Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” radically changed pop culture’s understanding of a superhero movie to such a degree that no other Batman movie (or comic book movie, for that matter) in the years since has been able to match that bar. Until now, maybe. As Variety film critic Peter Debruge writes in his rave review of Matt Reeves’ “The Batman,” a darker and more serious Caped Crusader film has been made in the shape of a film noir and “it registers among the best of the superhero movie genre.” It seems like moviegoers are finally getting a worthy successor to “The Dark Knight.”
Just as Christopher Nolan drew from non-comic book films while imagining the world of “The Dark Knight” (Michael Mann’s action epic “Heat” is one of the film’s primary influences), so too do did Matt Reeves for “The Batman.” The filmmaker took a deep dive into several New Hollywood classics from the 1970s, including “Chinatown” and “The French Connection.” These were films that rebelled against studio system norms and depicted brutality onscreen with visceral force. “The Batman” more or less does the same with the comic book tentpole.
With “The Batman” swooping down into theaters, check out the 15 films and comics that most inspired Reeves and star Robert Pattinson during the making of the latest Caped Crusader epic.
Anyone curious why Reeves cast Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman should watch “Good Time,” the Safdie Brothers’ 2017 crime thriller in which Pattinson plays a desperate criminal who goes to extreme lengths to free his brother from jail. Reeves told Esquire that “Good Time” is what sold him on casting Pattinson in “The Batman.”
“In the process of writing the movie, I watched ‘Good Time,’ and I thought, ‘Okay, he’s got an inner kind of rage that connects with this character and a dangerousness, and I can feel this desperation.’ And I became dead-set on it being Rob,” Reeves said. “And I had no idea if Rob had any interest! Because, of course, he had done all of these indie movies after he established himself in Twilight.’”
Reeves called Roman Polanski’s 1976 noir classic “Chinatown” a key inspiration on “The Batman.” Speaking at DC Fandome back in August 2020, the filmmaker explained, “In ‘Chinatown,’ Jake Gittes [Jack Nicholson’s character], in investigating that series of crimes that were part of that story, he discovers the depth of corruption in Los Angeles. It’s a classic noir, and the series of murders Batman is investigating are very much in that mode.”
The French Connection
Reeves has cited in interviews many film touchstones of the 1970s while discussing his inspirations for “The Batman.” William Friedkin’s 1971 masterpiece “The French Connection” influenced “The Batman’s” grounded perspective and street-level atmosphere. Reeves wanted to place the viewer in as seedy and raw of a cityscape as Friedkin did. As the director said at DC Fandome, he was trying to capture in “The Batman” the same kind of “70s street-grounded story” as Friedkin’s “The French Connection.”
“That idea of gritty, flawed humanity was very much inspired by those kinds of movies, like ‘The French Connection,’ and cop movies like that, and even a movie like ‘Taxi Driver,’ in the description of a place and getting inside someone’s head,” Reeves said.
Batman: Ego and Other Tales
Matt Reeves said at DC Fandome that Darwyn Cooke’s 2000 comic book “Batman: Ego and Other Tales” inspired him to make “The Batman” an examination and a deconstruction of Bruce Wayne’s mental strife. The filmmaker said, “I wanted to get into the mindset of the character, and I wanted to think of the psychology. For me, I think one of the cool deep dive ones was ‘Ego.’ He’s confronting the beast that is Batman and it’s that kind of duality. There’s a lot in what it’s trying to do in the story about him confronting the shadow side of himself and the degree to which you have self-knowledge.”
Reeves added: “You’re able to understand his motivations, but Batman [is broken] and why he’s doing all of these things for the reasons that he thinks is right and that have a heroic sort of grounding in them. There’s also many things that are driven by the parts of himself he doesn’t yet know, and so I would say that that kind of sort of psychological union, that sort of version is very much connected to the vision from Darwyn Cooke’s ‘Ego.’”
Pattinson later told Den of Geek that ‘Ego’ influenced how he approached juxtaposing Batman with Bruce Wayne. The actor said, “The Bruce part of it in this movie is probably the most different because he’s a weirdo as Bruce and as Batman. He’s fully committed to being Batman and he’s just not seen by the city at all…He has no desire to be Bruce in this, and he wants to just throw it away. He thinks this is the way he can save himself, by living in this kind of Zen state as Batman, where it’s just pure instinct and no emotional baggage.”
Batman: Year Two
While Bruce Wayne is considerably younger in Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” than he was in Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, among other big screen iterations of the Caped Crusader, Reeves’ film is not an origin story. The filmmaker took inspiration from Mike W. Barr’s “Batman: Year Two” in his decision to set the movie in Bruce’s second year as a masked vigilante. In both the comic and the film, Bruce already has a relationship set up with the Gotham police, although he’s still working out a few Batman kinks.
