With ‘Batman V Superman’ currently doing the rounds at cinemas worldwide, there has been little mention of the fact that 2016 marks a very important anniversary for the Dark Knight/ Caped Crusader. 50 years ago, the very first full length Batman motion picture was released into cinemas, ‘Batman – The Movie’, based on the iconic ‘Batman’ TV series of the 1960’s. Although Batman had featured before on the big screen, it was in far shorter, black and white serials, based primarily on the comic books. But 1966 was the stepping stone to cinema greatness for Batman, as 50 years later, he’s still packing theaters around the globe. So, as the Action A Go Go team pride ourselves on bringing you both the very best in action cinema, and the world of comic books, we really couldn’t let this milestone pass. Enjoy our little tribute to the mighty Batman and his spectacular legacy, covering the entire 50 years of his movies. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories of the 10 theatrical movies featured on this list.
‘Batman – The Movie’ (1966) / Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Ceser Romero, Lee Meriwether, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin. Director: Leslie H. Martinson.
In 1966, after decades of massive success for the character of Batman, due to comic books and many big screen serials, producer William Dozier put into play a new and brave TV show, based on the adventures of Batman, and his loyal sidekick Robin. With Adam West playing Batman/ Bruce Wayne and Burt Ward playing Robin/ Dick Grayson, ‘Batman’ became one of the biggest smash hits on television, running for two years, with three seasons. After the runaway success and popularity of the first season, plans were put into action to create the first full length Batman motion picture to be released in cinemas around the world. Bringing back both West and Ward, the movie also called in the show’s classic actors who play the most beloved of Batman’s villains… Ceser Romero as Joker, Burgess Meredith as Penguin, Frank Gorshin as Riddler, with only the exception of Julie Newmar not returning as Catwoman and the magnificent Lee Meriwether taking over the role for the movie (Then Catwoman was recast in the TV show also, with Eartha Kitt taking on the catsuit after the first two seasons. A great mystery as to why Julie wasn’t cast in the movie, or the third season of the show rumbles on to this day. Or why the beautiful Meriwether was also not chosen ahead of Kitt for season 3). Carrying on the traditions of the TV show, the movie was camp, psychotic, full of bright colors and even included the now legendary “Pow! Blam! Zap! Zlonk!” additions to the many fight scenes. Although extremely silly and outdated, this original cinema outing for Batman is still treasured among fans, as a fun and quirky adventure that still pleases audiences today. I personally have many fond boyhood memories of both the movie and TV show, as I expect most Batman fans do. Even the 1960’s Batmobile is still iconic, and remains a top-selling piece of merchandise among fans and collectors. “To the Batcave!”.
‘Batman’ (1989) / Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger. Director: Tim Burton.
23 years after the first Batman motion picture, and the partner TV series, the Dark Knight exploded onto the screen in the first of what would become the Warner Bros. Batman franchise. Although the 1960’s movie and show had been incredibly camp and lighthearted, the fans enjoyed it immensely and make it hugely popular. But it took decades to remove the camp stigma from Bob Kane’s dark creation of a vengeful vigilante roaming the streets of Gotham in search of justice. While the 1960’s movie was huge in scale and fun, there was a deep want among fans to see the original Dark Knight of the comics on the silver screen. With director Tim Burton lined up three years earlier, ‘Batman’ went through a massive amount of rewrites, cast auditions and art designs, before finally going into production, after Burton’s massive hit and now classic ‘Beetlejuice’. With the star of that movie, Michael Keaton, cast as Batman/ Bruce Wayne, the role of playing Batman’s most iconic foe, Joker, went to legendary Oscar winner Jack Nicholson. With Nicholson’s demands, including a $50 million paycheck and first billing on the movie and publicity, receiving heavy media attention, most eyes were on his performance. But with the massively successful release of the movie, it became clear that Jack as Joker was absolutely the right call, and that paycheck was very well deserved. His performance stills remains one of the franchise’s greatest. Keaton himself is stellar as Batman, bringing his dark and comic talents to the role, along with some great fighting skills (Although owners of the Blu-ray will no doubt clearly see a fight double for some of the major fight sequences, thanks to some nifty HD). Kim Basinger also shines as Vicki Vale, a beautiful photographer with a nose for trouble and a place in Bruce’s heart. Tim Burton as director is flawless, proving that when making a Batman movie, he is at his best. He relishes the chance of telling a story like this, taking advantage of the twisted performances, macabre visuals and hilarious humor added throughout. The set designs by the late great Anton Furst are incredible, his Gotham City remains the very finest of the entire Batman franchise, thanks to the spectacular building designs and interiors. Danny Elfman is also at his best, providing the iconic theme and score for the movie, which would later be used again for not only ‘Batman Returns’, but for the wonderful 1990’s animated TV series. And if all of that wasn’t enough, superstar music artist Prince graced the movie with a soundtrack so fantastic that is still has yet to show any signs of aging. The ‘Batman’ album became a huge success in the charts, along with its lead single ‘Batdance’ becoming a major number 1 hit, still one of Prince’s big hits today. Sadly, due to serious ownership rights, Prince himself is unable to use anything from the album for his own compilation albums, leaving ‘Batdance’ out in the cold. Anyone without that album needs to buy a copy right now. ‘Batman’ is a masterpiece, made with the hard work of many a genius mind, and brought to life by a fantastic cast, brilliant musicians and a lot of love and attention, paying faithful tribute to the comic books that came before. The movie audience finally had it’s true Dark Knight.
