10 Years Later: How Nolan's 'Batman Begins' Redefined a Dark Knight
by Dan Marcus
June 19, 2015
Ten years ago the state of the Batman franchise – and the movie industry – was in a much different place than it is now. In today's movie climate, the term "reboot" is a word bandied about casually and Batman as a character and movie franchise is held in high regard. However, ten years ago things were completely different. Before Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, the future of Batman in live-action was uncertain. With the ten year anniversary of Christopher Nolan's seminal film this week, let's take a look back at how Nolan – before he was the enormously successful filmmaker he is today – redefined Batman and the reboot.
In the late 90's, the Batman franchise was at an all-time high. It was just coming off 1995's Batman Forever, which at the time was a big box office success and a hit with audiences. Then along came 1997's Batman & Robin, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring George Clooney as the new Batman and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. Even to this day, most comic-book fans would agree there hasn't been a more disappointing superhero movie. The movie was a box office disappointment, was trashed by critics and ripped to shreds by fans, who left the theater upset and confused. After the colossal failure of Batman & Robin, the Batman franchise would lay dormant for 8 years. In that time period, many filmmakers would try to resurrect the Dark Knight from its ember-filled grave: Darren Aronofsky, Boaz Yakin and even Joel Schumacher again. But it would take one filmmaker in particular to help Batman rise from the darkness.
That filmmaker was Christopher Nolan, who was quickly establishing himself as an auteur filmmaker with a bright future. He was just coming off Memento, which pulverized the indie community and put Nolan on the map as an up-and-coming director to pay attention to. In 2002, Nolan directed the mid-size studio film Insomnia for Warner Bros. The film was a critical and box office success and it was around that time that WB was looking to finally bring Batman back to the silver screen. Nolan was actually working on a completely different project at the time WB approached him – he was writing a Howard Hughes biopic – but as fate would have it, Martin Scorsese would end up making The Aviator, making room for Nolan to focus on something else. When WB first asked Nolan about Batman, he confessed he was not a comic book expert. However, he pitched his idea in 90 minutes. His pitch was simple – take Batman back to his roots, make it grounded in realism and do what no other Batman film has done before: the origin story.
Warner Bros quickly took to Nolan's ideas and in 2003 hired him to direct the next chapter in the Batman franchise. While not many people could have guessed it at the time, what Nolan was doing would later send shockwaves through Hollywood and forever alter the way Hollywood would approach a superhero movie. Not since Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie (released in 1978) had Hollywood seen a more innovative and groundbreaking superhero film. To understand why Nolan's approach was so pioneering, it helps to understand the state of comic book movies as a whole back then. Nolan's Batman was coming off of a renaissance in the comic-book movie genre (which, back then, wasn't even a genre like it is now). Bryan Singer, another independent auteur, brought the X-Men to life in ways no one thought was imaginable. Sam Raimi turned Spider-Man into a blockbuster icon.
While Singer and Raimi may have proved superheroes could work in a modern context, what Nolan proved is that you could make a superhero movie that sits up there with some of cinema's greatest works. Nolan didn't approach Batman Begins like an ordinary comic book movie – as a matter of fact, he didn't approach it as a comic book movie at all. He approached it like a movie in and of itself.
It started with the cast, which at the time was arguably the greatest cast out of any superhero film to date. Christian Bale was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman, an unknown to most mainstream audiences but known very well to a set of movie fans as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. What some might not realize is that Bale was actually a fan favorite for the role, with fans exclaiming "Bale Dammit!" on message forums to show their support of the Welsh actor for the part. When Bale was cast, most regular folk probably went "Who?" but most die-hard Batman fans everywhere cheered in elation. While Bale was an accomplished actor, Nolan knew he needed to fill out the cast with well-known and established actors… and he did just that. Soon enough, actors like Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman filled up the rest of the cast. Having Oscar-winning superhero movies is very commonplace in the modern superhero climate today – but back then? It was unheard of.
Nolan continued to do things differently with his approach to Batman. As he pitched to WB, he grounded his take in realism – and it showed. While many fans were initially apprehensive of this – the reveal of the Tumbler (the film's version of the Batmobile) befuddled most fans with its crazy and different aesthetic – no one could have guessed just how influential Nolan's take would be. In the years since, the words "origin story", "reboot" and "grounded in realism" would be cemented as catchphrases by studio executives when approaching a blockbuster film. In 2006, MGM & Eon Productions reinvented James Bond with the reboot Casino Royale, bringing Bond back to his roots in the vein of Nolan's Batman. In 2012, Sony & Columbia would do the same with Spider-Man, rebooting the character in a version that was more grounded and more palatable. Even other DC Comics characters would get similar treatment – Nolan's take would be so successful and popular that Warner Bros hired Nolan to spearhead a reboot of the Superman character in Man of Steel, taking Nolan's realistic approach and applying it to DC's most iconic superhero.
