Marlon Brando Was Supposed To Play The Most Iconic Batman Villain

Tim Burton wanted Marlon Brando to play The Penguin in Batman Returns.

By Michileen Martin | Published

marlon brando batman

Can you imagine the same man who played the head of cinema’s most well-remembered crime family driving a giant, yellow motorized duck through the sewers of Gotham City? Well, maybe you can’t, but Tim Burton certainly could. The late Marlon Brandon was the director’s first pick to play The Penguin in 1992’s Batman Returns.

The role of the villainous Oswald Cobblepot ultimately went to Danny DeVito, but according to Turner Classic Movies Marlon Brando was Burton’s first choice to play the bird-themed Batman bad guy. Both Warner Bros. and Batman co-creator Bob Kane were reportedly against the idea, which forced Burton to look elsewhere. Among the actors that were reportedly considered before landing on DeVito were Dustin Hoffman and Christopher Lloyd.

TCM doesn’t say why Warner Bros. or Kane were against the idea of Marlon Brando starring in Batman Returns, but it isn’t too difficult to speculate. Batman’s co-creator Bob Kane, like many of the early superhero comic book creators, was Jewish and by the early nineties Brando had gone on record saying some things many considered anti-semitic. In fact, 4 years after Batman Returns was released, he gave an infamous interview on Larry King Live in which he said, “Hollywood is run by Jews; it is owned by Jews” and criticized them for not “having a greater sensitivity to those who are suffering.”

As for why the studio didn’t want Marlon Brandon in the Batman sequel, it could have something to do with the star’s reputation. Stories had circulated for years about the Godfather star refusing to remember his lines, for example, or for making childish demands on the set. Filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola have since come out to say those stories were more legend than biography, but regardless of the truth, the reputation endured.

marlon brando batman
Marlon Brando in A Dry White Season (1989)

Not to mention that by the time Batman Returns began filming in 1991, Marlon Brando was more of a Hollywood sacred cow than a movie star. In the eighties, the Oscar-winning actor starred in exactly three films. Neither 1980’s The Formula nor 1989’s A Dry White Season received much attention, while his part in Superman II was relatively small.

In contrast to Marlon Brando, Danny DeVito had a very visible and busy 1980s before starring in Batman Returns. Most fans got to know him in the sitcom Taxi, he starred alongside Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in the popular Romancing the Stone and its sequel Jewel of the Nile, and the year before the first Batman film he was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brother in the hit comedy Twins.

Marlon Brando was apparently not the only star Burton wanted for Batman Returns who couldn’t appear. The director reportedly wanted to pay tribute to the sixties Batman series by casting Burgess Meredith — who played the Penguin in the show — as Oswald Cobblepot’s father. Health issues apparently stopped the appearance from happening (Meredith would pass away 5 years after the release of Batman Returns) and instead Paul Reubens of Pee Wee Herman fame played the Penguin’s papa.