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The silver screen evolution of iconic Justice League leader Batman


In the build-up to the eagerly awaited release of Justice League this November, we look at how Batman got out of his Batcave into his Batmobile and onto our Batscreens...

Lewis Wilson is the first ever screen Batman

Batman made his film debut in 1943 in a wartime vintage 15-part serial titled The Batman. It gave Lewis Wilson the honour of making history as the first ever movie Batman, with Douglas Croft as Robin.

Made during World War Two, the film's main bad guy is an evil Japanese scientist. J Carrol Naish has a field day as spymaster Dr Daka, who operates a spy ring in Gotham City's deserted Little Tokyo, turning American scientists into electronic zombies who do his evil bidding.

The serial introduced the concept of the Batcave and there are actual bats in the Batcave. Bruce Wayne has a butler in the film, so Alfred was introduced into the comic books then quickly redrawn by DC as a thin Alfred to resemble William Austin with his thin physique and moustache.

Robert Lowery is the new Batman

A second film serial series followed in 1949, titled Batman and Robin, with Robert Lowery taking over as Batman and Johnny Duncan as Robin.

This time the dynamic duo battle the wicked black-hooded mad scientist mastermind The Wizard, who steals Professor Hammil (William Fawcett)'s remote control device that can take over any motor vehicle within 50 miles.

With its bigger budget and better acting, it improves on the first serial. Jane Adams also stars as magazine photographer Vicki Vale, with Lyle Talbot as Commissioner Jim Gordon, and Eric Wilton plays Batman's butler Alfred Pennyworth.

The legendary Adam West years

The next notable Batman incarnation was the Sixties weekly TV show Batman (1966- 68) series starring the late Adam West in the title role and Burt Ward as Robin.

The series was basically a comedy show because of producer William Dozier's lack of knowledge of comic books. The stories are villain-driven and action-comedy heavy, and often told in two parts. The first part usually has a villain committing a crime, with the Dynamic Duo trying to stop the criminal, then caught and put in a death trap.

The series is notable for its guest stars, mostly portraying Batman's villains. Cesar Romero guest starred as the Joker on a semi-regular basis, and stars in the originally black and white series’ first colour episode. Ben Nye Sr's make-up was later adapted for Jack Nicholson.

The Adam West movie

The TV show led to the first Batman cinema feature film in 1966, called Batman: The Movie, a spoofy and fondly remembered movie spin-off.

Adam West and Burt Ward again star as billionaire Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson, who as Batman and Robin find themselves battling the combined might of four of comic book filmdom’s most charismatic super-villains – the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether).

Naturally, the arch-villains of the United Underworld are all out for the ultimate goal of world domination, planning to hold the world for ransom using a gadget that dehydrates humans and reduces them to particles of dust. Luckily, Batman and Robin have a Batboat and Batcharge missiles to help them fight back.

The Tim Burton era

Decades later, Batman finally returned to the big screen with Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992).

Directed by Tim Burton, the two movies reject the spoofy tone of the Sixties series and film, and are darker and more serious than any previous comic book movie.

Both films were huge successes critically and financially. In Batman (1989), formerly comedic actor Michael Keaton is chilling in the gloomy, brooding, role of billionaire Bruce Wayne who rights wrongs as Batman by night, while heavyweight Jack Nicholson is hysterically funny as his nemesis, the crazed psychopathic Jack Napier, aka The Joker.

A glorious-looking movie, it won an Oscar for production designer Anton Furst's amazing art direction and Peter Young's beautiful set decoration. It was a box-office sensation as the top grossing movie of 1989, kicking off the long-running franchise.

In Batman Returns (1992), Michael Keaton returns to re-create his splendidly chilling performance as the Dark Knight. This time Batman's got triple troubles. Corrupt, crazed businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) and the grotesque Penguin (Danny DeVito) both plot to take control of Gotham City, while the troublesome Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) is, like Bruce Wayne, grappling with her split identity.

Joel Schumacher takes over

In 1995 The Lost Boys director Schumacher made a third Batman instalment, Batman Forever, which features a new Caped Crusader in the form of Val Kilmer.

Under the direction of studio Warner Bros, who were alarmed by the dark nature of Batman Returns, the movie attempted to make Batman more family-friendly by introducing Robin (Chris O'Donnell) and adding a sillier tone.

It lacks the class of the Tim Burton movies, but it has a great sense of fun and showmanship, and was a hit, leading Schumacher to film a fourth instalment, titled Batman and Robin (1997).

A completely miscast and embarrassed-looking George Clooney took over as Batman after Val Kilmer walked, and it's a near disaster of performance as well as casting. Meanwhile on the villain front Arnold Schwarzenegger made for a much-lampooned Mr. Freeze whilst Uma Thurman got green fingers as Poison Ivy.

Unfortunately, Batman and Robin is everybody’s least favourite Batman movie. The critically bashed effort was a massive disappointment and for the best part of nine years effectively killed the Batman franchise.

Christopher Nolan's triumphant reboot

In 2005, Christopher Nolan brought Batman back to the big screen with Batman Begins. Nolan's thrilling 2005 Dark Knight reboot is a triumph, and so is Christian Bale's sombre Bruce Wayne/Batman, who is centre stage all the way as we discover the character's previously unexplored origins and early days.

This was followed by 2008's The Dark Knight, which grossed over $1 billion worldwide, making Batman a box-office sensation. This time Batman takes on the criminal organisations that plague Gotham, with the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

But a new evil nemesis arises in the form of criminal mastermind The Joker (the sensational Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Best Supporting Oscar).

Nolan then made the final chapter of his trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, which premiered in New York City on 16 July 2012. It was acclaimed as one of the best films of 2012 and again grossed over $1 billion worldwide.

Thanks to Nolan it was official: Batman was legitimate again. No mean feat in the wake of Batman and Robin.

Ben Affleck is Bruce Wayne reborn

Affleck, who had been on the short list for Batman back in 2005, finally got his chance to wear the Batsuit in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, starring alongside Henry Cavill as Superman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

The movie, released in the UK on 25th March 2016, made history as the first ever joint on-screen appearance of both Batman and Superman. Affleck's grim performance as Batman leads the way to keep the movie dark and sombre.

All three superheroes are back this November in Justice League, with Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Ezra Miller as The Flash, released on 17th November 2017.

The movie has had a turbulent production: under the guidance of new director Joss Whedon (who took over from Zack Snyder following personal tragedy), extensive reshoots in London and Los Angeles in mid-2017 have added $25 million to the film's budget.

The LEGO Batman years

Who says Batman need only be played by a strapping, six-foot Hollywood A-lister? One of our favourite incarnations of the character came in LEGO form in 2014's brilliantly irreverent The LEGO Movie, as voiced by Arrested Development scene-stealer Will Arnett.

His take on the Dark Knight was hilariously self-absorbed and moody, even penning songs about the death of his parents and his isolated existence. He also took pot shots at all previous big screen incarnations of the character.

He in fact proved so popular that he was the star of his own spin-off, this year's LEGO Batman Movie which paired him with Robin (Michael Cera).

The smash-hit animated spoof gave us possibly the best dialogue exchange this year:

Robin: "Does Batman live in Bruce Wayne's basement?"

Batman: "No, Bruce Wayne lives in Batman's attic."

The future

Now we eagerly await Affleck’s solo turn in Matt Reeves’ The Batman, currently in pre-production. Batman forever, indeed!