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Batman: Burton vs. Nolan

Updated on November 29, 2010

There is a great deal of animosity between fans of Tim Burton’s and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. Fans on both sides of the fence champion their pick for the best leading man and director while consistently attacking the other. What is the basis for these debates and what do the fanboys and girls claim to be their toughest arguments?

Michael Keaton as Batman in Burton's 1989 film "Batman"
Michael Keaton as Batman in Burton's 1989 film "Batman" | Source


Burton being the first Batman director has a step up over Nolan’s films in the eyes of many viewers. They appreciate the director’s unique look and the gothic style that meshed well with the feel of the batman comics and made it’s mainstream debut with the batman movies. With Batman (1989) Burton changed the way action and superhero movies were made, he ushered in a new era and it’s hard for Burton fans not to make it the high bar that every other batman movie is held up to.

Obviously one of the key differences between the two worlds created by Nolan and Burton is that Burton’s Gotham was very dark, very gothic, very stylistic and very, very Burton. Subsequently it also closer to the comic books original feel for the city. While Nolan’s is very realistic, more like a Chicago or New York, you’re average-looking city, overrun by crime and watched over by your not so average caped crusader.

Nolan’s world is one that we can all see ourselves in. It is the city that we live in and it has a villains that would terrify us and a vigilante that would make us unsure whether to ask for a signature or run and hide.

Christian Bale as Batman in Nolan's 2005 film "Batman Begins".
Christian Bale as Batman in Nolan's 2005 film "Batman Begins". | Source

Leading Man

Although Keaton’s costume didn’t allow him to turn his head, he still manages to beat-up every bad guy he comes across. I personally love the way he delivers The Joker’s own line to him (Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?) before saying something very un-Batman, but still kind of awesome, “I’m going to kill you.”

At the time he wasn’t the obvious choice for a super-hero leading man and the out-of-left-field casting reminds me a little of Robert Downey Jr. being chosen for Iron Man. Still there are many criticisms. For one thing Keaton was a little short and slender for Batman. Fortunately his suit came with muscles and lifts to remedy both of these short comings.

Again, Bale was not what many people expected for a leading man in an action movie. Clearly the man can act, though some people may have forgotten when they heard his throat-cancer voice coming out of that black mask. For me though, as for many other viewers, the voice didn’t ruin the performance.

With Bale’s Bat we see the rich boy with playboy style and pride that we almost lost completely with the soft-spoken and uncomfortable Keaton. Bale also convinces us that he is completely torn up about his alter-ego while Keaton gives us the feeling that he is very happy being a little confused.

Jack Nicholson as The Joker in Burton's 1989 film "Batman".
Jack Nicholson as The Joker in Burton's 1989 film "Batman". | Source
Heath Ledger as The Joker in Nolan's 2008 film "The Dark Knight"
Heath Ledger as The Joker in Nolan's 2008 film "The Dark Knight" | Source

The Joker

There are many people also who feel a great deal of loyalty toward one Joker or the other. The two being so different, so extreme, so unique and so damn immitatable (not sure if that‘s a word).

Both Nicholson’s and Ledger’s Jokers were applauded respectively for being the best representation of Joker yet to be seen. Both were also criticised for being far too brutal. The two were created with extremely different intentions, both in my opinion, were intentions that were effectively realized.

Nicholson’s being a recreation of the comic-book prankster. He’s jovial, homicidal, proud and extremely theatrical. He likes to steal the spotlight and get all the press. He shares an origins story with his comic book counterpart and stays true to the stylistic and gothic feel of Burton’s movies.

Ledger’s joker was never intended to rival Nicholson’s. Both Nolan and Ledger stated how much they admired the character that Burton and Nicholson created together. Instead of simply recreating the character once again they came up with a new Joker for a new Batman universe.

The Nolan/Ledger Joker is a realistic, homicidal maniac. He has no interest in cash and seems to enjoy pain. He is a truly terrifying character, a terrorist. He represents something that would be extremely threatening to the society that keeps us safe, pure anarchy.


For many people who were too young to have watched Batman when it first came out the new movies are incredible, with their realistic style, the effects, the make up and costumes. Burton’s Batman doesn’t represent their childhood, it’s just old and washed up and not worth the second viewing.

Being part of the that demographic myself though I’m going to have to encourage my peers to give the original Batman movies a second chance. We can’t expect the effects to dazzle us like they would have done our parents but we can still appreciate the many innovations of a once young and up-and-coming director who did a lot to create such a unique visual style.


Certainly Nolan’s films have been better received by critics than Burton’s films were back in the 90s. I think that has been a hard pill to swallow for many hardcore Burton fans, which may been the spark of much of the initial Nolan bashing.

On the flipside movie-goers who had plenty to complain about in 89 probably had all their trash talk dusted off and ready to hurl when Batman Begins first started making headlines. Many people who were disappointed the first time around feel like they have finally gotten the Batman movies they have always deserved.


It has been suggested before that one of the main reasons why these films are so often compared to no avail is because they are not, in fact, part of the same film category. While both movies are full of action and are super-hero adaptations B89 and Batman Returns are straight-forward escapist action flicks, while TDK and Batman Begins are complex dramatic thrillers. Therefore a comparison of the two sets is much like comparing apples to oranges, or perhaps apples to pears.

The two set out to accomplish two very different things and in their own right, they do just that. Nolans films are more complex, more mature and more modern, certainly. But you can’t fault Burton's films for being exactly what they wanted to be, well-paced , action-filled and exciting.

