The original Batman and Superman Movies: Parallel Histories

Throughout their mythos, Batman and Superman have had many similarities and differences. But what many tend to overlook is that their original movies did as well. Both started out strong, had still good sequels, went downhill in their third movie, and their fourth the final nail in the coffin. But both had their differences that led them to become so.


The first Batman movie was released in 1989 under the direction of Tim Burton whereas the first Superman movie was released in 1978 directed by Richard Donner. Neither movie had much in the way of action. However, in the case of both movies their greatest strength was not in their action but rather their atmosphere to convey their messages about the things that surrounded the heroes. And both movies wound up both critical and financial success.

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The second Batman movie Batman Returns was released in 1992 with Burton once again in the director’s chair whereas the second Superman movie was released in 1980. However, while Donner had his own cut he was not fully in the director’s chair. While Superman I was being filmed Superman II was being filmed along with it the latter being 75% done by the time the first was finished. Tensions rose between Donner and the producers over this matter as the latter was concerned that if Superman I were a failure all the money on the sequel would be wasted. Fortunately, this was not the case but the tensions had mounted so high to the point that they were reportedly not even speaking to each other. Midway through the sequel’s production Donner was fired and replaced with director Richard Lester who reshot several scenes Donner completed. Many members of cast and crew felt Donner had been treated unfairly among them being Gene Hackman who portrayed Lex Luthor and left the film in protest. Hackman’s remaining scenes had to be completed with a stand-in. Nevertheless, both movies also turned out to be big hits and Lester was put in the director’s chair for the sequel. However in regards to Burton, many complained that Batman Returns was far too dark with the grotesque-looking Penguin and Catwoman’s depressing storyline. Thus for the sequel, Burton was demoted to producer and replaced with director Joel Schumacher.


In regards to Batman Forever and Superman III, both movies attempted to be more comedic and kid friendly with the latter even co-starring Richard Pryor. Margot Kidder who portrayed Lois Lane in the first two movies was among those who believed Donner had been treated unfairly and wound up reduced to a cameo in this one. The one difference the two franchises shared was that whereas Christopher Reeve reprised his role as Superman once again Michael Keaton declined to return for Batman Forever, as he did not want to do a Batman movie without Burton as director and replaced with Val Kilmer. Both movies while financial successes were not critical ones. Many including Reeve assumed Superman was finished forever.


Batman and Robin and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace ended both franchises on the big screen for years. Both, however, were bad for different reasons. Both did not have the greatest effects but Batman and Robin had far greater reasons to attribute to its failure. For starters what little dark and engaging storylines and complex character development that was in the previous movie is gone and replaced with bad attempts at comedy at every turn. The mythoi of several characters were also completely butchered. They also recast Batman once again as Val Kilmer was unable to return due to other projects. Superman IV was notorious for reusing footage not only from its own movie but also reusing scenes from other movies as well. The effects, in particular, were horrendous as you could see black curtains in what was supposed to be outer space, people hanging from wires, and terrible blue screen effects. Over 45 minutes worth of the film were also cut, as the production company was known for distributing its budget among its other projects.

While the Batman movies seemed to find redemption within the Dark Knight Trilogy, Superman still struggles to find its footing in live-action. Superman Returns tried to ignore the events of the third and fourth movies but tried too hard to capture the atmosphere of the first two. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was passable at best and to this day no sequels have been made. It is not the best adaptation one can have but we can only hope for the future.