History, Legacy & Showmanship
Sunday, 22 June 2014 02:01

Wings of Change: Remembering Tim Burton’s “Batman” on its 25th Anniversary

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“It has the personality not of a particular movie but of a product, of something arrived at by corporate decision.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times

Blockbuster. Juggernaut. Game Changer.

The event, or tentpole, film was taken to new heights during the summer of 1989, and the industry hasn’t been the same since. Sure, there were hits — and megahits — before, but everything this did was new, unorthodox or amplified: mass-saturation marketing, title-less posters, narration-less trailers, loads of tie-in merchandise, dual soundtrack release, one-day-early sneak-preview screenings, anti-piracy electronic-coded release prints, shattered box-office records, home-video release while still in theaters, franchise. [Read on here…]

The Digital Bits is pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the silver anniversary of the release of Batman, Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader starring Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. As with other entries in this series, The Bits celebrates the occasion with this retrospective article featuring two interviews (one with film historian and author Bruce Scivally who discusses the legacy of the film and character, and the other with film music authority Jeff Bond who discusses one of the stand-out elements of the film: Danny Elfman’s music).

The article also includes some quotes from well-known movie critics, production & exhibition information, a list of the movie’s deluxe 70-millimeter presentations, and a revealing compilation of box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context.

Batman Westwood Village (photo by Bill Gabel)



  • 1 = Rank among top-grossing movies during opening weekend
  • 1 = Rank among top-grossing movies of 1989 (summer season)
  • 1 = Rank among top-grossing movies of 1989 (domestic)
  • 1 = Rank among Warner Bros.’ top-grossing movies of all time at close of run
  • 2 = Number of weeks nation’s top-grossing movie
  • 2 = Rank among top-grossing movies of 1989 (worldwide)
  • 3 = Rank among top-grossing movies of the 1980s
  • 5 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
  • 5 = Rank on all-time list of top-grossing movies at close of original run
  • 10 = Number of days to gross $100 million*
  • 12 = Number of years Warner Bros.’ top-grossing movie
  • 13 = Number of years industry’s top-grossing superhero/comic book movie
  • 25.7 = Percentage of second-week decrease in box-office gross
  • 37 = Number of days to gross $200 million*
  • 50 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • 81 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (domestic)
  • 179 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (worldwide)
  • 2,194 = Number of theaters showing the movie during opening weekend
  • 13,500,000 = Number of home-video units sold to retailers on initial release (sell-through, $24.98 SRP)
  • $2.2 million = Sneak-preview screenings box-office gross*
  • $13.1 million = Opening-day box-office gross*
  • $14.6 million = Highest single-day gross (June 24)*
  • $40.5 million = Opening weekend box-office gross* (June 23-25)
  • $42.7 million = Opening weekend box-office gross* (June 22 sneak previews + June 23-25)
  • $53.5 million = Production cost
  • $71.8 million = International box-office rental (% of gross exhibitors paid to distributor)
  • $102.3 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $152.1 million = Domestic box-office rental (% of gross exhibitors paid to distributor)
  • $160.2 million = International box-office gross
  • $251.2 million = Domestic box-office gross
  • $400.0 million = Home video and ancillary market revenue (approximate)
  • $411.3 million = Worldwide box-office gross
  • $501.1 million = Domestic box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
  • $750.0 million = Tie-in merchandise revenue (approximate)
  • $786.4 million = Worldwide box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)

*Established new industry record

   Batman Westwood Village (photo by Bill Gabel)   Batman Westwood Village (photo by Bill Gabel)



“The movie of the decade.” — Erik Preminger, KGO-TV, San Francisco

“The Gotham City created in Batman is one of the most distinctive and atmospheric places I’ve seen in the movies. It’s a shame something more memorable doesn’t happen there. Batman is a triumph of design over story, style over substance — a great-looking movie with a plot you can’t care much about.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


“…the best of the summer blockbusters because of its originality. Director Tim Burton does not kowtow to the juvenile sensibility of most summertime movies, and the result is a dark, smart and moody drama filled with more than a few laughs provided by Jack Nicholson as the evil Joker.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“The problem — I think — is that while Burton is a great visual stylist, intellectually, he’s as arrested as Pee-wee Herman. Burton’s more interested in fetishistic behavior and surreal/sadistic imagery than he is in ‘girls’ or anything as dull as character development.” — James Verniere, Boston Herald

“Dark, haunting and poetic, Tim Burton’s Batman is a magnificent living comic book. From its opening shots, as the camera descends into the grim, teeming streets of Gotham City, the movie fixes you in its gravitational pull. It’s an enveloping, walk-in vision. You enter into it as you would a magical forest in a fairy tale, and the deeper you’re drawn into it, the more frighteningly vivid it becomes. Ultimately, that’s what Batman is — a violent, urban fairy tale. And it’s as rich and satisfying a movie as you’re likely to see all year.” — Hal Hinson, The Washington Post


