is a 1989 American superhero film directed by Tim Burton and
produced by Jon Peters, based on the DC Comics character of the same
name. It is the first installment of Warner Bros.' initial Batman
film series. The film stars Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton in the
title role, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee
Williams, Michael Gough, and Jack Palance. In the film, Batman deals
with the rise of a costumed criminal known as "The Joker".
After Burton was hired as director in
1986, Steve Englehart and Julie Hickson wrote film treatments before
Sam Hamm wrote the first screenplay. Batman was not greenlit until
after the success of Burton's Beetlejuice (1988). Numerous A-list
actors were considered for the role of Batman before Keaton was cast.
Keaton's casting caused a controversy since, by 1988, he had become
typecast as a comedic actor and many observers doubted he could
portray a serious role (or was tall enough). Nicholson accepted the
role of the Joker under strict conditions that dictated a high
salary, a portion of the box office profits and his shooting
schedule. The tone and themes of the film were influenced in part by
Alan Moore's The Killing Joke and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.
Filming took place at Pinewood Studios
from October 1988 to January 1989. The budget escalated from $30
million to $48 million, while the 1988 Writers Guild of America
strike forced Hamm to drop out. Uncredited rewrites were performed by
Warren Skaaren, Charles McKeown and Jonathan Gems. Batman was a
critical and financial success, earning over $400 million in box
office totals. The film received several Saturn Award nominations and
a Golden Globe nomination, and won an Academy Award. It also inspired
the equally successful Batman: The Animated Series, paving the way
for the DC animated universe, and has influenced Hollywood's modern
marketing and development techniques of the superhero film genre.
discussing the central theme of Batman, director Tim Burton
explained, "the whole film and mythology of the character is a
complete duel of the freaks. It's a fight between two disturbed
people", adding that "The Joker is such a great character
because there's a complete freedom to him. Any character who operates
on the outside of society and is deemed a freak and an outcast then
has the freedom to do what they want. They are the darker sides of
freedom. Insanity is in some scary way the most freedom you can have,
because you're not bound by the laws of society".
Burton saw Bruce Wayne as the bearer of a
double identity, exposing one while hiding the reality from the
world. Burton biographer Ken Hanke wrote that Bruce Wayne, struggling
with his alter-ego as Batman, is depicted as an antihero. Hanke felt
that Batman has to push the boundaries of civil justice to deal with
certain criminals, such as the Joker. Kim Newman theorized that
"Burton and the writers saw Batman and the Joker as a dramatic
antithesis, and the film deals with their intertwined origins and
fates to an even greater extent".
A visual motif is present in the scene of
Batman's first major act of vigilantism at Axis Chemicals, wherein he
is carefully framed so that the single word AXIS, in gigantic red
neon letters, looms over him, comparing his acts to those of the
totalitarian governments of World War II and thus implying that the
dangers of these actions include the transformation
of Jack Napier into the Joker. Batman also conveys trademarks found
in 1930s pulp magazines, notably the design of Gotham City stylized
with Art Deco design. Richard Corliss, writing for Time, observed
that Gotham's design was a reference to films such as Metropolis
(1927) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). "Gotham City,
despite being shot on a studio backlot", he continued, "is
literally another character in the script. It has the demeaning
presence of German Expressionism and fascist architecture, staring
down at the citizens." Hanke further addressed the notions of
Batman being a period piece, in that "The citizens, cops, people
and the black-and-white television looks like it takes place in
1939"; but later said: "Had the filmmakers made Vicki Vale
a femme fatale rather than a damsel in distress, this could have made
Batman as a homage and tribute to classic film noir." Portions
of the climax pay homage to Vertigo.
After the financial success of Pee-wee's
Big Adventure (1985), Warner Bros. hired Tim Burton to direct Batman.
Burton had then-girlfriend Julie Hickson write a new 30-page film
treatment, feeling the previous script by Tom Mankiewicz was campy.
The success of The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke rekindled
Warner Bros.' interest in a film adaptation. Burton was initially not
a comic book fan, but he was impressed by the dark and serious tone
found in both The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke.
