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Beetlejuice is a American comedy horror fantasy film directed by Tim Burton, produced by The Geffen Film Company and distributed by Warner Bros. The plot revolves around a recently dead young couple who become ghosts haunting their former home, a quaint and quiet house on a hill overlooking the fictional town of Winter Rivers located in Connecticutmarker. When a family of metropolitan yuppies from New York Citymarker move into the house, the ghosts seek the help of an obnoxious, devious and mischievous "bio-exorcist" named Betelgeuse from the underworld in order to scare the new living inhabitants away permanently. Beetlejuice stars Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Sylvia Sidney and Michael Keaton as the titular Betelgeuse (the film's title being a phonetic spelling of the character's name).

After the success of Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Burton was sent several scripts and became disheartened by their lack of imagination and originality. When he was sent Michael McDowell's original script for Beetlejuice, Burton agreed to direct, although Larry Wilson and Warren Skaaren were hired to rewrite it. Beetlejuice was both a financial and critical success, grossing $73.33 million from a budget of $13 million. The film spawned an animated television series that Burton produced, and the unproduced Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian sequel.


Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin) Maitland decide to spend their vacation decorating their idyllic New Englandmarker country home. While the young couple is driving back from town, Barbara swerves to avoid a dog wandering the roadway, and crashes through a covered bridge, plunging into the river below. They return home but realize they cannot exactly recall how they got there. When Adam attempts to leave the house to retrace his steps, he finds himself in a strange otherworldly dimension referred to as Saturn, which happens to be covered in sand and populated by enormous sand worms, which he abruptly encounters. Based on the fact they have no visible reflection in the mirror and are unable to leave their house, the Maitlands realize that they might not have survived the crash. A book entitled Handbook for the Recently Deceased confirms the couple's suspicion that they are, in fact, dead.

The Maitlands' peace is later disrupted when their house is sold and the obnoxious new residents, the Deetzes, arrive from New York Citymarker. The new family consists of Charles (Jeffrey Jones), aspiring sculptor and Charles' second wife Delia (Catherine O'Hara), and Charles's goth daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder). Under the guidance of interior designer Otho (Glenn Shadix), the Deetzes transform the house into a gaudy piece of pastel-toned modern art. Although the Maitlands remain invisible to Charles and Delia, their daughter Lydia can see the ghost couple and befriends them.

The Maitlands seek help from their afterlife case worker, Juno (Sylvia Sidney), who informs them that they must remain in the house for 125 years, and that if they want the Deetzes out of the house, it is up to them to scare them away. The Maitlands' attempts at scaring the family away prove utterly ineffective. Against Juno's advice, the Maitlands contact the miscreant Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), a freelance "bio-exorcist" ghost, to scare away the Deetzes. They chant his name three times to teleport to his grave, but upon actually meeting him they realize they've made a mistake and leave, forgetting to un-summon him and leaving him loose. When another attempt by the Maitlands to scare the Deetzes away fails, Betelgeuse takes it upon himself to scare them, nearly killing Charles and Delia. Barbara returns in time to save Lydia, but after seeing her Betelgeuse becomes interested in marrying Lydia so that he can re-enter the land of the living.

Juno summons the Maitlands, angry with their recent negligent behavior, and demands they get rid of the Deetzes themselves. Meanwhile, Lydia is busy writing a suicide note, as she has decided she wants to join the Maitlands on the other side. The Maitlands return in time to stop her from summoning Betelgeuse, who has told her how to summon him and promised to take her to the after-life to find the Maitlands if she released him.

In an attempt to contact the Maitlands, the Deetzes hold a seance that summons the couple, but begins to visibly harm them. A desperate Lydia summons Betelgeuse, agreeing to marry him if he saves the Maitlands. Betelgeuse disposes of Charles' co-workers and releases the Maitlands from the spell, but then conjures a ghostly priest to wed him to Lydia. The Maitlands narrowly stop the ceremony before it can be completed, and Betelgeuse is devoured by one of the Saturn sandworms. The Deetzes and the Maitlands decide to live together in harmony and share the home. At the film's conclusion, Betelgeuse is seen waiting in the afterlife reception waiting room, where he unwisely angers a witch doctor who shrinks his head.


  • Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis as Adam and Barbara Maitland: A young, married couple who are killed in a car accident and become ghosts. Adam is a Hardware Store proprietor and highly-skilled miniature model maker, while Barbara enjoys fixing items around their home.
  • Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz: Daughter of Charles Deetz (Delia is actually her stepmother), a goth adolescent. She is the only one of the family who can see the Maitlands and quickly befriends them — notably, she wishes she were a ghost like them.
  • Catherine O'Hara as Delia Deetz: Wife of Charles and stepmother to Lydia, as well as an aspiring (but pretentious) sculptor.
  • Jeffrey Jones as Charles Deetz: A previously cutthroat and successful contractor whose nerves went and now "only wants to relax and cut out coupons." Charles moves his family to the countryside to recover.
  • Michael Keaton as Betelgeuse: Juno's former assistant, an obnoxious, perverted and chaotic "bio-exorcist" who carries a grotesque physical appearance. The character is a mystery; his age and even how he came to die remain unknown, but he refers to having lived through the Black Death.
  • Glenn Shadix as Otho: A friend of Delia. Otho is an interior designer and former paranormal expert.
  • Sylvia Sidney as Juno: The Maitlands' social worker in the afterlife. She recommends that the Maitlands do not accept the help of Betelgeuse.


