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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Keaton Fits Right into Birdman

Written by Jon Williams

You’ve heard about all the films hovering near the top of the box office—highly publicized films like John Wick, Fury, Ouija, and Gone Girl. But there’s another film out right now that you may not have heard much about, which is garnering critical acclaim and doing quite well for itself in a limited theatrical release. That film is Birdman, about an actor whose career goes off the rails after a successful turn starring as a wildly popular superhero.

That actor is Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton. It’s not hard to see the parallel between the plot of Birdman and Keaton’s own career. Keaton went through a period of immense popularity in the mid to late 1980s, culminating with his portrayal of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, the Caped Crusader, in 1989’s Batman and its 1992 follow-up, Batman Returns. He was originally set to play Batman a third time, but he opted to drop out of the production when director Tim Burton did.

Batman has done fine since Keaton’s departure, with the cape and cowl being taken up by Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale, with Ben Affleck on deck to wear it next. Keaton, on the other hand, has been relegated, for the most part, to Hollywood’s background. While his IMDb page will show you that he has remained active, he has certainly not had the same degree of prominence he did prior to his stint as Batman.

Keaton’s birth name is actually Michael Douglas; as he began working in show business in the late ‘70s, he took an alternate name to avoid confusion with the other Michael Douglas, who was already well known. After a couple of one-shots on sitcoms like Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Maude, he got a chance to show off his comedy chops against Jim Belushi in the show Working Stiffs. That then led to a role in the 1982 Ron Howard comedy feature Night Shift, and the rest is history. From there he became a sought-after comedic actor, starring in such films as Mr. Mom and Johnny Dangerously, and topping it off with a transcendent performance in the classic Tim Burton film Beetlejuice.

From Night Shift to Batman Returns was a period of ten years, with a number of notable starring roles for Keaton in that timespan. In the 22 years since, they’ve been fewer and further between, but there are definitely some gems. In 1994, he re-teamed with Ron Howard for The Paper, and in 1996 he played several versions of the same character in Multiplicity, directed by the late, great Harold Ramis. He starred in the 1998 holiday film Jack Frost and the 2005 horror movie White Noise. He’s also done some voice acting for Disney/Pixar, voicing characters in Cars and Toy Story 3. More recently, he appeared as the sinister OmniCorp CEO in the RoboCop reboot, bringing a sinister energy to the role.

Birdman features an all-star cast that includes Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and Emma Stone, but the movie undoubtedly belongs to Michael Keaton. We’ll have info on its upcoming DVD/Blu-ray release as soon as it becomes available; in the meantime, make sure you have plenty of other Keaton movies on your shelves for your patrons to enjoy. SmartBrowse his name on our website to see everything we have to offer.


  1. Speaking of a standout performance in a limited release indie film this year... Bill Hader in "The Skeleton Twins". This would be worth blogging about, the SNL alum has surprised a lot of critics with his dramatic ability in this one.


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