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Batman is a 1989 superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name, directed by Tim Burton. The film stars Michael Keaton in the title role, as well as Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance. The film, in which Batman deals with the rise of a powerful villain known as "The Joker", is the first installment of Warner Bros.' Batman film series.

After Burton's hiring as director, 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. Nicholson was cast as the Joker in a deal that included both salary and a portion of the box office profits.

Filming took place at Pinewood Studiosmarker 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 was nominated for an Academy Awards and a Golden Globe. It was succeeded by Batman: The Animated Series, a series of films for Warner Bros. and redefined the modern perception of the superhero film genre.


As a child, Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) saw his parents killed by a young criminal. He vows to avenge their deaths in a lifelong battle against crime as the disguise of Batman while concealing his secret identity, working in the Wayne Enterprises. Years later, Gotham is under control by crime boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance). Despite the best efforts of newly-elected district attorney Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) and police commissioner James Gordon (Pat Hingle), the police department remains corrupted. Reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and photo-journalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) begin investigating the rumors of a shadowy vigilante figure dressed as a bat who has been terrifying criminals throughout the city.

Vicki and Knox attend a benefit at Wayne Manor, where Bruce is taken by Vicki's charms. Knox, however, appears somewhat jealous of the chemistry between Bruce and Vicki. That same night, Grissom's second in command, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), is sent to raid Axis Chemicals factory. After the police receive a tip-off and arrive to arrest him, Jack realizes he's been set-up by his boss, angered by his affair with Grissom's mistress. In the midst of the shoot-out, Batman arrives and takes out Jack's henchmen.

In a bizarre accident caused by his own ricocheting bullet, deflected by Batman's metal-reinforced gauntlet, Jack's face is ripped open. Reeling from the pain, he topples over a platform rail but manages to grab a lower rail with one hand. Batman momentarily clutches Jack's free hand, but the grip is soon broken, and he falls into a large vat containing an unknown chemical solution. Shortly thereafter, he emerges from an adjacent reservoir, his hair and skin discolored. Following a surgical attempt to repair his face, Jack is left with a permanent and twisted grin, giving him the appearance of a grotesque clown. Driven mad, he fashions himself as "the Joker".

After killing Grissom, the Joker takes over his empire and holds the city at his mercy by chemically altering everyday hygiene products, causing those using a certain combination of products to laugh to death. Batman attempts to track down the Joker, who has become romantically interested in Vicki. It is revealed that the Joker, as a young criminal, was the man who killed Bruce's parents. Batman destroys the factory the Joker used to make the poisoned products. The Joker holds a parade through Gotham, luring its citizens on to its streets by dispensing money, intending to kill them with lethal gas. Batman foils his plan, but the Joker kidnaps Vicki and takes her to the top of a cathedral church. After a fight with Batman, the Joker falls to his death from the bell tower. Commissioner Gordon unveils the Bat-Signal along with a note from Batman read by Harvey Dent, promising to defend Gotham whenever crime strikes again.



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 camp. The success of The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke prompted Warner Bros. to give the film a darker, more serious tone for the storyline. Although Burton was initially not a comic book fan, he enjoyed The Killing Joke. Warner Bros. enlisted the aid of Steve Englehart to write a new treatment in March 1986. His first treatment 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 limited series Strange Apparitions (ISBN 1-56389-500-5). 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.

Concept art for the Joker, by Tim Burton.

Burton 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, and not a supporting character. One scene in Hamm's script had James Gordon on duty the night of the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents. In this way, he shares a special bond with Bruce and thus with Batman, similar with a subplot in Batman Begins (2005). When Hamm's script was rewritten, the scene was deleted.

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 then became largely bootleg at various comic book stores across America. Batman was finally given the greenlight to commence pre-production in April 1988, after the surprising success of Burton's Beetlejuice (1988). When comic book fans found out about Burton directing the film and 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. 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.


Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Selleck and Bill Murray were all considered for Batman. Tim Burton was pressured to cast an obvious action movie star. Producer Jon Peters favored Michael Keaton, arguing he had the right "edgy, tormented quality." Having directed Keaton in Beetlejuice, Burton agreed.

Keaton's casting caused a controversy amongst 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, while Adam West felt himself to be a better choice. 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 studied The Dark Knight Returns for inspiration.

Tim Curry, Willem Dafoe, David Bowie and James Woods were considered for the Joker. Robin Williams lobbied hard for the part. Jack Nicholson was 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. 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 $50 million.

Sean Young was originally cast as Vicki Vale but became injured during 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. Peters suggested Kim Basinger and she was cast. As a fan of Michael Gough's work in various Hammer Film Productions, Burton cast Gough as 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." Billy Dee Williams took the role of Harvey Dent because he was looking forward to portray Two-Face in a sequel. However, Tommy Lee Jones was cast in the role for Batman Forever. Williams was mildly disappointed by the casting decision. Nicholson convinced the filmmakers to cast Tracey Walter as Bob the Goon. In real life, Nicholson and Walter are close friends. The rest of the cast included Pat Hingle as James Gordon, Jack Palance as Carl Grissom, Jerry Hall as Alicia Hunt and William Hootkins as Max Eckhardt.