While some of those attempts would work – such as Casino Royale – some didn't. Studios are now realizing not every superhero, such as Spider-Man (known for having a slightly lighter tone in the comics), deserves a take "grounded in realism" and while that it might've worked well for Batman, it might not work for every superhero. However, there is no doubt Nolan revolutionized studio thinking with Batman Begins – which came at a pivotal time not only in the way studios would approach their blockbusters, but the way they would listen to fans as well. While it is mostly obvious that studios don't make decisions based solely on what fans want, the advent of the internet - with message forums, Twitter and social media as a whole – allowed fans to have a voice that was harder to make known in years prior. When Batman Begins was in production, fans responded positively to casting announcements and trailers. When the script leaked back in 2004, it was met with almost unanimous praise – proving to lifelong fans of the character that WB was finally taking Batman seriously this time. Fans could let their voice be known if they didn't like something. Before Batman Begins, studios could mostly get away with comic-book movies that were awful and not faithful to the comics. After Batman Begins, that was a lot harder to do.
The movie industry and the comic book sub-genre has changed dramatically since 2005's Batman Begins. Most of what Nolan did was groundbreaking, original and innovative – causing some fans to scratch their head and forcing most studios to pay attention. Nolan would later continue to redefine the Batman series and comic book movies with 2008's The Dark Knight, a movie that would later prove a comic book movie could be embraced as great cinema along the likes of The French Connection, Heat and Chinatown.
Nolan finished his Batman trilogy in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises, being one of the only superhero trilogies to tell a complete and whole story. Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy is commonly regarded as one of the finest in superhero movie lore and it has set the bar very high for other superhero movies and Batman movies for decades to come. While Zack Snyder is rebooting Batman yet again in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – starring Henry Cavill as Superman and Ben Affleck as the new Caped Crusader – it is clear Snyder and Affleck have very big shoes to fill. Regardless of how that movie is received, Nolan's Batman will go down as one of the finest takes on the character we will likely ever see on the big screen.
What do you think? Is Batman Begins one of your favorite Batman movies? Sound off in the comments below! And let us know where you think they might take Batman next?
With all the shared universe and endless sequels going on, it will be a while before we get another complete superhero trilogy like The Dark Knight Trilogy. Personally, I hope the wait won't be too long but in the mean time, we have Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy to tide us over again, again and again...
Zack Snyder on Jun 19, 2015
In Nolan We Trust... Nolan is such an inspiration. From being a very indie filmmaker to making cinema magic and setting a standard not just for superheros but films in general... I have now claimed Interstellar as my favorite movie and Nolan as my favorite director. Very good article.
Franklin Carpio on Jun 19, 2015
I consider Nolan a scientist in an artist's world. He really gives us nerds what we want, because he doesn't compromise the brain of the film for a minute. I love that so much.
Sean on Jun 19, 2015
and you call me a madcao fool... Least I've never been a nerd. Go play with your star wars figures ya dope.
Groucho on Jun 22, 2015
Lmfao ed byrne look alike, I'd make 3 of him you daft tvvat, Don't try and act hard behind the keyboard you fkin geek, it's took you over a week to react, now watch the swearing timothy or your mam might look at your history, you're a fkin fat geek who loves star wars and I bet you speak klingon to your mates, I bet you lot are lie the big bang theory U daft little cvnt Now You Fk off.
Groucho on Jun 28, 2015
LMFAO Dont even like star wars in your own words your a fkin nerd, batman? i bet your about 50 and still living in your mams you fat spotty fkin scifi dress up freak. you don't know me lad so don't fkin play the big man when you wouldn't say boo too a fkin goose, now fk off and play dress up. SUPERHEROES ? fkin ell lad GROW UP
Groucho on Jun 29, 2015
A scientist in an artists world u fkin bellend, Most of science is theory, you wet fvcking virgin
Groucho on Jun 28, 2015
Hmmm. This is quite similar to "The Complicated Legacy of Batman Begins" from The Atlantic a week ago. QUITE similar. Sure, there's been plenty of talk of the transformative decade since this major film was released...but still. At best, it's troubling that this usually reputable website would choose to publish a work so similar - and unfortunately, inferior - to another recently posted piece. At worst, it's a derivative and thinly-veiled summary of another writer's hard work. Coincidence? Perhaps, but that piece was widely circulated and much discussed, and I find it hard to believe that a well-informed movie blogger would have missed it. Even supposing true coincidence and a complete ignorance of that work, I think in hind sight you ought to at least acknowledge that article (again, published nine days before this one) to avoid any further confusion.
