This is the ninth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes. For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.
It sometimes boggles my mind when people complain about movies like “Spider-Man 3” or “Batman & Robin,” which each had three villains, stating that they were damaged by having too many characters. “Batman: The Movie” had four villains, and it didn’t suffer one iota for it. It isn’t about the number of characters you have, but how well you use them. “Batman: The Movie” used them fantastically.
Almost immediately after filming wrapped on the first season of the television series, principal photography began on the feature film version. Originally, the feature was planned as a sort of pilot to the show, and as a way to sell the series overseas. The decision was made, however, to go into production on the first season first, because if the series was a success it would translate to a larger audience for the film and because 20th Century Fox could share the cost of the series with the network, while having to foot the entire bill for the feature. So instead of the film being used the sell the series, the series was actually used to sell the film.
The feature version took everything the “Batman” television series had to offer and turned it up to 11. Filmed on the same sets and using the same costumes as the series left plenty of money to make the film seem like it had a much bigger budget than it actually did, because there was a lot of money that had already been spent. Because of this, producers were able to do things and show things in the film that they never would have been able to show in the series, and for the first time fans got a sense of how Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were changed into Batman and Robin while sliding down their bat-poles.
The film introduced a bat-copter and bat-boat that hadn’t previously been seen in the series, as well as a Penguin submarine. The bat-boat and bat-copter would eventually be used again in seasons two and three of the television series. Without the feature film, these vehicles would have been too expensive to build on a television budget. The film also introduced the bat-cycle, which probably saw the most use in the television series.
Unlike the television series, the film dealt rather heavily with political issues of the day, most notably Cold War concerns of nuclear war, the sale of war surplus military equipment and it even took a few shots at the Pentagon. The United Nations was also featured, although called the United World Organization in the film.
For many years, the film was the only part of the 1966 Batman that was available on home video due to rights concerns. The film had home video clauses in its licensing agreement, due to the popularity of Super 8 home projectors at the time. No such agreement was made for the television series, but that has since been released to DVD and Blu-ray.
Garcia, Bob, “Batman: Making the Original Movie”, Cinefantastique, Volume 24, #6/Vol. 25, #1 (double issue), February 1994, p. 55.
Batman at 45: A Milestone Tribute to Pow, Bam and Zap!, Chris Gould, 2011