If you’re new to the Batman movie series and you have worked your way through the Batman Anthology – Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997) – then you have probably noticed something very distinctive about the series – the tone varies greatly. Batman is a bit noir-ish and a little rough around the edges; Batman Returns is dark and more polished; Batman Forever is more futuristic (and at times like a sci-fi film); and Batman & Robin is brighter and more family friendly.
Put all four films together and the series is quite uneven. Put Batman ‘89 and Batman & Robin together and they are polar opposites – almost as if they were from an entirely different series.
So, what gives? Why are the films in the Batman Anthology so different? And why are Batman ‘89 and Batman & Robin so different?
Well, it comes down to a number of factors: Money, merchandise and directors.
Money and the Batman Anthology
When Batman ‘89 arrived in cinemas in summer 1989, the film was incredibly successful. The movie pulled in $411,348,924, sold a lot of merchandise, and convinced Warner Bros to push ahead with a sequel.
Batman ‘89 director, Tim Burton was to asked to return for the follow-up and was given a lot more creative control. As a result, the next entry, Batman Returns, was a little darker and more in-line with Burton’s usual tone and aesthetic.
But this film proved to be too dark for audiences and the film made significantly less than Batman ‘89 (from a higher budget). Merchandise sales were also impacted, specifically fast food tie-ins designed to appeal to younger diners.
This wasn’t the result the studio was hoping for and the decision was made to take the series in a slightly new direction for part three. This new direction saw a new director brought in for Batman Forever, in the shape of Joel Schumacher.
Understanding Warner Bros.’ mandate to move away from the gothic darkness of Batman Returns, Schumacher made his movie a little lighter, quirkier, and something more reminiscent of the Batman comics from the 1940s and 1950s. This lighter tone struck a chord with audiences, and both ticket sales and merchandise sales improved.
Going into the fourth movie, Warner Bros. was keen to capitalise on the lighter approach to Batman, pushing for a more ‘toyetic’ movie – i.e. a movie designed to sell toys. As such, the tone of Batman & Robin was brightened up even more and became more akin to the 1960s-era of the Caped Crusader, playing up the camp and cartoony take on the mythology.
This approach to the Batman movie series didn’t work and alienated fans of the earlier films. It also failed to increase interest at the box office and the series came to an abrupt end.
Money played a huge part in guiding the tone of the Batman Anthology. Successes and failures dictated what came next, with the merchandise and the change in directors playing significant roles too.
Because of all these factors, the series went as follows: Batman ‘89 was dark, Batman Returns was darker, Batman Forever was light, and Batman & Robin was lighter. Put them in a line and (with some explanation) you can see the peaks and troughs. But put Batman ‘89 and Batman & Robin together and they seem very, very different.
I hope this post on the tonal pattern of the Batman Anthology has provided you with useful information. Should you wish to read more posts like this one, check out one of the recommended reads below or alternatively take a look around I’ll Get Drive-Thru.
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