Thirty years ago this month, Batman hit theaters and kicked off a summer of Batmania from which many of us didn’t recover. Most people I know have stories about this film and how it consumed our minds for the entire summer of 1989 and beyond. Here’s my story.
Before the internet and social media, I got my movie news from movie trailers, Entertainment Tonight, and magazines. When I heard that Tim Burton, the director of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (a movie I dearly loved), was teaming up with his lead in Beetlejuice to bring the Caped Crusader to the big screen, I was excited. See, in our house, we were big fans of Michael Keaton. I can’t tell you how many times we watched and quoted Mr. Mom. I loved the macabre humor of Beetlejuice. So when other people thought it was an odd choice, I thought it was just another Michael Keaton movie my family would love. And as far as Jack Nicholson’s casting as the Clown Prince of Crime, I wasn’t sure, but I was willing to give it a shot. Little did I know that this movie would change my life.
My knowledge of Batman up to this point in my life was pretty much limited to what I’d seen on SuperFriends, and the occasional Adam West Batman rerun I managed to catch. I wasn’t familiar with Batman in the comics because I was still reading Archie comics. So I went into the movie with no expectations other than being excited to see the movie. Before I saw this movie, my favorite superhero movie was Supergirl. (Yes, I know it’s terrible. No, it doesn’t make me love it any less even now.)
From the moment Danny Elfman’s score started, I was enchanted. This version of Batman was much darker than Adam West and the colorful onomatopoeia that appeared on the screen whenever someone got punched. I became obsessed when I first heard Michael Keaton say, “I’m Batman.” I loved Jack Nicholson’s dancing and one-liners. I wanted to be Vicki Vale.
When it ended, I immediately wanted to see it again. And we did. My mom, who influenced and fueled a lot of my geeky passions as a kid, saw the movie three or four times with me. My dad went for a couple of viewings, but my mom and I couldn’t get enough.
The movie has everything. It’s funny, it’s full of adventure, the soundtrack and score are amazing, and the performances definitely deliver. Add in Tim Burton’s Gothic/Art Deco vision of Gotham City, and you have a movie that truly holds up to this day. So once the movie left theaters, how was I to get my Batman fix?
The primary merchandising I gravitated to was mainly related to print. I bought the commemorative movie magazine, and the poor magazine barely survived my childhood because I flipped through it so many times, absorbing the information on each page. But my absolute favorite media to collect were the Topps cards. I spent so much of my allowance on the wax packs, hoping I’d complete a set. I actually did, and that Keds shoebox lived under my bed or in my closet for many more years than it probably should have.
Like other kids my age captivated by the film, I bought other Batman merchandise, like the Batman cereal that came with the plastic bank, or the Batman tortilla chips (no, seriously). Yes, there were toys, but I didn’t buy those until my second childhood. I even had a Bat-symbol iron-on that my mom added to a sweatshirt that I wore back to school. But it was this movie that caused someone to buy something else for me that changed everything.
MORE BATMAN ’89 | Batmania: Revisiting 1989’s Batman
My mom taught me to read by encouraging a love of the Archie comics she’d loved as a kid. I hadn’t yet branched out into buying superhero comics. I’d flipped through them in the spinner racks, but outside of the occasional Wonder Woman comic, I didn’t buy any. When my uncle, who introduced me to so many cool things, like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, learned that I was fascinated with Batman, he took action. He went to our favorite used bookstore, The Great Escape in Nashville, TN, and bought me a stack of Batman comics. He bought a few Brave and the Bold team-ups with Catwoman and Wonder Woman, but it was several issues of another title that would kick off a new era of my comics reading.
Back in the mid-’80s, Batman left the Justice League to team up with a bunch of misfit heroes called the Outsiders. I fell in love with the characters and instantly started to collect every appearance I could find at local comic shops and used bookstores. Some of the stories are still my favorites to this day.
But this isn’t a story about Batman and the Outsiders.
So what happened after my beloved Bats left theaters? Well, I still had my magazine and my cards to keep me company until the movie came out on VHS. I remember being at Showbiz Pizza when my dad excitedly whispered to me he was getting the VHS for my mom for Christmas. As I recall it was the first tape we bought instead of taping movies off HBO. I was so excited because one, I got to be in on a secret, and two, that meant I could watch the movie any time I wanted to. Well, any time I wanted to and had access to a VCR. Sometimes I’d just peek in the drawer and pull the tape out to look at the cover.
I attribute my love of this movie to so many things in my geeky life. To this day I listen to the soundtrack and score frequently. I have gone back and collected movie-related items I never had back then, like the toys and candy containers. I quote the movie all the time. But more than that, I credit Batman with stoking a fire for superhero movies that continues to this day. I never had much interest in Superman. I liked the movies, but they didn’t resonate. I loved Supergirl, but even then I could see the flaws. This movie was the first that felt like it was truly my superhero movie. It was dark and weird, but also intentionally funny. And seeing Prince do a live performance of “Batdance” on an awards show with the split Batman/Joker costume is still one of the highlights of musical performance in my eyes.
Since then I have found other superhero movies that resonate more with me personally, but Batman will always be the superhero movie for which I have the biggest soft spot. You never forget your first love.
So what about you, intrepid readers? Will you be celebrating the 30th anniversary of this Tim Burton classic? What’s your memory of the film? Let us know!