‘Batman Returns’ (1992) / Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfieffer, Christopher Walken, Director: Tim Burton.
Improvements to a near-perfect movie are always almost impossible. How can anyone expect someone to do a greater job than they did on ‘Batman’ from 1989? Well… Tim Burton did it! Coming three years after the first smash hit success, Burton rejoined Michael Keaton, Danny Elfman and many of the crew from the first movie, to create ‘Batman Returns’. Although now not featuring Jack Nicholson’s Joker (Obviously), excluding Kim Basinger’s Vicki Vale, and not having a spectacular Prince album, somehow ‘Batman Returns’ is even better than it’s predecessor. With bigger action, bigger special effects and a far bigger story, this Batman outing really aimed for the big time. With Danny DeVito perfectly cast as Penguin, he gives his greatest movie performance to date, chilling and absolutely hilarious. Michelle Pfieffer as Catwoman is super sexy, really funny and adds emotional layers to the movie that Basinger as Vicki just could not do in the previous movie. Even Keaton himself delivers a far more dramatic and intense performance than he had previously as Batman, this time opting for quiet, brutal and weary, where as before he seemed so much more intent on lunacy, which made his Bruce Wayne fall flat. But here. watching Bruce Wayne is even more exciting than Batman, thanks to Keaton and the writers, who naturally grew the character to something really special. Although darker, bloodier and far more gothic than the ’89 movie, ‘Batman Returns’ not only remains a major staple in the Batman movie canon, but in my opinion is Tim Burton’s masterpiece, easily still his greatest movie.
‘Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm’ (1993) / Stars: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Abe Vigoda. Director: Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm.
After ‘Batman Returns’ scaring children and not making the money Warner Bros. were looking for, attention turned to creating a tie-in movie with massive TV animated series, that had been gathering a massive fan base and huge viewer ratings since 1992. Originally intended to be a TV movie, ‘Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm’ was eventually elevated to a theatrical project, after the studio were greatly impressed by the script and footage they had seen from the movie. With a now bigger budget and a chance to recapture a younger audience, the movie was released in 1993 at cinemas around the world. Although not becoming a major box office success, it has since garnered a loyal and well-deserved fan base of its own, due to a terrific story, its beautiful animation and the brilliant voice talents of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill as Joker, and also including Abe Vigoda as another of the movie’s villains, a crime boss who hires Joker to kill Batman. ‘Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm’ may not be live action, but it certainly tries its best to give those bigger movies a run for their money. Anyone who hasn’t seen this movie, along with its TV series partner, you seriously need to, you’re missing out on some wonderful Batman magic.
‘Batman Forever’ (1995) / Cast: Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell. Director: Joel Schumacher.
