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How 1989’s Batman Made Tim Burton A Box Office Superhero

Adam West’s Perspective on the New Batman

“That’s their stuff, their business. They have a film in mind. I’ve already done it. Done my Batman.”
These were the words spoken by Adam West, when asked about the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman in a new “Batman” movie by Warner Bros in the late (’80s). West said: “Do you want classic Coke or do you want the new stuff? Maybe both.” According to him, his version of DC Comics’ hero was like classic Coke while Keaton represented New Coke, however, in this comparison, New Coke had a greater success than Classic Coke.

The Shift in Batman’s Image

Today, it is easy to forget that there was a time when the image of Batman was confined to joyful and campy 60s Television show played by West. It was quite different from what we see today as dark and brooding. Comic book movies were not considered slam dunks for Hollywood during the 80s. While Richard Donner’s “Superman: The Movie” became a huge hit in ’78, it was seen more as just being lucky rather than initiating a trend by many people during its launch . Simply put, everything appeared to be against “Batman,” until it became a reality, but Tim Burton changed much of that and turned Caped Crusader into the supreme pop culture icon that has ever been known.

Tales from the Box Office this week commemorates 35th anniversary of Tim Burton’s “Batman.” This article will discuss the long road taken to make this movie; how Burton got his directorial job; why Michael Keaton playing batman created some controversy back then; how Jack Nicholson joined the cast under unique agreement terms; and the valuable lessons learned over the years.
Tim Burton’s “Batman” did not have an easy path to production, the journey involved numerous challenges and obstacles, like finding right director or securing the perfect cast. But Burton’s distinctive vision played an integral role in redefining Batman for a new generation.

Tim Burton Lands the Job

Getting Tim Burton to direct was a watershed moment for this venture. His unique gothic style matched perfectly with the kind of darker, more serious tone that the filmmakers were hoping to introduce. Interestingly, his successful past with “Beetlejuice” played a significant part in helping him get this job and, consequently; he shaped the creative direction of the film profoundly.

Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Batman was contentious at the time. He was not considered as a good fit for playing dark and brooding superhero since he had been known mainly for comedic roles. However, Burton saw something in Keaton that others did not see and eventually won over both critics and audiences. Another major milestone in this film was when Jack Nicholson came on board. During that period, his deal which included taking a percentage of box office receipts was unheard of. To date, Nicholson’s joker has become legendary, hence adding another side to the menace portrayed by this movie.

The Film’s Reception and Legacy

“Batman” upon being released into the theaters became a resounding success. The film not only redefined the superhero category, but also had a long lasting impact on popular culture, Burton’s vision and the brilliant performances of the cast ensured that “Batman” became an evergreen classic. Tim Burton´s Batman was highly successful in different regards, and from it, several lessons can be drawn. It stresses the significance of creative vision as well as bold casting choices and unique business deals in filmmaking industry. Even after decades, this movie remains a testimony to innovative filmmaking.

In 1989’s film “Batman,” legendary Jack Nicholson plays as an evil clown named “The Joker”. This toxic character gradually takes over Gotham city´s underworld through chaos and cleverness. Meanwhile Batman (played by Michael Keaton) must confront his most formidable opponent. He also has to protect his identity from being revealed and develop a relationship with Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Vicki Vale played by Kim Basinger.

The Creation of Batman

This movie arrived 50 years after Batman had become a cultural icon, thanks to Bob Kane and Bill Finger for their creation. However, during the period after the cancellation of 1960s TV series about Batman that was aired on ABC Channel, interests towards him significantly decreased. Despite this decline in popularity, there was one man whose passion for writing brought him back to life; Michael E Uslan desired that batman becomes relevant again through film media. During this time Michael Uslan was an upstart writer-producer full of youthful enthusiasm on bringing back Batman into mainstream society, consequently, he never relented hence making more progress along his journey to realize his dream.