“The much-publicized Prince songs are terrible and rather intrusive, but Danny Elfman’s score is as flamboyant and huge as the movie, perfectly complementing the action. And the sets and technical credits are fascinating from beginning to end.” — Chris Hicks, (Salt Lake City) Deseret News


“It comes as no surprise that Jack Nicholson steals every scene in a sizable role as the hideously disfigured Joker. Nicholson embellishes fascinatingly baroque designs with his twisted features, lavish verbal pirouettes and inspired excursions into the outer limits of psychosis. It’s a masterpiece of sinister comic acting.” — Variety


”Well, bat-fans, your days and nights and weeks and months of anticipation and dread have come down to this very day — Batman is playing in theaters. And unlike all the megabuck sequels of the summer, Batman lives up to its billing. It’s original, wild, daring, funny, frightening and unexpected — everything a great film of this sort should be.” — Donald Porter, (Ogden) Standard-Examiner


“Some things are wanted too badly. Case in point: the Batman movie. Could anything satisfy the unprecedented anticipation this film stirred up? The answer, of course, is no. A different kind of want develops while you’re watching. Marveling at its audacious, eclectic design, Jack Nicholson’s certifiably crazed Joker, appreciating Michael Keaton’s efforts to bring dignity and wit to the Dark Knight and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne — for that and more, you want to love it, but you can’t. Batman is one of those films that gets everything right except the script. The core failure undercuts all that the movie does well. But what Batman does well, especially in this summer of risk-free, unimaginative sequels, is worth celebrating.” — Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Daily News


Batman advance poster“A triumph. You can’t take your eyes off it. Michael Keaton is astounding. Jack Nicholson paints a classic comic portrait. Tim Burton is a gifted director.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone


“Anton Furst’s production design is so evocative that one expects to meet a fiend on the order of Dr. Mabuse, Fritz Lang’s master criminal, rather than D.C. Comics’ Joker, who, though brilliantly played by Jack Nicholson, simply isn’t up to the apocalyptic grandeur of the décor…. Thanks to the work of Mr. Furst, Batman is fun to look at, at least for a while. Not since Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: the Gambler (1922), Metropolis (1926) and The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse (1933) have so much talent and money gone into the creation of an expressionistic world so determinedly corrupt…. Yet nothing in the movie sustains this vision. The wit is all pictorial. The film meanders mindlessly from one image to the next, as does a comic book. It doesn’t help that the title character remains such a wimp even when played by Michael Keaton. Nobody could do anything with this ridiculous conceit, but asking Mr. Keaton, one of our most volatile actors, to play Bruce Wayne/Batman is like asking him to put on an ape suit and play the title role in King Kong…. Batman is a movie without any dominant tone or style other than that provided by Mr. Furst. It’s neither funny nor solemn. It has the personality not of a particular movie but of a product, of something arrived at by corporate decision.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times


“Breathtaking! As played by Jack Nicholson, the Joker is Wild!” — Gene Shalit, The Today Show


“Daring, spectacular, exciting. Worth the wait, worth the hype and worth the wait in line. Michael Keaton makes you believe in Batman.” — Pat Collins, WWOR-TV, New York


“Bad news, batfans. In Batman, the Joker finally gets the better of the hero. He pulls off the crime of the century right below the Caped Crusader’s nose: He steals his movie.” — Jeff Strickler, (Minneapolis) Star Tribune


“Wow! This is easily one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my life. There was not one minute where I was bored. The lighting was right on the mark, the direction superb and the performances flawless. If you don’t enjoy this flick you are comatose, my friend.” — Larry King, CNN


Batman’s style is both daunting and lurching; it has trouble deciding which of its antagonists should set the tone. It can be as manic as the Joker, straining to hear the applause of outrage; it can be as implosive as Batman-Bruce, who seems crushed by the burden of his schizoid eminence. This tension nearly exhausts the viewer and the film.” — Richard Corliss, Time


“Yes, the Joker is definitely wild in Batman. Nicholson’s role is so large, in fact, that this film should almost be called The Joker… Considering all of the buildup this film has received, many moviegoers will find it a letdown. If Robin were around, he probably would say, ‘Holy Disappointment, Batman!’” — Jeff Bahr, Omaha World-Herald


Batman is half brilliant. It looks as if Burton was aware of the flaws in this project but that, handed a big-budget blockbuster after only two movies, he couldn’t blast all of them away, as Richard Donner was able to do in the first Superman. There’s hardly a doubt that Batman will reap zillions. Let’s hope that Tim Burton won’t get caught up in the sequel syndrome. He should pursue his own projects — that’s the real excitement of a talent like his.” — Jack Kroll, Newsweek


Batman lobby card



By the end of its original release, Batman became Warner Bros.’ highest-grossing movie and the industry’s highest-grossing comic book/superhero movie. The movie eclipsed the Warners record set by The Exorcist sixteen years earlier and held as the studio’s top earner until topped by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001. It eclipsed the comic book/superhero record set by Superman eleven years earlier and held as the top-earner until Spider-Man surpassed it in 2002.

