Top 5 Movie Guide: Michael Keaton
For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we finish up our nominated actors segment with one of the front-runners in the Actor in a Leading Role category, Michael Keaton. Keaton, born Michael John Douglas, changed his name soon after moving to Hollywood to avoid confusion with the more popular actor of the same name. Keaton studied Speech at Kent State, but dropped out before graduation to pursue a stand-up comedy career in Pittsburgh. After an unsuccessful run at that, he went on to work as a cameraman for a cable news station. It was here that he realized he wanted to work in front of cameras.
Keaton worked primarily in television for the first part of his career, with his first acting credit coming from "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood". His first film break was co-starring in "Night Shift" (1982) alongside Henry Winkler and Directed by Ron Howard. Keaton took off in the 80's after that, scoring roles in films like "Mr. Mom" and "Gung Ho", and catching Tim Burton's attention with his performance in "Beetlejuice". This led to Keaton's most prominent role to date, that of Batman/Bruce Wayne in Burton's big budget adaptation of the caped crusader. Fan outrage for the casting decision was deafening, but Keaton ultimately proved capable of the role. Two years later he reprised that role in "Batman Returns", the first film to ever earn enshrinement on this site.
Keaton's career continued steady throughout the 90's, but has consisted mainly of supporting roles since. Keaton's filmography and near-filmography features some pretty interesting titles/roles. Among those he turned down were Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg's "The Fly" (the role eventually went to Jeff Goldblum), Egon Spengler in "Ghostbusters" (Harold Ramis), and the lead role in "Splash" (Tom Hanks). A few roles he was considered for but missed out on include the leads in "Police Academy" (Steve Guttenberg), "Kingpin" (Woody Harrelson), and even Jack Sparrow in "The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" (Johnny Depp).
Still, Michael Keaton has had a long and varied career, with even a few iconic, era-defining roles. He might not be the eccentric, unconventional leading man that he once was, but he's always made his presence known on screen. Hit the jump to see which roles we consider our favorites!
Alex Schopp -
What an interesting career this guy has had. I'm so glad he's back on top, even if only for a short while.
This movie is perfect...for what it is. It's equally funny and creepy, with so many great performances. A great music score by Danny Elfman really drives this thing, but whoever edited this film should have won an award. It moves so smoothly. Even on repeat viewings you never get bored - the pace is perfect, start to finish. The obvious detractor for this list, of course, is Keaton's lack of actual screen time. But he's so perfect in the role, and the rest of the movie is so good anyway that I'm not even worried about it. This should be #1.2. Multiplicity
I loved this movie so much when I was a kid. I'm not really sure why I gravitated towards it so much (maybe it was that inner part of me that fantasized about how much I could get away with if I had clones in cahoots with me), but I remember watching it a good amount. This movie is genuinely funny though, and you have to give props to Keaton playing all of those different characters in the same film.3. Batman
I like "Batman Returns" more than this first film, but Tim Burton definitely set a tone with this one. I've never much cared about the Batman franchise as a whole, but I appreciate the visual style of this one more than any of the other Batman adaptations. Again, Danny Elfman's score might be the highlight of this movie, but Keaton as Batman? C'mon.4. The Paper
Remember last week when I said I love movies about the news? This is another one of those movies. There's definitely a part of me that wants to be a news man. The speed at which that world runs, the research, the fact-checking, and telling stories and having a say on how people interpret the world and events around them. It's a very beautiful process.5. Birdman (2014)
There were a lot of films I considered for this last spot, but for now I'll give it to Keaton's latest film. This really was a perfect role for him, and you know he pulled so much from his real life to channel this character - I expect there were times when it was tough for him to open the door to some of those past experiences again. If for nothing else, I'm really glad he got this role so that, just like his character in the film, he could be in the spotlight at least one last time.
Ben Foutch -
Aside from being a terrific actor, Keaton brings a unique energy to the screen that has aided in the creation of many classic movie scenes. It's good to see him getting some of the spotlight again.
1. Beetlejuice (1988)
A perfect horror-comedy. I give modern Tim Burton a lot of crap because I know what he's capable of.2. Batman (1989)
My first memory of attending a movie theater was this film at the Virginia Theater in Champaign, Illinois. I'll never forget the opening credits with Elfman's Batman theme. Maybe the best film score for a superhero film.3. Clean and Sober (1988)
Keaton shows off some sharp dramatic chops as an addict who comes to terms with his addiction.4. Night Shift (1982)
When are we getting another Henry Winkler/Michael Keaton team up?5. Multiplicity (1996)
Keaton carries what probably should be a five-minute sketch into a feature length film. It still makes me laugh.
