BATMAN’S been around so long we’ve had many different first encounters with the character. For some, it was the action comic book’s masked superhero called THE BATMAN, created by artist Bob Kane & writer Bill Finger, that hit newsstands Mar. 30, 1939 in Detective Comics #27, leading to two 1940’s film serials. For others, it was 20th Century Fox’s ABC-TV action comedy series (1966-68) starring Adam West or Fox’s 1966 movie parody with Cesar Romero as The Joker.
It wasn’t until June 23, 1989 that the next BATMAN movie opened, finally taking the character seriously. Directed by a young Tim Burton, it starred Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne & Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Its storyline told how Wayne saw his parents murdered in Gotham City and grew up dedicated to fighting crime.
The film’s production companies — Warner Bros., Guber-Peters & Polygram — took a big chance on Burton. His first features, PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (1985) & BEETLEJUICE (1988), had attracted attention, but were smaller than BATMAN, which cost a then hefty $35 million. Screendollars’ columnist & video voice Martin Grove recalls having Burton and producer Jon Peters as guests at the time on his cable TV talk show on Movietime, which later became E! When asked what he’d done before his first films, Burton confided he’d been a waiter in a medieval theme restaurant in Burbank — prompting Peters to interrupt with a smile, “And if this picture doesn’t work, you’ll be a waiter again!”
Happily, Burton’s directing career took off as BATMAN opened to $40.5 million and did $251.2 million domestic. It spawned two sequels: BATMAN RETURNS (1992), reteaming Burton & Keaton and adding Danny DeVito as a new villain, Penguin ($162.9 million) & BATMAN FOREVER (1995), directed by Joel Schumacher with Val Kilmer as Batman and two new villains — Tommy Lee Jones as Harvey Two-Face & Jim Carrey as Riddler ($184.1 million). Schumacher’s 1997 reboot BATMAN & ROBIN, starring George Clooney, did $107.4 million.
Christopher Nolan’s dark BATMAN BEGINS (2005) starred Christian Bale and did $371.9 million worldwide. Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT ($1 billion/2008) & THE DARK KNIGHT RISES ($1.1 billion/2012) followed.
Now moviegoers are eagerly awaiting WB’s franchise reboot, THE BATMAN, opening Mar. 4, 2022. Directed by Matt Reeves (“WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES”), it stars Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader then in just his second year fighting crime.