The financial success of Pee-wee's Big Adventure meant that Tim Burton was now considered a "bankable" director, and Burton 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 greenlight Batman. Meanwhile, Burton had begun reading the offered scripts that had been sent his way, and was becoming 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 Michael McDowell (who wrote the script of The Jar, an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by Burton).

Larry Wilson was brought on board to continue rewrite work with McDowell, though Burton replaced McDowell and Wilson with Warren Skaaren due to creative differences. Burton's original choice for Betelgeuse was Sammy Davis Jr, but Geffen suggested Michael Keaton. Burton was unfamiliar with Keaton's work but was quickly convinced. Burton cast Winona Ryder upon seeing her in Lucas. Catherine 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 $13 million, with just one 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 intentions to make the style similar to the B movies Burton 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 and Full Metal Jacket, though Furst was committed on High Spirits (a choice he later regretted). He hired Bo Welch, his future collaborator on Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns. 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.

Story development

Michael McDowell's original script is far less comedic and much more violent; the Maitlands' car crash is depicted graphically, with Barbara's arm being crushed and the audience hearing their screams for help as they slowly drown in the river. A reference to this remained in all versions of the script, as Barbara remarks that her arm feels cold 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 wants to rape Lydia instead of marry her. This version of 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, such as a punk rocker (to try and seduce Lydia) and an IRS Agent (to subject Charles to a fake audit). McDowell's script also featured a second Deetz child, nine-year-old Cathy, the only person 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. 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.

Warren Skaaren's rewrite drastically shifted the film's tone, indicating 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, empty 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 Motown 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 Ebonics. 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.


Beetlejuice opened theatrically in the United Statesmarker on April 1, 1988, earning $8,030,897 in its opening weekend. The film eventually grossed $73,707,461 in North America. Beetlejuice was a financial success recouping its $13 million budget five times, and was the tenth-highest grossing film of 1988. Based on 39 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, Beetlejuice received an average 82% overall approval rating. By comparison, Metacritic received an average score of 67 from the 13 reviews collected.

Pauline Kael referred to the film as a "comedy classic", while Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader gave a highly positive review. Rosenbaum felt Beetlejuice carried originality and creativity that did not exist in other films. Roger Ebert called it anti-climactic, explaining "the story, which seemed so original, turns into a sitcom fueled by lots of special effects and weird sets and props, and the inspiration is gone." Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "a farce for our time" and wished Keaton could have received more screen time. MaryAnn Johanson was impressed with the casting, production design and jokes. Desson Howe of the Washington Post felt Beetlejuice had "the perfect balance of bizarreness, comedy and horror".

Awards and honors

At the 61st Academy Awards, Beetlejuice won the Academy Award for Makeup, while The British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominated the film with Best Visual Effects and Makeup at the 43rd British Academy Film Awards. Beetlejuice won Best Horror Film and Best Make-up at The Saturn Awards. The film received more nominations with Direction, Writing, Music and Special Effects. Beetlejuice was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Beetlejuice was eighty-eight in the American Film Institute's list of Best Comedies.

American Film Institute recognition


The success of the film brought an animated television series of the same name on ABC. The show lasted on from September 9, 1989 to December 6, 1991, and Tim Burton served as executive producer.

Burton hired Jonathan Gems to write a sequel titled Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian in 1990. "Tim thought it would be funny to match the surfing backdrop of a beach movie with some sort of German Expressionism, because they're totally wrong together", Gems reflected. The story followed the Deetz family moving to Hawaiimarker, where Charles is developing a resort. They soon discover that his company is building on the burial ground of an ancient Hawaiian Kahuna. The spirit comes back from the afterlife to cause trouble, and Betelgeuse becomes a hero by winning a surf contest with magic. Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder agreed to do the film, but only if Burton directed, but he became distracted with Batman Returns.

Burton was still interested with Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian in early-1991. Impressed with Daniel Waters' work on Heathers, Burton approached him for a rewrite. However, he eventually signed Waters to write the script for Batman Returns. By August 1993, producer David Geffen had Pamella Norris (Troop Beverly Hills, Saturday Night Live) to rewrite. Warner Bros. approached Kevin Smith in 1996 to rewrite the script, though Smith turned down the offer in favor of Superman Lives. Smith responded with, "Didn't we say all we needed to say in the first Beetlejuice? Must we go tropical?" In March 1997, Gems stated that the "Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian script is still owned by The Geffen Film Company and it will never likely get made.

See also


  1. Salisbury, Burton, p. 55–7.
  2. Salisbury, Burton, p. 58–60.
  3. Salisbury, Burton, p. 61–5.
  4. Salisbury, Burton, p. 64–6.
  5. Salisbury, Burton, p. 68–9.
  6. McDowell, Michael. "Beetlejuice: Second Draft." Retrieved from Simply Scripts.
  7. Skaaren, Warren. "Beetlejuice: Production Draft". Retrieved from Simply Scripts
  8. Salisbury, Burton, p. 100.
  9. Salisbury, Burton, p. 145.
  10. Anthony Ferrante (March 1997). "Hidden Gems", Fangoria, pp. 53—56. Retrieved on 2008-09-22.
  11. Judy Sloane (August 1995). "Daniel Waters on Writing", Film Review, pp. 67—69. Retrieved on 2008-08-14.

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