The first comic book series to be adapted to the small screen was “Superman,” which debuted as a TV series in 1966. It wasn’t until 1966 when “Batman: the Movie” came out, later followed by “Superman: The Movie” in 1978, that the genre of full-length comic book movies really took off. The characters were so “real” to audiences that many say there will never be another Superman like Christopher Reeves or another Batman like Adam West.
The comic books DC put out seemed to enjoy more big screen success throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with “Superman II, III, and IV,” “Swamp Thing,” “Batman,” “Batman Returns,” “Batman Forever,” and “Batman and Robin.” Warner Brothers released all these films relentlessly, with a new debut each year it seemed. The 1989 Batman movie, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, was the second-highest grossing comic book movie until “The Dark Knight” (2008) knocked it down a notch. The sequel “Batman Returns,” the third-highest grossing film of 1992, again starred Keaton as Batman and featured directing by Tim Burton but added Danny Devito as the Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Writer/Director Kevin Smith called 1992 “the summer of the bat,” when Batman merchandise filled every store and sold with amazing efficiency.
While the 1995 movie “Batman Forever” (directed this time by Joel Schumacher) proved to be more financially successful than its predecessor, the critics weren’t as generous and criticizing everything from the “hard-rubber bat suit” and “obviously fake, computer-generated Gotham City” to Tommy Lee Jones’ “Harvey Dent knock-off” performance and the “predictable climax.” Nevertheless, audiences believed in comic book movies and they went to see the 1997 “Batman and Robin” in mass droves, bumping the comic book movie to #1 at the box office that week, and yet the aftermath was such an abysmal failure that “Batman” George Clooney offered to personally “refund anyone who had the misfortune of paying to see it.” If it weren’t for director Christopher Nolan’s brilliant stroke of genius, the Schumacher legacy may have tainted the Batman franchise forever.
It is obvious why motion picture companies love comic book movies; they are big moneymakers! “Batman: the Dark Knight” (2008) was the second-highest grossing film ever made, coming in at $522,106,180 and counting! It beat out the original Star Wars, Shrek, ET, Pirates of the Caribbean, the new Star Wars and Lord of the Rings but fell just short of Titanic. But why do we love these movies so much? “They’re not just silly stories of people wearing capes hitting a bad guy,” Stan Lee explains. “They have more dimension to them…. There will never be an end to superhero stories.” Perhaps it’s because, deep down, we love the concept of vigilante justice. When a man shoots another man robbing his neighbor’s house, we celebrate. When a cold-blooded killer gets taken out by the cops, we feel it’s only right. Sometimes ordinary citizens long for the extraordinary and there’s something so satisfying about watching comic book characters confront the issues and overcome both external and internal forces. Additionally, comic books lend themselves so naturally to showing off the best in modern cinematography, making the films a dynamic spectacle of sights and sounds.