Michael E.Uslan embarked on resurrecting Batman on big screen when he sought DC Comics’ approval for his concept. In an interview with BOF published in 2005,Uslan shared some details on his first attempts to bring this dream to reality. He had a meeting with Sol Harrison, then President of DC Comics and he shared his Batman film proposal with him. “Michael, Batman is as dead as a dodo … since it went off on TV”, said Mr. Harrison in line with the popular public opinion at that time.” “Nobody wants Batman, except CBS who asked if the rights were available so that they could do ‘Batman in Outer Space’” Uslan refused to be daunted by these unenthusiastic reactions. With confidence he replied, “Sol I honestly think I can do this.”

Advice and Determination

According to Uslan, Harrison told him that nobody would get hold of Batman rights before building up his credentials for the job. “Then he told me to go get some credentials and when I had them, come back and see him again. He promised me that meanwhile no one else would pick up the leasing rights on Batman,” recalled Uslan. This advice set Uslan on a path of proving his competence as well as commitment toward returning Batman into cinema world.

Uslan took Harrison’s words to heart and feverishly went at it in his bid to build up his credentials as well as acquire the necessary experience required by the industry. His hard work paid off though when he eventually obtained the rights for Batman and found a team of producers who believed in his vision. This eventually led to Uslan collaborating with Tim Burton, the director whose unique gothic style was perfect for the somber tone they wanted to put across concerning Batman.

Tim Burton’s direction was pivotal in making 1989 “Batman” film a success. Through his unique perspective, Batman changed from being campy like the 1960s TV show, into a more complex character. This new version appealed both audience and critics, thus rekindling interest in this character while setting new standards for superhero movies.


The “Batman” release in year 1989 was a game changer for superhero movies; it showed that funny book characters could be serious and treated as art. It became successful and opened up the way for more superhero films in the future, thus proving that these types of stories had a significant audience.

Superhero movies’ landscape in the late seventies and early eighties was entirely different from what we have today. All through this time, Michael E. Uslan remained undeterred to restore Batman on the big screen. True to his word, Harrison offered support to Uslan following his law school graduation and securing a job at United Artists where he initiated the project. By 1979, Benjamin Melniker along with his producing partner Uslan had managed to get acquired rights for Batman, but their vision would take ten years of persistence before they could make it happen.

During the eighties, Uslan and Melniker faced countless rejections by various studios and filmmakers who were hesitant about doing a Batman movie. Nonetheless, they refused to give up on their dream. In order to put his idea across, Uslan even came up with his own script entitled “Return of the Batman”. This was aimed at showing contrast between campy version from 60’s TV show and darker character side envisioned by him. Progress Was Made When Warner Bros Decided To Take A Chance On Batman.
It took Warner Bros., who made ‘Superman: The Movie’, a hit back in 1978, taking on Batman film in order for remarkable progress to be realized. Henceforth there’s been no turning back from this endeavor as we now know how cool is super-hero genre filmmaking can be.


The next important decision of Warner Bros. was to find the right director for Batman. Tim Burton, who had a very peculiar and gothic style of filmmaking, emerged as the best fit for this job. His unique perspective and innovative approach were what Uslan had sought for in order to make Batman a deeper and more complicated character. Batman experienced a significant makeover under Burton’s tutelage. Instead of maintaining the campy mood that characterized its TV show version in 60s, the movie was made gloomy, which fans easily related with. This new interpretation of Batman rejuvenated the superhero while setting a new kind of standard for future movies of similar genre.

The production phase of “Batman 1989” film required some critical considerations especially regarding casting choices. The role went to Michael Keaton, though it seemed bizarre owing to his comedic background at first. However, Keaton managed to convince everyone through his outstanding performance that he is Batman; hence contributing greatly to success of this film. Additionally, Jack Nicholson’s Joker portrayal added depth and more intensity to it, sealing its place among other cinematic classics.

Finally released in 1989, “Batman” became an instant blockbuster hit. Not only did it redefine the superhero genre but also left various marks on popular culture across generations. With its success revealing possibilities lying ahead in comic book adaptations that influenced many super-hero films afterward.

