Batman (1989)

The 4th film I SHOULD have seen in theaters…

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The biggest film of 1989. A cultural touchstone, that took me 6 months to see

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Gotham City has a new protector, The Batman! As Bruce Wayne begins his crusade against crime, Gangster Jack Napier crosses his path and becomes the maniacal Joker! After consolidating Gotham’s crime families under his banner, The Joker unleashes mayhem on the city. Only Batman can stop him.

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Michael Keaton, who was attacked by fans at the time for being cast, is Bruce Wayne/Batman. He remains the best onscreen Batman, over 30 years later. So good, in fact, that the upcoming “Flash” movie features his return to the role. 

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Jack Nicholson was an ideal 980’s Joker. He was still at the height of his career and brought instant gravitas to the project. They reportedly brought in Robin Williams to read for the role. That might have been a superior choice to Nicholson, but I am happy with the end product. The Joker is one of those characters that allows an actor to thrive. He was the best Joker actor, until Heath Ledger, until Joaquin Pheonix, etc.. Mark Hamill still dominates them all though. Seemingly retired, Jack hasn’t been onscreen since 2010. He’s in his mid-eighties now, but I keep hoping for one more great performance from him.

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Kim Basinger is Vicky Vale, Bruce’s reporter love interest. While not as iconic as his romance 3 years later with Catwoman, Basinger was good. She was perhaps a little too “Damsel in distress” for my liking, but damn… that woman could scream like no other. She continues to act, having recently appeared in the 50 Shades series.

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For comic relief we have Robert Wuhl as reporter Alexander Knox. He moves the story along in a few places, but the movie could have dropped him and been just as good. Wuhl found success in the late 90’s in the tv series Arliss, but has been sporadic in other appearances. He recently reprised the role of Alexander Knox in the Supergirl series.

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Pat Hingle, a great character actor, was cast as Commissioner Gordon. I always liked him in the role. He would stick around for all 4 of the “Burtonverse” films. He passed in 2009 at the age of 84.

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Alongside Robin WIlliams’ Joker, in one of the greatest “what ifs” in Batman movie history, Billy Dee Williams plays DA Harvey Dent. By the time Batman Forever rolls around he was recast with Tommy Lee Jones, who reportedly hated his time on the movie. Imagine Williams in that role? He would have been phenomenal and it might have led to a late career resurgence for the man.  A Shame. He’s still around, and recently played Lando Calrissian in Star Wars 9.

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In recent years, some truly great actors have played Alfred Pennyworth, but I have a soft spot for Michael Gough. He played off Keaton wonderfully. Gough had a long and successful career as an actor, mainly in Hammer horror films. He passed in 2011 at the age of 94.

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Jack Palance was on fire. He did Batma, City Slickers, some one handed push-ups, and was back baby! He plays Carl Grissom, the leader of the Gotham Mob. He’s from an era of amazing actors who brought a certain feel to productions. He was known for a career of playing “toughs” and brought that to the screen by just appearing. He would go on to win an Oscar for City Slickers and enjoy a late career boom. He passed in 2006 at the age of 87.

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Jerry Hall played Alicia, Jack Napier’s girlfriend/ Joker’s art experiment. A model, Hall was known for being Mick Jagger’s partner. She later married Rupert Murdoch, so we’ll write her off as complicit in his scummery and move on.

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Tracey Walter played Bob, the goon. This guy has a hell of a career. He was in a ton of movies and tv shows. He later appeared as “cookie” in City Slickers along side Jack Palance. He got this role because he was good pals with Jack Nicholson, going on to make 9 films with him. He was supposed to have a big knife fight with Batman in the tower battle, but the finished product stunk. He was replaced in that scene with a martial arts swordsman and Bob was unceremoniously shot by the Joker. Walter is still around but has no listed projects since 2016.

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Lee Wallace played Mayor Borg (center). This guy made a career out of being “The Mayor” and looking like Ed Koch. He passed in 2020 at the age of 90.

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Bill Hootkins, who I had the pleasure of meeting in 2002, played Lt Eckhardt. This guy was a great actor. He played one of the government men who give Dr. Jones his mission in Raiders of the Lost Ark, as well as Porkins in Star Wars. He passed in 2005 at the age of 57.

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June 1989, Batman comes out and the Bat-mania of the 1960s is reborn, times 1000. Batman was everywhere. I had the novel, the shirts, the binder for school, the trading cards, action figures, read the comics… all of it. The only thing I didn’t have was the movie itself. 

For reasons which remain a mystery, my parents did not take me to go see Batman in the theater. Apart from The Big Lebowski (which I rectified in 2018), this is the biggest “miss” in all of my theater going experiences. With Keaton returning as Batman, I expect a re-release to be forthcoming.

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I remember the fall of 1989, walking through the stores with my mom and seeing the black VHS box EVERYWHERE. They did not buy it for me. Christmas 1989 comes and I am sure I will be getting it. I open my gifts, and there is no Batman. I recall being so disappointed. Then my Godfather came over with gifts. He handed me a VHS shaped present. Yes, it was Batman. I was forced to wait until the company left, and then jammed it into the VCR. It remains my favorite Christmas present ever.

So, its always fun to make lists, so let’s see where this thing falls.

Burtonverse rankings:

  1. Batman Returns
  2. Batman
  3. Batman Forever
  4. Batman and Robin

Overall Batman film ranking (Starring Batman):

  1. The Dark Knight
  2. Batman Returns
  3. Batman
  4. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
  5. Batman Begins
  6. Batman Forever
  7. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
  8. Batman: The Movie (1966)
  9. The Dark Knight Rises
  10. Justice League (Theatrical)
  11. Batman and Robin

Honorable Mention – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

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