Beetlejuice was the 10th-highest grossing film of 1988, but it almost never got made. Between the behind-the-scenes drama, corporate executive meddling, and a director who’s only hit so far was Pee-wee’s Big Adventure — Beetlejuice was a gamble from the start.
“I myself am strange and unusual.”
Spoken by the character Lydia (Winona Ryder), the line essentially describes the overall tone and feel of the film. Directed by Tim Burton, Beetlejuice is a comedic, dark, and unique movie. The key word being, unique. If not for Burton being at the helm of this film, Beetlejuice would have simply been another B-rated movie most people had never heard of. Tim Burton is a creative genius, as shown by his past works, but he’s also easy to approach and work with. Because of this, several things were done during filming which dramatically changed the movie for the better.
Due to the success of Beetlejuice, a sequel was supposed to get made back in the late 80s, but Burton lost interest in the project. And to be honest, it was probably for the best since he went on to direct Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). There are still talks about a sequel being made, with Keaton and Rider on board. Whether it can stand up to the original and become a cult classic for an entirely new generation is probably why it’s still being talked about, rather than being filmed.
To keep things simple, the spelling Beetlejuice will be used when describing the movie and Betelgeuse when talking about Michael Keaton’s character. Why the weird spelling? True fans know the secret, and you will too, as we take a trip down Beetlejuice memory lane.
25. Itty-Bitty Budget
The corporate execs at Warner Bros. didn’t have a ton of confidence in Beetlejuice performing well, giving it a tight budget of only $15 million. In comparing that to other Burton films, Edward Scissorhands had a budget of $20 million and Batman an estimated budget of $30 million.
To make matters worse, the budget for visual effects was a measly $1 million.
Typically, a special effects budget will be around 1/3 of the overall budget, and up to half if a ton of CGI is being used. With only a million to work with, Burton purposefully gave Beetlejuice a B-looking feel.
24. Breaking The Fourth Wall
Forth wall breaking was big in the 80s (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), but Burton wasn’t interested in doing a standard fourth wall break. So instead, he decided to do a play (pun intended) on it. Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin) are sitting in Juno’s office trying to figure out what’s happened to them. Seen behind them is a window, but not an ordinary one.
The hole in the wall is meant to be like a movie screen. The audience can be seen sitting in a theater-like setting, looking through the “window” into Juno’s office.
23. Universal Hated Original Script
The original script (written by Michael McDowell) portrayed Betelgeuse as a winged demon from the middle east who was bent on getting jiggy with Lydia. This might seem odd, but the original script was written to be a standard horror film.
The negative reaction from the suits at Universal was overwhelming, which led to Larry Wilson and Warren Skaaren joining the team after Universal sold the story to the Geffen Company. Once Burton signed on, the script was overhauled but continued to change even during production.
22. The Secret Of Number 3
The number three is constantly referenced inBeetlejuice. It’s how one summons Betelgeuse or gets rid of him and it’s also how one enters the afterlife civil service office once the door has been drawn on a wall.
Other references include when Barbara says home three times to get her and Adam out of the model, and when Delia has a fit when she sees only three sculptures instead of four. Adam’s man cave (with Betelgeuse) is on the third floor of their home, and the doomed flight 409 is mentioned to be arriving at the civil service office via Gate 3.
21. Major Script Changes
Originally Beetlejuice was written to be a horror film. Many of the initial ideas were scrapped but some remained even into the beginning of production. Before Keaton was brought on board, Betelgeuse was a winged demon whose goal was to eliminate Lydia and her six-year-old sister Cathy. He would turn Cathy into a rabid squirrel while taking full advantage of Lydia who was only a minor character.
Thankfully, most of that script ended up in the garbage, as Betelgeuse was changed into a con-man and the overall movie was given comedic tones while addressing serious issues.
20.Working In The Afterlife
It’s an easy line to miss, but Otho mentions during the dinner party in Beetlejuice that those who off themselves in life are bound to work as civil servants in the afterlife. This concept was written into the script to focus on taking one’s life, as it was a predominant theme throughout the film.
Only Burton could create a structured afterlife job system and tie it into the most important theme in the movie. He also made life easier than the afterlife, drawing off the old saying of “the grass isn’t greener on the other side.”
19. Lots Of Editing And Continuity Mistakes
Because of the low budget, Burton was given to work with on Beetlejuice, several continuity errors were never corrected before the movie hit theaters. The most noticeable of these is when Adam and Barbara return home after visiting Juno, and their reflections can be seen in Delia’s glass display case.
