Back in 1939, with the world on the brink of war, everyone needed a little escapism. Comic books were popular with people of all ages, and the most read stories involved heroes who fought for good and justice. Detective Comics had started publication two years earlier to meet this demand. Its issue #27, released in May, featured an all-new superhero character designed to cash in on the success of Superman, who had first appeared in Action Comics a few months earlier.
And so Batman (or the Bat-Man, as he was initially known) arrived on the world stage. 80 years on, the comic books still have their following and there was the Batman TV series that ran for 120 episodes in the 1960s. But it is the movies that have kept Batman relevant to successive generations across the years.
There have been 14 movies either starring or featuring Batman, starring eight different actors. With the recent Joker movie and another, as yet unnamed Batman title in the pipeline for 2021, there is no sign of the Caped Crusader’s popularity diminishing any time soon.
Here, we take an affectionate look at some of the key Batman movies from across the decades.
Strictly speaking, the first Batman movie was released in the 1940s as a series of short adventures set in wartime Gotham City. However, the 1966 movie starring Adam West was the first opportunity Batman had to spread his wings in a full length feature film.
Fans of the TV series will know exactly what to expect, from the camp dialog to the ludicrous bat-prefixes. For example, in one memorable scene, Batman emerges staggering from the ocean with a large, and very plastic, shark clinging to his leg. Fortunately, he is able to avert disaster by pulling his trusty shark repellant bat-spray from his utility belt.
Take the movie for what it is, however, and you’d be pushed to find a more enjoyable way to spend 104 minutes. Like Sean Connery’s James Bond, many feel Adam West is still the only true Batman, and the affection and respect the world had for the man was reflected in the tributes and outpouring of grief when he passed away in 2017.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Batman was seen as a product of the 1960s. Regular reruns of the TV series kept the character in the public’s attention, but the world had to wait till 1989 for a new movie. But boy, was it worth the wait.
It was Tim Burton’s directorial debut, and with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in the lead roles, it was always going to be a classic. Keaton’s batman has none of the camp of Adam West’s portrayal – in fact, his Bruce Wayne comes across as dangerous and perhaps a little unstable. Jack Nicholson’s Joker is simply one of the best movie villains of all time. Sure, if we are being picky, the movie shows its age today, but it is still a classic of its time.
Batman and Robin (1997)
Two sequels followed Tim Burton’s fabulous reboot. But Batman Returns and Batman Forever were muddled affairs. Both were more memorable for their villains than the lead role. In 1992, Danny De Vito’s portrayal of The Penguin was the stuff of nightmares, while in 1995, Val Kilmer was barely noticeable as Jim Carrey stole every scene as The Joker.
Moving on to 1995, Batman and Robin has come in for criticism and adulation in equal measure, thanks to it returning to Batman’s 1960s roots. Not only is George Clooney’s Batman at last reunited with the Boy Wonder, but both get to wear tight rubber suits that would have made even Adam West and Burt Ward wince. There’s also a return to the general campiness of the 1960s, from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s overacting to a new useful addition to the utility belt, the bat-credit card.
The Dark Knight (2008)
To many, this “second reboot” from 2008 represents the pinnacle, not just of Batman movies but of the superhero genre in general. Christian Bale’s performance in Batman Begins three years earlier received worthy praise, but viewed in context, it seems he was building up for this moment. Everything is right, from the set pieces to the supporting roles. Michael Caine immediately made the role of Alfred his own, while Heath Ledger was genuinely haunting in what proved to be his final film role.
This was the movie that redefined Batman for the 21st century, and it was the inspiration for a range of spin offs that are still popular today. A much anticipated PS3 / Xbox video game never made it to release, but Microgaming made a better job of cashing in on the movie’s popularity with a video slot game that has become a staple of the online casinos. You can read a full review of the Dark Knight slot game elsewhere, but suffice it to say that since Playtech took over the license from Microgaming, the 50 paylines and six reels have made it one of the most popular games of its type for both movie aficionados and hard core gambling fans.
The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
The final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises was solid enough, but seemed a little lackluster and formulaic after the magic of The Dark Knight. What the franchise needed was a complete change of direction, and in 2017, it got exactly that.
There’s no shortage of Batman animations out there (seek out Mask of the Phantasm from 1993 for something truly different). But combining Batman with the success of the previous year’s LEGO Movie proved to be a master stroke. It’s fun, it’s entertaining and it almost feels like something of a palate cleanser as we prepare for the next interpretation of the Caped Crusader to hit the big screen and guide us towards his bat-Centenary.