Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The villain Max Schreck in Batman Returns was originally going to be Harvey Dent and become Two-Face at the end of the film.
After the massive success of 1989’s Batman, both the film’s star, Michael Keaton, and the film’s director, Tim Burton, found themselves in rather powerful positions. Neither Keaton nor Burton had been signed for a second film before the release of the first film, and as a result, Warner Bros. had to go to extra lengths to secure them for the much-anticipated sequel. In the case of Keaton, it required a large pay increase (reportedly over $10 million!) and for Burton, he was given more control over the film’s story (while also, of course, securing a pay raise). One area of concern for Burton was the screenplay for the second film. The first film’s screenplay by Sam Hamm was well-liked but Burton felt that it needed work, and it was re-written by Jonathan Gems, Warren Skaaren and Charles McKeown during the filming of the movie. Hamm was initially brought on board for the screenplay of Batman 2 (the working title for the movie at the time), which was very much a continuation of the story of the first film, complete with Vicki Vale (who Batman proposes to in the script). Burton, however, wanted the second film to stand on its own and he brought in Daniel Waters, who had just written the dark, social satire Heathers, which Tim Burton had much admired. Waters dramatically re-wrote Hamm’s script, mostly excising everything except for the basic concept of Catwoman and Penguin being the villains of the film. Waters’ script was then re-written by Wesley Strick and that was the final film.
Due to the three writers of the film (and multiple revisions by Waters), changes obviously were made to the movie along the way. Famously, a role for Marlon Wayans as Dick Grayson was written out of the film (as noted in this old Comic Book Legends Revealed).
Another notable change that often has been brought up is that the overarching villain of Batman Returns, the corrupt businessman Max Schreck (played by Christopher Walken), was originally going to be Harvey Dent, with the scene at the end of the film where he is killed by a power plant originally meant to only scare Dent on half of his body, thereby giving us Two-Face. Is that true?
I tend to believe that it is not true.
I believe that Sam Hamm initially intended to use Harvey Dent in his script for Batman 2. In fact, it is likely that he even pitched Warner Bros. on having Two-Face be in the sequel. Yet, and this is the most important thing, he didn’t put Harvey Dent into his screenplay for Batman 2. This is important to note because Max Schreck was wholly an invention of Daniel Waters (although Hamm did mention a Schreck’s Department Store in his script). Therefore, when Waters wrote his first take on the script for the film, he could not be basing anyone on Dent because Dent was not in Hamm’s screenplay.
Waters has specifically addressed the role of Dent in the films:
You had a lot of stories that didn’t make it onto the screen – one was Harvey Dent becoming Two-Face. That was definitely something Sam Hamm had planned that never happened. I had flirted with, just in a very small subplot, having Harvey Dent start to come back and just have one scene of him where he flips a coin and it’s the good side of the coin, and he decides not to do anything, so you had to wait for the next movie for him to actually do something. Tim Burton’s main thing was he didn’t want to have anything to do with the first film. He wanted this to be a completely different movie.
That sure sounds pretty definitively like he was just talking about Dent making a cameo, right? Not being the main villain for the film! In addition, Dent never actually shows up in any of Waters’ scripts. Waters’ first draft of the screenplay for the film included Schreck and did not include Harvey Dent or Two-Face. So Dent never appeared in Hamm’s script and he never appeared in Waters’ script and Waters says that had he used Dent, it would have been as a small subplot.
Strick’s rewrite also did not mention Two-Face, but he did make a notable change when he removed a plot point that Waters had come up with that Max Schreck was secretly The Penguin’s brother.
In the end, I think that the whole Schreck=Two-Face story was just rumor gone rampant, based on the fact that a politician like District Attorney Dent would be more fitting to help Penguin’s run for mayor and that the power plant scene could possibly explain Dent’s Two-Face scars.
So I’m going with the legend as…
Thanks to Judy Sloane and Daniel Waters for the great quote!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.