Why Michelle Pfeiffer Put a Live Bird in Her Mouth For ‘Batman Returns’

The Batman films include some dazzling stunts, like when Michelle Pfeiffer shoved a live bird in her mouth during a scene in Batman Returns. The creators of the film didn’t use special effects in that scene for a very specific reason. Tim Burton, the director of Batman Returns, had a strong reaction to watching Pfeiffer perform this icky feat.

Catwoman and the Penguin near a birdcage
Catwoman and the Penguin | The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

What it was like when Michelle Pfeiffer got really close to a bird

Catwoman is a character who’s gone through many iterations. The version of Catwoman from Batman Returns moves and acts more like an actual cat than certain other portrayals of the character. For example, she shoves a bird in her mouth only for it to fly out. Pfeiffer revealed what she thinks of the scene in retrospect.

“I look back and say, ‘What was I thinking? I could’ve gotten a disease or something from having a live bird in my mouth,’” Pfeiffer told The Hollywood Reporter. “It seemed fine at the time. I don’t think the bird was drugged or anything. We did that scene in one take. I think Tim likes to torture me a bit, it’s like a little brother [or] brat kind of thing.”

The Batman Returns trailer

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Why Tim Burton didn’t just use CGI

Burton explained why the creators of Batman Returns didn’t just use CGI in that scene. “It was before CG, it was before digital,” Burton said. “It was so quick, it seems like it was an effect.” In fact, CG did exist in primitive form when Burton made Batman Returns but CG effects weren’t as common as they are today. This anecdote serves as a reminder of how Hollywood filmmaking was a lot more difficult before CG effects were commonplace.

What Tim Burton thought of Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance in ‘Batman Returns’

Burton discussed his reaction to Pfeiffer’s work on the film. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so impressed. She had a live bird in her mouth while the camera was rolling,” Burton said. “It was four or five seconds, and then she let it fly out. In addition, he praised Pfeiffer’s physicality. “Michelle is a great actress, but she also does these funny physical things…. Her eyes look like a special effects, but that was all done by her.”

Tim Burton and Michelle Pfeiffer in front of a poster
Tim Burton and Michelle Pfeiffer | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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How audiences reacted to ‘Batman Returns’

Batman Returns is a fairly strange movie. Not only does it feature Catwoman putting a bird in her mouth, it features birds with rockets attached to their backs, the Penguin making a scatological joke, and unexpected Bible references. And it’s a Christmas film to boot! So did audiences respond well to the film’s odd mix of elements?

According to Box Office Mojo, Batman Returns earned over $266 million at the box office. That’s certainly impressive. However, Box Office Mojo reports the previous Batman film earned over $411 million. Audiences certainly like Batman, but in this case, they preferred a take on the character that was a little less bizarre.