Director: Tim Burton (US)
The 1980s are remembered as the era in which the action blockbuster became a Hollywood staple. But it wasn’t until the end of the decade that one of its most lucrative subgenres started to flex its muscles.
There was no guarantee Batman would be a smash — at the time, the property was best known for its camp 1960s TV show. But director Tim Burton boldly reinvented the crime-fighter as a brooding antihero, draping Gotham City in Gothic glory thanks to Oscar-winning production designer Anton Furst.
With the help of his Beetlejuice (1988) star Michael Keaton, Burton established the contemporary comic-book movie template: a complex hero, stunning visuals, epic grandeur and a smart sense of humour. And with Jack Nicholson as nemesis the Joker, Batman cemented the superhero film as the new model of the event movie, one that lived or died by the strength of its charismatic villain.
Previous blockbusters such as Top Gun (1986) had capitalised on their success through hit soundtracks or other ancillary items.
But Warner Bros took synergy to a new level, recruiting the record label’s superstar Prince to record a concept album based on the film.
In the summer of 1989, it was impossible to ignore Batman, and audiences responded, making the Dark Knight’s big-screen debut the third-highest grossing film of the decade. Suddenly, there was nothing camp about these comic-book avengers, who have since become cinema’s biggest stars.