Since the early 90s, audiences have been teased with the idea of a Batman vs. Superman film. The idea of two of the most iconic heroes ever going head-to-head was enough to make fans sit up and take notice. But since the inception of the superhero genre in the 1940s, the idea of competing films has caused contention.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe are both massive successes, continuing to grow year after year. While many fans may disagree on whether or not DC’s cinematic universe is better than Marvel’s, there is no denying that both franchises are immensely popular and have significantly influenced popular culture in recent years.
Batman and Superman are arguably the greatest superheroes of all time. The combination of their unique abilities and the dark and gritty nature of their films made them perfect subjects for big-budget, superhero-themed movies. For decades, fans have been waiting for the day they could finally watch these characters duke it out on the big screen. What they got was a surprise.
In 2019, Warner Bros. released their first ever film directed by Zack Snyder. While the film did receive mixed reviews from critics, it was an unqualified flop at the box office. In fact, it made just $185 million worldwide on a $175 million budget.
Was this the disaster many predicted? Did the DC and Warner Bros. teams botch the cinematic universe showdown they had been teasing us with for decades? Or did audiences just not want to see Batman and Superman fight each other after all?
To commemorate the release of Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and to figure out what the future will hold for these two cinematic universes, we must return to the beginning. Like most superheroes, Batman was first featured in a series of comic books. However, unlike most superheroes, his creators, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, understood the power of cinematic magic. They knew that even though comic books were a medium for telling stories, those stories could only truly come to life through film. So, they set out to make that film. In the summer of 1939, they released one of the greatest superhero films of all time: The Adventures of Batman.
It starred William Herron as the legendary superhero and it also starred Lisle Wilson as his sidekick Robin. While the film didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it did become a box office hit and went on to inspire a generation of filmmakers. Inexplicably, Warner Bros. have never given this movie the proper sequel or adaptation it deserves. Now, 80 years later, we are finally about to see the culmination of all those stories in one amazing film. A film that will either make or break the cinematic universe.
The Adventures of Batman was the first of three films starring William Herron as Batman. The following year, 1940, Batman’s return was made in the form of a sequel: Batman vs. Nazi Spiderman. Then, in 1943, Batman’s journey came to an end with the original Batman trilogy: The Return of Batman, The Bat Whispers and Batman, starring Bob Kane as co-director.
Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and William Herron starred in all three films. But, while the first two films focused on the rise of Batman as a superhero, the third film focused more on his personal journey as a man. It was a bold choice by Kane and Finger, because it was the first time that they had explored these themes in mainstream fiction. Even today, these films hold up remarkably well. While there were some complaints about the acting in these films, they are still considered cornerstones of the Batman franchise.
After years of tantalizing audiences with the idea of a Batman v. Superman movie, it seems like Hollywood has delivered. But, not quite. While Batman v. Superman is an unprecedented cinematic event, it is not actually the culmination of the two competing movie universes. The Batman and Superman films are the culmination of a series of films that have been slowly building to this point for decades. And it is a testament to the power of both characters and the desire for more.
The concept of a Batman vs. Superman film was first introduced to audiences in the 1960s, with a characteristically absurd approach that didn’t quite work but didn’t completely contradict the darker, grittier nature of the characters’ traditional comics either. The idea was eventually given its due with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, which featured a more realistic approach that was in keeping with the darker tone of the comic books.
Nolan’s Batman was the first of the two competing cinematic universes to acknowledge its debt to the comics by giving the film an original story, rather than just adapting a plot from the comics like the previous two films. This change in approach was a breath of fresh air for comic book fans, but it also meant that the film was departing from the established tropes of the superhero genre. It was more about a vigilante hunt than a fight between good and evil. And it was darker too, with graphic images of violent crime that were more suited to reflecting the times we live in than just a superhero movie.
But, even with these differences, Nolan’s Batman was still considered a more faithful adaptation than the original Superman film, which was released ten years earlier. And it was an early indication that, rather than just being a mindless fan boy paradise, the superhero genre could and would evolve with the times we live in.
However, while Nolan’s Batman was hailed as a masterpiece when it was released, it still had one fatal flaw: The ending. Rather than leaving things open-ended, revealing any and all of Batman’s secrets, Joker reveals the entire plot in a single, graphic scene, ruining all the tension that had built up throughout the film. It was a bold choice that worked in the context of the film, but in hindsight was a major turning point, as future films would have to grapple with how to handle major plot twists in a way that didn’t feel like a cheat.
The following year, 2005, brought us The Dark Knight. Another groundbreaking film, another departure from the norm. While Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are similar in many ways, notably in their shared lead actor in Christian Bale, The Dark Knight marked a complete 180 degree turn in terms of style and tone. Where Nolan’s Batman was bright, almost cartoonish and reminiscent of old-school TV series like the 1960s Batman, The Dark Knight is a grim and gritty character study that feels more like a modern-day Western.
It also marks the first time that a comic book character other than Superman and Batman was featured in a movie that was truly part of a cinematic universe. The Dark Knight is set in an all-new Gotham City, with a whole ecosystem of characters joining the fray. It also introduces an age of technological marvels that feels more akin to modern society. This is most notably seen in the form of a giant, screen-wattron that can be controlled by an individual’s mind. Not to mention that Harvey Dent, the film’s primary antagonist, is a reformed criminal. It’s an amazing, innovative film that continues to influence today’s Hollywood.
Which Will Be the Last Stand?
With the exception of Toy Story, all of the above-mentioned films are considered cornerstones of their respective cinematic universes. But rather than just being great individual films, they also represent a turning point in the history of both the superhero genre and cinema as a whole. While other studios undoubtedly took note of these successes and decided to cash in on the lucrative superhero trend, it was Warner Bros. that decided to take things a step further. Rather than just adapting already-existing stories, they decided to take matters into their own hands and create their own stories with a unique twist, building on the success of these early films.
This decision paid off, at least financially. The success of this shared cinematic universe has made Warner Bros. very wealthy. But it has also made them extremely famous. While they may not always get the credit they deserve for their remarkable achievements, it is undeniable that their legacy will live on for years to come.