Batman first appeared on March 30, 1939, created by Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger of DC Comics. He, and his alter-ego, billionaire Bruce Wayne, have captured the public’s imagination many years since then. The first time Batman appeared as an onscreen star was on the small screen of the TV, from 1966 to 1968. The show, which starred the relatively unknown Adam West became a cult favorite and is in reruns even now. Batman truly became an international character and a deeper part of the American superhero imagination with a series of big-screen films that spans 18 movies (in some of which Batman is not the primary star).
The first movie in the series was titled “Batman” released in 1989 and drew on the star power of Jack Nicholson as the “Joker”. His performance overshadowed that of Michael Keaton who played the title character. It was wildly successful at the box office with a haul of $400 million. The mood of the film was dark, driven by the vision of director Tim Burton. Keaton returned with Burton in “Batman Returns” in 1992.
The films then cycled through several stars who played the role of Batman. Most were forgettable. Val Kilmer starred in “Batman Forever” in 1995. George Clooney took his turn in 1997’s “Batman & Robin”.
The run of great Batman films–The Dark Knight Trilogy”–directed by Christopher Nolan, started in 2005. Christian Bale starred in each of them–“Batman Begins” in 2005, “The Dark Knight” in 2008, and “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012. The last of these was notable because Batman dies in the final frames, or does he? “The Dark Knight” was notable for the acting of Heath Ledger as the “Joker”. It was, by almost all accounts, a tour de force. He died, at 28, after the film was released but before the Oscars the following year. He posthumously won the “Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor”. Nolan decided the trilogy was enough and passed on chances to do another in the series.
According to Box Office Mojo, the Batman franchise is the eighth most successful in Hollywood history with a domestic box office total of $2,411,044,358. The franchise leader for box office revenue is the 26 picture Marvel Cinematic Universe at $8,546,811,257.
The top film in the Batman franchise based on domestic box office is The Dark Knight at $533,345,358. Notably, it is also the most well regarded by many critics. Rotten Tomatoes shows a positive score of 94% from both critics and audience. Its critics’ consensus: “Dark, complex, and unforgettable, The Dark Knight succeeds not just as an entertaining comic book film, but as a richly thrilling crime saga.”
The franchise will run much longer. At least two more movies are in the works. Batman Forever, indeed. Perhaps one of these will end up on the list of The 100 Greatest Movies Ever.