Batman: A Box Office History

Photo Credits: Warner Bros. ("The Batman")

Some of his movies are considered among the greatest films ever made, while others are… not. Some of his movies rank among the biggest blockbusters of all time, while others earned totals less than the mere opening weekends for other rival superhero titles.

Although the franchise’s reputational and financial track record has ranged from the highest of highs to the afterthoughts, one thing has remained consistent: Bruce Wayne’s status as one of the most famous characters among audiences.

Ahead of this Friday’s theatrical release of Warner Bros.’ The Batmanhere’s how the Caped Crusader’s prior films have fared at the box office, listed below in chronological order.

Batman (1989)

The first large-scale Batman movie ever made starred Michael Keaton as the title character, Jack Nicholson as the Joker, and Kim Basinger as love interest Vicki Vale. Due to his bigger power, though, Nicholson’s name actually appeared before Keaton’s on the poster and marketing materials. 

Summer 1989 broke the record for biggest opening weekend three separate times: first Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with $29.3M, then Ghostbusters II with $29.4M, then Batman with $40.5M.

Even Prince’s song Batdance for the film’s soundtrack reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, despite ranking among the strangest and most bizarre chart-toppers songs in history.

(Some might nitpick that 1966’s campy low-budget action comedy of the same name, starring Adam West, was technically the first Batman movie. That film made less than $4 at the box office, though it slowly achieved status as a cult classic over the ensuing decades.)

Domestic box office: $251.1M

Yearly domestic rank: #1

Batman Returns (1992)

The highly-anticipated sequel reunited Keaton with director Tim Burton, alongside Danny DeVito as the Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.

Beating its predecessor’s opening weekend record, which had stood for three years, Returns debuted to $45.6M.

Keaton is set to return to his role as a (now much older) Batman for the first time in three decades, as a supporting role in November’s The Flash.

Domestic box office: $162.8M

Yearly domestic rank: #3, behind Aladdin and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Batman Forever (1995)

The third Batman installment was also the third to break the opening weekend record with $52.7M, held for two years at that point by Jurassic Park.

Directed by Joel Schumacher, Forever starred Val Kilmer in the title role alongside Jim Carrey as the Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, and Nicole Kidman as love interest Chase Meridian.

Seal’s love ballad theme Kiss from a Rose also reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Domestic box office: $184.0M

Yearly domestic rank: #2, behind Toy Story

Batman & Robin (1997)

Schumacher returned as director but George Clooney filled in as Batman, after Kilmer had scheduling conflicts with his film The Saint. Costarring alongside Clooney were Chris O’Donnell as Robin, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy.

The film’s poor reception and box office resulted not only in Warner Bros. cancelling a planned sequel, but also led Clooney to intentionally pivot to more acclaimed but less commercial fare for his next films: The Thin Red LineThree Kings, and O Brother Where Art Thou? (Clooney experienced a considerable reputational rebound as a result.)

Domestic box office: $107.3M

Yearly domestic rank: #12

Batman Begins (2005)

Intentionally opting for a sharp stylistic pivot from the poor reception of the cartoonish Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. chose then-up-and-coming director Christopher Nolan to helm this reboot.

Christian Bale starred alongside Michael Caine as butler Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman as a technology inventor at Bruce’s company, and Katie Holmes as Bruce’s love interest Rachel Dawes.

Often held up as the film which defined the style and the template for the “modern” superhero movie, Begins resusicated Batman’s fortunes at the box office. Hans Zimmer’s epic score didn’t hurt, either.

Domestic box office: $205.3M

Yearly domestic rank: #8

The Dark Knight (2008)

Ah, here it is. You knew this one was coming.

Rated as the third-best film of all time by IMDb users, outcry after it failed to receive one of the five Academy Award Best Picture nominations proved so great that the Academy doubled the number of nominees to 10 the next year.

Heath Ledger posthumously won Best Supporting Actor for his role as the Joker, in a movie that also added Maggie Gyllenhaal as love interest Rachel Dawes (replacing Holmes) and Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face.

The film also set another opening weekend record with $158.4M, to date the last of the four Batman movies to set that high-water mark.

Put another way: Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films is usually referred to as “the Dark Knight trilogy” even though the original installment doesn’t contain the words “dark” or “knight” at all.

Domestic box office: $533.3M

Yearly domestic rank: #1, more than $200M ahead of runner-up Iron Man

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The final installment of Nolan’s “Dark Knight trilogy” added Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Tom Hardy as Bane, plus Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard in supporting roles.

Perhaps this only qualifies as a slight disappointment compared to the rapturous reception and record-setting box office of its predecessor, but its raw numbers still greatly impress. Debuting with a $160.8M opening, today it ranks as the #68 top-rated movie by IMDb users, the second-best score among all Batman movies.

Domestic box office: $448.1M

Yearly domestic rank: #2, behind The Avengers  

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Pairing the two biggest superheroes in the DC Comics universe — and arguably the three biggest, if you include Wonder Woman’s glorified cameo appearance — Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill portrayed the two title characters. Affleck made his first appearance, while Cavill reprised his role from 2013’s Man of Steel.

Jesse Eisenberg played the villain as Lex Luthor, usually a Superman rather than a Batman foe, alongside Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Jeremy Irons as Batman’s butler Alfred.

As a March release, this was also the first Batman movie to open outside the summer movie season, paving the way for The Batman’s March 2022 release later this week.

Domestic box office: $330.3M

Yearly domestic rank: #8

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Following the surprise box office success of 2014’s The LEGO Movie, this animated spinoff focused just on the adventures of an animated version of Batman, voiced by Will Arnett. 

With a comedic spoof tone more reminiscent of the 1960s Batman television show on ABC than any feature-length movie, Michael Cera voiced Robin, alongside Rosario Dawson as Batgirl and Ralph Fiennes as Alfred.

Domestic box office: $175.7M

Yearly domestic rank: #16, but the year’s #3 animated title behind Despicable Me 3 and Coco

Justice League (2017)

DC Comics attempted to replicate the gargantuan success of rival Marvel Studios’ superhero teamups, returning Affleck as Batman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, plus Jason Momoa as Aquaman (ahead of his solo film debut in 2018), Ezra Miller as the Flash (ahead of his solo film debut later in 2022), and J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon.

Instead, the film’s $93.8M opening weekend underwhelmed, failing to cross the nine-digit mark as widely expected. The film’s domestic total would ultimately come in below the opening weekends alone for Marvel superhero titles including Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Domestic box office: $229.0M 

Yearly domestic rank: #10

Photo Credits: Warner Bros. ("The Batman")

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