Beetlejuice is a 1988 American fantasy comedy film directed by Tim Burton, produced by the Geffen Company, and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The plot revolves around a recently deceased couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who become ghosts haunting their former home, and an obnoxious, devious poltergeist named Betelgeuse (pronounced and occasionally spelled Beetlejuice in the film and portrayed by Michael Keaton) from the Netherworld who tries to scare away the new inhabitants (Catherine O'Hara, Jeffrey Jones, and Winona Ryder).
Married couple Barbara and Adam Maitland live in Winter River, Connecticut, in an idyllic country home, which real estate agent Jane Butterfield, Barbara's pushy cousin, pressures them to sell. Returning from a trip to the hardware store, they swerve to avoid a dog and their car plunges off a bridge and into the river. Back at home, they cannot remember driving there, and have no recollection of the accident. Adam attempts to leave the house, and finds himself in a strange desert, inhabited by monstrous sand-worms. He quickly returns to the house, where they find a book titled Handbook for the Recently Deceased, and realize they drowned in the crash and are spirits trapped in their house.
Jane sells their home to the Deetz family, from New York City: Charles, a former real estate developer; his second wife Delia, a sculptor; and his teenage goth daughter Lydia, from his first marriage. With her interior designer Otho, Delia makes plans to renovate the house. The Maitlands attempt to frighten the family away but fail because they cannot be seen. They take refuge in the attic, where a being named Betelgeuse (pronounced Beetlejuice) sends the two advertisements promoting himself as a "bio-exorcist".
Consulting the Handbook, the Maitlands open a door to the netherworld and discover that the afterlife is structured as a complex bureaucracy. Their caseworker, Juno, tells them that if they want the Deetzes out of their home, they must make it happen. The Maitlands ask about Betelgeuse, and Juno explains he was her former assistant who became a freelancer, and warns that he is a troublemaker and they should not seek his help.
The Maitlands return home and meet Lydia, who is able to see them. Lydia tells them she has read the Handbook, and the three become friends. The Maitlands still want to remove the Deetzes, however, so they summon Betelgeuse. His abrasive behavior convinces them they made a mistake, and they refuse to work with him. The Maitlands attempt to frighten the Deetzes at a dinner party, but their actions backfire, amusing the guests. The Deetzes search the attic, and Otho finds the Handbook. Betelgeuse manifests as a monstrous snake and attacks them until the Maitlands order him to stop. Juno summons the Maitlands and scolds them for calling on Betelgeuse and providing proof of the afterlife to the living. She then insists they get rid of the Deetzes. The two cannot bring themselves to scare Lydia and decide to allow the family to stay.
Charles has the idea to turn the town into a tourist trap themed around the supernatural and convinces his former boss Maxie Dean to visit, and Maxie demands proof of the supernatural. Using the Handbook, Otho summons Adam and Barbara, but they begin to decay and he realizes what he thought was a séance was actually an exorcism. Lydia asks Betelgeuse for help and he agrees on the condition she marry him so he can be freed to enter the mortal world; she agrees and summons him. Betelgeuse stops the exorcism and disposes of Maxie, his wife, and Otho. He then summons a ghastly minister to wed Lydia. The Maitlands intervene before the ceremony is completed, with Barbara riding a sandworm through the house to devour Betelgeuse.
The Maitlands and the Deetzes agree to live in the house in harmony, and Lydia becomes more socially-adjusted from her friendship with them as she attends school. Meanwhile in the afterlife, Betelgeuse impatiently sits in the afterlife waiting room, waiting to be called in. He steals the number of a witch doctor who is to be called in next, and in response, the witch doctor angrily shrinks his head in retaliation.
