What Are You, Man?

The film that helped set the stage for a new era of comic book movies celebrates its 30th birthday!

“You wanna get nuts? Come on! Let’s get nuts!”

After SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE‘s release in 1978, there wasn’t really a groundswell in popularity for comic book movies being released. The movie got three sequels, and there were a handful of smaller films focusing on comic book characters or stories in the 1980s, but fans of four-color heroes didn’t really have a lot of opportunities to see their favorites on the big screen.

So when director Tim Burton’s BATMAN was announced for a theatrical release, it was a pretty big deal.

I was 9 years old in summer 1989, when the movie hit theaters, and even though I was a bigger Superman fan, I could not wait to get into a theater to watch the film. I think I saw it in theaters four or five times that summer, and I had a poster of the Bat-symbol from the movie up in my room. I got a copy of the movie on VHS for my birthday that year.

Much like Adam West’s TV series did, Michael Keaton’s turn as the Dark Knight defined the character for a generation. And the dark, moody and atmospheric Gotham City created by Burton instantly changed the way people saw the character. While Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns may have given Batman a grim turn in the comic books a few years earlier, there was no way it had anywhere near the effect on the perception of the Caped Crusader as the movie did.

Jack Nicholson’s Joker gets most of the attention here, as the movie was much more of an origin for the classic villain than it is for its supposed protagonist, but I really loved Keaton’s take on Bruce Wayne and Batman. There’s always a little bit of darkness in any character Keaton plays, because he just has a face that suggests he may be a little bit crazy. He was the perfect choice for a rich guy who dresses up like a bat to take out criminals as a way to work through his parents’ death when he was a child. The backlash to his selection to lead the film was completely unwarranted, and I think Keaton did a great job shutting those critics down.

There have been better Batman movies in the 30 years since this one was released, but none of them would have been possible without this one.