With The Dark Knight release less than two weeks away here is my recollection of the previous Caped Crusader movies since Tim Burton’s 1989 version.
BATMAN – 1989 – While I wasn’t the biggest of comic book readers I was pretty excited to see this film as Warner Bros produced one of the great marketing campaigns in the history of movies. The time, growing up in New York, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing the Bat emblem poster on bus stops and subway stations. Something also happened that really changed the way films are marketed to this day. The studio took a calculated gamble and decided to air the 3 minute coming attraction trailer on a weeknight on all the network channels, at about the same time, a month before its June 23 release date. It created some great water cooler talk and many people including myself were psyched. The ABC networks magazine show 20/20 also aired a retrospective on the history of the Batman character that was really well done about a week before its release that also got me pumped.
On Friday, June 23, 1989, the highly anticipated film opened to mostly positive reviews with the NY Post giving the film four stars. The film did have some detractors with the trade Variety and Roger Ebert giving the movie negative reviews. I wound up seeing Batman 10 times in its theatrical run. While I knew the movie had flaws, especially in story telling, there was something about it that made me keep coming back. I personally loved the mid-section of the film. The Museum sequence where Jack’s Joker dances around to Prince’s Party Man was super cool. Batman crashing through the sky light ceiling saving Vicki Vale was great and introduction of the bat mobile outside the Flugelheim Museum was perfectly executed. Plus Danny Elfman’s score was as good as it gets and really elevated the whole production. Bottom line – despite being far from perfect, I liked it very much. Tim Burton’s Batman had a 40.5 mil opening weekend on 2201 screens and it had legs. It played in theaters for 25 weeks ending up with a domestic gross of 251mil.
BATMAN RETURNS 1992 – Before Batman Returns went into production there were all sorts of rumors about what direction Tim Burton would go with this one. There were reports of Jack Nicholson coming back to play the penguin since he was so popular from the first film and couldn’t reprise his Joker role because the character was killed off. Rumors swirled that Robin would be introduced with names like Michael J. Fox and even Fred Savage (Wonder Years) being thrown around. Robin (or a variation of the character) was actually written into the story with Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie) cast. That was scraped when the production went behind schedule. Batman Returns opened July 19, 1992. It was generally well received by critics but had many detractors among comic book fans. I really liked it and thought it was the best of the Batman movies until Chris Nolan‘s Batman Begins came along. This film was totally Tim Burton’s world and it had a poetic and tragic feel to it, especially Danny Devito’s Penguin who Burton obviously took a shine to. I love the “Things change” scene at the films half way point where Keaton’s Batman confronts Devito’s Penguin about the possibilities of him running for Major. It’s beautifully directed. I saw Returns four times in its theatrical run. Returns opened to 45.7 mll in business topping out at 162mil.
BATMAN FOREVER – 1995 – I really didn’t know what to expect when the film opened in theaters on June 16, 1995, since it was no longer Tim Burton’s baby, but overall I liked it. Yes, it started to enter the world of camp but not to the point of not being an entertaining film. I really liked Val Kilmer who replaced Michael Keaton and the introduction of Robin was fairly well done (Keaton refused to do the film without Burton’s involment despite being offered a reported 35mill to come back for a third time). Forever opened to a 40.5 mil first weekend and wound up with a solid 184 mil overall. At this point in the franchise I don’t think Warner Bros really cared one way or the other what comic fans thought as long as these movies made a profit. I saw the film twice in its theatrical run.
BATMAN AND ROBIN – 1997 – What can you say other than the movie was made to appeal to the 10 yr old and under crowd. Akiva Goldsman was the real blame here. His script was as juvenile a piece of garbage as one could imagine featuring an unbelievably annoying Robin (wildly overplayed the 2nd time around by Chris O’Donnell) and the ridiculous Batgirl. The film opened to 42.8 mill opening weekend but toxic word of mouth quickly killed it as it topped out at 107 mill. I saw this once and once only in a theater when it opened on June 20, 1997.
BATMAN BEGINS – 2005 – Chris Nolan was a truly a beacon of light when Warner Bros decided to let him get involved with the dying franchise. He did every right. He cast Christian Bale who was not only a great Batman but a terrific Bruce Wayne. He had a great script for an origin story and cast talented actors in supporting roles. Plus, he brought the darkness back to the character. The story had great momentum and a pitch perfect musical score. This was true Batman greatness to me and it hold up beautifully on repeat viewings. What can I say other than I love it! Begins opened to a 48.7 first weekend and, fueled by great word of mouth, grossed 205 mil at the box-office. I saw Begins three times in a theater. It opened June 15, 2005.