s Mr. Mom and comic book fans didn’t feel he matched the long-awaited serious take on the character they’d been promised. The internet was not what it is now, so Keaton probably didn’t have to endure anything near the scorn poured upon Affleck, but he silenced the naysayers all the same.

    One of the reasons why Keaton was so great in his two outings as the Dark Knight was his portrayal of Bruce Wayne. We would later see Bale pantomime Wayne’s ignorant playboy façade in the Christopher Nolan movies, but somehow it was never as convincing as Keaton’s mask of cluelessness.

    Benefiting from a storytelling approach that would sink the 1990s Batman sequels, in holding back information about our hero to maintain the mystery, Keaton makes for a particularly mercurial version of the character. He’s capable of the playboy act, but also of romping fits of madness, (see Bruce’s “You wanna get nuts?! Let’s get nuts!”)

    He’s a rare live-action Bruce Wayne that you can believe would be able to hide the fact that he’s Batman – why would you ever suspect this guy? Although we can all have a good laugh at the line from Christopher Walken’s Max Schreck at the end of Batman Returns, (“Bruce Wayne? Why are you dressed as Batman?”) they really pull off that incredulity.

    The newer films have played more with the idea that Bruce Wayne is merely the mask that Batman puts on when he’s not following his true cause. The Bat-suits were a little more restrictive back in the 1990s, so that wouldn’t have been too comfortable, but Val Kilmer and George Clooney, Keaton’s successors in this iteration of the franchise, never quite matched his volatile presence in the role.

    Beetlejuice – Beetlejuice

    Hm, we’ve only done the header and we’re two thirds of the way to summoning him. This was Keaton’s first collaboration with Burton, and if you were to guess back in 1988 that one of the stars of this movie would next play Batman, you’d probably have guessed it would be Alec Baldwin.

    But you can tell Burton made the right choice with the way Keaton steals the show as the title character, despite only showing up 45 minutes into his own movie. He’s heavily foreshadowed up until then, but the film begins with dearly departed couple Adam (Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) trying to “bio-exorcise” the new owners of their former dream home, so they can get back to haunting it in peace.

    Despite the advice of every ghoulie they consult, they summon Beetlejuice (bugger, now we’ve done it) and soon realize the error of their ways. Keaton plays the character as a manic and morbid a**hole with a perverted sense of humor. The film unquestionably belongs to him from the moment he finally shows up, to the end credits.

    Warner Bros has been angling for a sequel to the much-loved film since its initial box office success (according to Kevin Smith, Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian was floated as an assignment for him during the 1990s) and fresh rumors have abounded in the wake of his comeback. At the moment, Burton and Keaton both seem to be aboard, with Seth Grahame-Smith penning a new script, and it could be that the star’s recent awards success finally buoys the long-gestating sequel into existence.

    Riggan Thomson – Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)

    Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity at this year’s Oscars was not seating Will Arnett, decked out in Val Kilmer’s Batman costume for a Lego Movie-related performance, behind Keaton in much the same way as Riggan is stalked by his big screen alter-ego in Birdman.

    Keaton was the early frontrunner in the Best Actor category, maybe because people would like to see him win, after being so solid for so long, but it’s handy that Riggan also represents his best ever role. In a film where the cast is routinely excellent and the technical side of things is so perfectly executed, he is the center around which everything revolves, and he’s bloody marvelous.

    All in-jokes about superhero roles aside, Keaton isn’t playing himself as Riggan. This list alone should go to show that he has stayed in the public eye (if not always in the spotlight) since turning down Batman Forever.

    On his worst day, it’s hard to imagine Keaton being so depressively egotistical. Even having openly admitted that he’s never played a less relatable character, he utterly inhabits the role and seems to relish the chance to grapple with such craziness.

    Redmayne deserved the Oscar this year, but it’s hard to resist crediting Birdman’s overall success to its leading man, finally given another chance to soar.


  48. Mo’Nique Says She Was Blackballed After Oscar Win:

    February 20, 2015 at 6:53 am

    Michael Keaton, would state in interviews how he didn’t like acting except the paycheck, of course no one wanted to hire him, if that is the way he would promote their movie/show.


  49. Thought you had a review here somewhere of Birdman in a separate post, can’t find. Maybe it was a discussion within a comments section. Anyway, I say this without having yet seen Theory of Everything, but so far, Lebeau I wholeheartedly agree with your earlier assessment of Boyhood for Best Picture and Director, and Michael Keaton for Best Actor. Birdman is consumed with its own hype but Keaton and cast were so solid I think that’s why it won how much it did. Therefore I don’t understand Keaton not winning the Oscar. Then again, according to one snarky critic, people like me just wouldn’t get it anyway.


    • Daffy and I recorded an episode of Le Show for the Oscars in which we argued about Birdman. But after editing 5 podcasts on the major categories, I didn’t get around to editing the Birdman episode. I may revisit it somewhere down the line.

      I agree that Keaton was the best thing about the movie. In an ideal world, Keaton wins Best Actor and Boyhood wins Best Picture and Best Director. God, I’m glad the Oscars are over!


  50. I always wondered what happened to Michael Keaton. I enjoyed his movies and after a week of doing what I have to do it was a treat to chill and watch one of his movies. I hope more are on the way.

    Liked by 1 person

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