The expectations couldn't be higher for Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight follow-up, The Dark Knight Rises (which hits theaters this weekend, for those of you living in ... I don't know, some kind of cave). Seeing as the Batman franchise has gone through some extreme ups and downs in the 70-odd years since first being adapted by Hollywood, we here at Grantland thought we'd offer a bit of perspective. Here are a few handpicked highlights (and lowlights):
Batman Dances, Batman (1966)
Jonah Keri: Batman walks into a groovy '60s bar. Gets propositioned by a seductress named Molly. Molly asks the Caped Crusader to dance. Batman sneaks in a light neg:
"You interest me, strangely."
... then relents:
"I accept your invitation."
Dance perfection ensues.
"You shake a pretty mean cake, Batman."
Shark Attack, Batman: The Movie
Sarah Larimer: Honestly, I don't even know where to start, because I love everything that happens here. I love that the Bat Ladder is labeled. I love that Batman keeps all his wits about him. I love that Robin kind of sucks as a helicopter pilot. (Right? Also, WTF does "increase sink rate" mean, Batman? Why can't you just say "Go lower"?) I love that they travel with shark-repellent spray. And barracuda-repellent spray. And manta ray–repellent spray. And whale-repellent spray.
Also, that shark. Holy nightmare!
Bryan Curtis: Ever seen the original onscreen Batman? From the 1930s and '40s? He was ... portly. Fat. He was Fatman. Actor Lewis Wilson's girth — if I remember my fanboy literature — was one of the absurd parts of the early serials. You can see a bit of his gut here, in "The Electrical Brain." Wait till they get a load of ... this load.
Batman vs. Bane, Batman: The Animated Series
Rembert Browne: If The Dark Knight Rises, featuring a potentially epic battle between Bane and Batman, is half as good as the cartoon version of their first encounter, this will be one of the great movies of our time. I just don't know if Christopher Nolan has it in him to match the nightmares this episode gave me 18 years ago, due to this Bane death sequence:
Or was he ...
Either way, I still haven't fully recovered.
The Riddler's Best Riddles, Batman (1966–68)
Sean Fennessey: Things not happening here: Christopher Nolan, darkness, morality, Christian Bale's gravel voice, death, consequences, a billion-dollar franchise, flipping 16-wheelers, awkward Anne Hathaway/Michelle Pfeiffer cat-suit jokes, Batwings, violence, Katie Holmes acting lessons, art, Danny DeVito's penguin hands, Michael Caine quippery, more morality, Tom Hardy's vocal muffler, half of Harvey Dent's face, helicopters, Evil Liam Neeson, a burning pile of money, The Final Chapter of a Trilogy, Tom Wilkinson as an Italian mobster, Mayor Richard from Lost, Rutger Hauer, Tim Burton's id, "Batdance."
Things happening here: Frank Gorshin telling riddles. Cancel those Friday-night tickets. Gorshin is always free.
Mr. Freeze, Batman & Robin
Emily Yoshida: I believe I saw Batman & Robin in the theater during a church youth-group field trip, and when I wasn't sneaking in and out of the theater to feed my Tamagotchi I remember Ahnold's puns being pretty solid ... ICE SOLID!!
Bill Simmons: There's never been a worse Batman.
There will never be a worse Batman.
Two-Face and the Riddler, Batman Forever
Dan Silver: Two-Face and the Riddler are not the first characters that come to mind when discussing the filmographies of Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey. But based on the final product, it’s clear these were roles they were born to play. And I highly doubt that cinema will ever see an onscreen pairing of two such prolific scenery eaters, duking it out like they did, ever again. Say what you will about Batman Forever (and there’s a whole lot … neon, nipples, nightmares, Nicole, and those are just words that start with the letter “n”), but because of TLJ's and Carrey’s hyperbolic performances, I find this to be the most re-watchable film from Batman’s '90s cinematic incarnation (back when the villains were the stars, and the Bat was the story devise to drive their performance). After Burton’s semi–Alan Moore–inspired dealings with the caped crusader, it was a logical and smart choice for new director Joel Schumacher (handpicked by Burton) to bring in some retro swinging '60s into Burton’s brooding world (in an all-too-cheeky reference, Robin even utters the line “Holy rusted metal, Batman." The problem was, Schumacher is an awful director who doesn’t know how to bake his narrative without a ton of cheese in it. So in the end, the only two guys who seem to get the whole “living cartoon” conceit were Jones and Carrey.
Harvey Dent's Press Conference, The Dark Knight
Juliet Litman: Aaron Eckhart delivers his speech at the end of the The Dark Knight with so much dignity and gravitas that I spent about three years believing that "night is darkest just before the dawn" was a Christopher Nolan original. Thankfully, Florence + The Machine came along to disabuse me of this notion, but not before I repeated it with similar attempted-earnestness at Blockbuster (R.I.P.) while the checkout guy laughed at me. I guess it's Tom Hardy's turn to convince me that an age-old adage was written specifically for the Nolan-iverse.
Michael Caine Talks The Dark Knight Rises With ITN
Tess Lynch: I think this is the second-best impersonation of Michael Caine I've ever seen. Get a load of this guy! Claiming that Chris Nolan showed up at his house with a script clutched in Velcro claws like a spoilers-paranoid Gollum; standing under one of those transparent umbrellas wetly pretending to be on the red carpet; hawking Cars 2. Maybe Michael Caine used to talk like that in the 1960s, right, but that. Has. Changed. Let me finish. All of the cigars and the brandies — don't, let me finish — can now be heard in the back of his voice.
Batman Ben, Parks and Recreation
Andy Greenwald: You can have your burly Batmen with their gravelly voices and frustratingly immobile necks and bury 'em all underneath Wayne Manor. I'd rather have Adam Scott, rubber-clad IT guy, in: THE DARK KNIGHT BUFFERS.
R. Kelly, "Gotham City Remix"
Mark Lisanti: Per square foot, Hollywood Boulevard is a more dangerously deranged place than Arkham Asylum, and sometimes the frustrations of keeping the Walk of Fame safe for tourists when it's been overrun by the likes of Panhandling Freddy Kruger and Filthy Chewbacca push Batman past his boiling point. As pitch-black as Christopher Nolan's vision for the billionaire vigilante is, we've never seen the Dark Knight exasperated enough to abandon his trademark bat-rasp to (somewhat nonsensically) scream "I'll skull-fuck your ass!" at Commissioner Gordon, though, to be fair, we have no idea what kind of heated between-takes exchanges Christian Bale has shared with Gary Oldman after a blown line.