The Caped Crusader’s (AKA Batman’s) 56-year run on the big screen came to a close this past weekend with the premiere of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. While the film may have opened to massive success at the box office, it was definitely not the blockbuster that Warner Bros. and DC Comics were expecting. The highly-anticipated finale to Nolan’s Batman trilogy was the biggest movie premiere of the year, with 12.1 million viewers in its opening weekend. It made for an incredible $400+ million domestic box office haul and is currently the second-highest grossing film of all time. With interest in the Caped Crusader remaining high, fans may soon be able to see Christian Bale’s final outing as Batman (The Dark Knight Rises will be released in theaters on July 20, 2014) in the next installment of the Batman series, The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson in the title role. Whether you’re a fan of the Caped Crusader or not, it’s time to look back at his 56 years of adventures and reign as the king of crime.

The Early Years

The year was 1964, and the world was a very different place. The Beatles had just broken up, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum, and President John F. Kennedy was a visionary and a patriot who was killed in office just six months after proclaiming to the nation that “A man can change the world, he just has to believe in himself and in his abilities.” It was a time of great social change and political upheaval, and it was a direct result of this turbulent atmosphere that Batman first graced the big screen. In fact, the character was originally meant to be played by Danny Devito (The King of Comedy), but the role was changed at the last minute at the request of actor Adam West (Batman Forever), who originally portrayed the Dark Knight in the first place.

While the film’s release date was eventually pushed back three months to beat the Halloween season, the original release date of November 14, 1964 was met with mixed reviews and failed to live up to the high expectations created by the success of Tim Burton’s Batman. Batman was the biggest and most profitable superhero movie of all time when it was released in 1989, and the fact that it became such a major success (both commercially and critically) is exactly why Batman was chosen to be the last film in Nolan’s trilogy. Batman became such a phenomenon that it inspired a generation of comic book movie lovers, creating a new audience that went on to fall in love with the character and his world. One person who didn’t fall in love with Batman was none other than its star, Michael Keaton. After appearing in the hit film, Keaton felt that he didn’t have much to offer as an actor, and he wanted nothing more to do with superheroes. For the next few years, he would mostly stay out of the public eye, only making appearances in smaller films and television shows. However, the popularity of the character would not die, and over the years, the call would grow louder and louder for another go-round with the Caped Crusader.

The Rise Of The Modern Batman

With the success of Batman fresh in his mind, director Christopher Nolan was determined to bring the Caped Crusader back for another go-round. After spending five years developing the screenplay for The Dark Knight, Nolan approached Warner Bros. with an offer they couldn’t refuse: to make a Batman movie for every single one of their upcoming releases. While some may see this as a bad move (after all, why make a Batman movie when you can use the character for future press events and product placements?), Nolan saw it as a chance to give the character more complexity and make him a more interesting character to write and direct. He also saw it as a great way to extend his contract with Warner Bros., which was scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

Nolan wasn’t the only one who wanted to bring the character back for more, either. During the development of The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. executives approached director-producer Joel Schumacher (Falling Down, The Client) about using Batman in a new film he was planning to make. Schumacher, who had recently completed production on Michael Clayton, turned down the offer. However, that didn’t stop Warner Bros. from continuing to pursue the character. Once again, Nolan was called upon to save the day. After spending several months writing and polishing the script for The Dark Knight, he delivered a finished draft in October 2002. The film earned Nolan the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and it also became the highest-grossing film of all time when it was released in July 2008.

Nolan’s successful run as Batman wasn’t over just yet. After the critical and commercial success of The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. approached Nolan about returning for a third and final entry in the Batman series. This time, they wanted to explore the “beyond” phases of Batman’s life and see how he has changed since the premiere of the second film. The result is Batman Begins, which premiered in May 2005 to much acclaim (it currently holds a 93% rating on and became the second highest-grossing film of all time, behind only The Dark Knight. It was followed by two more successful and critically-acclaimed movies: The Dark Knight Rises in July 2011 and The Batman this year.

The Biggest Of All Time

While Nolan’s three Batman films each earned him an Academy Award, The Dark Knight Rises is certainly his magnum opus. One of the most technically-advanced films of all time, it was praised for its incredible action sequences, jaw-dropping special effects, and haunting score by Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight). In fact, the movie is such a stunning achievement that it’s often cited as one of the greatest films of all time. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful movies ever made as well. Zimmer’s haunting score beautifully compliments the film’s stunning visuals, creating what many critics and fans alike have dubbed “Nolan’s Trilogy.”

Divergent Love Story

While Nolan’s films remain the gold standard of superhero movie serials, other directors have risen up to challenge him. One of the most intriguing and successful “team-ups” of recent years is George Miller and his adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. The film is an adaptation not only of the classic comic book series, but of Miller’s 1986 novel of the same name as well. While Miller’s original story focused on an aged Batman battling his way out of retirement, the film focuses more on the journey that sparked his re-emergence as a symbol of rebellion and individuality in the face of an emerging totalitarian government.

The trailer for The Dark Knight Returns is pretty darn cool. It shows off a number of fantastic practical stunts as well as some impressive visual effects. The film also stars Liam Neeson, who finally gets a chance to shine as a heroic figure after years of playing heavies, and the one and only Morgan Freeman, who shines brightly as always in a supporting role. While the movie doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel when it comes to the superhero movie genre, it’s an interesting and ambitious take on an old theme and one that rewards fans with a visually stunning and surprisingly emotional ending. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing more from Miller in the future. He has spoken about his desire to continue exploring Batman’s universe and expanding on the material he brought to the big screen with The Dark Knight Returns:

“The success of ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ encouraged me to continue making more adventures for Batman. In fact, I’ve already begun pitching ideas. One of my ambitions is to see Batman confront not only his arch-nemesis, but also the entire Justice League at the same time. I’ve also got a very cool version of The Joker that I’d like to use in my next film. Hopefully, Warner Bros. will let me do my thing and will continue supporting my various creative projects.

I am a huge fan of Batman and his universe, and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to contribute to this great franchise. I feel very privileged to be part of such an amazing universe and to have the chance to bring my own creative vision to life on the big screen. As far as I’m concerned, the future of the Batman franchise is very bright indeed.