June 23, 1989 was when superhero movies changed. Lines formed around theaters as the general public was finally going to see the movie that had inspired a pop culture phenomenon unlike any that had come before it. Bat-Mania was reaching its summit as Batman was finally hitting theaters.
While the film had its world premiere on June 19, 1989, June 23 was the day that the majority of the world was finally seeing it. This was an age where movies were still relatively made in peace without millions of prying eyes. No one was sneaking a cell phone on to set and distributing photos. All we had leading up to this film was a few trailers and an endless onslaught of magazine articles about the movie to end all movies.
Tim Burton was directing. Prince was doing the music. Jack Nicholson was playing the Joker. Mr. Mom… er… Michael Keaton was playing Batman. Yes, the casting of Keaton as the Caped Crusader caused internet outrage in a time before most people had received their first AOL disc in the mail. Tens of thousands of letters – as in the type put in an envelope with a stamp on it – were mailed to Warner Bros. in protest.
In response to the outcry, a teaser trailer was hurriedly assembled to be distributed to theaters to try to quell any fears that fans might have. It was an odd trailer to say the least, but it helped Bat-Mania reach a fever pitch.
The movie opened to $40.48M on its first weekend and kept the top spot for one more weekend before it was dethroned by Lethal Weapon 2. It went on to take in $251.34M in the U.S. and $160.16M at the foreign box office for a global total of $411.5M off of a $35M budget. Thanks to a special deal Nicholson had worked with Warner Bros., he got a share of the gross box office and it is estimated he ended up making around $60M off of the film.
After the success of Batman, studios tried to do with the concept of comic book movies, but when no others hit in quite the same way, the genre went dormant again for the most part. There was a movie here or there based on a comic, but they were still fairly rare. It wasn’t until 19 years later when Iron Man was a gigantic success for the fledgling Marvel Studios that things kicked into high again.
Burton’s Batman was truly lightning in a bottle. While Star Wars was a slow build in the 1970s, there weren’t people clamoring for it before it hit theaters. With Batman, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing the Bat Symbol on a shirt, a coffee mug, posters, toys, and so on. Everyone was ready to take a moment to show their fondness for the Bat.
Batman has gone on to become a part of the very fabric of entertainment, even being set to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2020, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the likes of the fervor around 1989’s Batman again.
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IMAGE: DK Creative Art