Wafffles on Jun 19, 2015
As the writer of the piece, I can verify I had absolutely no idea that article was written as I don't read The Atlantic. I am not sure how you can call this derivative when I haven't even read the piece in question. Not everyone reads every article published online.
Dan Marcus on Jun 19, 2015
Wasn't this posted earlier on the Box Office website, and you said that you were going to originally publish it a week or so earlier but didn't because Jurassic World? So, you could've written it first.
Wes Draven on Jun 19, 2015
The whole realism vs fantasy level in Marvel movies vs DC movies has been talked about many times recently. I don't think anyone should be accused of copying anything - since this is a very popular topic right now. There will probably be yet another thousand articles about this topic leading up to the Batman depiction in next summer's blockbuster.
bumboclot on Jun 19, 2015
The darkknight is one my favourite movies ever, maybe my favorite of all times, I've seen it allot, more than any movie. The realism works fine because batman is human and not like Superman or spiderman who have ultimate powers. That's why I also like the style of the TV show Gotham,is very very good...
ari smulders on Jun 19, 2015
The Dark Knight was one of the last times I left the movies, turned to my friends and asked them if they saw that. It felt like a dream.
ragethorn on Jun 19, 2015
I turned to them and said 'Fuck, I need to see this again'. I wanted to watch it again, right then and there. But after Interstellar I just sat in silence, dumbfounded, and didn't move. I know this sounds dramatic - it is, let's be honest - but I was just in fucking awe. It's Nolan's gift to cinema....a complete masterpiece. I seriously hope it is recognised one day for how incredible it is.
Sean on Jun 19, 2015
I completely agree. It was his masterpiece. I was always partial to memento even over TDK. but Interstellar took the cake.
Jon Odishaw on Jun 22, 2015
Its already recignized. All the volcal retards that used to condescend are getting shut down all over the internet by ruthless replies from people who understood the film. Its sorta like slut shaming for egocentric idiots that believe that just because something doesnt make sense to them automatically means that the film is at fault.
regulator on Sep 22, 2015
Great response, love it. Totally agree as well
Sean on Sep 22, 2015
Nice article, but Batman Forever was awful. Maybe not Batman and Robin awful but still really horrid.
rickvanr on Jun 19, 2015
A lot of people give Bryan Singer's first X-Men film all the credit for starting the comic book movie craze. I disagree with that and I wholeheartedly agree with this article. While the Dark Knight Trilogy was not perfect (TDKR had it's flaws and missteps), Batman Begins and The Dark Knight really put comic book movies out there that EVERYONE was talking about and watching. People who had little to no interest in comic book movies were going to see Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. It was a game changer and probably will be the film that defines the comic book movie sub genre for a while. I'm sure somewhere along the lines another movie will come along that will change the status quo and make everyone go HOLY SHIT! But right now, I agree that Nolan did something amazing with these movies. Making people take notice and respect the comic book movie.
Blake on Jun 19, 2015
Exactly right sir. This is i think is how ALL comic book movies should be portrayed. The cheesiness that most all other comic book movies (mostly Marvel) that target kids with their PG13 scripts and humor are not how they should be portrayed. Its disappointing to see the action and great writing watered down just so Hollywood can make tons of money.
Rock n Rollllll on Jun 19, 2015
No way. Sorry, but I don't need a dark brooding Spider Man trilogy. All comic book movies should be portrayed totally differently! Batman is perfect for more realism, but not Ant Man, or Captain America. Making every movie the same style is really boring! Making Captain America 3 as a spy thriller was brilliant. I'm glad they are experimenting with different styles.
bumboclot on Jun 20, 2015
Same thing happened when Burton's Batman came out in 89 and Raimi's Spider Man in 2002. X-Men was a mere footnote compared to both of those.
bumboclot on Jun 19, 2015
I have to mention the original Superman from 1977, that is where it all started.
Jack Lewis on Jun 19, 2015
X-Men was OK. Spiderman was a little better...but they're not even on the same planet as Nolan's trilogy.
Sean on Jun 19, 2015
I think you are underselling TDKR. TDKR was bigger with general fans than Begins ever was.