Due to ‘Batman Returns’ being considered a somewhat big disappointment to Warner, with box office takings less than they hoped for and children unable to view the movie, thanks to its glorious darkness and brutality, future live action Batman projects were in doubt. But three years later, with Tim Burton now serving as a producer instead of director, Michael Keaton’s cape hung up and Danny Elfman’s classic score gone, ‘Batman Forever’ battled on. With much-hated Hollywood actor Val Kilmer now donning the tights, and terrific ‘Falling Down’ director Joel Schumacher brought in for directing duties, Batman moved from the dark brooding Tim Burton age back to the lighter, more child-friendly surroundings of the 1960’s. With a hilarious and ultra camp performance from wonderful funny man Jim Carrey as Riddler, and a somewhat uneven but still entertaining performance from Tommy Lee Jones, ‘Batman Forever’ is stunning fun, with action-packed set pieces, great gags and a very decent performance from Kilmer. But above all else, aside from Carrey’s Riddler, Nicole Kidman as the new love interest steals the show, thanks to looking absolutely divine on screen and delivering her lines with the sexiness of the world’s finest adult movie stars. Has a woman ever looked so magnificent in a comic book movie? Schumacher naturally does a brilliant job in directing duties, keeping the action fast and the partnership between Batman and his faithful sidekick Robin (Played by Chris O’Donnell, who does a pretty decent job in his first blockbuster role) super camp. With two major chart hits provided by U2 (The spectacular ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’. The best song to ever come from a super hero comic book movie?) and Seal (‘Kiss From A Rose’), ‘Batman Forever’ has remained my favorite of the first four Warner Bros. Batman movies since its release, thanks to Carrey, Kidman, U2 and the wonderful action scenes. It may not be considered as such by others though, but I’ll always love it. It also boasts my all-time favorite movie poster (See above).
‘Batman And Robin’ (1997) / Cast: George Clooney, Arnold Scwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman. Director: Joel Schumacher.
‘Batman And Robin’ is like the fat kid who gets picked on school, it’s not his fault he’s fat. It’s his genes. Coming two years after the massive success of ‘Batman Forever’, Joel Schumacher returned with a new Batman (Having apparently murdered Val Kilmer on the set of the previous movie and replaced him with a clone who hasn’t had a hit movie since!), bringing George Clooney on board. While a perfect choice for Batman, what with being a multi-millionaire playboy and a fantastic action hero, Clooney has long since been unfairly ridiculed for his performance. And I feel now is the time to set things right. George was a great Batman, the Batsuits were brilliant (Are nipples on a Batsuit any sillier than abs and muscles?) and he delivered the goods in the action scenes. The movie’s failure was never his fault. Neither was it the fault of Arnie as Mr. Freeze, who is having the time of his life, belting out countless hilarious ice quips (“A fffffrrrreeeeeezzzeeee is cccccoooommmmiiinnnngggg!”) and wearing that suit like a massive robotic wrestler. Arnie nailed that role. Was it Alicia Silverstone’s fault? One of the hottest women of the ’90’s, wearing tight leather and kicking lots of ass? Not a chance, she’s super fun. Joel Schumacher certainly isn’t to blame, he’s constantly proven himself to be a brilliant director with an eye for fun and camp. Ladies and gentleman, the true culprits behind the ruining of ‘Batman And Robin’ are both Uma Thurman and the people who wrote her character, Poison Ivy. Thurman has never been a favorite of mine in movies, but as Poison Ivy, she opened the gates of Hell and utterly destroyed any chance the movie had of success. From the way she walks, in that fake “Oh aren’t I sexy?” routine, to the script she is forced to deliver, with the countless speeches of how Mother Earth will have her revenge. Oh God, make it stop! And if that wasn’t bad enough, the hideous story line between Ivy and Robin, that’s the stuff nightmares are made of. Batman and Robin almost coming to blows in an effort to discover who is more loved by Uma Thurman. Horrendous. I put this question to anyone… If ‘Batman And Robin’ existed without Thurman and any mention or appearance of Poison Ivy, would it still have been savaged the way it was? I truly don’t think so. The action scenes are wonderful, Arnie as Mr. Freeze is fantastic fun, Alicia is gorgeous and George Clooney himself is a perfect choice for Batman. Not to mention the fantastic soundtrack, with songs from music greats like R. Kelly and Smashing Pumpkins. And to top it off, an appearance from one of my favorite people on the planet, the wonderful Sandra Taylor (Playboy Playmate, Penthouse Pet and movie star, with roles in other movies such as ‘Under Seige 2’), as one of the women being auctioned for a date at Bruce Wayne’s charity ball (Mr. Freeze freezes her!). ‘Batman And Robin’ has plenty of awesome stuff to offer, if we could only find a way of wiping Poison Ivy from the show.