"I was never a giant
comic book fan, but I've always loved the image of Batman and the
Joker. The reason I've never been a comic book fan and I think
it started when I was a child is because I could never tell
which box I was supposed to read. I don't know if it was dyslexia or
whatever, but that's why I loved The Killing Joke, because for the
first time I could tell which one to read. It's my favorite. It's the
first comic I've ever loved. And the success of those graphic novels
made our ideas more acceptable."
Warner Bros. enlisted the aid of Steve
Englehart to write a new treatment in March 1986. It included the
Joker and Rupert Thorne as the main villains, with a cameo appearance
by the Penguin. Silver St. Cloud and Dick Grayson were key supporting
roles. It followed the similar storyline from Englehart's own Strange
Apparitions. Warner Bros. was impressed, but Englehart felt there
were too many characters. He removed the Penguin and Dick Grayson in
his second treatment, finishing in May 1986.
approached Sam Hamm, a comic book fan, to write the screenplay. Hamm
decided not to use an origin story, feeling that flashbacks would be
more suitable and that "unlocking the mystery" would become
part of the storyline. He reasoned, "You totally destroy your
credibility if you show the literal process by which Bruce Wayne
becomes Batman." Hamm replaced Silver St. Cloud with Vicki Vale
and Rupert Thorne with his own creation, Carl Grissom. He completed
his script in October 1986, which demoted Dick Grayson to a cameo
rather than a supporting character. One scene in Hamm's script had a
young James Gordon on duty the night of the murder of Bruce Wayne's
parents. When Hamm's script was rewritten, the scene was deleted but
retaken to Batman Begins.
Warner Bros. was less willing to move
forward on development, despite their enthusiasm for Hamm's script,
which Batman co-creator Bob Kane greeted with positive feedback.
Hamm's script was then bootlegged at various comic book stores in the
United States. Batman was finally given the greenlight to commence pre-production
in April 1988, after the success of Burton's Beetlejuice (1988).
When comic book fans found out about Burton directing the film with
Michael Keaton starring in the lead role, controversy arose over the
tone and direction Batman was going in. Hamm explained, "they
hear Tim Burton's name and they think of Pee-wee's Big Adventure.
They hear Keaton's name and they think of any number of Michael
Keaton comedies. You think of the 1960s version of Batman, and it was
the complete opposite of our film. We tried to market it with a
typical dark and serious tone, but the fans didn't believe us."
To combat negative reports on the film's production, Batman
co-creator Bob Kane was hired as creative consultant.
Parallel to the Superman casting, a who's
who of Hollywood top stars were considered for the role of Batman,
with the likes of Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Pierce
Brosnan (that might of worked), Tom Selleck and Bill Murray (may have
been a very different movie) being considered. Tim Burton was
pressured to cast an obvious action movie star. Producer Jon Peters
favored Keaton, arguing he had the right "edgy, tormented
quality." Having directed Keaton in Beetlejuice, Burton agreed.
casting caused a controversy among comic book fans, with 50,000
protest letters sent to Warner Bros. offices. Bob Kane, Sam Hamm and
Michael Uslan also heavily questioned the casting. Burton
acknowledged, "Obviously there was a negative response from the
comic book people. I think they thought we were going to make it like
the 1960s TV series, and make it campy, because they thought of
Michael Keaton from Mr. Mom and Night Shift and stuff like that."
Keaton would study the comic, The Dark Knight Returns for
inspiration and prove all the critics wrong.
Tim Curry, Willem Dafoe, David Bowie, John
Lithgow and James Woods were considered for the Joker. Burton wanted
to cast Brad Dourif, but the studio refused. Robin Williams lobbied
hard for the part. Jack Nicholson had been producer Michael Uslan's
and Bob Kane's choice since 1980. Peters approached Nicholson as far
back as 1986, during filming of The Witches of Eastwick. Nicholson
had what was known as an "off-the-clock" agreement. His
contract specified the number of hours he was entitled to have off
each day, from the time he left the set to the time he reported back
for filming, as well as being off for Los Angeles Lakers home games.
Nicholson demanded to have all of his scenes shot in a three-week
block, but the schedule lapsed into 106 days. He received a $6
million salary, as well as a large percentage of the box office
gross. The fee is reported to be as high as $60 million.