TheDr3amMachine on Aug 19, 2015
TDKR was not flawed at all. That film was a perfect film(not as good as TDK but pretty damn close) hiwever, the film was still perfect. All that plot hole bullshit is false. There were no plot holes, just stupid audiences that ddint understand the film
regulator on Sep 22, 2015
DK trilogy was an example of trusting a filmmaker. Like Peter Jackson or George Lucas, Nolan had a lot of control over his trilogy, and he did things the studio was probably not too happy about. (Using no 3D, using minimal CGI, etc) It's always more interesting to see a filmmaker's vision unfold, even if it doesn't result in a masterpiece, than it is to see a studio hack's interpretation. Yeah, that's right, I'm talking about that mess called Spiderman 3.
bumboclot on Jun 19, 2015
I don't know, I mean, Nolan is a genius and a complete expert in all aspects of film-making; he respects the studio's concerns over budgets. He understands how to craft superb stories that work on multiple layers and are rewarded over several viewings. You can trust *him* with $200m budget (I thank fucking god they trusted him, because Interstellar could not have been made without what Nolan had done to convince studios to trust him...and that film is a masterpiece), but I'd really be careful about extending that to too many others. Personally I hope the Superhero genre burns itself out, in fact, I know it will do over the next decade - it's completely saturated.
Sean on Jun 19, 2015
Nolan wasn't exactly the Spielberg or Micheal Bay of the early 2000s. They took a huge risk because he was a pretty unknown independent filmmaker at the time. Mainstream Superhero movies will become repetitive and dull eventually. But creative directors can always put a different twist on them, just like they could for any other genre.
bumboclot on Jun 20, 2015
The Dark Knight trilogy really did revolutionize the comic book movie. I absolutely loved it all. I still find myself watching it and being in awe of how Nolan handled the entire trilogy. I do think that The Crow handled a similar type of character well. I also think that Del Toro's Hellboy and Norrington's Blade were exceptional movies as well. A few people have added some nice things along the way in the last 10 years. Jon Favreau gave us an amazing Iron Man which was a fun ride. Whedon's Avengers was great. It was also nice to see Capt America shine in the Winter Soldier thanks to the Russo's and who could forget James Gunn and The Guardians of the Galaxy. Special mention to Cronenberg's A History of Violence, what a movie that was. Seeing as we are on the topic of comic books I still think that Park Chan-Wook's Oldboy is one of the best comic book movies ever made.
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IsraelDFloyd on Jun 20, 2015
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MurielKThach on Jun 20, 2015
By far, these are the best comic book adaptations that have ever been made. And the biggest reason? Nolan's fresh approach in making a good film before looking to the source material. I really can't imagine the comic book movie landscape without these movies. Nolan and WB gave us something special that may never be recaptured. DIG.
DAVIDPD on Jun 21, 2015
I'd like to read two follow-ups to this article - each dealing with the second and third entry in THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY and the impact the films had. TDK I consider one of the best cinematic achievements from Hollywood in 2008 - while TDKR became the biggest cinematic disappointment to me in 2012. Reasons for that and many new ideas resulted in a completely rewritten screenplay by me. The basic premise of the siege of Gotham City is intact, but characters were skipped, new ones included - and the story of Bruce Wayne has changed. For more information and to get the screenplay - in english and german - see this article. Readers are welcome - all the more is feedback on the screenplay. So, what do you think?! http://www.heulermagazin.de/2014/07/from-film-essayist-to-screenwriter/
Clemens Langer on Jun 21, 2015
I only watch "Begin". its good
Jati Anggoro on Jun 22, 2015
Classic for sure (as was the 1989 Tim Burton telling imo). Also of note, exceptional scoring via Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard. Though both are super successful, never was a really big fan of either, but together - they really blew this one out of the water. (Honorable mention to Danny Elfman for his 1989 soundtrack as well)
avconsumer2 on Jun 23, 2015
Batman Begins didn't just reinvent the Batman mythos, it reinvented the superhero formula. But Nolan's real achievement was the Dark Knight which is imo, the definitive terrorism film. The Dark Knight was the moment when hollywood finally caught on screen, the fear, anxiety and chaos of the post 9/11 world.
Nameless Paladin on Jun 29, 2015
Christopher Nolan brought the faith back in Batman films. Now Ben Affleck and Zack Snyder need give us the Batman we deserve to get. Check out my post! https://elemaire86.wordpress.com/2015/07/08/best-ideas-for-a-batman-solo-film/
Eric Lemaire on Jul 9, 2015
Batman in my mind is the most iconic super hero of all times. Chris Nolan definitely blew me away with his version of Batman, which is by far the best to date. Christian Bale took Batman to a whole other level. The only problem is that it's done, I'd love to see Nolan and Bale return to the screen for another Batman or 2.
Chris Stanfill on Nov 3, 2015
Robin &Batman are good for crime.
Frances Yozawitz on Mar 22, 2017
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