How McDonald's Derailed Tim Burton's Third Batman Film

With Robert Pattinson's 2022 turn as "The Batman" and fans gearing up for the new season of HBOMax's "Harley Quinn" adult animation series, it feels like everyone's getting Batman fever (per Looper). Despite the superhero's perennial popularity with kids, one place you're unlikely to find the Caped Crusader (or toys, t-shirts, or even calzones with his image) is in a McDonald's Happy Meal. The cheerful red and yellow boxes haven't included a tie-in toy for a live-action "Batman" movie in 20 years (via Kids Meal Fandom).

Director Tim Burton's first installment, 1989's "Batman," wasn't just a box office smash, raking in more than $400 million at the box office according to The Numbers), it was also a critical hit. The film nabbed the 1990 Academy Award for Best Art Direction, beating out James Cameron's "The Abyss" (via Oscars), and its favorable reception among critics radically changed the perception of superhero movies (per Variety).

Fast forward to the year 1992. Beetlejuice auteur Burton has just rounded out the second film of what was supposed to be his Batman trilogy, "Batman Returns." Mickey D's was all set to roll out its "Batman Returns" toy series nestled between piping hot fries and kid-size burgers. But the film itself was about to alter both their paths and change Happy Meal toys thereafter.

Tim Burton's Batman wasn't happy enough for Happy Meals

Tim Burton's 1992 take on the Dark Knight was a little too dark for the Golden Arches. Despite the fact that both films carried PG-13 ratings, parents balked at the "kill-happy" 1992 sequel's sexuality, coarse language, and graphic violence (via Common Sense Media). With parents up in arms over the film's themes, tie-in toys came under public scrutiny as well. Padding the profits on a PG-13 movie full of very adult themes with the sale of "Batman Returns"-branded children's toys unsurprisingly didn't sit well with the public (via CBR). Entertainment Weekly even called the marketing phenomenon "hawking Batman." Buckling to pressure, McDonald's pulled its Happy Meal tie-in toy series. For anyone who snagged one of these (very) limited edition toys, they may be more valuable than you think.

With spooked parents steering clear of theaters and without the financial boost of toy sales or younger viewers gained through McDonald's advertising, Burton's second "Batman" installment suffered financially. So instead of a third Burton-helmed project, Warner Bros. went for something a little sunnier, replacing Burton with director Joel Schumacher and his family-friendly plan "to lighten the tone and aesthetic" (via Batman on Film and The Reverse Gear). Even with the franchise's gothy grime swapped out for spandex gloss, McDonald's still didn't offer Happy Meal toys for 1995's "Batman Forever" (per Kids Meal Fandom). However, the beloved superhero returned to Happy Meals via commemorative cups and doodads for 2017's "The Lego Batman Movie."