‘Batman Begins’ (2005) / Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman. Director: Christopher Nolan.
After 1997’s ‘Batman And Robin’ sadly sent Batman to the movie heaven in the sky (Thanks Ivy!), we all thought we’d seen the last of him. But in 2005, Batman returned once again. But he didn’t just return, he was reborn. Darker than Burton, more fun than Schumacher and bigger than anyone could have ever thought, ‘Batman Begins’ lived up to its named and restarted the franchise to a degree we never imagined. With a killer script, a glorious cast and a top notch director, this movie ripped open our movie-loving stomachs and filled us with the kind of comic book thrills we had always hoped for, since we were kids. Although I have always had so much love for the Batman movies (I even love a great portion of ‘Batman And Robin’), nothing could compare to that first viewing of ‘Batman Begins’ at the cinema. The movie’s style alone is something to behold in all its glory, it’s beyond incredible. Hiring Christian Bale as Batman was pure genius, and he’s easily still the screen’s greatest take on the Dark Knight (Although with the right movie, Ben Affleck could easily steal that title!). The rest of the cast are perfect in their roles, especially Michael Caine as faithful butler Alfred and Gary Oldman as Gordon before he was Commissioner. The action sequences are absolutely breathtaking, the Tumbler chase is the stuff dreams are made of. And the finale set high above the streets of Gotham is something that no comic book superhero movie could ever match, I’ve never seen a better finale in any comic hero movie. The score from Hans Zimmer and James Newton-Howard is one of the greatest things our ears will ever hear, that booming theme tune excites me without even watching the movie, adding so much to those action scenes. And Nolan makes the leap from classy crime movies to pure blockbuster entertainment, the kind that makes even Michael Bay drool. Aside from his faults (Which I’ll get to real soon), Nolan is a stunning director, and he is owed far more than any Batman fan could ever pay. ‘Batman Begins’ is a true rebirth of an icon, the movie that showed Hollywood how rebooting a dead franchise should be done.
‘The Dark Knight’ (2008) / Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Remember when I mentioned earlier than Tim Burton bettering his own ‘Batman’ movie with ‘Batman Returns’ is almost impossible to do? Well, Christopher Nolan did it too. With ‘Batman Begins’, I consider it perfection, so naturally I never believed it could be beaten. And with news and rumors starting to leak about the production, I balked at much of it. ‘The Dark Knight’ as a title? No Batman mentioned? I laughed at it. Heath Ledger as the Joker? I laughed harder, I actually thought that was a joke when I first heard it. But then, little by little, the movie drew closer and we started to get glimpses of what this movie could be. And with the arrival of the photos of Heath as Joker, with that trailer including his voice, I stopped laughing. Like some kind of witchcraft, Heath was perfect, absolutely perfect, I was stunned. Then I saw the movie for the first time, and to this day, although I loved every second of the movie, Heath Ledger as Joker is for me the greatest performance I have ever seen from an actor in any movie. Many will laugh at that, and throw many wonderful performances from many classic movies at me in retaliation. But for me personally, I have never seen a better performance. Terrifying, maniacal, hilarious and absolutely vicious, Heath’s Joker had me gripping my seat right from the start. Yes, ‘The Dark Knight’ boasts incredible action scenes, brilliant performances from the entire cast (Christian Bale yet again being a superb Batman), fantastic direction from Nolan and an even grander Hans Zimmer/ James Newton-Howard score than ‘Batman Begins’, but this is Heath Ledger’s movie. Every piece of it is his performance, his drive, his determination to deliver something far beyond the previous Jokers we’d seen, something beyond just the psycho antics and one-liners. Although he has sadly passed from the world, Heath Ledger remains the one man who made me read a book before judging it by its cover. May he rest in peace.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (2012) / Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman. Director: Christopher Nolan.
