How The Batman Returns McDonald's Ad Campaign Changed The Series

Tim Burton's "Batman" and its sequel "Batman Returns" are the films that pushed the Dark Knight into the mainstream, thanks largely to their nightmarish atmosphere and Michael Keaton's intense performance as Bruce Wayne. Can you believe that Bill Murray could've gotten the part? "Returns" even led to the creation of the beloved "Batman: The Animated Series," which, for my money, is the definitive Batman take for its generation. 

But the sequel is also infamous for leading Warner Bros. to shift direction when parents raised a fuss, causing Burton and Keaton to depart the franchise and Joel Schumacher to enter with "Batman Forever."

In the years since "Batman Returns" made its debut, more information has been revealed about the war waged between Burton and various forces during production. As it turns out, fast food giant McDonald's may have been responsible for driving the nail in the coffin — they thought they were marketing a family-friendly blockbuster and butted heads with Burton once they learned his direction for the film was headed in a not-so-child-friendly direction. This is surprising, given how the first film pushed the envelope as often as it could; the Joker even burns a man to death using a high voltage shock buzzer. What was McDonald's expecting in the sequel? 

Parents Just Don't Understand

McDonald's had signed a marketing campaign with Warner Bros. to promote "Batman Returns," but soon changed its tune upon viewing a rough cut of the film. Burton would later discuss the fallout and how it was the beginning of the end of his time in Gotham:

"I think I upset McDonald's. [They asked] 'What's that black stuff coming out of the Penguin's mouth. We can't sell Happy Meals with that!'"

But McDonald's wasn't the only force Burton had to contend with. After the film's opening, angry parents wrote letters accusing McDonald's of promoting violence — including the Dove Foundation, a Christian organization who accused McDonald's of having "no conscience" by marketing "Batman Returns." Because nothing screams "violent behavior" like getting a Batman toy with your burger and fries, right?

 McDonald's attempted to put distance between itself and "Batman Returns," but this ended up sending some seriously mixed messages as promotional tie-ins for the film were still ongoing. Warner Bros. even told Burton to cut scenes from the film so that it would wind up with a PG-13 rating. And considering what made it into the film — including Danny DeVito's Penguin literally biting someone's nose off — one has to wonder what Burton's original cut contained.

A Not So Happy Meal

During a retrospective for "Batman Returns," Burton would reflect on the warning signs that the film would be his last go-around in Gotham:

"It was a weird reaction to Batman Returns, because half the people thought it was lighter than the first one and half the people thought it was darker. I think the studio just thought it was too weird — they wanted to go with something more child- or family-friendly. In other words, they didn't want me to do another one."

 "Batman Forever" would have its own McDonald's tie-in, complete with collectible glass mugs. There's even a line from the Dark Knight in "Forever" where he says he'll get drive-thru, which brings up the following question: how on earth has McDonald's not partnered with "The Batman" for a special Riddler meal? Little Caesars, on the other hand, beat them to the punch with the Batman Calzony pizza — no word on whether it tastes like vengeance.