A Brief History of People Comparing Their Movies to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Series
This week, an interview with Bryan Cranston made the rounds in which the actor compared the new Power Rangers movie to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Baffling as that analogy may seem, it’s far from the first time that we’ve heard an actor, director, or producer compare a forthcoming project to Nolan’s Batman — something that’s become shorthand for “gritty reboot.” Here, we’ve collected a brief history of the many, many, MANY times that people have compared their films to Nolan’s Batman. And as you might imagine, most — if not all — of these were nothing like those films.
It all started back in 2010 — or at least it seems that way according to Google, which only allows you to dive so deep to uncover the origins of people comparing their films to Nolan’s Batman. Back then, Sony scrapped Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 (via Variety) and moved up their plans to reboot the character, tapping Zodiac scribe James Vanderbilt for a “gritty, contemporary” take on Peter Parker which they compared to Batman Begins. (That film was never made, by the way.)
Later that year, writer / producer Damon Lindelof compared Star Trek Into Darkness to The Dark Knight in an interview with E!, in which he cited Nolan’s film as an influence because “It was really about something, and at the same time it was a superhero movie.” What a mind-blowing concept! I mean, when you put it that way, it’s as if Nolan single-handedly revolutionized superhero movies by making one that actually has “ideas” and “themes” — y’know, like a real movie.
Like Batman Begins, Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class followed a couple of disappointing installments in the franchise (see, now I’m making the comparison), and his plan to course-correct the series involved taking a page from Nolan’s playbook. While speaking with IGN in 2011, Vaughn said: “You know, what Batman Begins did for all those Batman movies? We bloody well need it.” To be fair, he went on to admit that First Class wouldn’t be as good as Nolan’s Bat-reboot.
Then we get to 2012, when Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige casually compared The Avengers to The Dark Knight (which he hadn’t yet seen), telling Comic Book Resources that the superhero ensemble project was “very different,” though the tone was somewhat serious. Feige name-checked the director again in an interview with Wired, where he said Nolan’s Batman was “the greatest thing that ever happened.” Presumably he means “to superhero movies” and not to life itself.
These comparisons are also kind of dismissive of Tim Burton’s Batman films, which not only introduced audiences to a great new take on the character, but were actually really good. In 2012, even Burton himself compared what he did with Batman to what Nolan did years later, when he said “I always get told that my material is dark, but nowadays my version of Batman looks like a lighthearted romp in comparison to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight.”
That same year, Man of Steel scribe David S. Goyer told Flickering Myth that Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot was “in the same place” as Nolan’s Batman in terms of successfully launching a fresh version of the character. Goyer also wrote Batman Begins, so he’s in a better position to make that comparison than, say, the writer of a Star Trek sequel. Still, he’s outranked by the very man who inspired this relentless wave of gritty reboot analogies in the first place.
Nolan contradicted Goyer in a statement to Ace Showbiz, in which he says that Man of Steel is only “somewhat” similar to his Batman films and he “wouldn’t want people to think we’re doing for Superman what we did for Batman.” But with Nolan serving as executive producer on Man of Steel and Snyder running off the rails with his gritty version of the iconic hero, that’s exactly what people thought. Maybe Goyer and Snyder should have taken Nolan’s advice: “Superman is a completely different character than Batman. So you can’t in anyway use the same template.”
But what about for non-superhero reboots, like Total Recall? In an effort to convince audiences that the mediocre remake was actually good, Colin Farrell told Metro UK that people “should be comparing it to The Dark Knight, Chris Nolan’s stuff – the last two or three films he’s done.”
The next year, Terminator Genisys director Alan Taylor told /Film that he admired Nolan’s approach to Batman, which honored previous versions while elevating the material. He learned the right lesson from Nolan — he just couldn’t apply it to his own reboot.
And then there’s Pan. Remember Pan? You know, Joe Wright’s already-forgotten reimagining of Peter Pan starring Hugh Jackman? When it was first announced in 2013, THR said Warner Bros. was giving the project the “Batman Begins treatment.” I’d hate to imagine what the “Batman Forever treatment” might be.
When Sam Mendes spoke with Indiewire about Skyfall, he cited Nolan’s The Dark Knight as a huge influence on his James Bond film. Unlike other filmmakers, however, Mendes not only had a much better understanding of why Nolan’s film was a hit with fans, but what made it so successful in the studio system:
We’re now in an industry where movies are very small or very big and there’s almost nothing in the middle. And it would be a tragedy if all the serious movies were very small and all the popcorn movies were very big and have nothing to say. And what Nolan proved was that you can make a huge movie that is thrilling and entertaining and has a lot to say about the world we live in.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is last year’s Fantastic Four reboot, with producer Simon Kinberg telling The Huffington Post back in 2015 that “The tone of this movie will feel as unique as when you saw Iron Man, X-Men, or Batman Begins for the first time.” He went on to describe the film as “grounded” — which is not-so-subtle code for “gritty,” which is also not-so-subtle code for “it’s like Nolan’s Batman movies.”
That abandoned Spider-Man reboot from 2010 isn’t the only time a new Spidey film was compared to Nolan’s Batman movies. Last year, in an interview with IGN, Marvel’s Kevin Feige explained that Jon Watts’ forthcoming reboot is similar to Nolan’s first Bat film in that “there were four Batman movies over however many years and then Batman Begins was able to do something unique, tap into a side that hadn’t been seen before in the movies.” He then offered the customary “Of course the tone is completely different than Batman.”
Less surprising is Margot Robbie’s interview with MTV about Suicide Squad, in which the actress says David Ayer’s super-villain ensemble is more like The Dark Knight than The Avengers. Well, yeah, of course.
Perhaps most baffling is the trailer for Sharknado 3, which dared to compare itself to both The Lord of the Rings and — wait for it — The Dark Knight. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
That brings us to this year, and Bryan Cranston saying that the new Power Rangers is “as different a reimagining as the Batman television series as it became the [The Dark Knight] movie series. You can’t compare those two, and nor can you compare this movie version of the Power Rangers to that television series.” Okay.
And finally, even the President of these United States, Barack Obama, used The Dark Knight as a point of comparison — drawing an analogy between Nolan’s Batman sequel and ISIS. I hope that qualifies as a mic drop because I’m not sure where you go from there.
A History of Batman On Screen, In Pictures