What Happened to Batman: The Movie?

Holy forgotten feature film Batman! In this special episode of What Happened to this Movie, we take a look at Batman: The Movie.

No matter how many different iterations of Batman there have been over the years, some folks still see colorful words explode across their memory of the caped crusader: BANG! POW! CRASH! For as dark as the adventures of Batman have progressively become, there’s no forgetting the brief era when the universe of “Batman” was a cartoonish, campy riot filled with tongue-in-cheek dialogue, scenery-chewing performances, and some very snug costumes. Comic books aside, it’s hard to believe that, for years, the TV show was essentially what people thought of when they pictured Gotham’s secretive hero, until 1989, when Tim Burton forever altered the way we view the Dark Knight. 

The 60s TV show ran for three seasons on ABC. Still, the world got an extra dose of Batman soon after the first season concluded with Batman: The Movie, essentially a super-sized episode that brought four of Batman’s most famous foes together in one zany, candy-coated package. It contains some of the weirdest, wildest moments you’ll find in a movie about the Caped Crusader, so slip into your favorite spandex suit as we tell you WTF Happened to the very first “Batman” movie.

Batman’s origins go all the way back to 1939 when the character first appeared in issue number 27 of “Detective Comics.” Batman’s first stint in front of the camera came in 1943, with a 15-chapter serial series that played successfully in theaters. It was subsequently re-released in 1965 to considerable enthusiasm, which kickstarted the idea of reviving the character for a brand new series, this time made for television. Assigned to help bring it to life was producer William Dozier, once a film producer who’d turned his attention to the exciting and relatively new world of television in the mid-50s. Dozier reportedly was not excited by the prospect of doing a Batman TV show but soon realized the potential popularity of the title. He figured if he could make it appeal to both children and adults, he’d give ABC the hit show they were desperately seeking. 

The series was to be infused with what Dozier called “the pop art technique of the exaggerated cliche,” which was another way of saying it would be campy. He thought doing a straight adaptation of the comics would not work, so he sought to deliberately “over-do” it to appeal to a larger audience. Incidentally, Dozier took on the role as the show’s infamous narrator, teasing the next week’s villains and urging you to tune in during the same Bat-time on the same Bat-channel. 

Initially, a Batman movie was going to be shot before the TV series, sort of a larger-than-life pilot to introduce audiences to the vivid new world of the character. But ABC’s ratings were in the toilet at the time, and they sped up production on the TV series in order to get it on the boob tube as quickly as possible. Premiering in January of 1966, the show was an instant success, airing two times a week to the delight of millions of Americans. 

The idea of doing a movie returned, this time to help sell the film to an even larger audience, particularly in international markets. Intriguingly, color television wasn’t widespread across the globe until the late 60s, so the movie would be the first chance many people overseas would get to see Batman in all its colorful glory. Additionally, Batman merchandise was selling very well at the time thanks to the success of the series; hence the producers saw an opportunity to really strike while the iron was hot. 

In March 1966, Batman The Movie was officially announced in Variety. It was stated that a large portion of the main cast and the bulk of the TV show’s production team would return. What wasn’t known publicly at the time was that the film almost didn’t feature Batman and Robin actors Adam West and Burt Ward. According to a 20th Century Fox memo leaked many years later, the late Adam West was asking for a salary of $150,000, a very large sum indeed for the time. If the studio didn’t agree to that demand, West would accept $100,000, understanding that he would be given a star vehicle the next year at a salary of $125,000. Apparently, Burt Ward was making a similar demand for a substantial raise to star in the film.

batman the movie

Fox balked at this and was prepared to move forward without West or Ward in the roles they made popular. The internal memo revealed they were going to start auditioning new actors immediately in order to stay on schedule… However, deals with the two were met and the dynamic duo went back to the Batcave. West was allegedly paid $100,000, while Ward received $35,000. West did get one of his specific requests met, however: the actor wanted the movie to feature more Bruce Wayne, as the majority of his face was obviously concealed during the TV series. The producers agreed, leading to a handful of extended sequences in the movie featuring Bruce Wayne sans his famous costume. 

At the studio’s request, the story was to feature four of the show’s most popular villains; so it went that Burgess Meredith reprised his iconic Penguin, Frank Gorshin came back as the Riddler, Cesar Romero returned as The Joker and Julie Newmar was set to play Catwoman once again. 

