John Lithgow As The Joker? It Nearly Happened

After Richard Donner’s “Superman” took flight and before Tim Burton’s “Batman” showed how you could drastically change the tone for a superhero, there was a period in the early 1980s when Warner Bros. Pictures attempted to get a different kind of “Batman” film off the ground.

“Gremlins” director Joe Dante was a hot property at the time and speaking with Psychotronic Blog (via Den of Geek) this week, he revealed he was approached to direct the project and even considered having John Lithgow cast as The Joker in the film. Here’s his description of the project after being asked what his take on the character would have been:

“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 (“The Spy Who Loved Me,” “Live and Let Die”), 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 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. But in the end, I think I was not the right guy to do the movie… 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.”

Other details to emerge is that the project had multiple villains (Joker and Penguin) and there was a large Bond-esque set-piece for the climax. Mankiewicz’s script is very different from Sam Hamm’s script for Tim Burton’s “Batman” which was created from the ground up. Of course, that wasn’t the only “Batman” film project that fell apart in development, the other most notable being Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Triumphant” in the late 1990s.