He has generated $2.6 billion in worldwide box office grosses, countless millions in toy and merchandise sales and survived not one, but two battles with a homicidal maniac. What’s more, he’s not done yet.
Batman is one of the world’s most dependable film properties, with even the worst entry in the franchise’s history still charting $238 million in receipts. As the trailer for the next installment of the franchise, The Dark Knight Rises, debuts online and with the release of the blockbuster Harry Potter film conclusion, millions have already started the countdown until next July when the new film opens.
But if it weren’t for the perseverance of one man who toiled nearly 10 years to make the franchise’s first entry in 1989, it would not have happened at all.
“When I bought the film rights to Batman in 1979, no one wanted to make a Batman movie,” said Michael Uslan, executive producer – along with partner Benjamin Melnicker – of the modern Batman film franchise. “Well, not a good one, anyway. First, the president of DC Comics tried to convince me not to buy the film rights. He told me that no one wanted to make a Batman movie, but I made the deal, anyway. Who knew that he was actually on the money? I was rejected by every studio in town, multiple times, before I was able to convince people that Batman would be viable as a serious interpretation and not as a comedy.”
Uslan was shut down early and often by studio heads, for seemingly ridiculous reasons, too.
“Most of the studio executives I pitched swore up and down that Batman could never work as a movie,” said Uslan, who tells the story in his new memoir The Boy Who Loved Batman (www.theboywholovedbatman.com). “One complained that it wouldn’t make money because Annie – the musical version of Little Orphan Annie – didn’t make money. I asked him what Annie had to do with Batman, and he replied, ‘Oh come on, Michael, they’re both from the funny pages.’ One guy even told me that Batman and Robin wouldn’t work because a Sean Connery movie about an aging Robin Hood and Maid Marian – called Robin and Marian – didn’t work. I didn’t bother to press him, but I’m assuming he felt that having the name ‘Robin’ in the title was somehow box office poison. At the end of the day, it was clear that the studio bosses in the 1970s and 1980s felt that comic books weren’t worthy of being translated into movies. Their view was that comic books were just cheap, disposable entertainment for kids.”
Of course, since 1989’s Batman, comic books have been rich fodder for studios, with Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man and others bringing in billions of dollars in box office and licensing revenue.
“What we showed with Batman was that you could make a good, dark and serious comic book movie,” Uslan said. “What we proved with the Dark Knight was that we could use comic book-based material to transcend the genre and simply make a good movie, period. The bottom line is that Batman changed the industry, and if I didn’t bloody my knuckles for close to ten years on doors that were repeatedly slammed in my face, comic book related films might not be enjoying the success they are having today.”