Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Batman Movies

A number of movies have been based on DC Comics' Batman.

1. Batman US serial movie (1943). Columbia. Dir Lambert Hillyer. Starring Douglas Croft (Robin), Lewis Wilson (Batman). 1 22min episode plus 14 16min episodes. B/w.

Batman and Robin, after various shenanigans, succeed in defeating a conspiracy headed by master-criminal Doctor Daka. We have been unable to obtain a viewing copy of this movie. [JG]

2. Batman and Robin US serial movie (1949). Columbia. Pr Sam Katzman. Dir Spencer Gordon Bennet. Screenplay Royal K Cole, George H Plympton, Joseph F Poland. Starring Jane Adams (Vicki Vale), John Duncan (Robin/Dick Grayson), William Fawcett (Professor Hammil), Robert Lowery (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Leonard Penn (Carter/The Wizard), Lyle Talbot (Commissioner Gordon), Rick Vallin (Barry Brown). 1 22min episode plus 14 16min episodes. B/w.

A masked master-criminal, The Wizard, steals Professor Hammil's new invention, the Remote Control Machine, which gives him the power to take over control of any moving vehicle within a 50-mile radius. Batman and Robin set out to right matters, but The Wizard proves resourceful, eventually developing the technology for personal Invisibility. This leaden Technofantasy features car chases and fisticuffs galore, but little real excitement. [JG]

3. Batman (vt Batman – The Movie; vt Batman '66) US movie (1966). 20th Century-Fox/Greenlawn/National Periodical Publications. Pr William Dozier. Dir Leslie H Martinson. Spfx L B Abbott. Mufx Ben Nye. Screenplay Lorenzo Semple Jr (1923-2014). Novelization Batman vs. The Fearsome Foursome * (1966) by Winston Lyon. Starring Frank Gorshin (Riddler), Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Lee Meriwether (Catwoman), Alan Napier (Alfred), Stafford Repp (Chief O'Hara), Cesar Romero (Joker), Burt Ward (Robin/Dick Grayson), Adam West (Batman/Bruce Wayne). 105 mins. Colour.

A camped-up tale based on the tv series Batman (1966-1968) and guying, with cheerful unsubtlety, Superhero conventions and Comic-book pretensions (notably the heroes' ultra-wholesomeness). Credibility is thrown to the wind in a monumentally tortuous plot in which four prime Villains – Catwoman, The Joker, The Riddler and The Penguin – unite in a world-domination attempt. B flags about the halfway mark, but is still a better movie than generally granted – and certainly a pleasingly lighthearted contrast to 4 and 5. [JG]

4. Batman US movie (1989). Warner. Pr Peter Guber, Jon Peters. Exec pr Benjamin Melniker, Michael E Uslan. Dir Tim Burton. Vfx Derek Meddings. Screenplay Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren. Novelization Batman * (1989) by Craig Shaw Gardner. Starring Kim Basinger (Vicky/Vicki Vale), Michael Gough (Alfred), Jerry Hall (Alicia), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon), Michael Keaton (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Jack Nicholson (Jack Napier/Joker), Jack Palance (Carl Grissom), Robert Wuhl (Alexander Knox). 126 mins. Colour.

Gotham City has come to regard Batman as merely an Urban Legend, but then he apprehends Napier, treacherous sidekick of gang boss Grissom, who ends up in a vat of chemicals. Plastic surgery leaves Napier's face a ghastly Mask crossed by a rictus grin – and so he recreates himself as The Joker, gathering Circus-clown thugs around him and aiming to become criminal master of Gotham City. Journalists Knox and Vale, working on the Batman story, trip over reclusive millionaire Bruce Wayne, whom Vale beds; later she has rough sex with Batman, yet fails to identify the two. The Joker, too, lusts for Vale, and she becomes the real focus of the struggle between the Villain and Batman – which struggle Batman wins.

B owes much more to the dark, tormented soul portrayed in Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986; graph coll 1986) than to the simpler Superhero of the earlier Comics, the tv series and 3. It is dour – often visually splendid – with pretensions to psychological depth. Through music, lighting, timing and surreal cityscapes Burton tries to invest his Urban Fantasy with the weight of Myth, yet the burden seems too great for the subject matter easily to bear; occasional flashes of realism make the rest seem suddenly kitsch. Yet the visual ponderousness of B is, undeniably, impressive. [JG]

5. Batman Returns US movie (1992). Warner. Pr Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi. Exec pr Peter Guber, Benjamin Melniker, Jon Peters, Michael Uslan. Dir Burton. Spfx Michael Fink, Chuck Gaspar. Screenplay Wesley Strick, Daniel Waters. Novelizations Batman Returns * (1992) by Craig Shaw Gardner; Catwoman * (1992) by Lynn Abbey and Robert Asprin. Starring Danny DeVito (Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot), Michael Keaton (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman/Selina Kyle), Christopher Walken (Max Shreck). 126 mins. Colour.

