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Michael Keaton reveals why he walked away from 'Batman Forever'

Michael Keaton in costume on the set of 'Batman' (1989)
Michael Keaton in costume for 'Batman' (1989). (Image credit: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

After three decades, Michael Keaton is set to return as the Caped Crusader later this year, and he's now revealed what led him to walk away from playing Batman on the big screen all those years ago.

He left the franchise during development on Batman Forever, Warner Bros.' third Batman movie amid clashes with the new director, Joel Schumacher. In 1994, Michael Keaton decided not to return for a third movie, leaving Schumacher to cast Val Kilmer as the new Dark Knight.

In an appearance on 'In the Envelope: The Actor's Podcast', Keaton said "it was always Bruce Wayne. It was never Batman" which drew him to play the role originally, and went on to explain exactly what led to his departure. 

He said: "To me, I know the name of the movie is Batman, and it's hugely iconic and very cool and iconic and because of Tim Burton, artistically iconic. I knew from the get-go it was Bruce Wayne. That was the secret. 

"I never talked about it. Batman, Batman, Batman does this, and I kept thinking to myself 'Y'all are thinking wrong here'. Bruce Wayne. What kind of person does that... Who becomes that?", he added.

Keaton went on to say that it was the creative differences over the tone and direction of the movie that prompted his exit. He explained: "When the director who directed the third one, I said, "I just can't do it.

"One of the reasons I couldn't do it was — and you know, he’s a nice enough man, he’s passed away, so I wouldn’t speak ill of him even if he were alive — he, at one point, after more than a couple of meetings where I kept trying to rationalize doing it and hopefully talking him into saying 'I think we don't want to go in this direction, I think we should go in this direction.' And he wasn't going to budge."

Michael Keaton as Batman in 'Batman Returns'.

Michael Keaton in 'Batman Returns'. (Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Keaton also recalled a specific instance where he realized he was no longer interested in being part of the third Batman movie, stating: "I remember one of the things that I walked away going 'Oh boy, I can't do this.' He [Schumacher] asked me, 'I don't understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,' and I went, 'Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read... I mean, it's pretty simple."

Michael Keaton will reprise the role in two projects currently scheduled for 2022. He will appear in The Flash as an alternate-universe version of Bruce Wayne and Batman (with Ben Affleck's Bat also set to appear). The Flash is currently scheduled for a Nov. 4, 2022 release (see our new movies in 2022 guide).

Keaton will also don the Batman cowl once again in the HBO Max original movie, Batgirl. This HBO max exclusive stars Leslie Grace in the lead role and Brendan Fraser as the as-yet-unnamed antagonist and is also expected to appear on the streaming platform at some point this year. He's also set to return as Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture in Sony's latest Spider-Man project, Morbius