I can’t say who is the biggest superhero in comics, but when it comes to their big screen counterparts, the debate is short: It’s Batman. With the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the collection of nine Batman feature films over the last six decades is on its way to $3 billion in worldwide gross. To celebrate I present Batman by the Numbers, a feature that provides a numbers-based snapshot of each movie and its place in the filmography by looking at the box office, critical reception, and miscellaneous facts.
Hit the jump for a comprehensive review of Batman at the movies, featuring Batman: The Movie, Batman, Batman Returns, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises.
I will skip the 1940s serials and go straight to the 1966 movie with Adam West. To consolidate, Tim Burton’s movies will be grouped together, as will Joel Schumacher’s.
Batman: The Movie
Worldwide Gross: Unknown
- $1,377,800 – Estimated budget. This is certainly the least expensive live-action Batman movie, probably even if you adjust for inflation.
- 4 – Villains: Joker (Cesar Romero), Riddler (Frank Gorshin), Penguin (Burgess Meredith), and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether). For a laugh, watch how Batman and Robin deduced all four of their main villains from the show were in cahoots.
- 4 – Bat vehicles used: the Batmobile (obviously), the Batcycle, the Batboat, and the Batcopter.
- 36 – Days of shooting. The initial plan was to produce a TV movie to launch the show, but ABC moved the series premiere date up to January 1966. This delayed plans for a movie, but they wanted the movie to be released in July 1966 before season two premiered, which required a rushed production after season one wrapped.
- 120 – Episodes of the show. The show aired twice weekly on back-to-back nights for the first two seasons—the villain is introduced in part one and conquered in part two—plus a pair of 3-part episodes in season two. As the show neared cancellation in season three, the format was changed to one self-contained airing a week.
- $1 – Cost George Barris paid for the Lincoln Futura. In 3 weeks, for a reported cost of $30,000, Barris turned the Futura into the iconic Batmobile.
Adam West is the Batman I know best. There was a good year or two where Batman was the show I looked forward to most when I spent the night at my Nana’s house (she had cable). This iteration is the most fun Batman has ever been, but the audacious camp approach may have tarnished the idea of Batman on film for a few years. Tim Burton certainly had difficulty convincing the public his Batman was darker, and not a comedic character.
Worldwide Gross: $411 million
Worldwide Gross: $267 million
- 50,000 – Protest letters sent to Warner Bros. about casting Michael Keaton as Batman. Burton remarked, “I think they thought we were going to make it like the TV series, and make it campy, because they all thought of [Keaton] from Mr. Mom and Night Shift and stuff like that. But that never bothered me because I knew we weren’t doing that.”
- 3 – Weeks Jack Nicholson was willing to commit to play the Joker in Batman. His contract also specified the number of hours he would take off each day and he would attend all Los Angeles Lakers home games. For his efforts, Nicholson received a $6 million salary and a huge portion of the box office gross, perhaps as much as $50 million.
- 28 – Sculpted latex designs for the Batman uniform created by costume designer Bob Ringwood. He also crafted 25 different cape looks and 6 different masks. The process cost $250,000. Second unit director Peter MacDonald said, “You have to be a kind of superman to be able to move [in this suit]. So we had the normal stunt guy and we had a martial arts guy, and we had a ballet dancer. The ballet dancer was the one that did the walk in, because this guy could swish his cape and look great, you know – and then two quite tough guys to do the fighting.”
- $30 million – Initial budget set for Tim Burton’s Batman.
- $48 million – Actual budget spent for the final production. That ballooned to $80 million for Batman Returns.
- $750 million – Merchandising sales by August 1992. Batman was also the first movie to earn $100 million in its first ten days of release and earned $150 million more in home video sales.
- $10 million – Salary bump awarded to Keaton to reprise his role as Batman in the sequel.
