If Christopher Reeve had his way, Tim Burton’s Batman could have been the first example of a shared DC cinematic universe.
Since 2008 and the release of Iron Man, the concept of the shared universe has given comic book movies a new lease oN life, but Superman legend Christopher Reeve was 20 years ahead of the curve. Long before Kevin Feige broadened the scope of what comic book movies could be and before Zack Snyder sought to expand the DC Extended Universe, Reeve had his own small idea on how such a universe could be teased, which he exclusively revealed to fans at the 1994 Atlanta Dixie Trek Convention.
At his first and last convention appearance, one year before his tragic accident, Reeve gave a signing and Q&A where he revealed more than a few fascinating tidbits about his career and the Superman franchise, including one particularly interesting (and prescient) revelation. During the Q&A, a fan asked if Reeve would have cameoed in 1984’s Supergirl. After, the actor went on to explain his own idea that would have nicely established a DCEU 25 years before Man of Steel, and it entailed Reeves’ Superman meeting a certain caped crusader.
To a room full of eager fans, Reeve told a short anecdote about how he could have returned to his signature role but not in a Superman sequel. He explained how in 1988, only one year after his last outing in the critically mauled Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, he saw an opportunity to make a brief comeback in DC’s next cinematic production. Warner Bros., Tim Burton and Michael Keaton were teaming up for Batman, and Reeve had the bold idea to render Burton’s gothic movie as part of a larger comic book universe with an appearance from the Caped Wonder. But instead of inserting himself into the film’s story and creating a Batman and Superman team-up movie, Reeve intended a modest but humorous cameo appearance.
Obviously, having not read the script to Batman, Reeve had in mind a scenario that could have suited any scene occurring on Gotham City’s streets. It involved no more than a fleeting run-in between the two heroes, with Batman encountering Superman out of his element in the Gotham slums. An awkward lack of communication would have followed, with Superman showing his Gotham counterpart a quick nod of acknowledgment before jetting back into the sky. Reeve added his reasoning for Superman’s presence in Gotham, explaining that Batman would “need some help” in apprehending villains, theorizing that the Dark Knight’s gadgets and “cool car” weren’t enough to solve the city’s rampant crime problem.
Although quick, Superman’s cameo would have made for a brightly comedic moment in an otherwise dark movie, and Reeve believed this was why his pitch was rejected. It threatened to undermine the serious tone that Burton and Warner Bros. were aiming for, and Reeve said that the idea was “laughed down” during his call to Warner Bros., who said that it “wanted nothing to do with” Richard Donner’s 1978 film as far as Batman movies were concerned. “They wanted [Batman] to be very dark, very brooding… [Superman: The Movie] was all about bright colors… and it was fundamentally seen to be very different,” Reeve recalled.
On top of the tonal clash that Warner Bros. was keen to avoid, they evidently had little interest to cross over two DC heroes at the time — and didn’t officially do so until 2016. The fact that Reeve was three decades ahead of them shows how strikingly prescient he was. He unwittingly guessed what direction Marvel and DC movies would ultimately take, predicting a shared universe that’s often initiated or expanded by a (sometimes comedic) cameo appearance (e.g. Nick Fury in Iron Man, Superman in Shazam!).
Despite its reservations, Warner Bros. gradually came around on a potential DCEU. Even before the Snyderverse, the Batman films name-dropped Superman and Metropolis, and DC Comics later confirmed the characters’ coexistence in 2021’s Batman 89 and Superman 78 comic book series. It took over 30 years, but Reeve’s absurd suggestion has finally been honored and proves just how visionary he was.
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