The signal is in the sky. The Batman has eclipsed the worldwide box office to become the biggest movie of 2022, and the second pandemic-era release (after Spider-Man: No Way Home) to cross the $100 million mark in its opening weekend. According to Warner Bros.’ estimates, the movie grossed $134 million domestically, and $248.5 million worldwide.
While there are obvious elements to its success — like the fact that it’s a Batman movie — what’s historic is how The Batman raked in eye-watering money in defiance of today’s expectations. With The Batman disconnected from a shared universe and the application of old fashioned Hollywood strategies in a bankable lead star and director-driven vision, the success of The Batman proves some of the old ways are still the best.
The Batman is an event movie. A stand-alone project with no ties to any DC film, The Batman boasts the vision of Matt Reeves (who directed Cloverfield and two films in the acclaimed Planet of the Apes trilogy) and big names, including Robert Pattinson in the title role.
2021 had plenty of major theatrical releases that beckoned audiences back to cinemas, but the success of The Batman proves the record grosses of No Way Home were “not a fluke,” according to Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
“The industry has been really hard hit by the pandemic, particularly movie theaters,” Dergarabedian tells Inverse. “This is an important moment for theaters. Audiences have been missing that big screen experience the past couple of years. It’s the second biggest opening of the pandemic era, behind Spider-Man: No Way Home. You can see that not only do people like superhero movies, they like them in a variety of flavors.”
“[This is] what happens when you take a really great creative vision and an audience [who] wants to go along for a darker, more challenging ride.”
Pattinson’s first taste of fame came through the teen-targeted Twilight series from over a decade ago, but his more recent turn to independent cinema, like 2016’s Good Time and 2019’s The Lighthouse, have lent him credibility in the arthouse world. Donning the cape and cowl of Batman is a synergy of Pattinson’s established movie star recognition and his more recent artistic reputation.
The Batman has no ties to the DC Extended Universe, which audiences have unevenly responded to since the franchise launched in 2013 with Man of Steel. Rather than Pattinson and Reeves tailoring themselves to fit that broadly-appealing universe, The Batman enables Pattinson and Reeves to own their story.
The Batman applies proven Hollywood strategies at a time when such strategies aren’t guaranteed to succeed. “That’s exactly what’s going on with The Batman,” Dergarabedian observes. “Hire a great director, get a great creative team, and let them run with it.” Easier said than done, of course. “You miscast Batman, you’ve got a problem on your hands, because audiences love that character,” he says, adding that Pattinson’s casting was “a stroke of genius.”
But there’s more to The Batman than who plays the Caped Crusader. In almost all aspects of its execution, The Batman is appealing because of how little it resembles other superhero movies, even other Batman movies that were stylistically and thematically dark. While The Batman is rated PG-13 and is only the latest in a long line of Batman movies, its grim tone and lengthy runtime promises something different than everything else on offer right now, especially from dominant rival Marvel Studios.
“On paper [The Batman] doesn't seem that it would have blockbuster potential, but audiences love it when superhero movies take on different points of view and set a different tone,” Dergarabedian says.
This isn’t to stir up old Marvel versus DC debates. What the success of The Batman should tell us is that variety is still in demand.
“This is not a kid's movie, but that's what makes it so cool,” Dergarabedian says. “People do not live by one type of superhero movie alone. Not everything has to be light and fun. Movies can be thought-provoking, and challenging. Audiences really love that.”
The Batman is now playing in theaters.