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The Incredible True Story Of How Marlon Wayans Was Almost Robin In 'Batman Returns'

September 6, 2020 13.1k views8 items

Robin is simultaneously one of Batman's most beloved and most controversial supporting characters. Though Robin was introduced a full year into Batman's existence as a means of attracting young readers, he's come to be synonymous with the universe of Gotham City. Just about every iteration of the Batman story has included Robin in some form or fashion.

He famously hit the big screen for the first time since 1966 in 1995's Batman Forever, played by Chris O'Donnell. Later, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises paid homage to the character in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Caped Crusader ally, John Blake (birth name: Robin). However, we almost got a movie Robin much sooner than that, and he was to be played by, of all people, Marlon Wayans of Scary Movie and White Chicks fame. Wayans got so close to playing Robin that he even collected a paycheck for work he never ended up doing. What happened is a classic Hollywood story of almosts, maybes, and tantalizing what-ifs.

  • Photo: Amazon

    Rumor Has It That The 'Batman Returns' Robin Action Figure Was Sculpted To Resemble Wayans

    Of course, Marlon Wayans never got to play Robin. His scenes were cut from the script late in the game, as Waters and Burton were able to convince studio executives that adding another character to the already-stuffed screenplay would have been disastrous. Wayans remained under contract with the expectation that he would return for the franchise's third installment.

    Inexplicably, there was still a Robin action figure in the Kenner Batman Returns toy line that was all over stores in 1992. Toy lines at the time already had an established history of including designs and characters that didn't appear in the films or TV shows they were based on. In fact, the Kenner Batman toy line from the original film had countless designs that had nothing to do with the movie. There was even a Penguin figure scheduled for release.

    Some imaginative fans have speculated that the inclusion of the Robin figure was tied to Marlon Wayans's appearance in Batman Returns, even going so far as to claim that the Robin toy was sculpted to look like Wayans, thanks to the popularity of the flat-top haircut in Black culture, which the Robin toy has. That would have necessitated repainting the figure's skin tone when Robin was cut from the film. Other fans have tried to debunk that notion, pointing to how close the Robin toy is to the way Robin was drawn by comics illustrator Tom Lyle. Whether or not the toy was meant to look like Wayans, the fact remained that Robin was an immensely popular character that sold tons of merchandise. He was going to appear in a Batman motion picture sooner rather than later.

  • Photo: Batman Forever / Warner Bros. Pictures

    When Tim Burton Was Replaced By Joel Schumacher For 'Batman Forever,' Robin Was Recast

    Despite having a contract to appear in the movie that would come to be known as Batman Forever, Marlon Wayans never got to play Robin. Batman Returns was a box-office success, but less so than its predecessor. Critics lamented how dark, grotesque, and mature the movie was. Batman corporate advertising partner McDonald's even got involved, lobbying to have Burton replaced as the director of the Batman movies so that they could be more kid-friendly. At the time, fast food movie tie-ins were an even bigger business than they are today, so millions of dollars were on the line. If parents were turned off by the adult themes of the Batman movies, the logic went that they would buy fewer toys. 

    Burton stepped aside, though he did retain a lucrative producer credit on Batman Forever. The Lost Boys director Joel Schumacher stepped in as his replacement. Schumacher was far more amenable to studio demands, turning Gotham City into a cheeky, fun, brightly colored carnival rather than the Brutalist nightmare it had been under Burton. He also happily included Robin.

    The cast of Batman Forever involved some of the hottest names in Hollywood in 1995: Val Kilmer as Batman, Jim Carrey as the Riddler, and Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian. Schumacher even recast the previously filled roles of Two-Face and Robin. While Michael Keaton quit the title role after reading the Batman Forever script, the other two actors who were slated to appear in a third Batman movie were cut loose. Curiously, the two actors Schumacher replaced were both Black: Billy Dee Williams and Marlon Wayans. Two-Face was recast with Tommy Lee Jones, and the role of Robin went to teen idol Chris O'Donnell.

  • Photo: The Tonight Show / NBC

    To This Day, Wayans Still Receives Checks For 'Batman Returns,' Despite Never Filming A Single Scene

    Even though Wayans never played Robin, he got a decent payday out of the experience. According to an interview on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2018, Wayans received $100,000 as part of a pay-or-play contract that guaranteed him a check regardless of whether or not he performed the role of Robin.

    On top of that, he also still gets residual checks from the Screen Actors Guild for Batman Returns. That's a pretty sweet deal, all things considered.

  • Photo: Justice League / Warner Bros. Pictures

    Wayans's Version Of Robin Could Still Appear, Either In Comic Books Or Even A Film

    The Tim Burton Batman universe sadly ended with the release of Batman Forever, leaving tons of unanswered questions like what happened to Catwoman, would Harvey Dent ever become Two-Face, and several others. One of those great what-ifs is Marlon Wayans's Robin. While it seems highly unlikely we'll ever see Wayans suit up as Dick Grayson, stranger things have happened. It once seemed improbable that Michael Keaton would ever play Batman again, and yet, he recently signed on to play the Caped Crusader once again as part of an ambitious DC Multiverse Flash movie that will also co-star Ben Affleck's Batman. Could Marlon Wayans appear as an older Robin in his Nightwing persona? Time will tell.

    It's more likely that Wayans (or more accurately, his likeness) would appear in a comic book adaptation of Burton's Bat-verse. Back in 2016, a proposed comics extension of the Burton stories by Joe Quinones and Kate Leth was rejected by DC Comics, likely due to the exorbitant cost of licensing the images of the A-list movie stars from the first two Batman movies. There were plans to bring back Catwoman and introduce Billy Dee Williams's Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Batgirl, and Marlon Wayans's Robin. That project could still happen one day, but as of now, like everything with Burton's vision for further Batman adventures, it remains a tantalizing road not taken.