It Was 10 Years Ago Today

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The Independent Culture
In the summer of 1989 no bus shelter was safe from black- and- yellow batwings. It was what the distributors of Batman: The Movie called "absolutely the biggest poster campaign in history". As Nigel Andrews commented in the Financial Times: "Only someone who has destroyed his TV, shot his newsagent and retired to a cave in the Mendips could have avoided hearing about the film." And with the hype came the inevitable disappointment.

On its US release on 23 June 1989, Roger Ebert was unstinting in his derision in the Chicago Sun-Times: "Batman is a triumph of design over story, style over substance - a great-looking movie with a plot you can't care much about." Adam Mars-Jones in the Independent exhorted viewers to "see the film for what it is: a moderately entertaining fantasy, with good design, some strong performances and a desperate need of a script doctor".

As far as the acting went, David Robinson of the Times plumped for the bad guy: "Michael Keaton is an amiable but somewhat smaller-than-life Batman, certainly alongside the rich excesses of Jack Nicholson's Joker."

In an echo of Gilbert Adair's comments in his book The Postmodernist Always Rings Twice, in which he noted that the climax of a film's career often predates its opening, Nigel Andrews added: "Batman is the masterpiece of a movie age in which the gift-wrapping is all the gift you get. Don't unwrap it too hurriedly, or there will be tears before bedtime."

Batman wobbled the record books by making $100m in its first 10 days, easily recouping the $60m it took to make. But what had helped the film's takings was its relentless merchandising. In addition to T-shirts and mugs, there were BMX scooters: the seriously wealthy could splash out on a Batmobile-shaped bed, a five-foot scale model of the famous car, or limited edition waistcoats. However, Batman: The Merchandising failed at the box office with the Batmobile birthday cake: children were put off by the black icing.

Maeve Walsh is away