When all is said and re-said, bumped and trolled, the main complaint that fans of either series have is how the other camp is always attacking and insulting their favourite films. Perhaps we should just agree to disagree and stop clogging message boards when we can simply be enjoying our own personal favourites.


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    • UnknownWon profile image

      Joe Smith 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

      This was a great comparison. I think that both movies are perfect in their own ways. You can't really compare the two fairly because of the eras in which they were made; Burton's is an attempt, in my opinion, to bring more realism to a comic book that was made campy thanks to the 60s TV show.

      Nolan's version is a true take on making this realistic. Its such an amazing adaptation that they are both amazing takes on one of the greatest comic book characters of all time. Batman is just great period as he is a normal human that all super powered characters fear. He's beaten Superman AND Captain America (during the DC/Marvel crossover).

    • profile image

      Israel Quezada 5 years ago

      I love both Burton and Nolan, each one is great in their own style… I love both visions of Batman, and I watch the movies according to my mood.

    • ar.colton profile image

      Mikal Smith 5 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      I have a friend with a kryptonite batman tattoo. I haven't read that graphic novel but I certainly will. It seems like a big hole in my graphic novel knowledge.

    • profile image

      chance 5 years ago

      Ok b89 follows the comic book almost to a t but tdk isn't base on the comic book it more or less follows the graphic novels the dark knight the dark knight returns and the dark knight falls I was born in 87 and I watched batman on VHS every day after my older brother bought it seriously every single day batman is my favorite superhero when I discovered the graphic novel I was amazed it was incredible then tdk came out amazing in its own right here's the deal button and Nolan need to join forces bringing in Keaton and bale to do things right build a bridge take the two best directors of all time along with the only actors worthy of being called batman and make a new series of movies were the journey of batman from young to old comes into play ending with the epic battle between batman and superman and cutting away to the army of batmen and if u have no idea what I am talking about read the graphic novels it will blow your mind's no matter what depiction of batman you love all I have left to say is kryptonite infused brass knuckles the great equalizer an epic movie all batman superfans will love

    • profile image

      Jeez 5 years ago

      I know I am alone in this world on this one, but I flipping hate Nolan's Batman films. The whole idea of mise-en-scene and scenographic design to aid in storyteller goes out the window with Nolan. With Burton you were transported into Gothham, it stood outside urban reality and our natural perceptions to it. The opening shot of Gothham in Batman (89) says it all, that's Gothham. Barnone. And it's a comic book for christ sake, the setting and the characters shouldn't depict or come closing to feeling like they could be placed in another action film. The newest fields exploding !? I just don't get it, and never will. Batman has an aura around it, and I'll admit its because Burton painted that feel so well that I look at Nolan's and tune out. I'm trying to think of another super hero franchise that shares the same dichotomy in setting...I don't know. What I do know is that the new Batman movies possess nothing inherently 'Batman' about them. To each his own cinema.

    • ar.colton profile image

      Mikal Smith 5 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Ironman- Burton's style is definitely more 'stylistic', he created such an interesting visual world. Thanks for stopping by IM!

    • Ironman1992 profile image

      Ironman1992 5 years ago

      Nolan did a good job with the Batman series, though I did like Burton's style better.

    • ar.colton profile image

      Mikal Smith 5 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      I would never try to chose which was a better joker personally. I'm so glad that we have them both to enjoy. They're each brilliant in their own way.

    • rabbit75 profile image

      rabbit75 5 years ago

      I definitely like Nolan's take on the Batman. His movies are based on the Batman comics I grew up on, with an edgier and darker Batman, as opposed to the older Batman comics. Although, it's a tough choice between who was a better Joker - Nicholson or Ledger - both were awesome in their own right.

    • ar.colton profile image

      Mikal Smith 6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      I love Batman and Robin because it is so hilariously bad. The ridiculous campyness comes full circle for me. Hockey playing robbers and Ah-nold and breastplates with rubber nipples. It's so bad it awesome!

    • giselenmendez profile image

      giselenmendez 6 years ago from Berlin, Germany

      You are right about that, it depends on the mood... But I still don't like Schumacher's Batman that much, even though Val Kilmer and George Clooney werenn't that bad of a choice.

    • ar.colton profile image

      Mikal Smith 6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      I'm so glad that both Burton and Nolan gave us there interpretations. I have all the batman movies (even Shumacher's) and depending on my mood I really can enjoy every one.

    • giselenmendez profile image

      giselenmendez 6 years ago from Berlin, Germany

      I think Burton's Batman is more like how I perceive Batman at all but I loved Nolan's Batman as well. I think it's a great balance for the character itself, we were in need of a new approach of the story, a brand new Batman strong enough to wash away the horrible feeling left behind by Schumacher's movies. Great Hub :)!

    • ar.colton profile image

      Mikal Smith 6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Thanks OP, I'm so glad you enoyed it. :)

    • Open Thoughts profile image

      Open Thoughts 6 years ago from Idaho

      This was a great hub. Great insights!

    • ar.colton profile image

      Mikal Smith 6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Loved your hub. The first time I watched Begins I missed so much and sadly underappreciated it but since then I have seen it many times and have caught so much I originally missed.

    • Malcolm_Cox profile image

      Malcolm_Cox 6 years ago from Newcastle, England

      Love this comparison. I wrote a hub on Christopher Nolan and stated Batman Begins as my favourite movie!!