Now commonplace with event movies and tentpoles, Batman was the first movie to include nationwide sneak-preview screenings the evening prior to release. Prior to Batman, several high-profile movies—including some James Bond, Star Wars and Indiana Jones sequels, and Cobra—had pre-release screenings (i.e. midnight and/or round-the-clock opening-day screenings) but these were limited to a handful of theaters/cities; Batman appears to have been the first movie to have sneaks on a mass scale.

The world premiere of Batman was held on June 19, 1989, at the Mann Village and Mann Bruin theaters in the Westwood Village community of Los Angeles.

Batman was the first movie to gross over $40 million on an opening weekend.

A new opening-weekend box-office gross record was set three times during a span of a month during the summer movie-going season of 1989. First, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade established a new record with a May 26-28 gross of $29.4 million, eclipsing the previous record of $26.3 million set in 1987 by Beverly Hills Cop II. Ghostbusters II broke Indiana Jones’ record with a June 16-18 opening weekend tally of $29.5 million. That record lasted a week until Batman arrived and established by a wide margin a new industry record with a June 23-25 opening weekend gross of $40.5 million ($42.7 million including its June 22 sneak-preview screenings). Batman’s record held for three years before being topped by Batman Returns ($45.7 million).

Batman had two separate soundtrack albums issued—an unusual practice at the time—one featuring Danny Elman’s symphonic score and the other featuring Prince’s songs.

Batman was the third feature film of Tim Burton scored by Danny Elfman. Subsequently, Elfman provided the music to every Burton-directed film except Ed Wood (1994). Burton & Elfman are among the most prolific director-composer collaborations.

The first coming attractions trailer for Batman was issued in December 1988 and was initially screened with selected engagements of Tequila Sunrise. Subsequently, the trailer was attached to the prints of some of Warner Bros.’ winter and spring 1989 releases, including Her Alibi and Dead Calm. A newer, more polished trailer was issued with prints of Pink Cadillac.  A trailer for Young Einstein was attached to the release prints of Batman.

Batman was among 17 first-run movies and three classic re-issues released during 1989 with 70-millimeter prints for selected engagements. The premium-format prints cost about eight times that of a conventional 35mm print to manufacture but grossed more than the 35mm engagements in most situations. Large-format 70mm was superior to conventional 35mm prints because the larger print allowed a sharper, brighter and steadier projected image and its magnetic soundtrack provided discrete channels of audio with incredible fidelity.

Awards won included an Oscar for Art Direction, a Grammy for Danny Elfman’s music, and a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture.

Despite a worldwide box-office gross exceeding $400 million, industry trade publications reported a decade after release that Batman was in the red.

During an era where six months was the average amount of time between theatrical release and home-video release (and even longer for most blockbusters), Batman pushed the theatrical-to-video “window” to under five months by arriving on home-video formats in November 1989, and also marked the first time a summer blockbuster was rush-released to home video in time for Christmas.

The first home-video (VHS & Beta) release of Batman was in 1989. Its first LaserDisc release was in 1990. (It was also released in 8mm and Spanish-subtitled VHS.) The first cable TV/premium-channel broadcast was in July 1990. The first network television broadcast was on CBS on April 29, 1992. Its first DVD release was in 1997. Its first Region 1 Blu-ray release was in 2009 (4-movie anthology set) and 2010 (individual release).

Batman Los Angeles newspaper ad



The following is a list of the first-run 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo premium-format presentations of Batman in the United States and Canada. Arguably, these were the best theaters in which to experience Batman. Less than five percent of the film’s print run was in the deluxe 70mm format. So which theaters received the coveted prints? Read on…. (The list does not include any 70mm move-over, sub-run, re-release or international engagements.)

