Burton’s Batman sequel was released in 1992 after he completely reinvigorated the character, and superhero genre, with Batman in 1989. It was a huge financial success for studio Warner Brothers, making $411m Internationally from a $35m budget. The kind of film featured on t-shirts, lunchboxes etc etc, in the UK, Batman also introduced the 12 certificate to cinemas. To put it short – a phenomenon. It’s director Tim abutting was also on a high, after years of lurking in the shadows, making shorts with his distinctive visual style he was thrust into the limelight, Batman was his third feature and straight afterwards he made Edward Scissorhands – to rave reviews – so when Warners courted him for Batman Returns, it seemed only fair that Burton should be able to make it 100% to his own vision. Neither Burton or Keaton were signed up for a sequel, so Warners allowed Burton to bring on a different screenwriter to change the story and make it darker, Keaton was also given a huge salary increase despite the new script introducing more characters and decreasing Keaton’s screen time.
Throwing out the original story of Penguin and Catwoman teaming up, the new story made them enemies and brought in Christopher Walker as the sinister Max Shreck. Burtons vision also needed a bigger budget, more than double the original at $80m. Including such extravagances as flying a plane load of King Penguins from a sanctuary in the Cotswolds to America and caring for them for a month whilst shooting. As the film industry was beginning to adopt computer effects, this was one of the last big budget studio pictures to be done practically on sets, with models and stunts.
The tone of the film was immediately darker, the Penguin’s backstory is a very disturbing affair, whilst the political story was filled with Grand Guignol and grotesquery. There was also an overtly sexual story between Batman & Catwoman, which was probably a bit on the nose for a family summer film. The films also throws out the ‘Batman doesn’t kill’ rule fairly early, with many henchmen meeting grisly ends at Batman’s hands. So much of the film is completely bizarre, De Vito’s Cobblepot running for election, the penguins, Christopher Walken’s threatening demeanour – the list goes on. There were rumours that Burton had gone too far and earned the film an American R Rating and parent groups protested the film saying it was too dark for children to enjoy.
The film opened to a strong weekend, but soon disappeared from the charts at a steep decline, finishing with $161m. Although history has been kind to the film, it is critically well regarded and considered the best of the Batman films, at least until Christopher Nolan came along. But looking at the box office numbers and audience reaction it’s no wonder that Warners wanted to protect their franchise and replace Burton & Keaton for a new direction with Batman Forever.
Tickets are available now for our double bill screenings of Batman & Batman Returns – HERE