Released in 1997, the live-action Batman movie, Batman & Robin is often cited as the worst Batman movie of all-time. The film – directed by Joel Schumacher – regularly appears on ‘worst film’ lists and is not held in high regard by legions of Bat-fans.
When Batman & Robin hit cinema screens during Summer ’97 it made over $200 million at the worldwide box office. In fact the film’s current box office total, taking into account any additional income from re-releases, is $238,235,719 (Box Office Mojo).
$238+ million might not be the same amount of money that say an Avengers movie could make, and it may not be one of the higher grossing Batman films, but it is still a good amount of money, right? And don’t forget, this is a movie that was surrounded by merchandise (toys, games, T-shirts etc), which all brought extra money to the pot.
So, if the film made a decent amount of money, plus it continues to bring in income from home video, streaming sources and the occasional cinema re-release, why is Batman & Robin the worst Batman film?
In this post I will highlight the six main reasons why the film was considered a failure in 1997. This list should provide a rundown of the key factors which have helped it achieve a bad reputation.
It did not meet expectations
Batman & Robin was the fourth (and final) entry in the Batman Anthology which began with Tim Burton’s dark, brooding Batman (1989) and continued with Burton’s even darker Batman Returns (1992). The third film in the Anthology, Batman Forever (1995) lightened the mood somewhat, but it still carried over some of the darker elements from the previous films, which audiences had become accustomed to.
Batman & Robin was not a dark movie at all. It was a bright, vivid comic book movie which favoured colour over shadows, and fun over brooding, something which was very different to what had come before.
Audiences went into Batman & Robin with certain expectations based on what had come before. Those expectations were not met and that was the start of an instant dislike for the material.
The Dark Knight became too bright
One of the biggest criticisms of Batman & Robin was that the movie was too bright and that it was essentially a modern take on the 1960s-era of Batman (aka the Adam West television show). In truth, it was and it leaned much closer in tone to Batman ’66 than it did towards Batman ’89.
This ‘brighter’ Knight also seemed far too jolly for Batman. Instead of having the weight of Gotham on his shoulders, he seemed more carefree, with barely a mention for the tragedy that had shaped his life.
Batman also had a gadget for every occasion (again, like West), from ice skates that popped out of his boots at the click of his heels, to a laser that could defrost ice in a split second. He also carried around a Bat-credit card, which he openly admitted he would “never leave home without it”.
In Batman Returns, Batman was setting fire to members of the Red Triangle Gang with the exhaust flames from the Batmobile. In Batman & Robin, Batman was placing million dollar bids on Poison Ivy in a public auction.
There was a huge tonal shift. For some, it was a shift too much.
Easily the biggest criticism of Batman & Robin were the costumes – specifically those worn by the Dynamic Duo. In particular, audiences passed comment on the ‘Bat-nipples’ which appeared on the suits worn by both Batman and Robin.
Nipples on Batsuits weren’t new, they had briefly appeared in Batman Forever, but there they had mostly gone unnoticed. The nipples were much more prominent in Batman & Robin and Batfans were not happy about it, referring to them as over the top and ridiculous.
Batman & Robin saw actor Arnold Schwarzenegger take on the role of Batman villain, Mr. Freeze. During the course of the movie, Schwarzenegger was tasked with delivering his fair share of dialogue, and most of it involved a series of ice-related puns and one-liners.
While Schwarzenegger is known for his one-liners, the character of Mr. Freeze is not. In fact, at the time of the movie’s release, Mr. Freeze was a very popular villain on television via Batman: The Animated Series, and was considered one of the best written characters of the entire show.
Fans did not care for Arnie’s version of Freeze and they certainly did not care for the direction that his character had taken for this big screen adventure. The puns were fired off too often and left fans feeling cold.
If you are familiar with Christopher Nolan’s Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises (2012) then you will know that Bane is a brutal, menacing character who is more than a match for Batman. Fans of Batman comics will also tell you the same thing when it comes to the printed material – especially the 1993 tale, Knightfall which saw the Dark Knight incapacitated by Bane.
Knightfall was a huge comic book storyline that ran between ’93 and ‘94 and Bane was a popular character, that fans couldn’t wait to see on the big screen. Yet when he made his onscreen debut in Batman & Robin, he was not the criminal mastermind that had been depicted in comics.
The Bane of Batman & Robin was nothing more than a green-skinned brute – a henchman of Poison Ivy. This was not a Bane that fans recognised or particularly liked and they felt he was simply too much.
He was also the third villain of the film – fourth if you counted a brief cameo from Dr. Jason Woodrue – and this meant he was given limited screen time. Fans wanted the Bane they knew, and they wanted him to be a bigger feature.
And now onto the final reason why Batman & Robin was considered a disaster when it arrived in theatres – the story was too simple. Instead of offering a narrative which was complex or insightful, the movie instead focused a great deal of its efforts on a rift between the Dynamic Duo.
Audiences wanted to see the tragic story of Mr. Freeze, an adaptation of Knightfall, or a fleshed-out take on Poison Ivy – they did not want to see Batman and Robin bickering. They also did not want to spend time on a last-minute introduction to Batgirl.
The plot did not gel with audiences and certain story beats felt too similar to what had been seen in Batman Forever. The result was a thumbs down from critics and general disinterest from audiences.
The six reasons detailed above are what I would consider the main reasons why Batman & Robin was considered the worst Batman movie when it was released in 1997. Some critics of the film will detail others.
The simple truth is that when the film hit cinema screens it was deemed a huge failure, a ‘bomb’ if you will, and this reputation hung around the film. To date, the title of ‘worst this’ or ‘worst that’ has never left Batman & Robin and to a certain degree, it probably never will.
So, is Batman & Robin the worst Batman movie ever?
In my personal opinion, no, Batman & Robin is not the worst Batman movie ever.
In 1997, the movie was not what audiences expected and/or wanted – that is very true. As someone who watched the film when it opened in UK cinemas, I can honestly say I was very confused by it and I wasn’t sure why it was the way it was.
But after all these years I have now come to enjoy it. The story is simple, it’s true, but sometimes that is all I want from a movie. The dialogue is very pun-tastic, but I no longer mind this and it’s pretty much what I want from a film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Back in ’97, Batman stories were trying to move away from the Adam West-era of Batman adventures, in favour of grittier Dark Knight tales. But over the years, the West-era has undergone a revival and in doing so it has reminded some Bat-fans that lighter Batman stories can exist.
The Lego Batman Movie (2017) and the TV series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, have also demonstrated there is room for a more colourful Caped Crusader, who can comfortably sit alongside the Batman of Batman Begins (2005) or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). As much as some people only want dark Batman tales, others are perfectly happy with the lighter stories – they don’t cancel each other out.
Batman & Robin has had the title of worst Batman movie since it opened and it will no doubt continue to keep that title for years to come. I don’t believe everyone hates the movie, but I know the reasons why people have had a serious dislike for it, and now, so do you.
Thank you for stopping by to read this post. If you would like to read more about the Batman movies then you should check out the recommended reads below or you can read my post, ‘Batman movies: A reference guide‘, which you might find useful.