Mr. Serious Presents: A Love Letter to Batman ’89

by Corey Chapman @chapmanrunner on June 23, 2014

in Movies, The 80s

Twenty five years ago today, my life changed. No, I didn’t meet the girl of my dreams (that was a few years later) or undergo gender reassignment surgery (changed my mind), I saw Tim Burton’s Batman on opening night. In a summer that featured the highly anticipated sequels to Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, and Lethal Weapon, and new chapters of James Bond (License to Kill) and Star Trek (NOT the whale one), Batman was THE film I was waiting for the entire school year. I wasted hours in study hall plastering my notebooks with the black and yellow bat insignia, amateur doodles of The Joker, and  pathetic attempts at scribbling The Dark Knight.

Why was I so enamoured by this super hero movie? I had my fingers crossed that it was a start of a new era for movies. As great as the 80s were for teen comedies and big explosion action flicks, it lacked in the super hero department. The Superman series went out with a whimper (Quest For Peace, anyone?) and…. thats about it! So I hitched my wagon to a young visionary named Tim Burton and hoped for the best.

I ended up seeing it six times that summer. At the time, it equated to about a month’s salary for a paperboy (which I was). It was so worth it.

I fell in love with Batman that warm June evening in Toronto, and that love has endured the test of time. Here are just a handful of reasons why it’s still the one.


Bold Casting

It might be glossed over today, but casting comedic actor Michael Keaton to portray The Dark Knight had comic book nerds UP IN ARMS. How could they? What was Warner Brothers thinking? He doesn’t have a dark side! But those who saw him in Clean & Sober knew he had the acting chops. He not only knocked it out of the park, he is constantly used as a measuring stick when super heroes are cast today. No one debates that he was the best Batman/Bruce Wayne of the non-Nolan series.

Jack Nicholson’s casting as The Joker gave the project validity. At that point, the man had won two Oscars and had been nominated for seven more! His involvement in the movie removed any worry from the general public that it was going to be a silly reboot of the 60s television series. Let’s not forget, the teaser poster listed Nicholson BEFORE Keaton!


Great Soundtracks

Warner Brothers released two albums for Batman, one traditional score record, arranged by Tim Burton friend and frequent collaborator Danny Elfman, and a nine-track funk infused pop album by Prince. The score captured the heart of the movie, shifting from haunting to playful to mysterious flawlessly.

The Prince album is schizophrenic, but in a good way. It jumps around from Joker inspired “Electric Chair” “Trust” and “Partyman” to Wayne-Vale love ballads like “Scandalous” and “The Arms of Orion”. And we cannot forget the iconic pop classic, “Batdance.” I owned the LP back in ’89 and just this week downloaded the album off of iTunes and am happy to report it still holds up. Prince was the perfect artist for Batman– he was enigmatic like Bruce Wayne and as turbulent as The Joker.



You couldn’t walk down a city street in the summer of 1989 without spotting a teenager wearing a Batman shirt or baseball cap. I too was guilty of buying into the mass marketing of the movie. The thing I most remember was not only had Warner Brothers put on the full court press, offering action figures, movie-inspired trading cards, and cool leather jackets, but that DC Comics upped their game and rode the movie wave by releasing a ton of non-Michael Keaton Batman inspired art work, t-shirts, and even biker shorts! Hell, I proudly wore a DC licensed Batman shirt at least twice a week EVERY WEEK from June through September that year. No wonder girls never spoke to me.

It reinvigorated the movie tie-in marketplace, which paved the wave for future merchandising bonanzas like The Avengers Sideshow Collectibles and the Green Lantern snuggie. Sorry, too soon.


No Sean Young!

I have never enjoyed a movie Sean Young was prominently featured in. She has always come across as wooden. So I wanted to write a thank you note to the horse that threw Sean Young off and broke her arm prior to filming. That mishap lead to the recast of Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale. Sure, this was pre-Oscar Kim, but she played the damsel in distress well, and had great chemistry with Keaton and Nicholson.

Young wanted so bad to be in a Batman movie, she auditioned for Returns wearing her own homemade Catwoman suit. Thank you casting directors for “settling” on Michelle Pfieffer, because she ended up being one of the best things about the sequel.

The movie was the highest grossing film of 1989, spawned three sequels, and helped rejuvenate the comic book super hero film franchise. Without Tim Burton’s vision, Michael Keaton’s dark, brooding stare, and Nicholson’s maniacal laugh, we might not be counting down the days until the next Avengers flick, or the Justice League picture (Superman vs. Batman is really just Justice League, right?)  that’s been rumored for years. It was that movie that showed me it was possible to make the pages of a comic book come alive on the big screen and not just cater to geeks, but have mass appeal.

I may not have that beat up t-shirt, or have a record player to listen to that old LP, but I will always have the memories of seeing The Dark Knight on screen for the first time and being in awe of the magnitude of the moment. What I wouldn’t give to be 13 again and see it with fresh eyes.

Thanks Batman.



Lamar the Revenger June 23, 2014 at 8:08 am

My dad took us one Sunday afternoon. The opening titles AMAZED me for some reason. I think it was Danny Elfman’s music. Mom, like usual, was asleep by the end of those credits. I got a little freaked with the girl with mutilated face. And of course, like nearly every fan, I still quote lines.

Jason G June 23, 2014 at 10:39 am

I can’t remember if I saw it in the theater multiple times, but I LOVED “Batdance” probably as much as the movie. I bought the cassingle (which I still have) which had “200 balloons” as the B side and played it ALL THE TIME. I went to Boy Scout camp that summer and “sneaked” my one speaker boombox along with me for the week pretty much just to hear that cassette.

Previous post:

Next post: