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After Marvel Studios did it, everyone in Hollywood was scrambling to create their own shared universe. However, Warner Bros. seems to be the only studio to crack it, with the DC Extended Universe, Godzilla and Kong-led MonsterVerse, and The Conjuring universe. But back in the 1990s, Michael Keaton briefly created a shared universe of his own. And he didn’t even need his Batsuit to do it.

Michael Keaton, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, and Lisa Marie | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc.
Michael Keaton, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, and Lisa Marie | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc.

Michael Keaton helped create the modern superhero movie

When Tim Burton’s Batman hit theaters in 1989, it did so as one of the only major superhero movies ever made. Aside from 1978’s Superman: The Movie and its sequels, most comic book heroes were relegated to animation, television, or low-budget productions. So it stands to reason that Burton’s — at least at the time — dark, serious take on the DC Comics icon became a sensation.

Ironically, Keaton’s casting as the Caped Crusader was a point of controversy at the time. Even without the internet, fans rallied against the comically manic star of Beetlejuice as the brooding Dark Knight. Just a couple of years earlier, comic book legend Frank Miller had revamped the character with Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. Alas, Batman worked, and Keaton and Burton changed cinema.

But he established a totally different cinematic shared universe

In his Batman movies, Keaton’s Bruce Wayne works alone and exists in a world where he’s the only superhero. But a few years later, the actor had the rare opportunity to reprise a role across two different movies. And in the process, he forever linked a pair of unrelated productions. Against all odds, Keaton played government agent Ray Nicolette in both Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film Jackie Brown and Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 movie Out of Sight.

“I said, ‘I’ll do [Out of Sight] on one condition,” Keaton told Entertainment Weekly. “He has to have at least most of his same exact wardrobe, the same haircut, the same look, so you go, ‘Oh, that guy.’ The notion that a character shows up again in a whole other movie, whole other studio, whole other director, that’s the fun of all this stuff for me.”

Indeed, both films are based on novels by Elmore Leonard. But most film adaptations of his work — including hits like Get Shorty — remained disconnected. Keaton’s casting in both Jackie Brown (based on Leonard’s Rum Punch) and Out of Sight gave him the chance to share the screen with icons like Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, George Clooney, and Pam Grier. Moreover, he got the chance to play the boyfriend of Jennifer Lopez’s Karen Sisco.

‘Beetlejuice’: Why Michael Keaton Deserves More Credit for His Role

Michael Keaton’s Batman returns in the 2022 release ‘The Flash’

Nowadays, shared universes are much more commonplace. In today’s world, Keaton would probably have played Ray Nicolette in a half-dozen movies, all building up to some epic crossover event. Case in point, he’s back 30 years later playing Batman in director Andy Muschietti’s The Flash.

The film sees Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen journey to another universe, where he encounters Keaton’s version of Batman. Seeing how Ben Affleck will also reprise his Dark Knight, fans can probably expect the unexpected in the upcoming film. But for Keaton, reprising a role under vastly different circumstances is nothing new.