Studio: Warner Brothers
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger
Production Budget: $35 million
Worldwide Gross: $411.3 million
There was a time when Batman was a fun-loving, campy, upbeat crime-fighter in grey and blue tights. Beyond the comics, you could watch him and his young ward fight crime and espouse moral lessons to wayward youths twice a week, at the “same bat-time, same bat-channel!” Television’s version of the Caped Crusader had become the norm as portrayed by Adam West in the 1960s. This all changed in the late 1970s, when writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams decided to return Batman to his roots and distance him from the campy television show depiction. Their Batman stories became darker and were a hit with the fans. This vision was locked when, later in 1986, Frank Miller released his highly successful limited-series, The Dark Knight Returns. The Caped Crusader days were over; the Dark Knight was here to stay! Soon after, Denny O’Neil took over as editor of all Batman comics for DC and the overall tone of the character became even darker. It was during this period that Tim Burton was tapped to oversee a new film on Batman. Not being a comic book fan, Burton was nonetheless impressed with the dark tones of Miller’s run, as well as the subsequent Batman: The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore.
It was Tim Burton who took Batman out of the grey and blue tights and outfitted him instead with black body armor. Michael Keaton was cast and it was he who gave the character the now-definitive gravely whispers. Jack Nicholson was cast as The Joker and played the character with style and a bit of maniacal, perverse humor. Both depictions went on to heavily influence the portrayals of the characters in the later hugely successful Christopher Nolan trilogy. In an interview with About.com, Nolan called Burton’s Batman, “A brilliant film, visionary and extraordinarily idiosyncratic, it’s a very, very stylized movie…”
I remember seeing this film for the first time and finding Nicholson’s Joker to being absolutely disturbing and frightening. This is reportedly one of Nicholson’s favorite roles and his rumored improvisation of key moments, if true, just go to prove his acting genius. This film worked to redefine Batman’s on-screen depiction, making him and his surroundings much darker and brooding.
Batman finished the year as the highest grossing film of 1989. It was a powerhouse of merchandising and even featured dueling Danny Elfman and Prince soundtracks – honestly the film used way too many Prince songs. I heard Tim Burton disliked the idea but Jon Peters insisted. Regardless, Batman showed Hollywood that fresh takes on established characters could be highly successful.
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jon Favreau, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow
Production Budget: $140 million
Worldwide Gross: $585.2 million
I love this movie! I’m not just saying that because the brother of one of my bosses was a producer and had a small part in the film. This is really a genuinely good movie! This is the film that established the newly christened Marvel Studios. This is also the film that set into motion the makings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); what comic fans have dreamed of for years.
If that’s enough for you, how’s this: Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. This is the role he was born to play. His past indiscretions were public knowledge and affected his life and career. He was an actor who knew, firsthand, about having a high-profile life while struggling to find balance and overcoming obstacles. Whereas most studios probably wouldn’t have wanted to take the chance, Favreau’s casting of Downey was truly inspired. Downey’s Stark is all-at-once a perfect mixture of being a shallow, flippant, spoiled, “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist;” it’s hard to tell if Downey is even acting. When making appearances, is he still using his Stark persona or is this really him now? When he eventually outgrows the role and if Marvel decides to continue and recast (hopefully many, many years from now), Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal will have defined the cinematic role for a generation (he’ll be a tough act to follow).
Need more reasons for this film to make my list? Jon Favreau. That’s right, Gutter from PCU (1994), or you might remember him as Mike from a little film called Swingers (1996). Before Joss Whedon reigned supreme in the MCU, there was Favreau. He established the template that allowed Marvel Studios to build toward their crowning achievement, The Avengers (more on that later). Favreau took chances in making this film. He wanted to bring the film faithfully to the fans but chose to update the origin story; bringing in Marvel writers to help polish the script. The goal was to focus on Tony Stark as a man having to change his world view and reinvent himself after a life-changing event, with only a fraction of the time actually spent in the iron armor. The fan-favorite villain, The Mandarin, was pushed to the back in favor of a more realistic baddie in Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). As far back as 2000, the in-development script called for a cameo by Nick Fury, in hopes of setting up a solo film. However, Favreau used an updated scene, used as the famous first post-credits sequence, penned by comic writer Brian Michael Bendis to introduce Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and kick off the MCU journey to The Avengers.
It was Favreau who took what could’ve been just a modest popcorn flick for children and fans, and turned it into a mega-film with mass appeal. You didn’t need to be a comic book reader to enjoy this film. He knew if viewers could be drawn to the characters and the story, then they would suspend disbelief, as it were, and accept the superhero elements of the film. He was right! From the very first scene, in the desert, with Stark bantering with the soldiers in the Humvee, I was hooked. That scene established the tone of the film. It had me captivated all the way until the end, and still afterwards when Nick Fury teased us with the Avengers Initiative. This film kicked off the Marvel movie craze. I, for one, am grateful.Share: