Total Recall

Total Recall: It's the Bat!

A complete history of Batman's theatrical releases.

by and | July 16, 2008 | Comments

In Batman’s universe, what’s the only thing scarier than
Heath Ledger as Joker? The fact that Christopher Nolan will one day not be at
the directorial helm. The Bat has seen more hands pass through it than any other
comic book franchise, guided as low as the final days of the Joel
Schumacher era, and reaching peaks like Nolan’s successful attempts in
legitimizing the genre. With
The Dark Knight
dropping this Friday, evacuating
America of its pent-up superhero demand like teenage timebombs, Rotten Tomatoes
is exploring the storied theatrical history of Batman.


more info…

Batman: The Movie
(1966, 80%)

Who’s the Bat? Adam West
The villains: The Penguin, The Riddler, The Joker, Catwoman. (Holy multiple


For a Batman interpretation frequently derided for its
campiness, Batman: The Movie has a surprisingly high number of quotable lines
and memorable scenes. Remember how the dynamic duo deduce that all their
archenemies — Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler, and The Joker — are working
together to take over the world? Or the insane logic Robin consistently
applies to Riddler’s questions that always turn out to be right? But the best
bit has to be the one highlighted below. It involves bat ladders, shark
repellent Bat-spray, and a high seas encounter with an exploding Megalodon.
“Holy Cornball Camp, Batman!” exclaims Scott Weinberg, “This movie’s a hoot!”

more info…

(1989, 69%)

Who’s the Bat? Michael Keaton
The villain: The Joker


One of the most hyped movies in Hollywood history, and one of the finest
examples of movie tie-ins and cross-promotion (so successful it made t-shirt
bootleggers filthy rich), Batman is also one of the weirdest
event pictures of all time. Director Tim Burton jettisoned the plots (if not
the dark tone) of Bob Kane’s original comics, and came up a picture with set
designs reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and freakish, brooding
characters similar to… well, a Tim Burton movie. Particularly compelling is
Jack Nicholson as the Joker, who gleefully relishes his plan to kill the
citizens of Gotham City with lethal gas. Michael Keaton makes for a subdued
Dark Knight, a hero who dispenses vigilante justice while living a morose
existence in Wayne Manor. A precursor to more complex comic book adaptations,
Batman made piles of money, and the bat-logo was ubiquitous in the
summer of 1989. “Burton brings back film noir elements to the new Batman,
elevating it to a dark, demented opera,” wrote Jeffrey Anderson of Combustible


more info…

Batman Returns
(1992, 79%)

Who’s the Bat? Michael Keaton
The villains: The Penguin, Catwoman


Tim Burton has said he always sympathized with monsters, and so, for his
sequel to Batman, he gave audiences not one, but two empathetic,
pitiable villains. The Penguin (Danny DeVito) is a deformed orphan who leads
an army of aquatic, flightless birds from the bowels of Gotham City. The
Catwoman (Michelle Pfeifer) is a frumpy secretary who is killed by her boss
(Christopher Walken) after she learns of his evil schemes but is brought back
to life by a group of cats. Teaming up against Batman, the pair plans an
assault on the city above. Batman Returns is so cold and dark it makes
the first installment look like Amelie by comparison, but that’s not
necessarily a bad thing; it still made a killing at the box office, and was
Burton’s favorite of the two Batman movies he helmed. “Of all the
pictures, this is the most striking, atmospheric and effective,”
wrote David Keyes of

more info…

Mask of the Phantasm
(1994, 87%)

Who’s the Bat? Kevin Conroy
The villains: The Phantasm, The Joker


Before the Nolan Batman movies, Mask of the Phantasm was
the most articulate exploration of the Bruce Wayne character. While the movie
takes the action that made The Animated Series such great afternoon fun and
expands it (but avoiding cheap, empty thrills that having a big budget can
afford you), it also showers loving detail on a pivotal romance in Bruce’s
life and an affecting scene of Bruce begging for release at his parents’
gravestone. It’s the rare movie that shows its protagonist for what he is:
essentially insane. “[Mask of the Phantasm] managed to soar above the
theatrical Batman adaptation,” states Kevin Carr of 7M Pictures, “And would
remain the best Bat Movie to hit the big screens until Batman Begins
shook things up in 2005.”

more info…

Batman Forever
(1995, 40%)

Who’s the Bat? Val Kilmer
The villains: The Riddler, Two-Face

One can draw a fairly direct line from the 1966 Batman to Joel Schumacher’s
mid-series reboot. Garish colors. Some tongue-in-cheek dialogue. The presence
of Robin to draw in the young’uns. This may not be a great Batman movie, but
it is a successful one — drawing in a legion of new viewers while shift the
series away from the twisted mindscape of Tim Burton (whose movies weren’t
that representative of the comics anyways). And if you were the at the right
age, there was nothing more fun in 1995 than this (except getting a
PlayStation probably). It’s “a free-form playground for its various
masquerading stars,” wrote Janet Maslin for The New York Times.


more info…

Batman & Robin
(1997, 12% Tomatometer)

Who’s the Bat? George Clooney
The villains: Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Bane

One of the least-loved blockbusters of recent years, Batman & Robin
brought the Batman 1.0 franchise to a screeching halt. Unlike the
earlier installments, which returned the Caped Crusader to his brooding noir
roots, Batman & Robin was a veritable camp-o-rama, closer in spirit to
the 1960s TV series. Utilizing punny dialogue to a jaw-dropping degree were
villains Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze (“Ice to see you!”) and Uma
Thurman as Poison Ivy (“My garden needs tending”). Even George Clooney made
little impression as Batman, and his sidekicks (Chris O’Donnell as Robin,
Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl) failed to drum up much audience or critical
enthusiasm. As a result, a planned fifth sequel, Batman Triumphant,
which would have pitted our heroes against the Scarecrow, never materialized,
so it was left to Christopher Nolan to resurrect the series. “Fans of the
movie series will be shocked at the shortage of original thought put into this
project,” wrote John Paul Powell of Jam! Movies.


more info…
Batman Begins (2005, 84%)
Who’s the Bat? Christian Bale
The villains: Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow


With his lack of superpowers and a vast fortune at his disposal, Batman was
always the most plausible of heroes. With Batman Begins, director
Christopher Nolan shucked off the direction of the previous big-screen
incarnations and boiled the Batman mythos down to its essence, resulting in one
of the most realistic superhero movies ever. Thankfully, Nolan didn’t
skimp on action-paced pyrotechnics, and as the suitably suave and tortured
Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale added a greater emotional heft to the Caped
Crusader (he was also ably abetted by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Michael
Caine, Cillian Murphy, and Gary Oldman). Batman Begins signaled a bold
new beginning for the franchise, and was a huge hit with audiences and pundits
alike. “It’s a wake-up call to the people who keep giving us cute capers about
men in tights,” wrote Kyle Smith of the New York Post. “It wipes the
smirk off the face of the superhero movie.”

more info…
The Rogue’s Gallery

& Mr. Freeze: SubZero
(1997, 89%)

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
(2000, 86%)

Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman
The Batman vs.

Batman: Gotham Knight


The Batman franchise has had no shortage of
direct-to-video animated releases, the most recent being Batman: Gotham
, an Animatrix-esque collection of anime that bridges the year gap
between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The other movies range from servicable to good, with Return of the Joker being the classic of the
bunch. The PG-13-rated Return isn’t as emotionally complex as Mask of
the Phantasm
, but it is a thrilling mystery that satisfies both fans of Batman
and Batman: The Animated Series.

And for fans of Batman: TAS, check out the clip below. It’s a compilation of
the animated cut scenes from the Sega CD game, often referred to as the “lost