The DCEU Is Far From Batman’s First Rodeo
Ever since making his debut in DC Comics in 1939, Batman has become one of the most popular superheroes of all time. He has come to rival even Superman and Spider-Man when it comes to pop culture icons. As a morally complex character with a tragic backstory, who has become one of DC Comics’ darker heroes over time, Batman has proven to be quite a fascinating character. Both Bruce Wayne, the troubled, orphaned multimillionaire, and Batman, the caped crusader, hold alluring stories. Meanwhile, placing him in the dark city of Gotham and pairing him with some of the most iconic villains of all time, has further allowed Batman to capture the public’s attention.
As a result, it didn’t take long for filmmakers to begin attempting to capitalize on the allure of Batman. Batman has been appearing in live-action on the big screen since 1943. For about 4 decades, Batman appeared in several serials and low-budget films as the superhero genre started getting on its feet. It wasn’t until the end of the 1980s that Warner Bros. got a hold of Batman. This is because, in 1989, the multinational conglomerate, Warner Communications, merged with Time, Inc, making DC Comics a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Pictures. Warner Bros. has been behind every live-action Batman film since then. However, the studio has rebooted its Batman film series multiple times, which is the main reason why are so many Batman films.
How many Batman films are there?
In total, there are 13 live-action Batman films in which the caped character is the primary protagonist or one of the primary protagonists. To start with, there are three pre-Warner Bros. Batman films/serials. Then, there are two Batman film series from Warner Bros. The first is the Burton and Schumacher series, which contained four films, and the second is the Dark Knight series, which consisted of three films. Lastly, there are two DCEU Batman films and 1 DC Elseworld Batman film by Matt Reeves. See below for a more detailed breakdown of the films.
The pre-Warner Bros. era
The Pre-Warner Bros. Batman films are:
The Batman (1943)
Batman and Robin (1949)
Batman’s film legacy started in the form of film serials. The Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949) were 15-part film serials. Lewis Wilson starred in The Batman as the first and youngest live-action Batman, while Robert Lowery took over for Batman and Robin. By 1966, 20th Century Fox released Batman, the first feature-length film adaption of the character. The film was a continuation of the 1966 Batman TV series featuring Adam West as the Caped Crusader.
Burton and Schumacher’s Batman series
After Warner Bros. acquired Batman, they released the Burton and Schumacher film series which included:
Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Forever (1995)
Batman & Robin (1997)
The first two Batman films were directed by Burton and starred Michael Keaton as Batman. Despite the films’ success, Burton and Warner Bros. disagreed about the direction of the series, prompting Burton to step back and let Schumacher direct the last two films. The change in direction resulted in Keaton also departing, and the role of Batman was taken over by Val Kilmer and later George Clooney. The series largely derailed after Batman Forever and Warner Bros. decided to reboot the series after the disastrous Batman & Robin.
The Dark Knight trilogy
The Dark Knight trilogy from Christopher Nolan included:
Batman Begins (2005)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
All three films featured Christian Bale in the role of Batman and saw him come up against villains like Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), the Joker (Heath Ledger), and Bane (Tim Hardy). All three films received largely positive reviews and were box-office successes.
After the DCEU kicked-off, Ben Affleck was cast as the new Batman. Affleck starred as Batman in:
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Justice League (2017)
Affleck’s performance as Batman received a mixed reception. Some enjoyed his more mature, rugged take on the character, while others criticized that he departed from Batman’s no-kill rule. However, the quality of his performance was also difficult to gauge because of how poorly made and criticized both films were. Justice League was also a major box office flop that lost Warner Bros. tens of millions of dollars.
Matt Reeves’ Batverse
Lastly, there is Reeves’ Batverse, which is set within DC’s Elseworlds, outside of the DCU continuity. So far, the Batverse has one film—The Batman (2022). The Batman saw Robert Pattinson in the role of Batman and was very well received for its dark, thoughtful, and gothic interpretation of the Caped Crusader and Gotham.
The future of Batman in film
Soon, the number of Batman films will rise to 15. James Gunn revealed that a new Batman film is in development for the DCU, titled The Brave and the Bold. Meanwhile, Reeves’ The Batman Part II will premiere on October 3, 2025.
(featured image: Warner Bros.)
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