Upon rewatching both Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), you can feel a real sense of originality that many of today’s blockbuster comic book movie adaptations sorely lack.
Which isn’t so unusual when we look at how popular superhero movies have become over the past two decades. With the incredible success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s all too realistic for Hollywood to churn out more of the same in order to rake in the big bucks.
It was Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000 that set the Marvel movie wheels in motion for mainstream cinema. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man came soon after in 2002, and its sequel Spider-Man 2 is still considered one of the best superhero movies ever made.
But all of these superhero movies owe their success to an even older movie that came long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was even an idea—the movie that blazed trails for all modern superhero movies.
That movie was 1989’s Batman starring Michael Keaton. Here are all the things that classic movie did right, and how it paved the way for future superhero movies.
Keaton’s Batman Achieved Real Mainstream Success Like None Before
When Batman was announced, it sent comic book fans everywhere into overdrive. These days, with the internet at one’s disposal, it’s easy to get information on new films and their production status. But back in the late 1980s? It was a real hassle.
People flew private planes over production areas in the UK just to catch a glimpse of Michael Keaton in the costume, and thousands of letters were sent to DC Comics in protest of Keaton’s casting.
However, when the film released, it garnered huge acclaim and was a box office hit. It took in $411 million (just over $800 million in today’s dollars) against a budget of approximately $100 million. In an era before billion-dollar movies, that was a massive success.
Batman was the first superhero movie to show film executives that a dark tone and gothic feel could appeal to a wider audience, meaning they didn’t have to stick to Adam West’s campy version of Batman.
The fact that modern superhero films like Logan and The Dark Knight trilogy can be as dark as they are? That’s all thanks to Tim Burton and Michael Keaton for the ground they broke in 1989.
Keaton’s Batman Proved That There Was a Market for Superhero Movies
Batman didn’t just prove that there could be a darker kind of superhero movie—it proved that there was a huge market of people who wanted to see superheroes brought to life on the big screen.
While the Batman series may have gone off the rails after Burton and Keaton left, it left a legacy that stood as proof to younger producers (like Marvel’s Kevin Feige) that the world was ready for realistic portrayals of superheroes in feature-length movies.
Indeed, the amazing success of superhero movies over the past few decades has vindicated both Tim Burton and Michael Keaton in the direction they took (and in Keaton’s controversial casting).
When Tony Stark clicked his fingers and wiped out Thanos and his army in one of the greatest cinematic scenes of all time, remember that was only possible because of the pioneering work of Tim Burton and Michael Keaton in Batman and Batman Returns.
Tim Burton’s film was the first of its kind. It had a dark and gritty tone that was wrapped up in a cold and gothic world—one that was full of freakish characters and twisted morality.
Micheal Keaton’s Performance as Batman Is Legendary and Iconic
When fans found out that comedic actor Michael Keaton was the one cast to be Batman in a movie for the first time since the 1960s, they were NOT happy. Warner Brothers was flooded with complaint letters demanding that they reconsider.
And Michael Keaton proved them all wrong. To this day, among comic book fans, Michael Keaton isn’t just one of the best Batmans—he’s THE one and only Batman.
No other actor understood the darkness within Bruce Wayne like Keaton did. He played the duality of the character to absolute perfection, encapsulating both the bumbling Bruce Wayne and the broken mentality of his inner Batman.
Keaton’s upcoming role in The Flash (2022) will see him return to the character for the first time since 1992’s Batman Returns, and fans are already celebrating how they’ll be able to see him define the character yet again—only this time, it will be in old age.
Keaton’s commanding performance in Batman and Batman Returns was the blueprint for all later actors who took on serious depictions of superheroes, including Robert Downey Jr., Hugh Jackman, Josh Brolin, Christian Bale, and the rest.
Watch Michael Keaton’s Batman Now
If you’re a fan of superhero movies and you’ve never seen Michael Keaton as Batman, you owe it to yourself to make that the next film to watch on your list—not just because it’s historic and iconic, but simply because it’s a solid film worth watching.