It’s a plot point/story beat that comic book readers and audiences have become quite familiar with. Thomas and Martha Wayne – two wealthy citizens of Gotham City – are killed, leaving their son an orphan.
Over the years there have been many different takes on the ‘Wayne deaths’, from comics and television shows through to movies. Each version has slight variations, but the outcome is always the same.
To date, in the live-action Batman movies there have been four origin stories which detail the death of the Waynes – one shown in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), one depicted in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005), one seen briefly in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and one lightly touched upon in Todd Phillips’ Joker (2019). All four show a similar scenario, while offering up alternate takes on events.
Below I will explain the origins as they were depicted in their respective motion pictures, before answering the important question, ‘why were Batman’s parents killed?’
We all know that they died, but is there a reason why?
Let’s take a look.
The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents in Batman (1989)
The first time the Batman movies depicted the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne was in the Batman Anthology, beginning with Batman (1989). Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever (1995) also featured a flashback to the fateful night, but didn’t go into specific details.
So, what happened in Batman 1989?
Well, the death of the Wayne’s is told in flashback – a memory that Bruce Wayne recalls.
In the scene, a young Bruce Wayne and his parents are leaving the cinema. It’s night time and the trio are walking through the backstreets of Gotham City.
The Waynes are not alone. Behind them are two men looking to score some money.
One of the men pulls a gun on the Waynes. Shots are fired and both Thomas and Martha are killed.
The man – who is identified as ‘Jack’ – pulls a gun on Bruce, who is a witness to the crime. Jack contemplates pulling the trigger, but his accomplice insists the pair leave the scene of their crime before the police arrive.
Bruce Wayne is left alive, but he is now an orphan.
During the course of the flashback it is revealed that the killer of the Waynes is Jack Napier. In the movie, Jack Napier is the gangster who becomes the Joker.
In essence, the Joker killed Batman’s parents. But was there a specific reason for this?
When Napier pulled the trigger on the Waynes there was no hidden agenda, he simply wanted to rob two seemingly wealthy people. He did not know the ramifications of his actions (and he did not care).
In this origin story, Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed because they entered a bad part of Gotham City. They were targeted for their wealth by someone wanting to make money.
The result of that night was that Bruce Wayne grew up to become Batman. And as Batman his path crossed with Jack Napier, who fell into a vat of acid and became the Joker.
As is pointed out in the movie, Napier was indirectly responsible for creating Batman and Batman in turn made the Joker.
Batman – “You killed my parents.”
The Joker – “What? What? What are you talking about?”
Batman – “I made you, you made me first.”
The Joker – “Hey, bat-brain, I mean, I was a kid when I killed your parents. I mean, I say “I made you” you gotta say “you made me.” I mean, how childish can you get?”
So that’s how the Waynes died in Batman ’89. The reason they died was because of their wealth and a gangster who wanted their money.
Now let’s take a look at an alternate scene from Batman Begins.
The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents in Batman Begins (2005)
The second time the Batman movie series specifically focused on Batman’s origin was in Batman Begins. On this occasion, it was a night at the opera that led a path to the Waynes’ demise.
During an evening performance, a young Bruce Wayne gets scared of what he sees on stage and asks to leave the opera house. Thomas Wayne agrees and he, Martha and Bruce head outside to get some fresh air.
Outside they are met by Joe Chill – a street thief looking to make a quick buck. He approaches the Waynes and pulls a gun on them.
Thomas agrees to hand over his wallet but he accidentally drops it. Chill gets spooked and fires his gun, killing both Thomas and Martha.
Chill flees the scene of the crime and leaves Bruce Wayne alone and orphaned.
Was there a specific reason why Chill killed the Waynes?
No. When Chill approached the Waynes it was purely with the intention of robbing them of their possessions. He did not know what would happen to Bruce Wayne and he did not care.
In this origin story, Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed because they crossed paths with someone who was desperate for money. He targeted them for their wealth.
However, Chill’s actions were connected to something much larger that was happening in Gotham. The city was experiencing an economic downturn and an increase of crime – and this was part of a plan by the criminal, Ra’s al Ghul, as explained in an exchange between Bruce Wayne and al Ghul.
Bruce Wayne – “You attacked Gotham before?”
Ra’s al Ghul – “Of course. Over the ages, our weapons have grown more sophisticated. With Gotham, we tried a new one: Economics. But we underestimated certain of Gotham’s citizens… such as your parents. Gunned down by one of the very people they were trying to help. Create enough hunger and everyone becomes a criminal. Their deaths galvanized the city into saving itself… and Gotham has limped on ever since. We are back to finish the job. And this time no misguided idealists will get in the way. Like your father, you lack the courage to do all that is necessary. If someone stands in the way of true justice… you simply walk up behind them and stab them in the heart.”