Here’s a fun notion for anyone reading this article. I prefer ‘Batman And Robin’ to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. ‘Batman And Robin’ has many faults, but it has many great points, the number one of those being that it’s a lot of fun to watch. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is not fun. Not for me at least. Overly long, almost impossible to follow narrative, more stupidity than the 1960’s show and movie and some horrendous performances. From the magical leg brace that enables a crippled man to kick chunks out of walls, to a hoard of cops running head first into a hail of gunfire as if they’re bulletproof, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is a farce. A movie that disappointed me beyond anything I could have thought at the time. Very little Batman action, Tom Hardy’s hilarious almost untranslatable voice as Bane and almost every one actually living beyond the ground (Bruce Wayne down a massive well with a broken back, and a hoard of cops buried underground who emerge clean shaven with great haircuts and perfectly dressed. I suppose a man must look his best, even buried underground with no way to get out, eh?). It’s all such a dull mess. But as with most movies, there are many positives. The Hans Zimmer score is the best of the trilogy, the performances from Christian Bale and Michael Caine are the best of the trilogy, and Christopher Nolan’s directing is also the best of the trilogy. Add to that, the fondness that can grow over time, I really enjoy Bane now, I actually really like listening to that messed up stupid voice, there’s such a fun sound to it. Anne Hathaway, sadly, is still dreadful as Catwoman. But ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, for all of its faults (Although many disagree with me that it has any faults at all!), does have something special and unique about it, and the finale is such fun, despite the magical bulletproof well-groomed cops. And let’s face it, things can always be worse, right?
‘Batman V Superman’ (2016) / Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Laurence Fishbourne, Diane Lane, Holly Hunter. Director: Zack Snyder.
And, we arrive at the 50th anniversary of that very first Batman motion picture from 1966. That big, camp, fun, extremely lovable and enjoyable romp that cashed in on a beloved show, adored by Batman fans across the world, even if deservedly laughed at constantly. Superman suffered a similar fate to ‘Batman And Robin’ when ‘Superman Returns’ came along in 2009. Bad. Just so, so very bad. On a scale that would even make ‘Batman And Robin’ look like ‘The Godfather’. The key to movies has always been one very important thing… Effort. Sit down and just write something good. It’s so simple. Just think of the characters you have to work with, think of the budget you’ve been given, and just make the best movie you can make. Sadly, ‘Superman Returns’ failed, due to a lack of any excitement, any real sense of adventure and some woeful performances. But ‘Man Of Steel’ came along in 2013 and reignited the interest in Superman as a character. And ‘Man Of Steel’ became one of my personal favorite movies, easily cracking my top 10. So naturally I had hoped for even bigger and better with ‘Batman V Superman’. Sadly, I am still very disappointed. I’m aware that the movie is still brand new, so I’ll keep this brief and spoiler-free. A total lack of any reason or structure, a level of stupidity that even outdoes ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, and very little excitement until the final 30 minutes (Aside from one really cool but short action scene in the middle). The team at Action A Go Go certainly have different opinions on it, as do millions of people around the world, which means at the very least that it’s got people talking about these heroic titans on a massive scale. However, as this piece is intended to be a celebration of Batman, let me reach the positives. Ben Affleck is a glorious Batman. And he proves it here. Full of energy, full of rage and even more charisma than Christian Bale, if that’s possible. Although not released to the extent he should have been here, I shuddered with excitement at many points of the movie, as I imagined the future of Batman, with Affleck at the helm. He’s seriously that good. Henry Cavill is brilliant as Superman, of course. ‘Man Of Steel’ is magnificent. Gal Gadot is the perfect Wonder Woman, she’s really great in the finale. And that finale of ‘Batman V Superman’ is stunning, there’s some wonderful visuals in there, and some very exciting action. It’s just a question of whether one can sit through 2 hours of total oblivion before it. But as the goal here is to reflect on Batman, I can safely say that the future of the Dark Knight in movies is very safe, with Ben Affleck. Give him the right movie, he can be the greatest Batman we’ve ever seen on screen. ‘Batman V Superman’ gives us a very clear sense of that. So for what I feel are its failings, it still delivers the perfect tease of what could be coming along in the not to distant future. Here’s hoping.
I hope you enjoyed this piece as much as I enjoyed writing it. While there has been some rocky times for me in the 50 years covered here, there has been far more joy and far more excitement than anything I could possibly consider a negative. Long may Batman grace our screens, long may the Caped Crusader excite our brains, and long may the Dark Knight reign. Here’s to another 50 years!