Other errors include Otho’s and Charles’s shoes changing colors between scenes, and Otho taking the cap of a can of spray paint, only to have Delia remove it again prior to painting. The railing on the stairs which turns into Betelgeuse as a snake also has a bad habit of appearing and disappearing during the scene.
18. The Shrimp Are Alive
During the infamous dinner party scene, Burton wanted to end it with the shrimp jumping off the plates onto the characters faces. Because of his measly budget, however, it simply wasn’t possible.
That’s when a crew member suggested they film the shrimp on the faces of the actors and have them fall off. When playing the film in reverse, it makes it look like the shrimp jumped onto the faces rather than falling off. Tim loved the idea and used it, helping make this scene one of the most iconic in cinematic history.
17. Keaton’s Favorite Role
Michael Keaton has gone on record in stating his two favorite acting roles have been Batman and Betelgeuse (both films directed by Tim Burton). Keaton embraced his role as Betelgeuse so much that the entire crew was chanting “juice” while he was on set. Many of his lines were improvised, adding to the unique feel and quality of Beetlejuice.
Burton even let Michael Keaton come up with Betelgeuse’s design of a wild hairdo, mold make-up, and large teeth. The changes become obvious when looking at the snake which was filmed prior to Keaton being hired on.
16. Day-O Almost Never Happened
In the same scene mentioned previously, the song Day-O is used by the Maitland’s to scare Delia, Charles, and their dinner guests. But the song almost didn’t make it in the movie as the original tune was supposed to be a song by The Ink Spots.
Jones and O’Hara suggested to Burton a calypso song instead, which is how Day-O (the banana boat song) ended up in Beetlejuice. The actors had so much fun filming the scene, Burton decided to use it during the ending too. His decisions paid off as Day-O became the unofficial song of Beetlejuice.
15. Secrets Behind A Name
As mentioned in the introduction, Betelgeuse is the characters name even though it’s spelled Beetlejuice in the title. This has led to some confusion over the years, but the logic behind it is quite simple. Beetlejuice was easier to market than Betelgeuse. But what does his name mean?
Betelgeuse is a star in the constellation Orion. Giving characters names which tie into real life things was also used with Juno, whose named after the Queen of the Roman gods and Otho after the Roman Emperor.
14. Safest Car In The World
The 1977 Volvo 245 DL was reportedly the safest car to drive in the world, as there were zero fatalities of passengers while driving or riding in one.
As a joke towards car enthusiast (and the people who find these stats), Burton chose the Volvo 245 DL as the car for the Maitland’s to perish in.
Of course, the numbers could be skewed. The model 245 DL wasn’t exactly the hottest looking car in the late 70s and 80s. The number of people who owned a 1977 Volvo 245 DL across the world wasn’t that high.
13. Small Town Overhauled
Beetlejuice was filmed in a small town called East Corinth, Vermont. Although many items were built and created to give the movie it’s special look and feel. The creek was too shallow for a car to submerge itself in, so a dam was built to raise the water level.
Shots of the town post office (“nice building, bad roof”) were original, but the Maitland’s home was a facade built on a nearby farm. The red bridge was also built; however, it’ s meant to look like many New England bridges which were designed for horses to cross over small creeks and rivers.
12.TV Commercial Spoof
Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) makes his appearance through one of his advertisements regarding being the “afterlife’s leading bio-exorcist.” But the commercial wasn’t a random bit, as it was based on a real-life ad from Cal Worthington’s Car Dealership.
Worthington is famously known for a series of late-night TV ads on the West Coast.
He always featured an exotic animal, calling it his “dog Spot.” At the time of Beetlejuice, Worthington was the largest single owner of a car dealership chain, much in part to his outrageous commercials.
11. Tim Burton Worked For Disney
Tim Burton studied character animation following high school at the Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. While attending, he made two shorts called Stalk of the CeleryMonster and King and Octopus. The films attracted the attention of Walt Disney Productions’ animation division.
Disney offered Burton an apprenticeship, which he took. Even though his concept art never made it to any final products, he worked on storyboards for the following films: The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, and Tron.
10. Beetlejuice Is Lydia’s Movie
Most assume Beetlejuice is about Michael Keaton’s character Betelgeuse, but it’s actually about Lydia. Taking one’s life is a major theme in the film, and Lydia is the focal point.
Keaton only appears in 20 percent of the movie while not making an entrance until around 25 minutes into the film.