Young was originally cast as Vicki Vale, but was injured in a
horse-riding accident prior to commencement of filming. Burton
suggested replacing Young with Michelle Pfeiffer but Keaton, who was
in a relationship with Pfeiffer, believed it would be too awkward.
She went on to portray Catwoman in Batman Returns. Young's departure
necessitated an urgent search for an actress who, besides being right
for the part, could commit to the film at very short notice. Peters
suggested Kim Basinger: she was able to join the production
immediately and was cast. As a fan of Michael Gough's work in various
Hammer Film Productions, Burton cast Gough as Bruce Wayne's butler,
Alfred Pennyworth. Robert Wuhl was cast as reporter Alexander Knox.
His character was originally supposed to die by the Joker's poison
gas in the climax, but the filmmakers "liked [my] character so
much," Wuhl said "that they decided to let me live."
Though his character never returned in any of the sequels. Tim Burton
chose Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent because he wanted to include
the villain Two-Face in a future film using the concept of an
African-American Two-Face for the black and white concept, but Tommy
Lee Jones was later cast in the role for Batman Forever, which
disappointed Williams. Nicholson convinced the filmmakers to cast
Tracey Walter as the Joker's henchman, Bob; in real life, Nicholson
and Walter are close friends. Kiefer Sutherland was considered as
Robin before the character was deleted from the shooting script. The
rest of the cast included Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, Jerry
Hall as Alicia Hunt, Lee Wallace as Mayor Borg, William Hootkins as
Lt. Max Eckhardt, and Jack Palance as crime boss Carl Grissom.
The filmmakers considered filming Batman
entirely on the Warner Bros. backlot in Burbank, California, but
media interest in the film made them change the location. It was shot
at Pinewood Studios in England from October 1988 to January 1989.
Eighteen sound stages were used, almost the entirety of Pinewood's
95-acre backlot. Locations included Knebworth House and Hatfield
House doubling for Wayne Manor (above), plus Acton Lane Power Station
and Little Barford Power Station. The original production budget
escalated from $30 million to $48 million. Filming was highly
secretive. The unit publicist was offered and refused £10,000
for the first pictures of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. The police
were later called in when two reels of footage (about 20 minutes'
worth) were stolen. With various problems during filming, Burton
called it "torture. The worst period of my life!"
Hamm was not allowed to perform rewrites
during the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike. Jonathan Gems,
Warren Skaaren and Charles McKeown rewrote the script during filming.
Hamm criticized the rewrites, but blamed the changes on Warner Bros.
Burton explained, "I don't understand why that became such a
problem. We started out with a script that everyone liked, although
we recognized it needed a little work." Dick Grayson appeared in
the shooting script but was deleted, as the filmmakers felt he was
irrelevant to the plot. Bob Kane supported this decision.
Originally in the climax, the Joker was to
kill Vicki Vale, sending Batman into a vengeful fury. Jon Peters
reworked the climax without telling Burton and commissioned
production designer Anton Furst to create a 38-foot (12 m) model of
the cathedral. This cost $100,000 when the film was already well over
budget. Burton disliked the idea, having no clue how the scene would
end: "Here were Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger walking up this
cathedral, and halfway up Jack turns around and says, 'Why am I
walking up all these stairs? Where am I going?' 'We'll talk about it
when you get to the top!' I had to tell him that I didn't know."
Burton was impressed with Anton Furst's
designs in The Company of Wolves, and previously failed to hire Furst
as production designer for Beetlejuice. Furst had been too committed
on High Spirits, a choice he later regretted. Furst enjoyed working
with Burton. "I don't think I've ever felt so naturally in tune
with a director", he said; "Conceptually, spiritually,
visually, or artistically. There was never any problem because we
never fought over anything. Texture, attitude and feelings are what
Burton is a master at."