- Michael Keaton as Betelgeuse
- Alec Baldwin as Adam Maitland
- Geena Davis as Barbara Maitland
- Jeffrey Jones as Charles Deetz
- Catherine O'Hara as Delia Deetz
- Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz
- Sylvia Sidney as Juno
- Glenn Shadix as Otho
- Robert Goulet as Maxie Dean
- Dick Cavett as Bernard
- Maree Cheatham as Sarah Dean
- Annie McEnroe as Jane Butterfield
- Maurice Page as Ernie
- Hugo Stanger as Old Bill
- Rachel Mittleman as Little Jane Butterfield
- J. Jay Saunders as Moving Man 1
- Mark Ettlinger as Moving Man 2
- Patrice Martinez as Receptionist
- Cindy Daly as 3-Fingered Typist
- Douglas Turner as Char Man
- Carmen Filpi as Messenger
- Charles Schneider as Hanging Man (uncredited)
- Simmy Bow as Janitor
- Susan Kellermann as Grace
- Adelle Lutz as Beryl
- Gary Jochimsen as Dumb Football Player 1
- Bob Pettersen as Dumb Football Player 2
- Duanne Davis as Very Dumb Football Player
- Tony Cox and Jack Angel (voice) as Preacher
The financial success of Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) made Burton a "bankable" director, and he began working on a script for Batman with Sam Hamm. While Warner Bros. was willing to pay for the script's development, they were less willing to green-light Batman. Meanwhile, Burton had begun reading the scripts that had been sent his way, and was disheartened by their lack of imagination and originality, one of them being Hot to Trot. David Geffen handed Burton the script for Beetlejuice, written by McDowell (who wrote the script for "The Jar", an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by Burton).
Wilson was brought on board to continue rewriting work with McDowell, though Burton replaced McDowell and Wilson with Skaaren due to creative differences. Burton's original choice for Betelgeuse was Sammy Davis Jr., but Geffen suggested Keaton. Burton was unfamiliar with Keaton's work, but was quickly convinced. Burton cast Ryder upon seeing her in Lucas. O'Hara quickly signed on, while Burton claimed it took a lot of time to convince other cast members to sign, as "they didn't know what to think of the weird script."
Beetlejuice's budget was US$15 million, with just US$1 million given over to visual effects work. Considering the scale and scope of the effects, which included stop motion, replacement animation, prosthetic makeup, puppetry and blue screen, it was always Burton's intention to make the style similar to the B movies he grew up with as a child. "I wanted to make them look cheap and purposely fake-looking", Burton remarked. Burton had wanted to hire Anton Furst as production designer after being impressed with his work on The Company of Wolves (1984) and Full Metal Jacket (1987), though Furst was committed on High Spirits, a choice he later regretted. He hired Bo Welch, his future collaborator on Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Batman Returns (1992). The test screenings were met with positive feedback and prompted Burton to film an epilogue featuring Betelgeuse foolishly angering a witch doctor. Warner Bros. disliked the title Beetlejuice and wanted to call the film House Ghosts. As a joke, Burton suggested the name Scared Sheetless and was horrified when the studio actually considered using it. Exterior shots were filmed in East Corinth, Vermont.
McDowell's original script is far less comedic and much darker; the Maitlands' car crash is depicted graphically, with Barbara's arm being crushed and the couple screaming for help as they slowly drown in the river. A reference to this remained, as Barbara remarks that her arm feels frozen upon returning home as a ghost. Instead of possessing the Deetzes and forcing them to dance during dinner, the Maitlands cause a vine-patterned carpet to come to life and attack the Deetzes by tangling them to their chairs.
The character of Betelgeuse—envisioned by McDowell as a winged demon, who takes on the form of a short Middle Eastern man–is also intent on killing the Deetzes rather than scaring them, and wanted sex from Lydia instead of wanting to marry her. In this version of the script, Betelgeuse only needs to be exhumed from his grave to be summoned, after which he is free to wreak havoc; he cannot be summoned or controlled by saying his name three times, and wanders the world freely, appearing to torment different characters in different manifestations. McDowell's script also featured a second Deetz child, nine-year-old Cathy, the only person able to see the Maitlands and the subject of Betelgeuse's homicidal wrath in the film's climax, during which he mutilates her while in the form of a rabid squirrel before revealing his true form.
In another version of the script, the film was to have concluded with the Maitlands, Deetzes, and Otho conducting an exorcism ritual that destroys Betelgeuse, and the Maitlands transforming into miniature versions of themselves and moving into Adam's model of their home, which they refurbish to look like their house before the Deetzes moved in.
