Tim Burton Clashed With One Iconic Actor During His Most Important Movie

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

While Tim Burton has had a string of amazing genre hits, few of them have had the wide-ranging cultural impact of his 1989 Batman film. From Michael Keaton to Kim Basinger and Jack Nicholson, that movie had more big names than Batman’s utility belt has gadgets.

One of the biggest stars was Jack Palance, whose onscreen character violently clashes with Nichsolson’s Joker; as SlashFilm reports, conflict continued offscreen when an irate Palance angrily asked Burton how many films the relatively inexperienced (at the time) director had made. 

Tim Burton And Jack Palance Clash

The original source for the clash between Tim Burton and Jack Palance is Burton himself. On his original commentary for the 1989 Batman, Burton recounted an incident where Palance didn’t hear the director say “Action.” When this happened, Burton yelled “cut” and tried to have a sidebar conversation with the legendary actor.To hear Tim Burton recount the story, Jack Palance didn’t react very well to the entire incident. Allegedly, the actor had a single, pointed question for the young director: “I’ve made over a hundred films, how many have you made?” Burton didn’t really have much of a comeback to this barb because Palance was quite right about the director’s relative inexperience.

Tim Burton Was Still A Newcomer In Hollywood

Tim Burton may be a household name now, but at the time he was directing Batman, he had only directed two previous films: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. Both of these films were critical and commercial hits, and Beetlejuice in particular showcased that Burton could transform weird genre concepts into big-budget blockbusters. That made him the perfect director to turn Michael Keaton into a major action star, but Palance was absolutely correct that his Hollywood record eclipsed Burton’s.

Jack Palance’s Hollywood Career

As poor Tim Burton got a stinging reminder of, Jack Palance was by far the most established actor on the set of Batman despite his relatively minor role as crime boss Carl Grissom. Younger audiences may not know much about Palance, but he received an Oscar nomination for his role in the seminal Western film Shane in 1953, and that was only one year after his Oscar nomination for Sudden Fear. Later in life, Palance would leverage his reputation as an old cowboy for serious movies like Young Guns as well as sillier fare like City Slickers.

Jack Palance Exaggerated

Whether or not Tim Burton knew that Jack Palance was exaggerating, the truth is that the acting legend had not actually starred in “a hundred films.” As far as we can tell, Batman was much closer to the veteran actor’s 75th theatrical film than his 101st. Still, his point stood: when that classic Caped Crusader movie was being filmed, Palance was the experienced Hollywood big shot and Burton was the new kid on the block, though it’s fair to say that Burton is as big now as the late, great Palance ever was.

No Hard Feelings

To his credit, Tim Burton apparently didn’t hold much of a grudge towards Jack Palance: not only did the two create some amazing scenes together, but in the same film commentary, the director called Palance “good for the part” and admitted that he couldn’t imagine anyone else who “could be Jack Nicholson’s boss.” That was a fair point because Nicholson himself was a very big name in Hollywood and managed to get his name above Michael Keaton’s in the credits and a sweetheart deal where he snagged a cut of the film’s box office and merchandise sales, meaning that he might have earned as much as $90 million for this one movie. With a deal like that, it would seem that Tim Burton and Jack Palance agreed on at least one thing. Forget Michael Keaton’s Batman: At the end of the day, Jack Nicholson truly was their “number one guy.”