The sequel to 4. Thrown into the sewers by his parents – revolted by their half-bird, half-man offspring – Oswald Cobblepot is now the Penguin, whose thugs, the Red Triangle Gang, terrorize Gotham City. Kyle, secretary to corrupt businessman Shreck, discovers his crookedness and is defenestrated by him; she survives the fall, becoming the villainous Catwoman by night while retaining her mundane personality by day. Kyle and Wayne fall in love even as Catwoman, allied to the Penguin, is at war with Batman. But her real loathing is for Shreck, and finally Catwoman and Batman together destroy the Villains. Script and direction are leaden, and Pfeiffer is incapable of projecting the feline sexuality required of Catwoman (Lee Meriwether did a much finer job in 3); since the Catwoman/Kyle dichotomy should be the movie's spine, the rest falls apart. [JG]

6. Batman – Mask of the Phantasm US Animated Movie (1993). Warner Bros. Pr Benjamin Melniker, Michael Uslan. Exec pr Tom Ruegger. Dir Eric Radomski, Bruce W Timm. Screenplay Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko, Michael Reaves. Voice actors Hart Bochner (Arthur Reeves), Kevin Conroy (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Dana Delany (Andrea Beaumont), Mark Hamill (Joker), Stacy Keach Jr (Carl Beaumont/Phantasm), Dick Miller (Chuckie Sol), John P Ryan (Buzz Bronski), Abe Vigoda (Salvatore Valestra), Efrem Zimbalist Jr (Alfred). 73 mins. Colour.

This is a direct adaptation from the 1992-1994 animated tv series The Adventures of Batman and Robin. Borrowing much of its visual style (notably the range of colour values) and musical ambience from 4 and 5, this animated feature is probably better than both. Much of the action happens in flashbacks to a decade ago when Wayne's parents had not long died, and he resolved to become a vigilante crimefighter. Around then he met and became affianced to Andrea Beaumont, the one woman he has ever loved; but she and father Carl fled the country when Carl's criminal associates turned the heat on him. In the present, a sinister, fog-enshrouded, masked Death figure, The Phantasm (the Mask and husking voice are like Darth Vader's), is killing those associates, and Batman is blamed; also, Andrea is back, and she and Wayne attempt to resume their former relationship. Enter The Joker: ten years ago he was the least of the gang threatening Carl; now he is a criminal mastermind intent on destroying both The Phantasm (before The Phantasm destroys him) and Batman. In due course The Phantasm, assumed to be Carl, proves to be Andrea. She and Batman seemingly kill The Joker, and Batman assumes that she, too, dies in the process; in fact she escapes to leave his life again, this time forever.

Much of the animation is technically not sophisticated, yet the limitations are cleverly exploited to contribute to an immense stylishness – to create the effect of an excellent Comic book brought to life. Many of the camera-angles and sequence-constructions owe more to live-action direction than to traditional animation. B – MOTP generates the thrill of believed-in, and hence somehow credible, modern Myth. [JG]

7. Batman Forever US movie (1995). Warner Bros. Pr Tim Burton, Peter MacGregor. Exec pr Benjamin Melniker, Michael E Ulsan. Dir Joel Schumacher. Vfx sv John Dykstra. Screenplay Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Akiva Goldsman. Starring Drew Barrymore (Sugar), Jim Carrey (Edward Nygma/Riddler), Michael Gough (Alfred Pennyworth), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon), Tommy Lee Jones (Harvey Dent/Harvey Two-Face), Nicole Kidman (Dr Chase Meridian), Val Kilmer (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Debi Mazar (Spice), Chris O'Donnell (Dick Grayson/Robin). 122 mins. Colour.

The sequel to 4 and 5. A new director pitches a new Batman against a new pair of supervillains. Perhaps truer to the earlier comics and tv series, it sees the arrival of Dick Grayson/Robin. The foes are Harvey Two-Face and The Riddler (a role originally intended for Robin Williams). Two-Face is an ex-DA turned schizoid; always in two minds, he believes the only true justice is luck and so flips a coin to decide whether his victims live or die – a habit established in comics long before Luke Rhinehart's The Dice Man (1971; rev 1983). He has two molls (the refined, virginal Sugar and the decadent, kinky Spice) and his abode is split into two opposing styles ("Heavy Metal meets Homes and Gardens"). The Riddler is mad scientist Edward Nygma, whose invention of an implement to utilize neural energy is dismissed by Wayne. As revenge The Riddler joins Two-Face and forms NygmaTech, selling a product to the public that animates their fantasies, projecting them onto a tv screen, but also taps into their brainwaves and feeds information to Nygma. The love interest is Meridian, a criminal psychologist who becomes obsessed with Batman but falls for Wayne. Robin becomes Batman's partner after his parents are killed by Two-Face, thus giving the two a common cause.

Schumacher's vision is not so much brighter than Burton's, but is strewn with neon strips and fluorescent paints among Gotham's lowlife and supervillains; he combines the use of colour and the Gothic darkness effectively. The plot is confusing and manically directed. Batman is overshadowed by the leading villains, particularly Carrey. [JT]

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.