How Superman: The Movie Influenced Batman Begins

Last Updated on April 30, 2023 by Lil Ginge

While Batman Begins was and remains one of the best superhero movies ever made, director Christopher Nolan did stand on the shoulders of a few previous giants. One of those giants strong shoulders happens to be the first blockbuster superhero film, Superman: The Movie. And that film would prove to be a decisive influence on Nolan’s reboot of Batman on film. Let’s see how in what follows.

Superman (Christopher Reeve) flying against the backdrop of Metropolis in a still image from Superman: The Movie.
I believed a man could fly.

Batman, Superman, and Realism

While Tim Burton’s launch of the Batman film franchise in 1989 had some elements of realism, the film did not explain a lot about the functioning of its main character. Where did he get those wonderful toys? How did he learn to fight? Why did he decide to become a bat-themed superhero? We could make assumptions, but we didn’t have any definitive answers as to the details of Batman’s origin from within the film itself.

Christopher Nolan wanted to provide us with realistically-driven answers to those and many more questions about Batman’s origin. As well as his day-to-day functioning as the caped crusader. In essence, Nolan wanted to demonstrate what it would be like for an extraordinary hero like Batman to show up in a realistic world that approximates ours.

Superman: The Movie laid out the template for this. In that film, Superman is an extraordinary figure in a rather ordinary world. Once Superman arrives on Earth, all of the other characters are human beings without any superpowers. Lex Luthor’s plot is a relatively realistic one comprised of stealing and launching nuclear weapons. This type of cataclysmic threat is an ever-present threat in our real contemporary world as it was in the 1970s when Richard Donner made the film.

Nolan took his inspiration for how to create this dynamic in Batman Begins from Superman: The Movie. Although both films are big-budget, effects-driven action spectacles, they both work so well because the action and the explosive hero in the center are grounded in a realistic world. Compare and contrast this with – say – Guardians of the Galaxy or Justice League – which both seem to have little to do with the everyday world which you and I inhabit.

Batman confronting a criminal in Batman Begins. The film is a traditional hero's journey.
He’s Batman.

Characters and Casting

Superman: The Movie included a group of emotionally resonant and memorable characters apart from the film’s main protagonist These included: 

  • love interest Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) 
  • big bad Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) 
  • Superman’s dad Jor-El (Marlon Brando) 
  • Clark Kent’s boss Perry White (Jackie Cooper) 
  • Luther’s oafish sidekick, Otis (Ned Beatty)
  • Superman’s adopted father, Jonathan Kent (Glenn Ford)

Not only does the film take its time to develop each of these characters and make them emotionally resonate with us, but Donner cast a major Hollywood star or character actor in almost every one of those roles. At the time, Superman (Christopher Reeve) and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) were probably the least recognizable main actors in the film.

These two facts – the highly developed characters and the strong assortment of A-list actors playing them – were not coincidental. By casting strong and familiar Hollywood faces in these roles, Superman: The Movie was able to create emotional resonance, dimension, and gravitas in these characters. 

Christopher Nolan recognized this and wanted to replicate it in Batman Begins by casting each major supporting character with a talented, A-list star These include:

  • Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine)
  • Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman)
  • Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson)
  • Ras al Ghul (Ken Watanabe)
  • Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes)
  • Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman)

At the time all of these actors were either very famous celebrities or massive and well-known Hollywood talents – in most cases both. By taking the casting of the film seriously, it expanded the emotional core of the film. It also allowed a comparatively little-known actor – Christian Bale – to thrive in the central role of Bruce Wayne / Batman without having to carry the entire film by himself.

Batman and Superman with their uniforms mixed up

Hope As a Central Theme

Part of the enduring appeal of Superman as a character is that he stands for hope in a world that can often seem hopeless. Although Batman is a darker and grittier character – often portrayed as driven by an agenda that borders on pure vengeance – hope is also an important element of his symbolism and persona. 

Again taking his cues from Superman: The Movie – which is about a humanoid alien coming to Earth to help save it from the forces of evil – Nolan wanted to explore the idea of Batman as a beacon of hope for Gotham City. A Gotham City that seems irreparably broken, dangerous, corrupt, and hopeless.

Indeed, part of the reason Bruce Wayne adopts the Batman persona at all in Batman Begins is to show the citizens of Gotham City that it’s their city and doesn’t belong to the criminals and corrupt. The people of Gotham have the ability to fight and take their city back, allowing it to thrive on the principles of justice, goodness, and light. Batman represents the hope remaining that Gotham can indeed be reconquered by its people from the darkness.

In the end, Nolan’s decision to take Superman: The Movie as a major inspiration paid off. “Batman Begins” was a critical and commercial success, and it helped to revitalize the superhero genre. General audiences now consider Batman Begins to be one of the best Batman films ever made. And this testifies to Nolan’s skill as a filmmaker.1

If you enjoyed this article on Superman: The Movie‘s Influence on Batman Begins, you may also want to check out my articles:

  1. The Art and Making of the Dark Knight Trilogy [Print Replica] Kindle Edition by Jody Duncan Jesser (Author), Janine Pourroy (Author), & 3 m []
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