Tim Burton’s Rise and Influence

The Batman project was buoyed by the efforts of producers Jon Peters and Peter Gruber. These endeavors were also boosted by the successful Pee-wee’s Big Adventure from 1985 and Frank Miller’s groundbreaking work, The Dark Night Returns (Miller, 1986). Many drafts of the script came and went before they found a darker direction worth pursuing. They also came across a promising director in Tim Burton, who was quickly becoming an industry luminary. Tim’s value to Warner Bros. increased with Beetlejuice being a box office success in 1988. This achievement confirmed that they had gotten it right when making that choice. What the studio needed for an innovative and darker approach to make Batman come alive on screen could be supplied by Burton’s unique style as well as creative vision.

The leading role of this movie was also taken up by Michael Keaton, whose selection at first attracted some queries due to his background in comedy. However, the decision to cast Keaton would soon prove to be a masterstroke. More on that in a moment. In 1989 documentary promoting Batman film, Tim Burton explained what made him interested in it: “It was really characters”. He said “I liked extreme characters so I wanted to do a man who is literally turned into a clown versus dressing up like bat”.

The Effect of “The Dark Knight Returns” and “The Killing Joke”

Burton further discussed how Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” and Alan Moore’s graphic novel “The Killing Joke,” effect his vision for the film during another interview with Sam Hamm. His praise for these works stemmed from their exploration into human psyche, while still breaking away from tradition; “…the killing joke…that one really goes into more than the dark knight does…they are good for the movie because they come back to psychology but they just blow it up a little bit…” . This creative approach resonated with Burton; allowing him to mix the film’s psychological depth with unconventional storytelling.

The Journey to Production

It was a complex and difficult journey to make Batman real on the big screen. It included many script drafts, casting decisions and a determined team with an unchanged vision. The film, directed by Burton, was a turning point that redefined Batman character for new generation. Extreme characters that fascinated Burton played a major part in building up the story of this film. The relationship between Batman and Joker; two contrasting figures is rich ground for storytelling. It was this struggle between man imagining himself as a bat and another who turned into clown which Burton wanted to explore.

As production went on, it became apparent that Burton’s vision was shaping out to be something extraordinary. He successfully combined dark psychological elements with unconventional approaches towards storytelling, thus giving birth to unique Batman movie. This success not only revived Batman’s character but also greatly influenced superhero genre in general.

Tim Burton had the freedom to bring Frank Miller’s darker version of Batman to life on screen. He and his team set out to reimagine Gotham City asking themselves how New York City would look if everything went wrong! According to Anton Furst, production designer “it was like hell had erupted through the pavement and kept on growing.”


They envisaged Gotham City as a place overrun by chaos and decay. This concept led them into undertaking an unconventional design approach. As stated by Furst, what they were trying to create is a city existing “in no period of time.” This means they did not have reference points from specific historical times, hence enabling the visual presentation of their film to be very creative. This idea of timeless made it possible for director Tim Burton to manage his distinctive gothic imagery throughout the movie, hence making Gotham feel like the embodiment of his own imagination in its setting, thereby making the film a unique and unforgettable one.

Furst’s idea of Gotham City as “a place where hell had erupted through the pavement and kept on growing” captures the oppressive, dark atmosphere of the movie. The streets, buildings, and overall environment in general were designed to echo this nightmarish vision that helped make it an intense and engrossing experience. The city was created ‘in no period of time,’ which meant its design could borrow from various influences without being confined to any particular era. This resulted in a mix of architectural styles and anachronistic elements that gave the city a unique visual identity, while reinforcing Batman’s timeless war against crime.


