In A Better World, We Would Have A Bill Murray Batman

Cinema is awash with intriguing almost casting stories; how about Nicolas Cage as Superman, Al Pacino as Han Solo, or Orson Welles playing Baron Harkonnen? All three (maybe) could have happened, no doubt altering the tone and direction of each IP significantly. One of my favorite alternate-universe casting rumors that was only just recently brought to my attention was that Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy were once lined up to play Batman and Robin. In our current world of grim and grimacing Dark Knights, the idea of two funnymen in the roles of the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder seems a little ridiculous. But was it really a crazy idea?

We're going back to the early '80s here, when the general public's idea of Batman was the campy '60s TV series with Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as his acrobatic sidekick. There were probably a few old-timers still singing the praises of Lewis G. Wilson or Robert Lowery, but to most regular people, West was Batman. It was also a time when superhero movies and comic book adaptations were barely a thing, with only "Superman" and "Flash Gordon" as two high profile contemporary examples.

The early '80s was also a time when "Saturday Night Live" was starting to have a major impact on the box office, with stars like Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Eddie Murphy all making a successful transition to the big screen with hits like "National Lampoon's Animal House," "The Blues Brothers," "Caddyshack," "Trading Places," "Stripes" and more.

Also consider this: compared to the bright and zany antics of West and Ward's Dynamic Duo, even a Batman movie with a "Ghostbusters" level of grittiness would have seemed like a significant step in a more serious direction. So where did the idea of a Murray-Murphy Batman and Robin come from?

How Did Bill Murray Almost Become Batman?

In the late '70s, the general feeling in the movie industry was that the only comic book property capable of becoming a blockbuster movie was "Superman" (via Batman on Film). This allowed a young producer named Michael Uslan and his business partner Ben Melniker to approach DC and acquire the rights to "Batman." Uslan, a self-proclaimed comic book historian, wanted to create a dark and serious version faithful to how Bob Kane and Bill Finger originally envisioned the character back in the '30s and '40s. He said: 

The answer to that question, how does a kid in his twenties buy the rights to "Batman," is simply, very unglamorous answer (sic), nobody else in the world showed up. Nobody else in the world was interested in or wanted Batman.

The problem was, studios didn't want Uslan's version either, unable to see beyond the frivolous '60s TV series that was still very much in the public consciousness. Disappointed, Uslan wrote his own script entitled "The Return of the Batman" in order to show people film industry his intentions for the character. 

Two more producers, Jon Peters and Peter Guber, came on board in November 1979, and the four decided the best route would be following the template of Richard Donner's "Superman," such a huge hit the previous year. Warner Bros. decided to produce the picture and Tom Mankiewicz, who had worked on a re-write of "Superman," was tasked with delivering the first screenplay. He finished it in 1983, by which time Ivan Reitman was nominally in the frame to direct the picture. He reportedly wanted to cast Bill Murray (via Far Out), who he had worked with on "Meatballs" and "Stripes," and Eddie Murphy, who made a serious name for himself with his back-to-back hits, "48 Hrs" and "Trading Places," not to mention making big waves during a troublesome time at "SNL."

Would Bill Murray as Batman Work?

In a word, maybe. It's hard to imagine Murray playing the role straight, so his performance probably would have been more like West's tongue-in-cheek portrayal than Michael Keaton's scowling version. When it comes to action, he's never been the most physical actor, although he did a little running and jumping in "Stripes," and there are clips of him demonstrating surprising amounts of energy on "SNL". At the very least, Murray would have been the second-tallest modern Batman, coming in just in inch below West (via Perhaps most of the running, jumping, and kapow-ing would have been left to Murphy, who was in good shape in his early twenties and looked credible in the action scenes in "48 Hrs" and "Beverley Hills Cop."

Mankiewicz's script for this iteration of Batman is available online, and it offers some tantalizing glimpses of what might have been. This scene is supposed to be Bruce Wayne in his early teens, but just imagine it tweaked to Murray's age at the time:


One hardly knows where to begin.


Those rings seem simple enough...

Bruce crosses to the rings, leaps, catches hold, tries to hoist himself up. His eyes bulge! He tries again, then drops to the floor in a heap.


Perhaps if we lowered them.


(grim stare)

If you'll excuse me now, Alfred. I'll see you at dinner.

I can totally see Murray working this with his eye-rolls and droll pauses, no doubt ad-libbing a few lines too. David Niven was also on Mankiewicz's shortlist for Alfred (via Yahoo), and his debonair charm and dry sense of humor would have contrasted beautifully with Murray's deadpan. 

It's more difficult to swallow the idea of Murray as Bruce a few scenes later, however, when he has mastered the gym equipment and become a black belt in karate...

It Wasn't Meant to Be

"Batman" was in production for a long, long time, and it eventually went through a whole bunch of writers before Michael Keaton finally got to growl "I'm Batman." Directing duties eventually landed with Tim Burton, on the strength of his successful debut feature, "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure." Burton kicked out Mankiewicz's script because he felt it was too campy, preferring the dark tone of "The Dark Knight Returns" and "The Killing Joke." 

Perhaps a Bill Murray "Batman" was never really a serious consideration, but it's a fun one to think about. He had good chemistry with Murphy on "SNL," and it's somewhat of a surprise that they never made a film together. Other casting rumors included David Bowie as the Joker, which would have been a fascinating choice. Bowie was making some interesting films around that time, like "The Hunger" and "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," and went on to play the chief baddie in "Labyrinth" a few years later. He had a great look and laugh that would have suited the part. And don't even get me started on the possibility of John Candy as the Penguin (via CBR).

In 2014, Murray addressed the Batman rumors while talking to David Letterman (via

"You know I've heard that story too... Really, I have. And God, I would have been an awesome Batman... but I don't think that's true... but I thought Michael Keaton's Batman was great. I thought he was really cool as Batman. He was like one p**sed guy. He was Batman alright."

Although I love Bill Murray as much as the next person, I'm inclined to think he's right. Michael Keaton was probably the best choice for the role at the time, and (arguably) second only to the late, great Adam West.