“The idea is that we’re in Year Two, it’s the Gotham experiment; it’s a criminological experiment,” Reeves said at DC Fandome. “He’s trying to figure out what he can do that can finally change this place. You see he’s not having any of the effect he wants to have, and that’s when the murders start to happen. The murders begin to describe the history of Gotham in a way that only reinforces what he knows about Gotham, and it opens up a whole new world of corruption that went much further.”
Matt Reeves has stated repeatedly that his iteration of the Riddler, played in “The Batman” by Paul Dano, was inspired by the real-life Zodiac Killer, which makes David Fincher’s 2007 crime saga “Zodiac” a great companion film to Reeves’ vision. The director told MovieMaker magazine, “The premise of the movie is that the Riddler is kind of molded in an almost Zodiac Killer sort of mode, and is killing very prominent figures in Gotham. And they are the pillars of society.”
Elaborating on the Zodiac comparison to Den of Geek, Reeves said, “When you look at the Zodiac Killer, who was leaving all of these ciphers and puzzles and taunting the police and the newspapers, I thought, ‘That sounds like the Riddler!’ [Zodiac] made a costume that, frankly, isn’t so different from Batman. You have a guy who basically went around in a black hood, dressed in black, with an insignia on his chest. And it was utterly terrifying to think that somebody did that. And I thought, well, maybe there’s an iteration of the Riddler that does that.”
Dennis O’Neil’s 1989-1990 comic book series “Batman: Shaman” became a touchstone for Pattinson’s performance as Bruce Wayne. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly last month, the actor said he fell in love with O’Neil’s interpretation of Batman. “It’s almost a dream state the whole time,” Pattinson said of the comic book series. “I was like, ‘Oh, that hasn’t really been touched on.’ There’s a kind of mysticism to it.”
“Batman: Shaman” finds Bruce Wayne being saved by a shaman after injuring himself in the Alaskan mountains. This is in the days before his tenure as Batman begins. The shaman tells Bruce a myth about how bats learned to fly, which partly inspires Bruce’s journey into becoming the Caped Crusader. Pattinson said the “mysticism” of the comic even inspired how he moved in the Batsuit.
“In other iterations of the suit, because of the way you move, you kind of have to be more of like a tank. And in this one, it felt like it was such a shock how smoothly you could move. You kind of end up moving like more of a wraith,” Pattinson said. “There’s a scene right in the beginning of the movie where I’m kind of crouching over, investigating this dead body. And I really wanted [it to feel like] a sort of druid. I was also thinking there’s some kind of link when you look at like Viking warriors or something: You put on this outfit, and you genuinely believe that you have power afterward. And I was thinking that Bruce kind of thinks that.”
Matt Reeves told Den of Geek that Gus Van Sant’s Kurt Cobain biographical drama “Last Days” was a major inspiration on his interpretation of Bruce Wayne/Batman, as he wanted Bruce to feel like an angsty, Cobain-inspired outsider. Listening to Nirvana even became a practice for Reeves while he was writing “The Batman” script.
“Early on, when I was writing, I started listening to Nirvana, and there was something about [‘Nevermind’ song] ‘Something in the Way’, which is in the first trailer, which is part of the voice of that character,” Reeves told Esquire. “When I considered, ‘How do you do Bruce Wayne in a way that hasn’t been seen before?’ I started thinking, ‘What if some tragedy happened [i.e., Wayne sees his parents murdered] and this guy becomes so reclusive, we don’t know what he’s doing? Is this guy some kind of wayward, reckless drug addict?’ And the truth is that he is a kind of drug addict. His drug is his addiction to this drive for revenge. He’s like a Batman Kurt Cobain.”
Alan J. Pakula’s 1971 film “Klute” stars Donald Sutherland as a police detective who becomes romantically drawn to a call girl (Jane Fonda in an Oscar winning role) involved in the murder he’s investigating. Matt Reeves told Den of Geek that the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in “The Batman” was inspired by the dynamic between Sutherland and Fonda in “Klute.”
“Klute’s such a straight arrow and he seems so naïve. I think he judges her and he assumes because of the world she’s in that she is a certain kind of person,” Reeves said. “And yet he can’t help but be drawn to her, and he can’t help but be affected by her. He’s putting himself above her only to discover that he’s deeply connected to her.”
All the President’s Men
Matt Reeves has said in countless interviews that “The Batman” is first and foremost a detective story, which is where Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 Watergate drama “All the President’s Men” factored into his inspiration. Pakula’s film was billed to viewers as “the most devastating detective story of this century,” and that’s exactly the direction Reeves wanted to take with “The Batman.” As the filmmaker told Moviemaker magazine, “This story is, in addition to being almost a horror movie, and a thriller, and an action movie, at its core, it’s also very much a detective story.”