Derek Clem -
1. Beetlejuice (1988)
I was Beetlejuice for Halloween when I was little. Beetlejuice was very much a part of my personal culture growing up. I’m actually surprised it didn’t somehow turn into my favorite movie of all time. It’s not even in my top 10. I would say that perhaps it played itself out for me, but every time I watch it I still enjoy it thoroughly. More likely it’s because I never owned it on VHS; always had to rent it. It just wasn't in the stars, I guess. My one complaint: the movie needs more Beetlejuice. Plus I loved that spinoff cartoon show.2. Gung Ho (1986)
When Keaton’s character trades in his car for one he hand-built with his team. That’s all you need to know.3. Batman (1989)
This movie blanketed culture. I don’t think I've seen anything like it other than Titanic-mania. I’m probably mis-remembering but I feel like the Star Wars prequels didn't even have as a strong resonance in the culture during their release. Batman was huge, and I quite enjoyed that period of time.4. Night Shift (1982)
Keaton brings his frenetic comedic brilliance to the morgue.5. Porco Rosso (1992)
I didn't plan on having voice work on this list, but I just so enjoy the monotone vocal stylings in the English dubbings of Hayao Miyazaki films. They feel so cozy and perfect for napping. Keaton does great work here.
Nathan Hinds -
Talk about an actor with a very top-heavy filmography. He played two of the more iconic roles of the late 80's but didn't do anything of real note until this year with "Birdman". Maybe it's because he doesn't have the stereotypical "Hollywood good looks", although that's not me saying that he's a bad looking guy. He certainly wasn't missing out on roles based on a lack of charisma, because the guy has loads of it. Still, he played Batman so he'll always be held in high regards in my book.
1. Batman (1989)
I mean, what other film could you put here, right? All of the other contributors better have this as their #1 film. Now, I know that's probably not true, but it should be. I have found the lack of affection towards Batman from this particular group of superhero lovers to be very surprising. But I digress. I could write a novel chronicling my love of Batman. Instead, I'll just sum it up by saying Batman/Bruce Wayne is my all time favorite fictional character from any form of media. Easy #1 choice, nothing else stood a chance.2. Beetlejuice (1988)
With all the love this group has for this movie, I wonder if I'm ruining its chance at enshrinement. I don't get it, not with Batman being in play - but I'm happy to do it. I still love this movie, don't get me wrong, it just doesn't come close to matching the nostalgic ties I have to "Batman", and it's a distant second on this list. Can I spend my whole list just praising Batman?3. Birdman (2014)
I really do hope Keaton wins the Oscar for this, because in a way it will almost be like giving him an Oscar for playing Batman, because we all know that's what the role of Birdman symbolizes. ...I think I can spend my whole list praising Batman! Seriously though, while I think the movie is phenomenally well-made and acted, it's hurt by the fact that I can't stand the characters in this movie. I'd probably last about 30 minutes around these people before I had to punch one of them in the face. Probably Edward Norton's character first.4. Multiplicity (1996)
These last two spots were hard to fill because I was really left with mostly generic roles. This movie as a whole isn't anything special, but I am fascinated with the science of cloning and am 100% behind any research that goes into one day perfecting it. Now, there's nothing scientifically accurate about this specific movie but if this was scientifically possible, don't tell me you wouldn't want a copy of yourself to go take care of all your boring day-to-day stuff. One thing this movie does very well for Keaton is showcase his comedic range.5. The Other Guys (2010)
Just a good buddy cop film. Keaton plays a small role in the film, but he nails every bit of screen time he gets.
Andy Schopp -
I really wish Keaton could get out there more because I think he honestly has a very broad range that he's able to successfully pull off. It's rare - and possibly nonexistent - that I watch a movie he's in and feel he drags it down. He's always good.
1. Batman (1989)
Hard to top this one. Is he the best Batman of all time? And it's not his fault the suit didn't let him move his neck so don't even bring that up!2. Multiplicity (1996)
I thought long and hard about the placement of this movie and ultimately I decided I friggin' love it! It's just so nonsensical and juuuuuust barely a touch sci-fi. His different personalities in this movie crack me up! I can't imagine what it must have been like for him to film this.3. Beetlejuice (1988)
A great nostalgic story full of fantastic characters. There isn't much to say here that hasn't already been said. It's great!4. Porco Rosso (1992)
A well-crafted animated film that continues to hold up well over time. Who doesn't enjoy the irony of a flying pig saving the day!?5. The Dream Team (1989)
Perfect casting? I think so! You can look for days and not find an ensemble cast of this caliber. It's comedy at its best!
So there we have it. Not quite as much variety as we've seen on the last few lists, but as a few different writers mentioned, Keaton's filmography is quite top-heavy. There are just some films on there that everyone is going to have among their favorites. When two or three titles are practical locks, that leave little other room for variety.
Still, we did have eleven films listed above. Two did hit on all five lists, "Beetlejuice" and "Batman". These two films also compromised the #1 pick for all of the writers above. Aside from those two, "Multiplicity" was the only film that appeared on four lists, while three others appeared on two: "Birdman", "Night Shift", and "Porco Rosso".
It feels unnecessary to say that if you're not familiar with a few of those iconic staples from Keaton's filmography, that's obviously the place you need to start. Otherwise, hopefully a few of these other titles will help you dig a little deeper.