Why Kevin Feige Thinks Batman & Robin Is One Of The Most Important Comic Book Movies Ever Made

25 years on, "Batman & Robin" remains as maligned as when it debuted. Even as rankings of Batman movies grow longer and longer, it stays near the bottom. Director Joel Schumacherscreenwriter Akiva Goldsman, and star George Clooney have all disparaged the film since. But one of the most insightful observations of "Batman & Robin" and its rotten legacy came from someone not involved in the production: Kevin Feige, the current president of Marvel Studios and architect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While many Bat-fans might be content to forget about "Batman & Robin," Feige argues that the film holds an important place in the history of comic book movies.

Feige's thoughts

In 2009, when the MCU had just begun, Feige paid "Batman & Robin" a backhanded compliment. Speaking with The L.A. Times, Feige said, "[Batman & Robin] may be the most important comic-book movie ever made. It was so bad that it demanded a new way of doing things. It created the opportunity to do 'X-Men' and 'Spider-Man,' adaptations that respected the source material and adaptations that were not campy."

It's revealing to compare Feige's comment with those of the actual cast and crew of "Batman and Robin." Their comments reek of embarrassment, especially Schumacher's apology when interviewed by Vice: "I want to apologize to every fan that was disappointed because I think I owe them that." 

Feige, on the other hand, could look at the film's impact through the eyes of someone who was not directly involved with it. If one tracks how superhero movies changed following "Batman & Robin," they'll notice a shift that confirms Feige's argument. And he should know, as he was there to witness this sea change firsthand. 

During the 1990s, Feige worked as an assistant to producer Laura Shuler Donner. When she produced "X-Men," she brought him on board as a producer due to his Marvel comic knowledge. It didn't take long for him to meet Avi Arad, the founder of Marvel Studios and then chief creative officer of Marvel. Arad hired Feige as a producer Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man," and in five years' time, Feige would be president of production of the studio Arad had founded.

How superhero movies changed with the millennium

The story of 21st century Hollywood is the story of the superhero. There had been superhero movies before, from Richard Donner's "Superman" to Tim Burton's "Batman" and a handful of others, but it was only in the 2000s that comic book adaptations became a multiplex staple. While Feige cites them collectively, "X-Men" and "Spider-Man" represent two separate inflection points. "X-Men" proved there was a viable approach beyond camp for silver screen superheroes, but the stripped-down aesthetic and "The Matrix"-inspired costumes concealed a still-there embarrassment with the source material. "Spider-Man" was the true birth of the modern superhero film, embracing the comics so much that the film felt like Steve Ditko's original drawings were brought to life. 

"Hulk" producer James Schamus even told Collider he was worried about his film after seeing "Spider-Man." "I was like, dude, I think that there's now a genre. And you don't mess with genre, frankly," he said.

If one looks past Marvel and focuses on the Batman franchise, they'll see the effect of "Batman & Robin" even more clearly. Every subsequent Batman, from Christian Bale's Dark Knight to Ben Affleck's Caped Crusader to Robert Pattinson's freshly debuted take on the World's Greatest Detective, air on the side of grim and gritty. "Batman V Superman" is probably the closest we'll ever get to an adaptation of Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns," the comic that helped popularize the broody Batman. A lighthearted Batman in the vein of Adam West or comic book artist Dick Sprang has been confined to animation and will likely be staying there for the foreseeable future.

As the saying goes, things needed to get worse before they got better. Feige's hypothesis about "Batman & Robin" certainly applied, for out the ashes of that film's failure, Batman — and all superheroes — reached heights onscreen that they'd never reached before.