When Tim Burton originally envisioned the title character in Beetlejuice, he considered a completely different kind of actor for the role — and had that actor been cast instead of Michael Keaton, it would have completely changed the movie. Produced by The Geffen Company and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, the comedy-horror classic was originally released in 1988 to critical and commercial success. When Beetlejuice first came out, audiences had never seen anything like it before, and it became an instant hit, helping to establish Tim Burton as a household name in the movie business. Michael McDowell wrote the screenplay that originally attracted Burton’s attention, as the two had previously worked together on an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. note: Spencer Movie
Today, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Michael Keaton as the zany poltergeist who wreaks havoc on the Deetz family after they unknowingly purchase a home haunted by its former owners in Beetlejuice. But the film came very close to being something totally different from the award-winning classic audiences think of now. When Burton first discovered the script, he was looking to do another quirky comedy as a follow-up to his recent feature debut, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. The Beetlejuice story was written as straight horror, and Warren Skaaren was hired to script doctor McDowell’s screenplay into something less straightforwardly dark and violent. The casting of Beetlejuice was also reportedly a long and grueling process. Many actresses turned down the role of Lydia Deetz before Winona Ryder was cast in the role, and various actors were considered for the title character before Michael Keaton was finally chosen for the title character. Tim Burton first floated the idea of Sammy David Jr. for the lead part of Beetlejuice before considering several other options.
Originally settling on Arnold Schwarzenegger, Burton offered him the role, and the action-movies actor reportedly turned it down. Had Schwarzenegger been cast instead of Keaton, Beetlejuice would have been a completely different movie in terms of style and tone. At this point, Keaton had been in several comedies, and while several were more subdued roles than the one he would eventually master in Beetlejuice, it’s easy to see hints of the outlandish, exorcist-loving, hilarious yet horrifying figure Keaton would come to embody by examining his earlier work. This is especially true in roles like his depiction of the wild-eyed titular character in Johnny Dangerously, and Bill Blazejowski in Night Shift — a film that also has a similar over-the-top style as Beetlejuice. At the same time, Schwarzenegger was still largely known for The Terminator, making it hard to imagine him portraying a character like Beetlejuice. Maybe it could have still worked, but it certainly wouldn’t have been the same movie.
The titular character doesn’t actually appear in Beetlejuice until a quarter way through the film. In order to stand out, the role needed someone who could teeter the line between scary and funny — not an easy thing to master. This likely wouldn’t have happened in the hands of a less experienced comedian like Schwarzenegger, who isn’t exactly known for his range now, let alone back then. Interestingly, one of Schwarzenegger’s first comedic movie roles came the same year that Beetlejuice was released. He played the good twin and straight man to Danny DeVito’s madcap criminal in the 1988 comedy, Twins. This movie, which merges action and crime with comedy, is the sort of comedic role the actor is more suited for, and audiences continued to see Schwarzenegger appear in movies with similar aims — including his portrayal of a police officer in over his head in Kindergarten Cop and a used-car salesman/secret agent in True Lies. note: The Route of the Ground Fan Movie
Still, Tim Burton apparently couldn’t get Arnold Schwarzenegger out of his mind when it came to the story of Beetlejuice. A year after the film’s release, the director created Beetlejuice: The Animated Series, which ran on ABC from 1989 to 1991. The show revolved around many of the characters from the original Beetlejuice movie, including an animated version of Beetlejuice along with young Lydia Deetz and her parents, Delia and Charles. It also included a recurring character named Arnold Musclehugger (voiced by Keith Knight). The character, who is defined by his simple-mindedness and bulging biceps, is said to be a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger.