Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Batman Through The Years on Film and In Television

30 March of this year marked the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27, May 1939. To honour the character's 75 years of existence DC Comics then declared today, 23 July, to be Batman Day. Today comic book shops have been giving away free copies of Detective Comics #27 Special Edition. Participating shops are also giving away a host of other Bat-paraphernalia, including bookmarks, bags, a cape, and four different masks.

Of course, even fictional characters change over the years and this is particularly true of The Batman. In the comic books alone he has gone from a dark night avenger to a more fatherly figure who travelled through time and met aliens from outer space to the world's greatest detective and then back to a dark night avenger. These changes would also be reflected on both movie and television screens. Batman was not the first comic book superhero to appear on the big screen (that would be Superman in the classic Fleischer Studios cartoons), nor even the first comic book superhero to appear in a live action film (that would be Captain Marvel), but he was the first superhero from what would become DC Comics to appear in a live action film. Indeed, it is quite possible that Batman has appeared in more films and TV shows than any other comic book superhero. Here then is a look at Batman in movies and on television through the years.

Batman made his first appearance on screen in Columbia Pictures' 15 chapter serial The Batman from 1943. This is not an actual trailer for that serial, but one that was made for the serial's 1966 re-release. It starred Lewis Wilson as Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin. Among other things, The Batman introduced the Caped Crusader's secret headquarters, the Batcave (called "the Bat's Cave" in the serial).

Columbia Pictures would follow The Batman in 1949 with another serial, Batman and Robin, which starred Robert Lowery as Batman and Johnny Duncan as Robin. Batman and Robin would be historic as the first time that Commissioner Gordon (played by Lyle Talbot) and Vicki Vale (Jane Adams) appeared on the big screen.

Of course, for many the most familiar iteration of Batman remains the television show that debuted on ABC in 1966. It certainly remains one of the most famous versions of the Caped Crusader. Adam West played Batman and Burt Ward played Robin. The villains on the show were played by a Who's Who of Hollywood, from Caesar Romero as The Joker to Julie Newmar as The Catwoman. Batman proved to be phenomenally successful, becoming a hit in the Nielsen ratings and generating a ton of merchandise. A movie based on the television show was released in 1966. Here is the trailer to that film.

Batman would return to the big screen in 1989 in a film directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as Batman. Batman would also prove to be a resounding success, becoming the #1 movie in North America for 1989 and the #2 film worldwide (after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). It would have a lasting impact on superhero movies ever since. It was also followed by several more Batman movies: Batman Returns in 1992 (with Michael Keaton once more playing Batman); Batman Forever in 1995 (with Val Kilmer playing Robin and Chris O'Donnell playing Robin); and Batman and Robin (with George Clooney playing Batman, Chris O'Donnell playing Robin, and Alicia Silverstone playing Batgirl). Here is the trailer for Batman (1989).

Not only was Batman (1989) followed by several more movies, but also by the TV show Batman: The Animated Series in 1993. Featuring Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman and developed by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, Batman: The Animated Series remains for many their favourite incarnation of the Dark Knight. Like the 1966 television series, Batman: The Animated Series would also lead to a feature film. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was released in December 1993. While it did poorly at the box office, it would do very well on home video and would be followed by direct-to-video feature films spun off from Batman the Animated Series. Here is the trailer for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

While Batman: The Animated Series would lead to further "Batman" animated shows (including The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond), as well as a number of cartoons based in what came to be known as the DC Animated Universe, the "Batman" movies of the Nineties would come to a grinding halt in 1997 with the financial and critical failure of  Batman & Robin. The character of Batman would be rebooted on the big screen with the film Batman Begins (2005), directed by Christopher Noland and starring Christian Bale as Batman. Batman Begins would be followed by The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). The Dark Knight in particular proved be phenomenally successful, for a time ranking as the second highest grossing film of all time without being adjusted for inflation. Here is one of the trailers for The Dark Knight.

Currently Batman is set to appear in the film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where he will be played by Ben Affleck. It is currently rumoured that another Batman film is set for 2019 to be titled The Batman. Whether this is true or not, given the character's history it seems likely that Batman will appear in his very own film sooner rather than later.

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