History, Legacy & Showmanship

Revisiting The Bat, The Cat, and The Penguin: Remembering “Batman Returns” on its 25th Anniversary

June 19, 2017 - 10:45 am   |   by
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“[Batman Returns is] the first auteur superhero movie. I think the execs at Warners realized that you just let Tim Burton alone and let him make a Tim Burton movie and people will see it in droves.” — Danse Macabre: 25 Years of Danny Elfman and Tim Burton author Jeff Bond

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the silver anniversary of the release of Batman Returns, Tim Burton’s follow-up to the immensely popular 1989 Dark Knight adventure, starring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer. [Read on here...]

Batman Returns, one of the most anticipated sequels ever made, opened in theaters twenty-five years ago this week.

For the occasion The Bits features a compilation of statistics, trivia and box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context; passages from vintage film reviews; a reference/historical listing of the film’s digital sound presentations; and, finally, an interview segment with a trio of comicbook/superhero movie authorities and film historians.

Director Tim Burton on the set of Batman Returns

 

BATMAN RETURNS NUMBER$

  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies during opening weekend
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1992 (calendar year)
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1992 (summer)
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning films of Warner Bros.’ 1992 slate
  • 2 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 3 = Number of weeks nation’s top-grossing movie (weeks 1-3)
  • 3 = Box-office rank among movies directed by Tim Burton (adjusted for inflation)
  • 3 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1992 (legacy)
  • 4 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
  • 5 = Box-office rank among movies in the Batman franchise (adjusted for inflation)
  • 6 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1992 (worldwide; legacy)
  • 11 = Number of days to gross $100 million
  • 11 = Number of digital sound presentations
  • 26 = Rank on all-time list of top box-office earners at close of original release
  • 2,644 = Number of opening-week engagements
  • $24.98 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (VHS)
  • $39.98 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (LaserDisc)
  • $17,279 = Opening-weekend per-screen average
  • $45.7 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross*
  • $47.7 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross* (3-day weekend + 6/18 sneaks)
  • $80.0 million = Production cost
  • $83.2 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
  • $100.1 million = Box-office rental (domestic)
  • $104.0 million = Box-office gross (international)
  • $139.4 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $162.8 million = Box-office gross (domestic)
  • $174.5 million = Box-office rental (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • $181.2 million = Box-office gross (international, adjusted for inflation)
  • $266.8 million = Box-office gross (worldwide)
  • $283.8 million = Box-office gross (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • $465.1 million = Box-office gross (worldwide, adjusted for inflation)

*established new industry record

 

Michael Keaton as Batman

 

A SAMPLING OF MOVIE REVIEWER QUOTES

“This Batman soars! A funny, gorgeous improvement on the original.” — Richard Corliss, Time

“It is a common theory that when you have a hero, like James Bond, Superman or Batman, in a continuing series, it’s the villain that gives each movie its flavor. Batman had the Joker, played Jack Nicholson, to lend it energy, but the Penguin is a curiously meager and depressing creature; I pitied him, but did not fear him or find him funny. The genius of Danny DeVito is all but swallowed up in the paraphernalia of the role. Batman Returns is odd and sad, but not exhilarating.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Batman Returns has wonderful, scary music (by Elfman, no Prince this time) and a wonderful, scary look — courtesy of cinematographer Stefan Czapsky (Vampire’s Kiss, Edward Scissorhands) and production designer Bo Welch, carrying on in the style of the late Anton Furst, who designed the first Batman). The performances are generally good, not just Keaton’s but also that of Michelle Pfeiffer, who is shockingly feline in her skin-tight black-leather suit (with whip accessory) and who manages to find a measure of plausibility in the bizarre Catwoman.” — Jay Boyar, Orlando Sentinel

“No matter how Batman Returns performs at the box office, I doubt that Burton will make a third installment. He seems to have thrown all his ideas into this one, including touches from his other movies: the sympathetic, handicapped monster from Edward Scissorhands, the comic demons from Beetlejuice and the freak show comedy from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” — Bob Fenster, (Phoenix) Arizona Republic

“For Hollywood, summer is increasingly the season of the big-budget gamble. Batman Returns may be the surest box office bet of the year, but when you get past the saturation merchandising to the movie itself, it’s hard not to notice there’s no Joker in the deck this time.” — Desmond Ryan, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Burton loses a few points for including egotistical references to his other films, ranging from ice sculptures that are dead ringers for the surrealistic hedges in Edward Scissorhands to dialogue borrowed from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. When Michelle Pfeiffer says, ‘That’s my name, don’t wear it out,’ it’s too much.” — Jeff Strickler, (Minneapolis) Star Tribune

“Faster and funnier than the first. Explosively entertaining.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“A visual marvel.” — David Ansen, Newsweek

