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To most moviegoers, Michael Keaton is the star of Beetlejuice, Batman, or Spider-Man: Homecoming. Alas, Keaton has starred in so many memorable movies that none of those is even the biggest hit of his career. Of course, even Hollywood’s biggest stars need a break every once in a while. And such was the case for Keaton, who took a few years off from making movies in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Here’s why he chose to step away from Hollywood.

Michael Keaton wears a black suit and glasses while smiling on stage
Michael Keaton | Matt Petit – Handout/A.M.P.A.S.

Michael Keaton’s career slowed down in the early 2000s

In the 1980s, Keaton was everywhere. Following his star-making turn in 1982 comedy Night Shift, the actor popped up in hits like Mr. Mom and Gung Ho before teaming up with director Tim Burton for the aforementioned Beetlejuice and Batman. Especially after the latter became a pop cultural phenomenon, Keaton kept busy. Throughout the 1990s, he took on everything from cloning comedy Multiplicity to the somber drama My Life.

However, between 1998 and 2003, Keaton was almost completely absent from the big screen. During that time, he played a small role in A Shot at Glory, popped up in TV movie Live from Baghdad, and made a few guest appearances on TV. While he didn’t leave the business entirely, that’s still a far cry from the pace at which Keaton worked from the mid-1980s until the late 1990s.

The actor had a good reason for taking an extended break

Fans of Keaton’s high-energy on-screen presence bemoaned his absence. But as the actor himself once told The Guardian, he had a good reason for stepping out of the spotlight for a few years.

“Look, there’s two different things here. There’s me taking a pause. I really like life, doing things, having a normal life. So there was that. And there was me getting bored, hearing the sound of my voice, seeing the same old tricks. So I may have lost interest, combined with a whole lot of people not knocking on my door. It wasn’t just me. But I also consciously started to slowly change things internally, and it worked. … Just thinking about things, asking what you want, what you don’t want, how am I going to get to there? And it takes a lot of stumbling around, and it takes discipline.”

By the sounds of it, Keaton was facing burn-out with the industry. And this time away — which followed the release of two expensive flops, Desperate Measures and Jack Frost, in 1998 — was exactly what he needed to recharge.


Michael Keaton Had the Very Best Experience Making ‘Beetlejuice’

Michael Keaton returned in a big way in the mid-2010s

When Keaton did return to the big screen, he eased back into it. First came mostly supporting roles in movies like First Daughter, Herbie: Fully Loaded, and The Other Guys, followed by voice roles in Cars and Toy Story 3. Keaton’s only major above-the-title hit was the 2005 horror movie White Noise.

Less than a decade later, he was back in a big way. 2014’s Birdman earned the actor a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination. And both that movie and the following year’s Spotlight walked away with Best Picture trophies at the Academy Awards. Since then, Keaton has lent his star power to both major blockbusters and prestige fare. And in 2022, he’ll return as Batman opposite Ezra Miller in The Flash.