Furst and the art department deliberately
mixed clashing architectural styles to "make Gotham City the
ugliest and bleakest metropolis imaginable". Furst continued,
"we imagined what New York City might have become without a
planning commission. A city run by crime, with a riot of
architectural styles. An essay in ugliness. As if hell erupted
through the pavement and kept on going". The 1985 film Brazil by
Terry Gilliam was also a notable influence upon the film's production
design, as both Burton and Furst studied it as a reference. Derek
Meddings served as the visual effects supervisor, while Keith Short
helped construct the newly created 1989 Batmobile, adding two
Browning machine guns. On designing the Batmobile, Furst explained,
"We looked at jet aircraft components, we looked at war
machines, we looked at all sorts of things. In the end, we went into
pure expressionism, taking the Salt Flat Racers of the 30s and the
Sting Ray macho machines of the 50s". The car was built upon a
Chevrolet Impala when previous development with a Jaguar and Ford
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designer Bob Ringwood turned down the chance to work on Licence to
Kill in favor of Batman. Ringwood found it difficult designing the
Batsuit because "the image of Batman in the comics is this huge,
big six-foot-four hunk with a dimpled chin. Michael Keaton is a guy
with average build", he stated. "The problem was to make
somebody who was average-sized and ordinary-looking into this
bigger-than-life creature." Burton commented, "Michael is a
bit claustrophobic, which made it worse for him. The costume put him
in a dark, Batman-like mood though, so he was able to use it to his
advantage". Burton's idea was to use an all-black suit, and was
met with positive feedback by Bob Kane. Jon Peters wanted to use a
Nike product placement with the Batsuit. Ringwood studied over 200
comic book issues for inspiration. Twenty-eight sculpted latex
designs were created; 25 different cape looks and 6 different heads
were made, accumulating a total cost of $250,000. Comic book fans
initially expressed negative feedback against the Batsuit. Burton
opted not to use tights, spandex, or underpants as seen in the comic
book, feeling it was not intimidating. Prosthetic makeup designer
Nick Dudman used acrylic-based makeup paint called PAX for
Nicholson's chalk-white face and part of Nicholson's contract was
approval over the makeup designer.
Burton hired Danny Elfman, his
collaborator on Pee-wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, to compose
the music score. For inspiration, Elfman was given The Dark Knight
Returns. Elfman was worried, as he had never worked on a production
this large in budget and scale. In addition, producer Jon Peters was
skeptical of hiring Elfman, but was later convinced when he heard the
opening number. Peters and Peter Guber wanted Prince to write music
for the Joker and Michael Jackson to do the romance songs. Elfman
would then combine the style of Prince and Jackson's songs together
for the entire film score.
Burton protested the ideas, citing "my
movies aren't commercial like Top Gun." Elfman enlisted the
help of Oingo Boingo lead guitarist Steve Bartek and Shirley Walker
to arrange the compositions for the orchestra. Elfman was later
displeased with the audio mixing of his film score. "Batman was
done in England by technicians who didn't care, and the non-caring
showed," he stated. "I'm not putting down England because
they've done gorgeous dubs there, but this particular crew elected
not to." Batman was one of the first films to spawn two
soundtracks. One of them featured songs written by Prince while the
other showcased Elfman's score. Both were successful, and
compilations of Elfman's opening credits were used in the title
sequence theme for Batman: The Animated Series, also composed by
Production designer Anton Furst designed
the poster, which he called "evocative but ubiquitous. Only
featuring the Bat-Symbol. Not too much and not too little".
Earlier designs "had the word 'Batman' spelled in RoboCop or
Conan the Barbarian-type font". Jon Peters unified all the
film's tie-ins, even turning down $6 million from General Motors to
build the Batmobile because the car company would not relinquish
production, Peters read in The Wall Street Journal that comic book
fans were unsatisfied with the casting of Michael Keaton. In
response, Peters rushed the first film trailer that played in
thousands of theaters during Christmas. It was simply an assemblage
of scenes without music, but happened to create enormous anticipation
for the film. DC Comics allowed screenwriter Sam Hamm to write his
own comic book miniseries. Hamm's stories were collected in the
graphic novel Batman: Blind Justice. Denys Cowan and Dick Giordano
illustrated the artwork. Blind Justice tells the story of Bruce Wayne
trying to solve a series of murders connected to Wayne Enterprises.
It also marks the first appearance of Henri Ducard, who was later
used in the rebooted Batman Begins, albeit as an alias for the more
notable Ra's al Ghul.
