Batman is the new Superman for Warner Bros and last time around, they were trying their best to not screw things again. In this part we find out how successful they were in making Batman’s sequels not suck and how another once strong property, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, is going down faster then you can say cowabunga. Finally we delve into a lot more lesser known superheroes so prepare you teeth cause we got a lot to chew.
Batman Returns was released on June 19th 1992 to $45.6 million, taking the highest opening weekend record away from Batman and continuing what would become a trend for the man dressed as a bat (yes, The Dark Knight wasn’t the only Batman flick to open to record numbers). Thing is, Batman Returns was very expensive at that time, $80 million, and only managed to grossed $162.8 million in North America and $266.8 million worldwide, significantly less then what Batman did 3 years before. Ultimately Batman Returns was way out there and turned a lot of people from the series. It wasn’t a bad movie, it’s just that it was to different. Now obviously Warner were not going to drop Batman just because of a minor misstep, I mean this was still very profitable and they were sure things could still be turned around in order for Batman III to not become Superman III.
Superheroes based on comic books were obviously the safe bet at the time since they came with a built in audience, but some studios, like Fox, tried their hand with original properties. Such a new, original property was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, released in July 1992. Yep, before the long running successful TV series with the same name, there was this low budget big screen movie that grossed $16.6 million. As it turns out, TV was a much better fit for Buffy. Now ask Joss Whedon, writer of this little flick, if he ever imagined that 20 years later it would be him making The Avengers.
In March 1993 New Line released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, an abysmal movie that only made $42.2 million in North America and sealed the faith of the ninja turtles so much that it took another 14 years for them to return in an unrelated CGI flick, not to mention Hollywood has been trying to reboot the series into another live-action movie for at least a decade.
On the Batman front things were moving in all but the right directions with Warner Bros. replacing Tim Burton with Joel Schumacher. Then Michael Keaton refused to return so Schumacher quickly found a substitute for him in Val Kilmer. Batman 3 became Batman Forever and filming started in the fall of 1994. But before this came out, a lot of other superhero movies tried their luck with just one managing to stand out of the pack.
There was The Meteor Man in August 1993 from MGM, only making $8 million in North America. Then there was The Shadow and Blankman and how could I forget, Tankgirl, with $32, $7.9 and $4 million. But if you look back, only The Crow, released on May 1994, is still remembered and considered a classic by many. It was a good movie that made $50.6 million in North America and thus became the highest grossing superhero flick not to feature Batman, Superman or 4 teenage mutant ninja turtles. But what really made this movie stand out was the drama behind it all. Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died while filming a scene that involved him getting shot and little did he know, that would also be his last because the gun used was loaded with real bullets instead of blanks. Accident or not, you can read a lot more about this here.
May 16th 1995, Batman Forever was finally ready and Warner were riding a lot on it because if this were to fail like Superman III, everyone would be in trouble. Fortunately for them (but not so much for Batman himself, as we will see in Part 4) Batman Forever was everything they wanted it to be, opening with $52.7 million (again, the biggest opening at the time) and moving on to gross $184 million in North America and $336.5 million worldwide, thus falling between Batman Returns ($266M) and Batman ($411M). This new flashy, neon take seemed to work well with audiences but was this really the right direction for a superhero as deep and dark as Batman?
In Part 4 we’ll explore how Warner manage to almost destroy Batman, and how that didn’t slow down the other studios from trying their luck at more and more superhero movies in the coming years.