As Polygon noted, two characters in “The Batman” — Gotham Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) and District Attorney Gil Colson (Peter Sarsgaard) — are named after people involved with Richard Nixon. John Mitchell was Nixon’s Attorney General, and Charles Colson was one of Nixon’s confidantes. Reeves added to Moviemaker, “I wanted to do a story in which the corruption of Gotham was one of the most important aspects of the story, because Gotham is a sick place. Bruce is desperate to try and make a change.”
Colin Farrell stars in “The Batman” as Oswald Cobblepot in the days before he is transformed into the infamous villain Penguin. The actor told MovieMaker magazine that Reeves took inspiration from Francis Ford Coppola’s first two “Godfather” movies when scripting his character. As the actor explained, “There’s a certain amount of brokenness in [Oswald Cobblepot] that, I think, as a reference, not for me performance-wise, but just emotionally, as a reference for Matt — I think Fredo from ‘The Godfather‘ was a bit of a reference.”
Comparisons between “The Batman” and David Fincher’s “Se7en” were ignited immediately after the first trailer for the comic book movie was released in August 2020. One YouTuber went so far as to create a side-by-side viral video comparing the two films to each other. Now that “The Batman” review embargo has lifted, nearly every critic has gone on record calling “Se7en” one of the film’s biggest influences. Rolling Stone critic David Fear even called “The Batman” a part-remake of Fincher’s movie, writing, “Part superhero blockbuster, part 1970s-antihero homage, and part ‘Seven’ remake, the latest take on the Caped Crusader returns him to pulp-fiction roots — with a few psychological twists…To put it bluntly: ‘The Batman’ may not be a full-on ‘Seven’ remake. But it’s not for a lack of trying.”
In an interview with GQ magazine, Pattinson said that Coppola’s 1974 Palme d’Or winner “The Conversation” was one of the first movies Reeves brought up while pitching “The Batman.” The actor said, “I watched a rough cut of the movie by myself. And the first shot is so jarring from any other Batman movie that it’s just kind of a totally different pace. It was what Matt was saying from the first meeting I had with him: ‘I want to do a ’70s noir detective story, like “The Conversation.”‘ And I kind of assumed that meant the mood board or something, the look of it. But from the first shot, it’s, ‘Oh, this actually is a detective story.’”
Pattinson continued, “I feel like an idiot, because I didn’t even know that Batman was ‘the world’s greatest detective’; I hadn’t heard that in my life before — but it really plays. Just ’cause there’s a lot of stuff where he’s in amongst the cops. Normally, when you see Batman he arrives and beats people up. But he’s having conversations, and there are emotional scenes between them, which I don’t think have been in any of the other movies.”
Batman: Year One
“The Batman” takes place in Batman’s second year as the Caped Crusader, but Reeves was still partly inspired by Frank Miller’s landmark comic book series “Batman: Year One.” Miller’s series, published in 1987, centers on Batman’s first year as a masked vigilante and leads up to his first encounter with Gotham City police detective James Gordon. The relationship between Batman and Gordon is a central one in Reeves’ film.
“On a comics front, I did a deep dive and read so many comics,” Reeves told press ahead of “The Batman” release, citing the grounded tone of “Batman: Year One” as one of his biggest influences. “It felt cinematic in a way that reminded me of an American ’70s movie.”
Reeves revealed at the Television Critics Association tour in 2018: “’Year One’ is one of the many comic books that I love. We are definitely not doing ‘Year One.’ [‘The Batman’ tells] a story that’s emotional and yet is really about him being the world’s greatest detective and all the things that for me, since I was a kid, made me love Batman.”
Batman: The Long Halloween
Matt Reeves told Den of Geek that creating the world of “The Batman” started early on from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s “The Long Halloween,” an acclaimed comic book that pits the Caped Crusader against a serial killer hellbent on igniting a mob war in Gotham City. That basic structure takes shape in “The Batman” conflict between Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne and Paul Dano’s Riddler. It turns out Reeves has a special connection with “The Long Halloween” writer Jeph Loeb.
“It’s so weird because I didn’t know ’til I did this deep dive that it was literally my screenwriting teacher from USC – the person who told me that I should become a writer — Jeph Loeb, who wrote those stories,” Reeves said during an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “He was very responsible for me pursuing that because when I went to film school, I was very set on being a director. I’d always written what I was doing as a kid and when I was making short films when I was young because I thought these are the means to get to make a movie.”
Reeves added, “When I was in Loeb’s screenwriting class, he said, ‘You have to continue pursuing this because this is something I feel you can do.’ When I started going through all the comics and I saw that he’d written [them], I was like, ‘This is crazy.’ And I then I loved it.”