Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores how Warner Brothers’ marketing team drummed up hype for 1989’s Batman.
While George Lucas deserves a big, steaming pile of credit for pioneering some of the more insidious practices of movie marketing, one film truly cemented the playbook for how to sell the modern blockbuster: 1989’s Batman.
After simmering away in a development crockpot for well over a decade, Warner Bros. approached animator-turned director Tim Burton who’d scored box office hits off the darker projects Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. The production was faced with a tall order. “It can’t be comprehended today,” executive producer Michael E. Uslan told The Washington Post in a 2019 profile. “There was no respect for superheroes or their creators.”
The question of how to market a mature, big-budget Batman movie to audiences was simultaneously a fool’s errand and a herculean task. And, in the end, the effort ultimately revolutionized the modern blockbuster, including the marketing and merchandising around action-hero films.
The dazzling cavalcade kicked off towards the end of 1988, and as Warner Bros. ratcheted things tighter and tighter until the release of the film, it felt like the Super Bowl. It was an event film before the idea of “event films” entered the common parlance. From branded clothing to minimalist posters to dueling best-selling albums (one from composer Danny Elfman, the other from pop superstar Prince), Batman made audiences everywhere go a little, well, batty.
The video essay below offers a thorough rundown of how Batman revolutionized the marketing of event films, from the unique circumstances of the Time Warner merger to the sneaky ways the studio used advertisements to test the waters of audience expectations and devise a way to get money from kids too young to see the film in theaters. For better or for worse (it’s probably for worse, isn’t it?), Batman set the standard for how big movies sell themselves. Here’s how they did it:
Watch “Batman (1989): How Warner Bros. Engineered BATMANIA”:
Who made this?
This video essay on the marketing machine behind “Batmania” is by CinemaTyler. The Brooklyn-based creator has been providing some of the most in-depth analyses of auteur-driven cinema on YouTube for some time now. You can check out their YouTube channel here. CinemaTyler’s scholarship on Stanley Kubrick, particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey, is noteworthy, and absolutely worth seeking out.
More videos like this
- Here’s another taste of CinemaTyler’s work: a video that explores why Stanley Kubrick shot so many takes.
- And here’s another video essay from CinemaTyler on the controversy and miraculous survival of Jean Renoir’s 1937 anti-war film, La Grande Illusion.
- Here’s a favorite of this channel, In Praise of Shadows, with a nearly feature-length rundown on the on-screen history of the caped crusader.
- A blast from the past, here’s an interview with Batman director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton promoting the film.
- And, finally, please do yourself a favor and watch Prince‘s music video for “Batdance” in its entirety. You can thank me later.