In the months pre-dating Batman's release
in June 1989, a popular culture phenomenon rose known as
"Batmania". Over $750 million worth of merchandise was
sold. Cult filmmaker and comic book writer Kevin Smith remembered:
"That summer was huge. You couldn't turn around without seeing
the Bat-Signal somewhere. People were cutting it into their f'ing
heads. It was just the summer of Batman and if you were a comic book
fan it was pretty hot." Hachette Book Group USA published a
novelization, Batman written by Craig Shaw Gardner. It remained on
the New York Times Best Seller list throughout June 1989. Burton
admitted he was annoyed by the publicity. David Handelman of The New
York Observer categorized Batman as a high concept film. He believed
"it is less movie than a corporate behemoth".
opened on June 23, 1989, grossing $43.6 million in 2,194 theaters
during its opening weekend. This broke the opening weekend record,
set by Ghostbusters II one week earlier, with $29.4 million. Batman
would eventually gross $251.2 million in North America and $160.15
million internationally, totaling $411.35 million. Batman was the
first film to earn $100 million in its first ten days of release, and
was the highest grossing film based on a DC comic book until 2008's
The Dark Knight. The film's gross is the 66th highest ever in North
American ranks. Although Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade made the
most money worldwide in 1989, Batman was able to beat The Last
Crusade in North America, and made a further $150 million in home
Batman was criticized in some quarters for
being "too dark". Many observed that Burton was more
interested in the Joker and the art and set production design than
Batman or anything else in terms of characterization and screentime.
Comic book fans reacted negatively over the Joker murdering Thomas
and Martha Wayne; in the comic book, Joe Chill is responsible. Writer
Sam Hamm, who is a comic book fan, said it was Burton's idea to have
the Joker murder Wayne's parents. "The Writer's Strike was going
on," Hamm said, "and Tim had the other writers do that. I
also hold innocent to Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.
Fans were ticked off with that, and I agree. That would have been
Alfred's last day of employment at Wayne Manor."
The songs written by Prince were
criticized for being "too out of place". While Burton has
stated he had no problem with the Prince songs, he was less
enthusiastic with their use in the film. On the film, Burton
remarked, "I liked parts of it, but the whole movie is mainly
boring to me. It's OK, but it was more of a cultural phenomenon than
a great movie."
biographer Alison McMahan wrote, "fans of the Batman franchise
complained when they heard of Michael Keaton's casting. However, no
one complained when they saw his performance." James
Berardinelli called the film entertaining, with the highlight being
the production design. However, he concluded, "the best thing
that can be said about Batman is that it led to Batman Returns, which
was a far superior effort." Variety felt "Jack Nicholson
stole every scene" but still greeted the film with positive
feedback. Roger Ebert was highly impressed with the production
design, but claimed "Batman is a triumph of design over story,
style over substance, a great-looking movie with a plot you can't
care much about." He also called the film "a depressing
experience". His reviewing partner Gene Siskel disagreed,
describing the film as having a 'refreshingly adult' approach with
performances, direction and set design that 'draws you into a
Anton Furst and Peter Young won the
Academy Award for Best Art Direction, while Nicholson was nominated
for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor (Musical or Comedy). The
British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominated Batman in six
categories (Production Design, Visual Effects, Costume Design,
Makeup, Sound and Actor in a Supporting Role for Nicholson), but it
of the categories. Nicholson, Basinger, the make-up department and
costume designer Bob Ringwood all received nominations at the Saturn
Awards. The film was also nominated for the Saturn Award for Best
Fantasy Film and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
The success of Batman prompted Warner
Bros. Animation to create the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series,
as a result beginning the long-running DC animated universe and
helped establish the modern day superhero film genre. Series
co-creator Bruce Timm stated the television show's Art Deco design
was inspired from the film. Timm commented, "our show would
never have gotten made if it hadn't been for that first Batman
movie." Burton's Batman initiated the original Batman animated series.
Burton joked, "ever since I did
Batman, it was like the first dark comic book movie. Now everyone
wants to do a dark and serious superhero movie. I guess I'm the one
responsible for that trend."
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