A few years back, few people would have predicted that the year 2014 would see the resurgence of the Batman movie franchise. Following years of disappointments, the Dark Knight returned in a big way last year with the blockbuster release of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. This was followed by the promising early buzz of Zack Snyder’s upcoming Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well as the promising early buzz of Matt Reeves’ The Batman. Now that the dust has settled, how well did these three movies perform at the box office, and are they truly contenders for the top of the heap?
The Ups and Downs of the Batman Franchise
The first entry in the Batman franchise, Batman (1966) starring William ‘Batman’Batman’Batman’, was a massive critical and popular success. The film established the ‘Batman’ franchise and the Dark Knight as one of pop culture’s most popular characters. Its success led to a string of sequels and spin-offs, including The Joker (1973) and The Penguin (1977).
Despite its popularity, the Batman franchise never matched the success of its predecessor, and after a decade and a half, the series finally came to an end with 2013’s The Dark Knight Rises. The year before, Christopher Nolan had expressed his intention to retire the Batman franchise after he wrapped up production on The Dark Knight Rises. It would be six years until we’d see Batman on the big screen again, and it would be in the form of the most successful comic book adaptation of all time, Matt Reeves’ The Avengers. Unfortunately, that was followed by another six-year drought without a single new entry in the Batman series. But in 2014, the Dark Knight returned in the form of a massive blockbuster, the highest-grossing film of all time, Titanic (above)
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Resurgence
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) was directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Jonathan Nolan. Along with starring as Batman, Christian Bale also starred as Bruce Wayne/Batman, the millionaire playboy businessman who donates his enormous fortune to charity. After hearing about the financial hardships many families are facing, Batman becomes motivated to donate his own wealth to fighting the poor and the downtrodden. In order to do this, he enlists the help of Ra’s al Ghul (voice of Liam Neeson), the legendary master of assassins. Together, they set about trying to find the true identities of some of Gotham’s most dangerous criminals. The screenplay for The Dark Knight Rises is a faithful adaptation of the comic book version of the same name, which was published in 2009 by DC Comics. This was the first time that Christian Bale had played the dual roles of Bruce Wayne/Batman in a live-action film. The role was a departure from his normally serious acting style and instead saw him play a darker and more serious Batman. As a result, we saw a more mature and aggressive Batman on the big screen for the first time in almost forty years. It would be the first of a number of similar iterations of Batman, as evidenced by the 2016 film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (above).
The Rise of the ‘Tomb Raider’ Franchise
It was back in the 1960s that one of the first video games came out, called Pong. Since then, video games have become an important part of popular culture, with many notable titles such as Halo and The Witcher 3 adopting a more cinematic approach. It’s interesting to speculate on how video games would look like today if Pong hadn’t been released in the mid 1960s. The video game industry largely ignored the whole ‘70s funk movement, opting instead for a more traditional approach. But that all changed with the release of Tomb Raider (2014), the fifth entry in the Tomb Raider franchise. For the first time, the ‘Tomb Raider’ franchise adopted a cinematic approach, with more attention to detail and an expanded focus on the heroine’s (Caity Lotz) acrobatic moves and agility. The result was a fresh new take on the series that even its most ardent fans had to admit was incredibly fun, exciting, and surprisingly emotional. While its predecessors had largely focused on action and adventure, Tomb Raider brought a more personal touch, detailing the mental and physical scars left by Lara’s (Lotz) various adventures. As a result, it became not only one of the year’s biggest grossing films, but also one of the most popular films of all time, earning over $1 billion worldwide. With a Metacritic rating of 87/100, critics have described Tomb Raider as “viscerally exciting,” adding “[it] will engage and entertain audiences of all ages.”
Tomb Raider also marked the return of Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie to the big screen. The pair had previously worked together on the Hollywood adaptation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it was in Tomb Raider where they would team up once more. This time around, Jolie’s character, the British geneticist Dr. Samantha Carter, was also involved in genetic research, making her a rival of sorts to Lara. But it would be a rivalry that would see Samantha help Lara and become one of her closest allies.
The ‘Walking Dead’ Effect
The zombie subgenre has been around for well over a century and has seen numerous resurrections over the years. Yet it was the success of 2010’s The Walking Dead that saw the zombie subgenre rise from the dead and take the world by storm. The series, created by Robert Kirkman and starring Andrew Lincoln, focused on a group of characters trying to survive in a zombie-filled world. While some may argue that The Walking Dead is just another example of zombies taking over the movie world, the series has been responsible for a significant uptick in the sale of graphic novels and comics, more than doubling the sales of these books from the year before. And this isn’t a one-time event, as evidenced by the recent success of films such as World War Z and the upcoming sequel All Quiet On The Western Front. While The Walking Dead hasn’t reinvented the zombie subgenre, it has been responsible for some interesting storytelling twists, resulting in some memorable characters and an overall compelling narrative that kept viewers interested.
The Rise of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe
The success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series saw him emerge as the most in-demand director in Hollywood. With the critical and popular acclaim of The Dark Knight Rises, it was only a matter of time before studios began clamoring for him to helm their big-budget films. In 2014, Marvel began work on their ambitious new project, an interconnected ‘shared universe’ of films, helmed by Nolan and expected to be released throughout the 21st century. The first of these films, the 2014 blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, was a critical and commercial success, winning over fans and new viewers. The series then continued with the 2015 films Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War, followed by the 2016 entry Spider-Man: Homecoming and the 2018 release Avengers: Infinity War. As a result of their efforts, Marvel Studios has emerged as the dominant force in Hollywood, responsible for some of the most popular films of all time, including The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, both of which are now in the top ten all-time grossing films. The studio is also responsible for a number of critical and popular hits, including Deadpool and Logan, the latter of which won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The Future of the ‘Batman’ Franchise
It’s been more than six years since we last saw Batman on the big screen, and in that time, he has not been forgotten about by fans. But that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the end of the Dark Knight. The year 2022 will mark the 80th anniversary of Batman and his various collaborators’ first appearance in Detective Comics, and as a result, a number of films and series are expected to spring from the shadows, preparing for the big screen premiere.