The filmmakers considered filming Batman entirely in Hollywood, California, but media interest in the film made them change the location to England. It was shot entirely at Pinewood Studiosmarker in England from October 1988 to January 1989. 18 sound stages were used, almost the entirety of Pinewood's ninety-five-acre backlot. Knebworth Housemarker doubled for Wayne Manor. 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 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 felt. "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."
The Batsuit, worn by Michael Keaton.
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.'" 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 Racersmarker of the 30s and the Stingray macho machines of the 50s." The car was built upon a Chevrolet Impala when previous development with a Jaguar and Ford Mustang failed.

Costume designer Bob Ringwood (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Troy) 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 Nikemarker product placement with the Batsuit. Ringwood studied over 200 comic book issues for inspiration. 28 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 originally had negative feedback against the Batsuit. Burton opted not to use tights, spandex or underpants as seen in the comic book, feeling it wasn't intimidating. Prosthetic makeup designer Nick Dudman (Harry Potter film series, Legend) used acrylic paint for Nicholson's chalk-white face. Part of Nicholson's contract was approval over prosthetic 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 never had 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 later was 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 Shirley Walker.


"The duel of the freaks"
When 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 disfigured people." He continued, "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." Burton believes "they're deemed disgusting. 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 two people at one time and a symbol of America. Bruce has pretense of appearing to be one image, 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. He is carefully framed so that the single word AXIS, in gigantic red neon letters, looms over him. This parallels his actions and those of the totalitarian governments of World War II. The dangers inherent in 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. "The citizens, cops, people and the black-and-white television looks like it takes place in 1939." However, Hanke 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.



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 creative control.

During production, Peters read in the 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 (ISBN 978-1563890475). 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 reboot Batman Begins.

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 fucking 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, 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."


Batman 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 is 42nd 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 video sales.

Batman was criticized in some quarters for being "too dark". Many observed that Burton was more interested in the Joker rather than Batman 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 continued, "and Tim had the other writers do that. I also hold innocent to Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave," he reasoned. "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." Nonetheless, the film received generally favorable reviews from critics. Based on 50 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 70% of reviewers have enjoyed Batman. By comparison, Metacritic has collected an average score of 66, based on 17 reviews.

Burton 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." His reviewing partner, Gene Siskel, disagreed, however, describing the film as having a 'refreshingly adult' approach with performances, direction and set design that 'draws you into a psychological world'. Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader called it "watchable enough".


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 . 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 won none of the categories. Nicholson, Basinger, the make-up department and costume designer Bob Ringwood all received nominations at the Saturn Awards. The film was nominated 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 Emmy Award-winning Batman: The Animated Series, as a result beginning the long-running DC Animated Universe. 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." Batman initiated the original Batman film series and helped establish the modern day superhero film genre. 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."

Producers Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker filed a breach of contract lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on March 26, 1992. Uslan and Melniker claimed to be "the victims of a sinister campaign of fraud and coercion that has cheated them out of continuing involvement in the production of Batman and its sequels. We were denied proper credits, and deprived of any financial rewards for our indispensable creative contribution to the success of Batman." A superior court judge rejected the lawsuit. Total revenues of Batman have topped $2 billion, with Uslan claiming to have "not seen a penny more than that since our net profit participation has proved worthless." Warner Bros. offered the pair a out-of-court pay-off, a sum described by Uslan and Melniker's attorney as "two popcorns and two Coke".

Reflecting on the twentieth anniversary of its release in a retrospective article on, film commentator Scott Mendelson noted that continuing impact that Batman has had on the motion film industry, including the increasing importance of opening weekend box office receipts; the narrowing window between a film's debut and its video release that caused the demise of second-run movie theaters; the accelerated acquisition of pre-existing, pre-sold properties for film adaptation that can be readily leveraged for merchandizing tie-ins; the primacy of the MPAA PG-13 as the target rating for film producers; and more off-beat, non-traditional casting opportunities for genre films.

Home video

Many versions of the film have been released. Included are VHS, LaserDisc, single disc DVD, Special Edition DVD and an anthology set. The Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology released in 2005 included 2-Disc Special Edition DVDs of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman films. This anthology set was re-released on Blu-Ray on March 10, 2009.

On May 19, 2009 a 20th anniversary stand-alone edition was released. This stand-alone version contains the exact same special features as its anthology set (both DVD and Blu-Ray) counterparts. There are 2 differences, this version includes a 50-page booklet guide to the film and a slight variation in packaging from normal Blu-Ray cases (Warner Bros. *Digibook*).


Further reading

External links

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