Before the release of Batman in 1989, controversy had surrounded the casting of its leading actor, Michael Keaton, as Batman. Keaton was known for comedies like Mr. Mom (1989), but he faced stiff competition from other prominent actors, reportedly Harrison Ford, Dennis Quaid, Mel Gibson, and Kevin Costner, all of who were considered fit for the role.
It was also reported that Tim Burton (the director) had intended to cast an unknown actor. Burton had previously worked with Keaton in Beetlejuice (1988), and he considered him competent for the task. The producers also agreed that Keaton was a talented actor, after screening him in Clean and Sober (1988).
Warner Brothers then came up with a new marketing strategy that would soon be adopted in movies featuring superheroes. Long before its release, Warner touted the film as a major summer hit.
Batman was released in theaters on June 23, 1989. The film was based on the DC Comics character, Batman, created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Directed by Tim Burton, It was the first of the Batman film franchise and the first to cast Michael Keaton as the multimillionaire Bruce Wayne/Batman. The movie was inspired by the darker Batman comics of the 80s (including the work of Alan Moore and Frank Miller), and also by the original work of Bob Kane and Bill Finger from the late 30s and 40s.
After witnessing the brutal murder of his parents as a child, Batman (Michael Keaton) transforms himself into a crime-fighting superhuman. As the action begins, Batman unknowingly drops mob collaborator Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) in a large open vessel containing acid, after a standoff in a chemical factory. Jack Napier kills his boss, Jack Palance, and goes on the loose in Gotham City. Napier is now the villain. He causes mayhem around the city and tries to turn the people against Batman. When the caped crusader becomes fond of Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), a beautiful newspaper reporter, Napier uses the woman to bring Batman out into the open.
Batman was well received by the masses. In fact, the film grossed a staggering $100 million in its first ten days after release. Batman received mixed reviews from movie fanatics though most people seemed impressed by Napier’s remarkable performance as the enemy. Batman’s product designer, Anton Furst, who was responsible for the creation of Gotham City and Batmobile, won an Oscar for Best Art Direction – Set Decoration.
Tim Burton released a sequel, Batman Returns (1989), and it also starred Keaton as the leading actor. The 1989 version was also a success, and it was considered more successful than its predecessor.
Warner Brothers then hired Joel Schumacher to direct Batman Forever (1995). The 1995 film starred Val Kilmer as Batman while Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones were the villains. Chris O’Donnell starred as Robin, Batman’s acquaintance, and Nicole Kidman was cast as the love interest. Kilmer felt Batman was receiving less attention compared to his enemies, and just like Keaton, he left before the release of the next planned film. In 1997, Schumacher released Batman & Robin, and George Clooney took the main role of Batman. The movie received several negative reviews.
Director Christopher Nolan later reoriented the series and released Batman Begins (2005). Of all the Batman films, Nolan’s work received the best reviews and became a huge box-office success.