Co-author and producer Larry Wilson has talked about the negative reaction to McDowell's original script at Universal where he was employed at the time:
Skaaren's rewrite drastically shifted the film's tone, eliminating the graphic nature of the Maitlands' deaths while depicting the afterlife as a complex bureaucracy. Skaaren's rewrite also altered McDowell's depiction of the limbo that keeps Barbara and Adam trapped inside of their home; in McDowell's script, it takes the form of a massive void filled with giant clock gears that shred the fabric of time and space as they move. Skaaren had Barbara and Adam encounter different limbos every time they leave their home, including the "clock world", and the Sandworm's world, identified as Saturn's moon Titan. Skaaren also introduced the leitmotif of music accompanying Barbara and Adam's ghostly hijinks, although his script specified R&B tunes instead of Harry Belafonte, and was to have concluded with Lydia dancing to "When a Man Loves a Woman".
Skaaren's first draft retained some of the more sinister characteristics of McDowell's Betelgeuse, but toned down the character to make him a troublesome pervert rather than blatantly murderous. Betelgeuse's true form was that of the Middle Eastern man, and much of his dialogue was written in African American Vernacular English. This version concluded with the Deetzes returning to New York and leaving Lydia in the care of the Maitlands, who, with Lydia's help, transform the exterior of their home into a stereotypical haunted house while returning the interior to its previous state. It also would have featured deleted scenes such as the real-estate agent, Jane, trying to convince the Deetzes to allow her to sell the house for them (having sold it to them in the first place—Charles and Delia decline), and a revelation on how Beetlejuice had died centuries earlier (that he had attempted to hang himself while drunk, only to mess it up and died slowly choking to death, rather than quickly by snapping his neck) and wound-up working for Juno before striking it out on his own as a "free-lance Bio-Exorcist".
Retrospectively, McDowell was impressed at how many people made the connection between the film's title and the star Betelgeuse. He added that the writers and producers had received a suggestion the sequel be named Sanduleak -69 202 after the former star of SN 1987A
While the setting is the fictional village of Winter River, Connecticut, all outdoor scenes were filmed in East Corinth, a village in the town of Corinth, Vermont. Interiors were filmed at The Culver Studios in Culver City, California. Principal photography began on March 11, 1987.
Beetlejuice opened theatrically in the United States on March 30, 1988, earning US$8,030,897 in its opening weekend. The film eventually grossed US$73,707,461 in North America. Beetlejuice was a financial success, recouping its US$15 million budget, and was the 10th-highest grossing film of 1988.
Beetlejuice was met with a mostly positive response. Based on 59 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, Beetlejuice received an 85% overall approval rating with a weighted average of 7.21/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Brilliantly bizarre and overflowing with ideas, Beetlejuice offers some of Michael Keaton's most deliciously manic work - and creepy, funny fun for the whole family." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 70 out of 100, based on 18 reviews. Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a B on a grade scale of A to F.
Pauline Kael referred to the film as a "comedy classic", while Jonathan Rosenbaum of Chicago Reader gave a highly positive review. Rosenbaum felt Beetlejuice carried originality and creativity that did not exist in other films. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "a farce for our time" and wished Keaton could have received more screen time. Desson Howe of The Washington Post felt Beetlejuice had "the perfect balance of bizarreness, comedy and horror".
Janet Maslin of The New York Times gave the film a negative review, stating that the film "tries anything and everything for effect, and only occasionally manages something marginally funny" and "is about as funny as a shrunken head". Roger Ebert gave the film two out of four stars, writing that he "would have been more interested if the screenplay had preserved their [Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis] sweet romanticism and cut back on the slapstick". For Keaton's character, Ebert called him "unrecognizable behind pounds of makeup" and stated that "his scenes don't seem to fit with the other action".
At the 61st Academy Awards, Beetlejuice won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, (Steve La Porte, Ve Neill and Robert Short.) while the British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominated the film with Best Visual Effects and Makeup at the 42nd British Academy Film Awards.
Beetlejuice won Best Horror Film and Best Make-up at the 1988 Saturn Awards. Sidney also won the Saturn for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Juno, and the film received five other nominations: Direction for Burton, Writing for McDowell and Skaaren, Best Supporting Actor for Keaton, Music for Elfman and Special Effects. Beetlejuice was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Beetlejuice was 88th in the American Film Institute's list of Best Comedies.
- A tv show of this film came out a few years later, with Lydia and Beetlejuice as friends going on adventures.
- For years now there have been rumors and discussions about a Beetlejuice sequel at Warner Bros. The original planned sequel was titled Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, but was eventually dropped. In the 2010s Warner Bros' interest in a sequel was revived, with Burton, Keaton and Ryder set to return, however, by April 2019, the film had been shelved.