- $144 million – Difference between the gross of Batman and Batman Returns. The sequel was still successful, but underperformed relative to the massive success of Batman. The prevailing theory was that Batman Returns was just too dark for the family audience, which led to a director switch for the next Batman sequel
I was one year old when Batman came out, so I can’t properly assess just how big it was. But my understanding is that it was a massive cultural phenomenon—probably on a bigger scale than The Dark Knight Rises, even, in the time before superhero movie saturation. It had been 12 years since the last major superhero was introduced on screen, and Superman had been run into the ground by 1987 with the reviled Superman IV. The appetite was high for another superhero was high, and Batman delivered. Batman Returns did not reach the same heights, but confirmed that Hollywood could find sustained success with superhero properties. It is retroactively surprising that it took Marvel another decade to get around to X-Men and Spider-Man.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Worldwide Gross: $6 million
- 76 – Runtime in minutes. By far the shortest Batman film.
- $6 million – Estimated production budget. Warner Bros. increased the budget to $6 million when they decided to release Phantasm theatrically rather than stick to the initial straight-to-video plan.
- 8 – Months taken to complete the production from start to finish. This time crunch arose from the shift to a theatrical release, so WB in turn gave the animation team full creative control in addition to the budget increase.
- 11 – Box office rank on opening weekend. Phantasm was unable to capitalize on the popularity of Burton’s movies. The filmmakers blamed the subpar marketing campaign that Warner Bros. had to whip up on short notice.
- 85 – Total episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. Season one consisted of a whopping 65 episodes that aired from September 1992 to September 1993. Mask of the Phantasm hit theaters in December 1993. The animated series continued with 20 more episodes on Fox in May 1994 under the title The Adventures of Batman & Robin because Robin took on a more prominent role.
I want to give props to the animated Batman, in part because I spent every afternoon of my childhood watching Batman: The Animated Series. (So technically, I guess Kevin Conroy is the Batman I know best.) I hope to revisit the series eventually because it is one of those few shows from childhood that actually earned critical approval (compared to, say, Saved by the Bell).
Worldwide Gross: $266 million
Batman & Robin
Worldwide Gross: $238 million
- $30 million – Amount producer Harry Colomby estimated Keaton lost when he decided not to return as Batman. Keaton stated he wanted to pursue “more interesting roles.” It was also problematic that Burton, the man who championed Keaton for the role, was shunned. An inside source suggested, “Warner Bros. didn’t want Tim to direct. He’s too dark and odd for them.”
- 5 – Actors (at least) that were considered to replace Keaton as Batman. The studio looked at Daniel Day-Lewis, Ralph Fiennes, Johnny Depp, and (seriously) Billy Baldwin before ultimately deciding on Val Kilmer. Kilmer was cast mere days after Keaton dropped out.
- 41 – Weight of the Robin costume in pounds. Robin had a presence in the shooting script for Batman Returns, and Marlon Wayans was cast in the role. Wayans later reflected, “I got my wardrobe fitted and everything, and what happened was that there were too many characters, and they felt Robin wouldn’t be of service. So they put me in the third one, and when the third one came around, they got a new director on it, and their vision of the project changed. They decided they wanted somebody white to play Robin.” That somebody white was Chris O’Donnell, who beat out Leonardo DiCaprio for the role.
- 2 – Nipples added to the Batman costume. For some reason.
- 160 – Runtime in the original cut of Batman Forever. There were rumors that this extended, allegedly darker version would appear on the 10th anniversary DVD in 2005, but no such luck.
- 0 – How critic Mark LaSalle described George Clooney when he took over as the new Batman Batman & Robin. Specifically: “George Clooney is the big zero of the film, and should go down in history as the George Lazenby of the series.” Ouch. Schumacher cast Clooney amid his ER heyday because he thought the actor would fit the lighter tone of this movie compared to the darker interpretations of Keaton and Kilmer.
- $43 million – Opening weekend for Batman & Robin. That was great, but meant that Batman Forever was the first modern Batman movie that did not break the opening weekend record. Batman, Batman Returns, and Batman & Robin each broke the record with $40 million, $46 million, and $53 million, respectively.
- 11 – Razzie nominations for Batman & Robin including Worst Picture and Worst Screen Couple (for Clooney and O’Donnell). Only Alicia Silverstone won for Worst Supporting Actress as Batgirl.
Ah, the nadir of Batman—the movies that nearly ruined his on-screen viability. The one good thing you can say about Batman & Robin is that it perfectly set up Christopher Nolan to take over the franchise. Also, ice puns.
Head to page 2 for the numbers on Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises.