Retroplex Cinema: Batman (1989)

Retroplex Cinema is back and we continue our celebration of Batman's 75th Anniversary, this time with what is the 25th Anniversary of Tim Burton's film that changed the way Batman was perceived in 1989's Batman starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. What can be said about Batman after 25 years that hasn't been said before?  With this Retroplex Cinema we will give you some thoughts on the impact the film had on us, as well as talk a little about the production, the film's influence even today, and all the fantastic merchandise that the film spawned. 
Batman (1989)
     As today's audiences marvel at Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, 25 years ago a movie hit theaters that would change the way comic book film's were looked at.  Almost everything you see in movie theaters today that is comic book related owes it to this film that hit multiplexes on June 23, 1989.  That film is of course, Batman.  Directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson the film was a much darker take on the Caped Crusader than visual audiences were use to.  Comic readers had been treated to a darker vision of Batman through Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and the work of artist Neal Adams, but people that didn't read funny books were last familiar with the 1960's Adam West lead Batman television show, along with numerous animated versions that were just as goofy.  On top of how the public perceived Batman, audiences looked at Michael Keaton as a comedic actor and wondered if he could portray a serious role such as the duel identities of Bruce Wayne and Batman.  Along with a director who made quirky film's such as Beetlejuice to this point, people wondered would Batman be a success.  Comic books weren't exactly all that mainstream but Warner Brothers was willing to take a gamble on one of their biggest properties after huge success in the late 70's and early 80's with their Superman films.  The Superman franchise had fizzled out with the horrible Superman IV The Quest For Peace, and Warner Brothers needed another hero to take the place of that franchise lose.  Batman was put into production after Burton's Bettlejuice became a hit at the box office.  Despite the controversial casting of Keaton and the ridiculous demands of Nicholson to play the Joker, the movie was being made, and Batman was coming to the big screen like never before.
     25 years ago on June 23, 1989 Batman hit theaters.  The film opened with a huge buzz because for one, critics liked the film which seemed to wipe away the worry that Keaton couldn't cut it as the Caped Crusader.  Now 1989 was pre-internet days so people weren't as influenced as they are now, but audiences seemed to warm up to the film after the incredibly visual trailers, marketing campaign, and the good reviews the film was receiving. People lined up at theaters.  I was told stories about the lines people waited in for Star Wars, but was to young to remember.  In 1989 I was 12 years old and was standing in line to see Batman.  This was incredibly cool I thought being a young boy, and along with Star Wars, Batman is probably the most responsible for making me enjoy going to the theater.  Moments like that seeing a tent pole film with audiences makes standing in line, crowds, and the smell of theater food worth every second to be amazed on the big screen.  Tim Burton's Batman did all of this.  From the opening sequence when we are introduced to the Dark Knight and he utters the words, "I'm Batman" you are instantly hooked.  We are introduced to Jim Gordon, Alfred, the incredible Batmobile (still my favorite Batman film car), and of course the Joker.  Jack Nicholson's on screen portrayal of the Clown Prince Of Crime jumped off the screen and was the standard for many years to come as to how to play a comic book villain. People looked to him in the role as "this is how it's done" really some would say all the way until 2008 when the same character was portrayed amazingly but a young gifted actor named Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight.
     Batman opened to a huge $43 million dollar opening weekend.  A box office record for the time and would go on to make $251 million in North America.  It was an enormous hit for Warner Brothers, Tim Burton, and the comic book world and would change things forever.  Similar to how Star Wars had changed things in 1997 for how science fiction movies were perceived, Batman would change the way comic book films would be looked at.  1978's Superman: The Movie was a huge hit but at that time studios really only believed that Superman was popular enough to carry his own movie and never really looked at other heroes.  After Batman things would change completely. Comic books were suddenly a hot property.  From Marvel trying to get the Fantastic Four into theaters with the awful Roger Corman production, to other DC properties such as a Justice League TV pilot, to independent publishers such as Dark Horse's Barb Wire, and graphic novels like The Crow, comic book movies were a hot property.  The success of Batman even helped pulp super heroes such as The Shadow and The Phantom make a comeback! But Batman was the best of them and would be for quite sometime.
     What was it about Batman that made it stand up so well and still hold strong 25 years later?  Was it the iconic black costume?  The actors portrayal's of the roles? The amazing production design of Tim Burton's team?  Perhaps it was those wonderful toys the Batman had with him?  Or maybe simply it was because it was unlike anything we had ever seen before just as Star Wars was some twelve years earlier.  Whatever it may be Batman is still a strong film today.  It still has generally fantastic moments even in today's CGI, explosive filled standards we have gotten use to.  Batman does also seem dated in some ways compared to today's super hero films but in 1989 it was what we had and it was spectacular.  And still is quite spectacular by those standards.  It would spawn three sequels that were not received as well as the first film was, but it didn't stop the comic book movie train from going full steam ahead.   Batman started a revolution of sorts and in 2014, 25 years later it's still going strong.  We had an amazing trilogy of Batman films from director Christopher Nolan.  Batman will be appearing in the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice film and numerous other comic book based movies will be hitting theaters from now to who knows when.  The stories stand the test of time and people want to escape with these heroes at the theaters.  They will line up and wait to go with them on the journey just as they did 25 years ago when Batman arrived in theaters in 1989.  Batman was a true spectacle those 25 years ago and now at it's silver anniversary we celebrate it just as the hero it was based on turns 75 in 2014. 

- Mark Neiser, TMIAJ Editor In Chief

Batman spawned lots of merchandise from toys, to cereal, to tortilla chips and more.  It also had some great commercials including a very popular video release campaign for that Christmas of 1989.  Take a look back at some of the things the film inspired during it's release.

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