Among the key symbols of Burton’s Batman is Batmobile. It was made with sleek lines, dramatic features hence reflecting the film’s gothic aesthetics. Through combining futuristic technology with dark grandeur, Batmobile became representation of Batman presence in Gotham. Burton did not disappoint however, with another of his trademarks “The Joker’s ridiculously long gun,” this exaggerated weapon was surrealistic and menacing, emphasizing the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the Joker’s personality. It was an excellent match for the film’s overall tone, combining dark comedy with weird horror.

Previously having worked together on “Beetlejuice” and “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” Tim Burton approached Danny Elfman to compose music for “Batman,” By so doing they added a new dimension to the film that made it more weird as well as dark.

The Peculiar Option of Cast Bruce Wayne

Another important consideration was casting Bruce Wayne. Instead of choosing a traditional, muscle-bound actor, Burton selected Michael Keaton, an actor primarily known for his comedic roles in films like “Mr. Mom.” This choice was highly unusual as admitted by Burton who said that “Michael is not Arnold Schwarzenegger”. He emphasized that he had seen many good square-jawed actors but could not imagine them in their iconic bat suit ever.

Keaton’s casting caused significant controversy even before the advent of the internet era. For instance, Michael E. Uslan and other parties involved in making Batman initially disapproved this decision. As an individual who played a critical role in bringing Batman project to life, Uslan was totally against Keaton being chosen.

According to Uslan’s memoir “The Boy Who Loved Batman”: “I yelled; I screamed; I carried on like a baby; I argued; I protested; I fought; I reasoned; I swore; I begged; I pleaded; I countered; I discussed; I debated’’. However, Tim eventually convinced him when he pointed out that Keaton could play someone strange enough to put on cape or cowl convincingly. Later he accepted that what he lacked during the emotional response of funboy were underestimation of Tim Burton’s genius.

The Contributions of Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren

Over the years, multiple writers had a hand in the screenplay of Batman before it was finally credited to Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren. Hamm was chosen by Burton to write a version based on his ideas. Skaaren was brought in by producer Jon Peters after a year of development to perform major rewrites during a writer’s strike at the Writers Guild of America. In 2016 interview, Burton described the process as “torture”. Nevertheless, it was all worth it with a screenplay that would support such film’s unique tone.

But even if the future as regards making “Batman” motion picture remained uncertain, Warner Bros. and Tim Burton had a secret weapon up their sleeve: Jack Nicholson. The Oscar-winning actor from “Chinatown” and “The Shining” accepted to become The Joker which added some serious credibility for this project, convincing him required some effort due to his reputation.

Persuading Nicholson

As a condition to his joining, Nicholson had some demands; he insisted on top billing over Michael Keaton and a slice of the 1989 summer box office windfall. Even though this meant taking a pay cut in advance, the potential gains were significant. As Peter Gruber put it once, it was an investment that paid off. “It’s kind of like getting Marlon Brando for ‘Superman’ the first picture,” Gruber said. “You get so much respectability for your film, for what you’re trying to do that then not only does it bring in audiences from children to adults, but it also makes an extremely good move at getting other major stars, see if they can become the next Batman villain.”

Nicholson’s respected name on the poster was a big draw, but it was his portrayal of The Joker that really made the movie rise above itself. Nicholson fully embraced the role and gave a performance that was both terrifying and captivating. Unlike Richard Donner’s “Superman” with its optimistic superhero tone, Nicholson’s Joker was dark and menacing.

Scaring the Audience

Nicholson tended to think that more fear would make people feel more touched by his image as an actor, playing The Joker which is why he says during one interview: “I remember early experiences working in houses full of kids; you know, if you really scare them too much they love it. The worse you are – the better, this is my response to the joker. This guy here is hideous, if you take him literally every kid likes him”

Initially budgeted at thirty five million dollars, Tim Burton’s “Batman” ultimately saw its costs balloon to forty eight million dollars, which would be around one hundred and twenty million dollars in today’s rate. Although this was an enormous sum for a superhero film at the time, it’s relatively modest compared to our present day habit of spending around $200 million on each modern Marvel or DC blockbuster. Warner Bros. not only went for production costs but also put together one of the most extensive promotional campaigns ever seen in the history of film. These advertising efforts took various forms, including classy posters, multiple product tie-ins and even a soundtrack produced by legendary Prince.

