When Tim Burton’s Batman hit cinema screens in 1989, it was huge. The movie not only appealed to comic book fans, it also struck a chord with general moviegoers, and it transformed the Caped Crusader from a pop cultural icon into a worldwide phenomenon.
Over the course of summer ’89, Batman merchandise sold by the bucket-load, and everyone went crazy for DC’s Dark Knight. So much so, the film remained popular long after it left cinemas, becoming a big deal for any television station nabbing the rights to broadcast the film.
In the UK, it was the BBC that bought the rights to air Batman ’89 for network television. This was during a point in time when the UK had just four terrestrial channels: BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, and Channel 4.
Batman ’89 on the BBC
When the BBC gained the rights to broadcast Batman ’89 it was a big deal. The network had a huge film on its hands and it needed to air it at a time when lots of viewers would be watching.
But how do you ensure you have a captive audience? You air your film on Christmas Day of course!
Batman ’89 received its first screening on BBC One on Wednesday 25th December 1991. The movie aired at 6pm on Christmas Day – arguably the most viewed time slot in the annual television calendar.
The Radio Times television listings for Batman ’89 provided the following description:
“First showing on network television of the hit movie starring Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Jack Nicholson. A tourist is mugged by a common thug on the dark night streets of Gotham City. Out of the sky a striking shadow falls. The mysterious caped figure states “I am Batman” and a legend is born.”
Batman ’89 was broadcast in stereo, with subtitles available for deaf viewers or those with hearing difficulties.
The movie aired straight after a short news bulletin, and ahead of a Christmas-themed episode of British sitcom, Birds of a Feather. Later that evening, the Eddie Murphy comedy, Coming to America (1988) also received its network premiere via BBC One.
To fit into its time slot, Batman ’89 was edited for television. The film had a run-time of two hours and six minutes, but was edited down to two hours.
Batman returns to TV
In today’s era of non-stop, wall-to-wall media, when a television channel obtains the rights to broadcast a movie, it airs the film multiple times, often during the same week. Back during the 1990s, this was not the case – a film would air once and if you missed it, you would have to wait a long time for it to be repeated.
In fact, the next time Batman ’89 aired in the UK it wouldn’t be until 8:55pm on Sunday 19th December, 1993 – almost two years after its initial broadcast. After this, Batman ’89 would not return to the schedules until 9:30pm on Tuesday 10th January, 1995 – a further two years on from its previous broadcast.
At 8pm on Wednesday 3rd July, 1996, Batman aired once again on BBC One. For this broadcast, the movie was cut into two parts, with the Nine O’Clock News airing in the middle. This would be the last time Batman ’89 aired on BBC One.
In total, Batman ’89 aired on BBC One four times between 1991 and 1996. During this time, two further Batman movies (Batman Returns (1992) and Batman Forever (1995)) were produced, neither of which aired on BBC One, and a fourth Batman movie was in development (’97’s Batman & Robin).
Did you watch that Christmas Day broadcast of Batman ’89? Did you sit down with your family to watch it? Did you tape it on the family VHS recorder? If you remember it well, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.