The History and Future of Batman in Film

Tia Tennariello ‘22

Since the critical success of Joker, the well-received Shazam and Aquaman, and the escalating anticipation of Birds of Prey, the movies of DC Comics have been on the rise. Their production company, Warner Bros., have recovered from the critical failures of the preceding Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Justice League, and now all eyes are looking at The Batman.


In January of 2019, Warner Bros. confirmed the production of the newest live-action adaptation of Batman, The Batman. With a release date of June 25, 2021, the movie has already begun filming, and set photos have been released, giving fans a glimpse into the crime-ridden sixties Gotham where the movie is set to take place. 


The stand-alone Batman film was initially a sequel to Batman v Superman with Ben Affleck in the titular role and director’s chair. However, after the poor reception of Batman v Superman and his subsequent appearances as Batman in Suicide Squad and Justice League, Affleck left the project, and the movie’s production did a complete 180. 


Matt Reeves, best known for directing the Planet of the Apes series and Cloverfield, quickly picked up the role of director and put together his own plans for the film. In departure from the fight-scenes heavy with computer-generated imagery (CGI) in recent DC movies, his “Hitchcockian” approach to the motion-picture showcases the drama and inner turmoil of the famed caped crusader through engaging camerawork and storytelling.


In his divergence from the initial plans for Batman, Reeves completely recast the movie. Rumors of the next Batman flew across the internet, with talks of famous stars such as Kit Harrington, John Hamm, and Jake Gyllenhall. However, the famous bat-eared mask was passed to Robert Pattinson. Pattinson is most well known for his role as Edward Cullen, the sparkly vampire of the Twilight Saga. Despite the massive success of the five films which grossed over 3 billion dollars and became a staple of Hollywood, the movies are viewed mockingly by critics and audiences alike as a symbol of the angst and desire of a generation of teenage girls. In the eight years since the saga’s completion, Pattinson led in numerous independent flicks, most recently The Lighthouse, an Oscar-nominated horror film where he stars opposite of critically acclaimed Willem Dafoe. Pattinson’s casting received short-lived backlash, but the doubt of fans eventually faded into the background of anticipation and other rumors of the film. In an interview with Esquire, he describes his casting as “less vitriolic than [he] was expecting” and “kind of insane.”


Reeves confirmed the rest of the cast shortly after. Zoe Kravitz will be assuming the mantle of Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman, after voicing the feline antihero in The Lego Batman Movie. Moreover, Paul Dano will play tricky Edward Nash, The Riddler, Colin Farrel as the cunning mogul Penguin and Andy Serkis as Batman’s loveable butler, Alfred Pennyworth. 


Regarding the plot of The Batman, Reeves tells New Trailer Buzz, “I think there’s a chance to do an almost noir-driven, detective version of Batman that is point-of-view driven in a very, very powerful way.” Batman’s title has been neglected by Warner Bros. for years, opting to involve Batman with the supernatural predicaments of his superhuman friends such as Superman and Wonder Woman. Furthermore, Reeves is returning to Batman’s roots as the film taps into Batman’s brain over brawn as he faces master manipulators Riddler, Penguin and possible appearances of other iconic nemeses such as Mad Hatter and Firefly. With the setting of 1960s Gotham featuring an investigative Batman and a slate of villains, rumors point to the movie taking inspiration from the famed Batman comic, The Long Halloween. DC Comics between 1996 and 1997 published The Long Halloween, and over two decades later, it still is one of the most iconic Batman comics. The series is about a mysterious killer named Holiday and Batman’s investigative escapade through Gotham, as all of his famous rivals are suspects. Both The Batman and The Long Halloween incorporate a plethora of Batman’s most memorable villains ranging from gangs to supervillains and are mystery thrillers that revolve around the caped crusader’s inner turmoil. 


Reception to The Batman has been mostly positive, generating excitement from fans even while the movie is still filming. Nonetheless, Batman’s live-action movies have a long, tumultuous history, and the pressure is high for The Batman, considering that it is the first Batman solo film in eight years. Some Batman movies are considered the best and worst of all time, so it takes a walk through Batman history to make or break the hopes of fans across the world. 


The first live-action movie of the iconic hero was in 1966 with Batman. It was a feature film adaptation of the popular Batman television series in the sixties. Both the film and television series starring the late Adam West and are reflections of the lighthearted detective of the Golden Age of comics. The movie is an unserious classic with funny shenanigans and campy solutions. 


The franchise was revitalized in 1989 by director Tim Burton with Batman, and the sequel, Batman Returns (1992). The films were immensely successful with Hollywood stars such as Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Danny Devito, and Michelle Pfeiffer, redefining classic characters. For the first time in film history, comic book movies were shocking and profound, bringing to audiences around the world a fresh Batman for a new era in movies. The first movie was a blockbuster hit, becoming the fifth highest-grossing film at the time. Batman Returns, while still a hit, did not reach the same box office sales. Critics praised and condemned the sequel for its modern, dark undertones leading to a change of direction in the subsequent films. The third installment to Warner Bros.’s Batman series followed in 1995 with Batman Forever, directed by Joel Schumacher with Tim Burton producing. Val Kilmer replaced Michael Keaton in the family-friendly picture where he starred with Jim Carrey and Nicole Kidman. Batman Forever referred heavily to the Golden Age of comics with its corny characters. It mixed reviews but became the sixth highest-grossing film of 1996. Schumacher returned in 1997 with Batman & Robin, in the first movie of the series without the involvement of Tim Burton. George Clooney took the mantle of Batman and performed beside Arnold Swartznager and Uma Thurman. Batman & Robin was a massive flop, hated by critics and fans for its nonsensical and cheesy plot and acting. Twenty years after the premiere of Batman & Robin, Schumacher said to CNN, “I want to apologize to every fan that was disappointed because I think I owe them that.” The movie’s failure canceled the production of a fifth movie and killed any momentum the franchise had, making it still one of the worst films of all time. 


Batman took an eight-year hiatus from the big screen until the franchise was rebooted by the ten-time Oscar-winning director, Christopher Nolan, in 2005. His Dark Knight Trilogy is a dramatic, thrilling post 9/11 shocker that made Christian Bale’s Batman a gritty modern-day hero and created realistic, threatening villains. Nolan’s contemporary perspective brought superhero movies to a new audience and set the stage for more comic book heroes such as Iron Man, who debuted a couple of years after Batman Begins (2005). The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) furthered the trilogy’s historic status and are both among the top fifty highest-grossing films of all time. The second movie, The Dark Knight, is the most famous, regarded by many as the best superhero movie in history. Its triumph is widely accredited to a legendary performance by the late great Heath Ledger as the Joker, earning him the only posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.


The most live-action appearance by DC’s favorite winged warrior is in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and Justice League with Ben Affleck in the titular role. All of the movies have poor reviews, with criticism directed towards the lacking script. Critics rate Affleck’s grizzled Batman poorly by associating him with the failures of his films. 


Next in line in Pattinson with The Batman. Fans can only wait and see where it will fall on the grand spectra of Batman films as his legacy lives on.


The Batman hits theatres on June 25, 2021.