The Dark Knight might be one of the most iconic and recognizable figures in popular culture. The Batman story, which introduced us to the legendary billionaire, has captivated audiences for years. Seeing as how much the character has resonated with fans, it’s no surprise that Hollywood has taken notice of the Batman franchise. With studios scrambling to cash in on the massive success of The Dark Knight, we take a look at the definitive guide to the Batman movies, from the beginning to the present day.
The Early Years: 1948-1959
With the rise of television in the ‘50s, the stigma of movie theater attendance began to decline. People were seeing the same films multiple times, creating a new audience for Hollywood. With the baby boomer generation as the dominant consumer group, film studios scrambled to cash in on this new audience with cinematic offerings based on popular TV shows of the day. With the success of I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show, it was clear that audiences wanted something more than just a retelling of their favorite TV sitcom. Studios needed to provide their audience with an experience more reflective of what they saw on television every day, and the result was the many Batman television shows that rolled across the small screen in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
The Definitive Guide To The 1960s Batman Films
The 1960s were a period of transition for Batman, as television had become a dominant presence in people’s lives, yet movie theaters remained vital. With the rise of cinema verite, which allows the audience to be more involved in the action, came a new wave of Batman films that were more reflective of what audiences wanted. Instead of a gated community, these Batman films took place in an urban jungle—complete with street musicians, gangsters, and corruption. While the ‘60s were a period of transition for Batman, it was a very positive one. This is thanks in part to the work of director Adam West, who infused the Batman mythos with a contemporary ‘60s environment in a way that was novel at the time.
The Rise Of Modern Batman: 1970-1979
The ‘70s were a groundbreaking period for Batman. With the creation of the Comic Book Series in 1966, DC Comics began retelling stories from their vast library of characters in standalone graphic novels, starting with the legendary Mr. Freeze in 1967. Since comics are a form of cinematic literature, the influence of the graphic novel can be seen in films like Blade Runner, which was heavily inspired by the work of Dutch writer, filmmaker, and comic creator Frank Herbert. In the ‘70s, Batman wasn’t just a figure skater, he was an entire lifestyle brand, complete with an annual calendar, an action figure line, and a comic book series.
The Complete Picture: 1980-1999
The ‘80s saw the expansion of Batman’s empire. With Tim Burton’s influential 1986 film, Batman, which blended the ‘60s TV show aesthetic with modern humor, the character evolved beyond the screen to become a major influencer in popular culture. Since then, film studios have released numerous stand-alone Batman films, building on the popularization of Gotham City itself and bringing the caped crusader from the comics to life on the big screen.
The 2000s: The Millennium Era
With the turn of the millennium, Batman became a pop culture phenomenon once again. The year 2000 saw the premiere of the first of what would eventually become a trilogy of Batman films, The Hollow, directed by Wolfgang Petersen. The film introduced fans to a darker Batman, one who doesn’t hesitate to cross the line when necessary. Since then, film studios have released numerous stand-alone Batman films, building on the success of The Hollow and adding a more mature vibe to the character.
The Future Of The Batman Franchise
With the rise of digital media in the ‘00s, the stigma of physical media—like Blu-ray and DVDs—beginning to decline. Since then, film studios have turned to direct-to-video films and episodic television series as a means of distribution, cutting out the middleman and allowing content to be consumed when and where the audience wants. While we’ve seen the traditional blockbuster movie emerge from this digital era, the ‘10s have seen a “small-budget, micro-budget, independent film[s]” emerge, often based on famous literary works or comic books.
With Netflix pumping out original content and revitalizing the model for prestige television, we could see a golden era for the Batman franchise. It’s clear that Hollywood is listening: Already, we’ve seen several TV shows and films based on the legendary Avenger, Ironman, and we can only hope that one day, we’ll see an adaptation of The Dark Knight.