BATMAN 1989 – 20 YEAR ANNIVERSARY
Boy how times flies. I must admit I simply cannot believe that it has been twenty years since Tim Burton’s Batman was released into theaters. Amongst the wildly inventive Bat-emblem posters plastered in subways and on buses, Batman tee-shirts and hats and people walking around dressed as the Joker, it feels like yesterday to me. Well, maybe not yesterday but certainly not two decades ago. While Jaws defined the summer blockbuster, as the first summer film to gross $100 million at the box-office, Batman clearly changed the way studios marketed movies and the after effect is still very prevalent to this day. I wasn’t the biggest of comic book readers but I was pretty excited to see this film as Warner Bros created buzz that was unprecedented at the time. You simply couldn’t go anywhere within a month of its release without seeing that Bat-emblem poster everywhere.
What truly changed the face of movie marketing was a decision by Warner Bros. The studio took a calculated gamble and decided to air the complete coming attraction trailer on a weeknight on all the network channels at about the same time, a month before its June 23rd release date. It created some great water cooler talk and many people, including myself, were psyched. After that trailer was released any negative talk about the casting of Micheal Keaton as the Caped Crusader dissipated and the footage of Jack Nicholson as the Joker was not only the talk of the industry but of movie fans who couldn’t wait to see the first serious take of Batman on film. People were roaring with applause in theathers when that trailer was played.
While I love Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and the performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker, the hype and overall excitement for that film, no matter how big, wasn’t in the same league as Burton’s original Batman. There truly was a euphoria in the air – contagious and almost surreal for weeks leading up to its release. I honestly can’t remember anything like it. The ABC network magazine show 20/20 also aired a retrospective on the history of the Batman character about a week before its release. It was really well done and also got me pumped. WATCH below
On Friday, June 23, 1989, the highly anticipated film opened to mostly positive reviews with the NY Post giving the film four stars. In those pre-internet days, I remember running to the newstand that morning to buy the Post, the NY Daily news and Newsday in order to read the reviews. While the majority of the reviews were postive, the film did have some detractors with the trade, Variety, and Roger Ebert giving the movie a negative review.
I wound up seeing Batman numerous times in its theatrical run. While I knew the movie had flaws, especially in storytelling, 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 to save Vicki Vale was great and the introduction of the Batmobile 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 thought it was great. 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. Its 2201 screens is half of what many big films open up on nowadays.
Batman is a film that has a couple of real legacys. The first is that it was the first serious film take of the comic book hero Batman that helped create one of the most popular franchises. The second is that it truly changed the way movies are marketed. Since the release of Batman 20 years ago, the only weekend that a studio thinks about is its opening one. Studios now use every tool and resource they have to get a huge mass audience into the theater for its opening frame for their high profile tent pole films. There is now no such thing as platforming, building word of mouth (although its always nice) and hoping the film is playing in theaters eight weeks after it comes out. Not for Summer movies. No, its all about the opening weekend and spending the bulk of marketing dollars getting the word out that this is the film you will see now – not next week. It’s all about the event. Maximum effect is the operative goal. While this event usually doesen’t last very long, and the legacy of any given film doesn’t burn in ones memory, Batman was truly a game changer. Love it or hate it, Jon Peters, Peter Guber, Tim Burton and Warner Bros made history on June 23, 1989. Theres no doubt about that and every studio had its marketing blueprint in place thereafter. HAPPY Anniversary and thanks for the memories!
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