It’s Betelgeuse who strengthens the bonds between Lydia and the Maitland’s while giving Lydia a realistic glimpse into the afterlife. Because of this, Lydia transitions from the teenager who wants to end it all to one who is willing to accept life for what it is.
9. Actors Kept Turning Down Roles
At first, no actors (other than Geena Davis) were willing to give the film Beetlejuice a chance. The script wasn’t finalized yet, and most actors were turned off by what they read. Keaton, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara and Sylvia Sidney all said no initially to the project.
Producer David Geffen worked extremely hard behind the scenes to sign on the cast members who initially said no. And he started with Michael Keaton. Burton also personally called Sidney and flew out to meet O’Hara in person.
8. Resurrection Spell Is A Real Poem
The spell Otho chants to resurrect Barbara and Adam in the third act is taken from a real poem written by Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849). He was a romantic poet obsessed with the afterlife, often incorporating humor into a subject most would tend to avoid.
Beddoe’s poems are often misunderstood or written off as nonsense by critics, which is exactly why Tim Burton chose the poem, The Warning, to be a part of the spell Otho recites. Fitting in with the theme of Beetlejuice, Thomas Lovell Beddoes took his own life after having a leg removed due to an infection.
7. Trauma Changes Delia
Delia is a struggling artist who can’t seem to get her foot in the art world door, even after schmoozing and dining with the lead writer for Art in America Magazine. In the third act of Beetlejuice, her sculptures are brought to life and are used to hold her and Charles captive while Betelgeuse attempts to have his wedding with Lydia.
The traumatic experience proved to inspire Delia, which also led to her being featured on the cover of Art in America Magazine as a new and upcoming talented artist.
6. Beetlejuice Is A Prisoner
Betelgeuse was at one time a civil servant like Juno. Not one to play by the rules, he figured out how to grow his powers and was eventually banished by Juno into the graveyard located in Adam’s model of his town.
His suit is meant to make him look like a sleazy car salesman while also projecting he’s a prisoner due to the stripes.
Exiling Betelgeuse, unfortunately, made his powers even stronger, making it impossible for Juno to deal with him anymore.
5. Love On Set
During the filming of Beetlejuice Catherine O’Hara became googly eyed with production designer Bo Welch. Burton noticed the attraction and suggested to Welch that he should ask O’Hara out while they were filming in Vermont.
Welch as stated in an interview with Uproxx, “It didn’t even occur to me that I was even supposed to talk to actors. But since Tim told me to, I did, and then we dated and were married and here we are today.” Maybe we should start calling Tim Burton the Matchmaker too.
4. Betelgeuse Powers
Because Betelgeuse was more of a catalyst than the titular character, many of his powers were brushed over in the name of dialog and humor. Thanks to Burton and the crew on Beetlejuice, we were able to obtain an official list of his powers.
The powers associated with Betelgeuse include reality warping and manipulation, invulnerability (hence why the sandworm didn’t end him for good), levitation and flight, regeneration, shapeshifting, teleportation, conjuring and summoning objects, possession, and mimicking people’s voices.
3. Adam And Barb Maitland Plot-Hole
All the afterlife characters in Beetlejuice are the way they are because of how they passed on. The magician’s assistant in the civil servants waiting room is in two halves because she was sawed in half, while another man has a chicken bone stuck in his throat.
The Maitland’s should have been wet throughout the course of the movie since they passed away drowning.
Burton thought this would distract the audience while making it difficult on the actors, so he made an exception for them.
2. Alternate Ending
The ending of Beetlejuice was initially supposed to have Betelgeuse trapped in the model again with Sand Worms constantly circling him (because we know how much he hates them). Burton felt this ending was too predictable and not funny enough, so he added a scene during post-production.
The last scene of the movie features Betelgeuse stuck in the civil servants waiting room with a call number in the millions. Sticking to his character, Keaton starts to make fun of the other deceased members in the room and tries to steal the witch doctors call number. This results in his head being shrunk while providing the perfect comedic beat to end the movie on.
1. Tim Burton And Dogs
Burton has always been open about his love for animals, especially dogs. Because of this, he has always added a signature dog into his films. “The funny thing about dogs is that they are so simple — you leave, come back 10 seconds later and it’s like they haven’t seen you in a year,” Burton stated in an interview. “People don’t treat you like that.”
Other movies Burton has added a dog include Poppy in Mars Attacks! (1996), Scraps from The Corpse Bride (2005), Zero in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Abercrombie from Vincent (1982), and Sparky in Frankenweenie (1984, 2012).