How do you like your Batman? Do you enjoy him as a brooding, contemplative protector of the night, with villains that surpass even his level of dark tendencies as shown in the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan series of films? Or, do you like your Batman adorned in neon, battling glow-paint faced mercenaries while displaying a set of beautiful, anatomically-correct nipples? It’s likely that you went with the former.
Tim Burton had only two feature film credits to his name when he scored the directing gig on the new Batman franchise in 1988, but the former Disney animator’s vision was a solid one, and his talent and unique perspective proved to be a successful coup for Warner Bros. On a budget of $35 million, Tim Burton’s first effort — featuring Michael Keaton as the titular hero — garnered over $250 million in domestic box-office. It was a hit.
For Burton’s second Batman film, Warner gave the director a little more slack on his leash, which resulted in a film that was darker — Danny DeVito’s sewer-dwelling Penguin was far from the devilishly jovial cartoon depicted in Batman’s 1966 TV series — but the bottom line was that the film underperformed: on a budget twice the amount of the first film, it only made $162 million domestically. The Hollywood machine’s disappointment crested with a particular scene that Tim Burton recently revealed as the final nail in the coffin:
I think I upset McDonalds. [They asked] ‘What’s that black stuff coming out of the Penguin’s mouth. We can’t sell Happy Meals with that!’ It was a weird reaction to Batman Returns, because half the people thought it was lighter than the first one and half the people thought it was darker. I think the studio just thought it was too weird — they wanted to go with something more child- or family- friendly. In other words, they didn’t want me to do another one.
Thus, with Burton gone, we were relegated to two Batman films — under the direction of Joel Schumacher — that were not only bloated and absurd caricatures, but that ultimately left a bit of tarnish on the franchise as a whole. Thank the heavens that Christopher Nolan eventually came along.