Ah, 1989. It was a simpler time. Your faithful correspondent was 14 years old—amply pimpled, brazenly bemulleted, and already a devoted movie geek. The best thing that happened to me that year was that Lethal Weapon 2 came out. This was back when one could devote himself unequivocally to the hero worship of Mel Gibson. Like I said, it was a simpler time. Lethal Weapon 2 was a big hit that summer, as was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which gave us the perfect ending to the career of the good Dr. Jones. (Again, I repeat, simpler time.) But these two monster hits were not the big news that year because 1989 was the year of Batman.
Looking back, it’s easy to see now that Tim Burton’s Batman wasn’t simply the biggest hit of that year (grossing 411 million at the worldwide box office against a budget of 35 million, which, adjusted for inflation, might well make Batman the most successful comic book movie in history); it was also the most influential. While Richard Donner’s Superman had legitimized the comic book movie as potential blockbuster material back in 1978, that franchise had been mismanaged by producers who didn’t appreciate the delicate combination of grandeur and humor Donner had brought to the material. By 1989, when producers Peter Gruber and Jon Peters brought the Dark Knight to the screen, the comic book movie was still a gamble.