Ra’s al Ghul encouraged an economic downturn to turn the citizens of Gotham against each other. It was this situation which indirectly led to Chill shooting the Waynes.
Chill’s actions resulted in Bruce Wayne meeting al Ghul. This in turn led to al Ghul assisting Bruce Wayne in becoming Batman.
So that’s how the Waynes died in Batman Begins. The reason they died was once again because of their wealth, but it was also connected to Ra’s al Ghul’s plan.
The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
The third live-action depiction of the Wayne deaths is a brief one. So much so, that it is shown over the opening credits as a flashback/montage.
In the montage, the Waynes are seen leaving a cinema. They are approached by an unidentified man who pulls a gun on them.
Shots are fired and both Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed. The scene is short, and is included to remind the audience of Bruce Wayne’s tragic story.
In this particular version of events, the identity of the killer is not relevant, he is a nameless criminal. However, as with the other origin stories, it is clear the Waynes were targeted for their wealth and that is the reason they die.
So, is there a connection to the villain of the story? Kind of. Although the nameless criminal does not turn out to be a significant Batman villain, there is a link to the wider narrative involving chief bad guy, Lex Luthor.
In Batman v Superman, Lex Luthor kidnaps Superman’s mother, Martha Kent. He then orchestrates a battle between the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel.
During the fight, Batman and Superman share an exchange about both their mothers being named Martha. This seemingly insignificant fact becomes extremely important in the heat of the moment and leads to a truce between the pair.
Had the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne not be featured in Batman v Superman then the ‘Martha’ connection would not have been established. The brief montage at the beginning of the movie suddenly becomes very important.
The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents in Joker (2019)
The fourth live-action depiction of the Wayne deaths is the shortest yet – and the most unexpected. It takes place in the final moments of 2019’s Joker, with almost no warning.
Thomas Wayne features throughout the movie, with a brief appearance from a young Bruce Wayne, yet the story is not about Thomas, Bruce or Batman. The film is about the Joker, and as such the death of the Waynes is not expected to feature in the movie at all.
Yet it does. And it happens in the blink of an eye.
The Waynes leave a cinema, in the midst of a Joker-inspired riot. The streets are filled with clowns, all of whom are disillusioned with the class divide in Gotham, something made worse by men like Thomas Wayne.
Upon spying Thomas Wayne – a figure head who has become despised amongst certain citizens – an unnamed clown follows him and his family into a secluded alley. Pulling a gun, the clown shoots and kills Thomas before shooting and killing Martha.
The crime was not about money, but about anger and hatred. The murder of the Waynes was fuelled by mob mentality and by a desire to overthrow order in Gotham City.
Although the clown who kills the Waynes remains nameless, his actions are inspired by the Joker. Had the Joker not incited others to take charge, then the Waynes would have lived.
The death scene may seem to have no direct connection to the Joker, as he didn’t pull the trigger, yet it neatly tied up his story. Thomas Wayne became a source of pain for the Joker and by removing him from Gotham, the Joker had achieved his goal of changing the city – whether he knew it or not.
Dealing in death
To date, these are the only four origin stories depicted in a live-action Batman movie. Audiences were never shown an origin story for Adam West’s take on Batman (Batman: The Movie) and never will be.
So, what can we take from these origin stories? Two common factors:
- Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed for money/or because of money
- In the movies, the death of the Waynes is tied to the villains/the plot of each film
As noted at the beginning of this post, the Waynes have died multiple times in comics and television shows and almost all of those origins play out in a similar fashion – a walk through a bad part of town, gun shots, and death. What sets the movie ‘deaths’ apart from the comic book or television ‘deaths’ is the desire to connect the Wayne murders to the main villain of the story.
Movies like to set up events that bring the protagonist and the antagonist together (it’s a film trait) and this is evident every time the Waynes die. Linking the murder of the Waynes to the villain of the film helps to bring some closure to the story. They may be killed off because of their fortune, but in reality, they die to ensure each filmmaker can tell a more satisfying story.
The Waynes die and the audience gets a better narrative. It’s sad, but it’s true.
I believe the origin stories depicted in Batman ’89, Batman Begins and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice are interesting interpretations of the same event and help to further the Batman mythology. The Waynes involvement in Joker is different, and was arguably unnecessary, but it still slotted into the standard criteria for bumping them off.
In my opinion, the death of the Waynes is an essential part of Batman’s story and it should be reinterpreted for different audiences and different movies whenever the opportunity arises. As demonstrated in Joker, it can even become part of a story that has nothing to do with Batman – so long as it keeps to the general rule of thumb that in Gotham City, the Waynes will always die.
I do hope this information has been useful. Thank you for stopping by I’ll Get Drive-Thru.
Should you want to read further information about the Batman movies, I recommend you check out my posts ‘Why is Batman forever?‘ or ‘Who is Robin in the Batman movies?‘. You might also like to check out the additional reading suggestions below.