Batman Begins Was Inspired By A Very Different DC Film

"Batman Begins" launched a new cinematic era for the DC superhero that brought the Caped Crusader to a darker, grittier Gotham City. Despite this bleaker depiction, director Christopher Nolan was more inspired by the heroic icon of cheery hope, Superman himself, than any previous film incarnations of the Dark Knight. More specifically, Nolan points to Richard Donner's seminal 1978 "Superman" movie as one of his main sources of inspiration.

Batman has always been associated with the darker side of comic book superheroes. Despite the innocent, silly years of the 1960's television show and Joel Schumacher's campy contributions to the film franchise, the character's 1939 debut in "Detective Comics" #27 reflected the more morally ambiguous sleuths of the era's pulp comics. Batman saw a return to the shadows in the late 1980's, when Frank Miller's minseries "The Dark Knight Returns" proved the character's potential for mature storytelling and inspired Tim Burton's subsequent "Batman" films. In this way, the grim, complex themes of Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy aren't necessarily what makes the films stand out from other Batman stories. Rather, it's the way Nolan approaches the material from a view grounded in reality despite Batman's status as a larger-than-life icon. 

For this take, the director ironically turned to the bright-eyed symbol of optimism that was Richard Donner's "Superman."

A grounded, flying Man of Steel

Now a commonplace trend, the idea of rebooting blockbuster franchises wasn't much of a concept back in 2005 when "Batman Begins" debuted. Christopher Nolan was left with the challenge of making a character that had already been a part of popular culture for decades seem brand new and fresh. Tim Burton's films were distinct from the goofier, lighter versions of Batman that came before and after, but they were also distinctly branded with the director's trademark style of gothic fantasy. Nolan instead turned to cinema's first true superhero blockbuster to inform his work, a tale about an icon that exists in the world of everyday people.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan explains the difference between the previous depictions of the two characters:

" [Burton's "Batman"] left this interesting gap in pop-culture, which is you know, you had Superman in 1978, but they never did the sort of 1978 Batman, where you see the origin story, where the world is pretty much the world we live in but there's this extraordinary figure there... What I loved about Superman was the way New York felt like New York, or rather Metropolis felt like New York. Metropolis felt like a city you could recognize — and then there was this guy flying through the streets."

"Batman Begins" may have its share of surface-level outlandish concepts like secret ninja clans and fear toxin gases just as "Superman" has its reverse-rotating earth, but both feel like they take place in a world not too different from our own. The more grounded settings allow for more exploration of how these heroes can relate to and rise above humanity, not to mention adding weight to the action. "Batman Begins" is certainly darker than "Superman," but Nolan's influence added that distinct touch of realism and relatability that made the film such an important chapter in the history of the Dark Knight.