** shown on two screens


  • Calgary – Famous Players PALLISER SQUARE 1 & 2
  • Calgary – Famous Players SOUTHCENTRE 7
  • Edmonton – Famous Players WESTMALL 5


  • Burnaby – Famous Players STATION SQUARE 7 <THX>
  • Vancouver – Famous Players CAPITOL 6

Batman Westwood Village ticket (Bill Gabel)CALIFORNIA

  • Berkeley – Cinerama CALIFORNIA 3
  • Lakewood – Pacific LAKEWOOD CENTER 4
  • Los Angeles (Hollywood) – Mann CHINESE TRIPLEX <THX>
  • Los Angeles (North Hollywood) – Syufy CENTURY 7 <THX>
  • Los Angeles (Westwood Village) – Mann VILLAGE <THX>
  • Los Angeles (Woodland Hills) – United Artists WARNER CENTER 6
  • Mountain View – Syufy CENTURY 10
  • Newport Beach – Edwards NEWPORT CINEMAS
  • Oakland – Renaissance Rialto GRAND LAKE 4
  • Orange – Syufy CENTURY CINEDOME 8**
  • Sacramento – Syufy CENTURY CINEDOME 8
  • Sacramento – United Artists ARDEN FAIR MALL 6
  • San Diego – Mann 9 AT THE GROVE <THX>
  • San Diego – United Artists HORTON PLAZA 7 <THX>
  • San Francisco – United Artists CORONET
  • San Jose – Syufy CENTURY 21
  • San Jose – Syufy CENTURY 22 A-B-C
  • San Rafael – Pacific REGENCY 6
  • Santa Ana – Edwards HUTTON CENTRE 8 <THX>
  • Santa Barbara – Metropolitan ARLINGTON CENTER
  • Universal City – Cineplex Odeon UNIVERSAL CITY 18 <THX>


  • Washington – Cineplex Odeon WISCONSIN AVENUE 6 <THX>
  • Washington – Kogod-Burka FINE ARTS


  • Atlanta – Cineplex Odeon PHIPPS PLAZA 3


  • Honolulu – Consolidated WAIKIKI 3 <HPS-4000>


  • Calumet City – Cineplex Odeon RIVER OAKS 14
  • Chicago – Cineplex Odeon 900 NORTH MICHIGAN TWIN**
  • Chicago – General Cinema Corporation FORD CITY 5
  • Hillside – Marks & Rosenfield HILLSIDE SQUARE 6
  • Norridge – Marks & Rosenfield NORRIDGE 7
  • Schaumburg – Cineplex Odeon WOODFIELD 4


  • Erlanger – National Amusements SHOWCASE CINEMAS**


  • Metairie – General Cinema Corporation LAKESIDE 5


  • Winnipeg – Famous Players NORTHSTAR I & II


  • Timonium – Loews TIMONIUM 3


  • Boston – Loews CHERI TRIPLEX


  • Southfield – American Multi-Cinema AMERICANA 8


  • Richmond Heights – American Multi-Cinema ESQUIRE 3


  • Paramus – Cineplex Odeon ROUTE 4 TENPLEX
  • Secaucus – Loews MEADOW SIX


  • New York (Manhattan) – City CINEMA 1
  • New York (Manhattan) – Loews 84TH STREET SIX
  • New York (Manhattan) – United Artists/B.S. Moss CRITERION CENTER
  • Valley Stream – National Amusements SUNRISE MULTIPLEX CINEMAS


  • Cleveland Heights – National Theatre Corporation SEVERANCE MOVIES <THX>
  • Columbus – General Cinema Corporation NORTHLAND 8 <THX>
  • Springdale – National Amusements SHOWCASE CINEMAS**
  • Toledo – National Amusements SHOWCASE CINEMAS


  • Hamilton – Famous Players JACKSON SQUARE 6
  • Mississauga – Famous Players SQUARE ONE 4
  • Toronto – Famous Players CEDARBRAE 8
  • Toronto – Famous Players REGENT
  • Toronto – Famous Players UPTOWN 5
  • Toronto – Famous Players YORKDALE 6


  • Portland – Luxury Theatres LLOYD 10 <THX>


  • Montreal – United PALACE 6
  • Montreal – United VERSAILLES 6


  • Dallas – General Cinema Corporation NORTHPARK 1-2 <THX>
  • Houston – General Cinema Corporation GALLERIA 1-2
  • San Antonio – Santikos GALAXY 14** <THX>


  • Holladay – Mann COTTONWOOD MALL 4


  • Merrifield – National Amusements ARLINGTON BLVD / LEE HWY MULTIPLEX CINEMAS


  • Bellevue – Cineplex Odeon FACTORIA 8
  • Bellevue – Luxury Theatres CROSSROADS 8
  • Lynnwood – Luxury Theatres ALDERWOOD 7
  • Seattle – Cineplex Odeon OAK TREE 6 <THX>
  • Seattle – General Cinema Corporation KING

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