Principal photography was slated to begin in April of 1966. Still, it was delayed when it became apparent Julie Newmar was not going to be able to fulfill her obligation to the part of Catwoman. The reason why has been debated over the years: Some say it was thanks to a conflict in her schedule, as she was just about to start work on another project, while it’s also been suggested that she had sustained an injury and was unable to perform the physicality needed for the role. Either way, Newmar was replaced with former Miss America Lee Meriwether, and production was pushed back approximately two weeks. Meriwether had only appeared in one movie prior to Batman but was a regular fixture on television. According to the actress, the catsuit was very uncomfortable to wear, so much so that she’d get third-degree burns on her shoulders when outside in the heat. Meeeouch.

The Batman: The Movie script was evidently written in ten days by Lorenzo Semple Jr., who’d written several episodes for the series. Shooting would take place over the course of about 30 days in Los Angeles. The budget for Batman was estimated to be some twenty times the cost of a single episode, indicating the studio’s faith in the project. The larger budget allowed for some cool new Bat-toys to be introduced to the world, such as the Bat-copter and the Bat-boat. The latter was an original creation by a company called Glastron Industries, which was based in Texas. As a thanks to their work on the film, the studio held the world premiere of the film at the company’s headquarters in Austin. The helicopter, however, was an already-functioning vehicle which the studio leased for $750 a day. 

One of the film’s most memorable sequences is an absolutely hilarious bit where Batman tries in vain to dispose of a bomb. The sequence goes on for an amusingly long stretch of time, about three minutes, but according to West, shooting it took somewhere in the neighborhood of five hours. West mused that it was fortunate he was in good shape at the time, otherwise, he wouldn’t have been able to run around like that all day. 

A much scarier incident happened during filming in a water tank on Fox’s ranch in Malibu, when Batman and Robin are infiltrating the Penguin’s submarine. One of the stuntmen playing a henchman of the Penguin’s dove into the water and hit his head on a pole just underneath the water’s surface. He was knocked unconscious and apparently went unnoticed for a brief amount of time; thankfully, when he was retrieved, he was brought to the hospital and ended up okay. 

The film’s most infamous sequence involves a rubber shark and, naturally, some shark repellent to get rid of it. While apparently no qualms were raised about this ridiculous-looking effect during production, evidently, producers weren’t happy with the final result of this scene because of the sound effects of Batman punching the shark – because of course, that’s what’s silly about this scene, the sound effects. Adam West reminded them that the shark looked incredibly fake; hence, the sound effects didn’t really matter. After all, this was “Batman.”

One thing Adam West and Burt Ward had to be thankful for was that they only had to focus on one script for the entirety of the shoot. What do we mean by that? On the series, sometimes they would be shooting sequences for multiple episodes on the same day – meaning if they were shooting in a particular location that would pop up in a handful of episodes, shooting material for two or three different episodes that same day would be more efficient. This of course, would lead to some confusion for West and Ward, who sometimes didn’t know which episode they were working on at any given time. This wasn’t a very common phenomenon, but it would happen occasionally out of necessity. Clearly, it wasn’t an issue on the movie set. 

Batman The Movie came out in August of ’66, mere months after production had started. As mentioned, the premiere was held in Austin, Texas, where several of the actors actually showed up in costume.

The film didn’t do exceptionally well in the States, but it broke even with around $4 million in gross. One theory for this was that the audience didn’t want to pay for something they were already watching on television. However, the film played better in international territories, where the “Batman” series wasn’t quite well known. At the very least, the brand was expanding. 

Even though it wasn’t a box office hit, a sequel to it was tentatively planned by the studio; it would’ve come out between seasons two and three, just as the first movie came out between seasons one and two. But as season two aired, the ratings for the show began to sag. Batman fatigue was settling in. This led to the decision to scrap the Batman Movie sequel, which would have focused on the introduction of Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, who was ultimately brought into the third and final season of the series. 

But as we’re well aware, that was far from the end of Batman. Thanks to persevering on the comic book page for decades, Batman returned to big-screen life in 1989 and hasn’t looked back. Having appeared in over a dozen movies in both live-action and animated form, Batman is still probably the most famous superhero in the world. Whether he’s gleefully dancing the Batusi or busting heads in a neo-noir hellscape, the Caped Crusader keeps coming back again and again, and neither a bomb nor a bullet nor a shark can hope to stop him. Holy longevity, Batman! 

About the Author

Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for JoBlo.com. He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.