A newspaper ad for Batman Returns

“Darker, louder and more confusing than a cheap carnival fun house, Batman Returns is an assault on the eyes and ears, not to mention the intelligence.” — Joe Pollack, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“On all counts, Batman Returns is a monster. Follow-up to the sixth-highest-grossing film of all time has the same dark allure that drew audiences in three years ago. But many non-fans of the initial outing will find this sequel superior in several respects, meaning that Tim Burton’s latest exercise in fabulist dementia should receive even stronger across-the-board acceptance than the original. Warner Bros.’ reported $80 million-plus investment will be an afterthought in the wake of the [box office] cascade, which should approach the $250 million neighborhood of the first pic domestically.” — Variety

Batman Returns, the most eagerly awaited and aggressively hyped film of the summer, is, for better or worse, very much the product of director Tim Burton’s morose imagination. His dark, melancholy vision is undeniably something to see, but it is a claustrophobic conception, not an expansive one, oppressive rather than exhilarating, and it strangles almost all the enjoyment out of this movie without half trying. The result is a cheerless, brooding but always visually inventive film, more or less what you might expect if Ingmar Bergman had directed The Addams Family.” — Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

“This time the richness of the Batman movie is not in its production design — indeed, designer Bo Welch is a toy shop window decorator compared with the late, great Anton Furst — but rather in Burton’s and screenwriter Daniel Waters’ Freudian view of adult human behavior. If all this makes Batman Returns seem overly serious, well, that’s an overstatement. But it should be a pleasure for non-adolescents to encounter a comic-book action picture in which the characters are more important than their gadgets.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“Tim Burton has wisely switched gears, reinventing the mood and manner of Batman so fearlessly that he steps out of his own film’s murky shadow. Mr. Burton’s new Batman Returns is as sprightly as its predecessor was sluggish, and it succeeds in banishing much of the dourness and tedium that made the first film such an ordeal. Indeed, allowing for a ceiling on viewers’ interest as to just what can transpire between cartoon characters like Batman and the Penguin, Batman Returns is often an unexpectedly droll creation. It stands as evidence that movie properties, like this story’s enchantingly mixed-up Catwoman, really can have multiple lives.” — Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Now comes the sequel with a trio of masked schizophrenics who each seem to be in a separate movie when they’re not at each other’s throats. It’s a film more cartoonish and less apocalyptic than the original, revving with spectacle, energy and chaos, but rarely very funny, startling or provocative. At best, Batman Returns manages to be fitfully offbeat and quirky but only in ways we’ve seen before in Tim Burton movies.” — Judy Gerstel, Detroit Free Press

“Hampered by weak pacing, nonexistent story structure and routine action sequences, Burton and screenwriter Daniel Waters have emphasized a surprising degree of dark, kinky humor that nicely counters the film’s box-office mayhem. Waters has an annoying tendency towards gutter-minded punchlines (he cowrote The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and Hudson Hawk), but his knack for quirky dialogue yields a few memorable gems that must be heard to be appreciated.” — Jeff Shannon, The Seattle Times

Batman Returns is all icing and no cake. The picture won’t disappoint anyone looking for film making on a grand scale. Batman Returns is as big as movies get in 1992 and represents the efforts of hundreds of talented people working in set and costume design, special effects and inventive gadgetry. It also features four big stars and a number of famous faces, all of them turning in good performances. Yet for all the movie’s richness and dazzle, for all that money dripping off the screen, Batman Returns is a gorgeous failure — flashy, intermittently appealing but, in the end, a big mess. Batman Returns lacks a coherent story. It lacks a point of view and a focus. And so everything suffers, even the art direction.” — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

 

THE DIGITAL SOUND ENGAGEMENTS

Batman Returns was the first motion picture released in Dolby Stereo Digital* (aka Dolby SR-D, AC-3, Dolby Digital), and the first batch of theaters to install the system and present the movie in the format are identified below.

The theaters screening the Dolby Stereo Digital presentation of Batman Returns were arguably the best in which to experience the movie and the only way at the time to faithfully hear the movie’s discrete multichannel audio mix and with incredible sonic clarity. The channel layout for Dolby’s digital audio format was: three discrete screen channels + two discrete surround channels + low-frequency enhancement. (The balance of the 2,000+ domestic prints of Batman Returns were a combination of Dolby SR and Dolby A four-channel matrix-encoded, limited bandwidth formats.)

*Prior to the release of Batman Returns in June 1992, there were un-promoted Dolby Stereo Digital test screenings of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (released December 1991) and Newsies (April 1992).

So, for historical reference, the first-run North American theaters that screened the digital sound version of Batman Returns were….

Dolby Stereo Digital

CALIFORNIA

  • Batman Returns film clipLakewood — Pacific’s Lakewood Center 4-plex
  • Los Angeles — Mann’s Chinese Triplex [THX]
  • Los Angeles — Mann’s Village [THX]
  • Newport Beach — Edwards’ Newport Triplex
  • Orange — Syufy’s Century Cinedome 11-plex
  • San Francisco — UA’s Coronet

NEW YORK

  • New York — Loews’ Village 7-plex [THX]
  • New York — UA’s Criterion 7-plex
  • New York — UA’s Gemini Twin

TEXAS

  • Dallas — General Cinema’s Northpark West Twin [THX]

WASHINGTON

  • Bellevue — Act III’s Crossroads 8-plex [THX]

 

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