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Celebrating 20 Years of Bat-Mania (Tim Burton Edition)

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As we wrap up a seriously ho-hum summer movie season, I find it helpful to look back at the blockbuster summer of 1989. While Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, and Ghostbusters II tore up the box office, one motion picture event towered above them all. Yes, it’s been 20 years since Tim Burton’s Batman swooped into theaters and changed comic book movies forever. It was the year’s biggest hit, grossing over $250 million and inspiring a wave of unparalleled merchandising and hype. Let’s stroll back to that fateful summer as I recount its top “Bat-mania” moments.

Prince Teaches Batman How to Dance
BatmanPrince-125.jpgThough Tim Burton would later express his unhappiness with having to insert Prince’s songs into the movie, The Artist’s pop soundtrack was a bona fide hit. While the album is no Purple Rain, it did give us dancing Batmen, Jokers, and Vicki Vales in the 6-minute-and-45-second gem that is the “Batdance” video. Somehow this amalgam of movie audio and Prince beats made it to the top of the charts before eventually getting knocked down by Richard Marx. It was a different time, folks.

Anton Furst Makes Gotham Scary
furst-125.jpgMuch of the credit for Batman’s gothic look goes to its late, ingenious production designer Anton Furst. The eye behind movies like Full Metal Jacket and The Company of Wolves, Furst mixed disparate architectural styles to transform Gotham into a teeming, nightmarish mess. (Furst also designed the movie’s sleek Batmobile, still a favorite of mine.) Though he won an Oscar for his efforts, Furst sadly committed suicide in 1991, leaving the franchise in the hands of Burton regular Bo Welch who made Gotham look like every other Burton movie.

Bat Logos Swarm the Nation
batman89-125.jpgIn today’s world of ubiquitous viral marketing, it’s difficult to explain the impact of such a beautifully simple logo on impressionable young minds. Anton Furst’s teaser poster showcasing the symbol was the perfect hint that fans might finally get a camp-free big screen Batman. When the movie hit, the logo turned up everywhere. (I recall mall kiosks set up specifically to sell Batman merchandise.) As a lifelong Bat-fan, I will never forget the summer when everyone proudly emblazoned themselves with logos. Ah, the days before Joel Schumacher ruined everything.

Bob the Goon Gets an Action Figure
Batman began our modern era of superhero merchandising, inspiring everything from mugs to bed sheets. One of the greatest (and most unintentionally hilarious) pieces of memorabilia has to be the Bob the Goon action figure (with button-activated power kick!). As Joker was the movie’s sole villain, toymakers were forced to get creative, immortalizing Tracey Walter’s henchman character in plastic. (You might also remember Walter, a real life pal of Jack Nicholson, from his role as “Cookie” in City Slickers.) Today the Bob the Goon figure is a coveted collector’s item amongst fans of the hilariously pointless.

Batman and Alfred Love Diet Coke
alfred-dietcoke.jpgThese days, seeing Optimus Prime shill for Verizon has become old-hat. But in 1989, it was novel for movie heroes to turn corporate. And sometimes, as in this classic Diet Coke spot, the results were downright classy. (Dig that stylish old can!) As Batman races through the streets, Alfred phones ahead to the “Gotham corner store” to tell them to have their refreshing Diet Coke at the ready. Leave it to Michael Gough (forever the most refined Alfred) to inject some much-needed humor into the blatant promotion. (His presence was sorely missed in the less amusing Batman Returns spot.)

When not writing for places like The Onion and HBO, Nick Nadel is in line at the comic book store alongside the other geeks, er, fans of speculative fiction. Want more comic book movie news and opinions? Follow Nick Nadel’s column on Twitter.

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