To celebrate Batman Day, we’re taking a deep dive into why we love Batman and the character’s long history on film.
In the world of superhero cinema, there has always been one constant fact. No matter who takes on the role of the character, there will always be a Batman on our screens. From cinemas to animated television, the caped crusader has dominated the big and small screen and with the release of The Batman: Part II in the coming years, his time in the multiplex isn’t stopping anytime soon. However, with all this fame comes a question. Why do we as audiences love seeing Batman on our screens?
Batman made his first appearance in an issue of “Detective Comics” in 1939 and four years later, we got our first screen adaptation in the form of 1943’s Batman. The serial was split into 15 chapters that were released weekly in theatres, and its success would later lead to the creation of the iconic 1960s television series starring Adam West in the role of the caped crusader. At this point, Batman was largely considered a much lighter character than the later portrayals we would become used to. With bright colours and an excess of camp for good measure, Batman was less of a figure that incited fear but one that instead, incited laughter. The character wasn’t a joke per se but it was instead a far cry from what we would later be used to.
Perhaps what’s most intriguing about Batman as a character is his ability to be moulded into whatever a creative mind has in store. Whether it’s to provide light entertainment or something a little darker, Batman leaves a lot more room for bold ideas that other superheroes can’t compare to. While Adam West provided audiences with a more campy rendition of the character, a much darker depiction of the caped crusader was on the way, and from there, Batman as we know the character in media today, began to take shape.
Tim Burton’s Batman was a pop culture phenomenon the likes of which only a few pieces of media could achieve. As “Batmania” swept the world and merchandise for the character was unavoidable, it became clear that Batman was no longer the silly and bright figure audiences were used to. However, audiences quickly took a shine to this new rendition from Michael Keaton and Tim Burton with the 1989 Warner Brothers film becoming a financial hit. While this was followed up with a sequel in 1992, trepidation from Hollywood of the character becoming too dark began to take shape and it wasn’t long before Batman went back to their campy roots.
Looking back at the release of both Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, there’s an argument to be made that these films may have been viewed too harshly due to their lighter tone. While Joel Schumacher brought the character back with a much more campy presentation, there’s an undeniable sense of fun that lingers on the screen that feels refreshing when factoring in where the character was both in media and comics during the early to mid-90s.
Sure, Batman had also taken over children’s television at this point with Batman: The Animated Series, however, the darker tone brought into place from Burton’s films remained. As well as this, comics were also leaning further into making Batman a much darker figure. Audiences were enjoying the new direction of the character but where the caped crusader shines most is how they’re able to be transformed both in tone and whatever form of media they take. The campy resurgence of Batman didn’t last long, however, and after the financial disappointment of Batman & Robin, our time with the caped crusader at the movies came to a temporary end.
After eight years of cancelled projects and speculation about how the character could return to the big screen, Batman finally returned to cinemas in the form of 2005’s Batman Begins. Directed by Christopher Nolan, it gave us yet another vision of the caped crusader that opted to take a darker direction. However, instead of leaning into the character’s gothic undertones like Tim Burton, Nolan instead explored a much more realistic take. While it took some time for audiences to get behind the new era of the character, the release of 2008’s The Dark Knight and the 2012 sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, made it clear that the days of Batman cartoonishly dancing and taking down criminals in comedic fashion were a distant memory.
The success of The Dark Knight Trilogy, combined with the success of Marvel’s cinematic universe, ushered in a new era of superhero cinema that offered two contrasting tones for audiences to enjoy. However, it also cemented that Batman was a character that would be defined in the modern day with a dark and gritty creative vision. This would be challenged through television with animated shows like Batman: The Brave and The Bold embracing the camp to some success but it was clear that audiences were more interested to see this character take on a much darker form on the big screen. This would further continue with Ben Affleck’s role as the character in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and even Robert Pattinson’s later depiction in 2022 with The Batman.
Whether you enjoy Batman at his silliest or his darkest, the sheer freedom on display with the comic character in any form of media is unparalleled. Over the many years audiences have had with the caped crusader, it’s become clear that our understanding of them has become more dynamic as we embrace different creative visions of the very character that defines cinema. Right now, Batman is still seen as a dark and gloomy character who strikes fear into the hearts of criminals. However, as we’ve seen over the past 80 years of the character on the big screen, Batman is a figure that is open to interpretation and most of all, unabashed creativity. We may be reaching for the same high that Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy gave us, but there’s a strong possibility that a new era of the iconic character can blossom into something unlike anything we’ve had before. Batman is an icon of pop culture and audiences will continue to love every aspect of the character, as long as even one creative mind has an idea or two to share with the world.