A Record Breaking Opening

“Batman” hit theaters on June 23 ’89, going head to head with Disney’s “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.” However, Burton’s dark take on DC’s hero easily outclassed its rivals and broke several box office records upon its opening day when it collected $40.4 million. This auspicious start represented just the beginning of an incredible run which would see the movie stay in the top ten at the box office through mid-September and still continue getting screened in cinemas for almost an entire year later. Ticket sales were not the only measure of success; millions upon millions worth of Batman related merchandise were sold worldwide including toys which all added up to make this one of the biggest financial hits ever.

By the end of its original theatrical run, “Batman” had grossed $251.1 million domestically and an additional $150 million internationally, culminating in a worldwide total of $401.1 million. As a result of different re-releases over time, that figure now stands at $411.5 million or more than that if adjusted for inflation since then as was seen in 1990 dollars, despite Jack Nicholson taking such a unique deal there remained debates whether it had actually made any profit or not, whereas this seems ludicrous given how much money it eventually earned globally.

Continued achievement with Modern Adaptations

The Batman concession, unlike its many spin offs, did not fall short of expectation as Matt Reeves’s, “The Batman” has been successful since the year 2022. Since then, the series has made over six point eight billion dollars worldwide, a number which includes Christopher Nolan’s highly regarded films “The Dark Knight”, and “The Dark Knight Rises” which both earned over a billion dollars. But even without the man who played an important part in one of the most enduring authorization in cinema history, Batman remains a towering figure in popular culture.

He is arguably amongst the most popular characters in TV shows and numerous live-action movies. This is one reason Warner Bros. continues the legacy with upcoming projects such as “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” and “The Batman Part II”. After Tim Burton introduced him to film for the first time thirty-five years’ ago, there is no question that he still forms one of studio’s valuable properties.

The Impact of Tim Burton’s “Batman”

This alongside other hits like Blade (1998) and X-men (2000) will be forever remembered as Marvel’s first significant breakthroughs after nearly ten years of struggling to stay relevant as comic book adaptations or what would secure their future for decades upon decades were concerned.” However, this can only be accomplished if we also appreciate some of what was achieved by Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’. In fact this movie was clearly a product of its time, even till today it offers insights that are very applicable in cinemas.”

Unlike other movies based on specific comics books stories, ‘Batman’ by Burton offered an original version of character only meant for big screen using his own ideas about him. Warner Bros. found this approach clicked with audiences, though Burton had a clear vision while making his film backed by solid story which demonstrated that you could make something great out of another person’s property.

The Importance of Vision

“Batman” by Burton was a hit because it was a well conceived film that people wanted to see. However, it did not succeed simply because it was Batman in this case; but it was the belief that the movie possessed a particular vision which is a crucial factor to mention about any successful film. This lesson is particularly relevant today, as the superhero genre faces an uncertain future. For example, recent failures “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” from DC and “The Flash” show that just being a superhero does not guarantee box office success as no audience would flock into cinemas just because someone had worn tights in their film, until there is a good idea behind it.

Another reason for the success of “Batman” lied in its loyalty towards comic book. These are some of the comics like “Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller (1986), which laid ground for Burton. Sometimes modern versions appear to be better than original works themselves.  Disney and Warner Bros. could benefit from placing more emphasis on the comics themselves, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it could preserve the integrity of the medium and potentially secure the next big hit. Relying on the same well repeatedly may not always yield success.


Batman’s journey from Tim Burton’s innovative film to the present day is a witness to the character’s enduring appeal and the importance of creative vision in filmmaking. The lessons learned through Burton’s achievements illustrate how new interpretations can be drawn from source material while still showing respect towards them. Despite all these advancements, however, there are certain fundamental principles that must be adhered to if this mode of entertainment is going to stay alive.

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