FlashBack66: BATMAN (1989)

BATMAN (1989) was my first midnight screening, and it stands apart as the best premiere I've ever attended. But first, let's roll back a few hours...

This is the Summer of 1989 and I am in the midst of becoming a lifelong movie addict. I was already there, but this summer was overload. We had INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, STAR TREK V, GHOSTBUSTERS II, LETHAL WEAPON 2, LICENCE TO KILL, KARATE KID... whatever number and THE ABYSS among many others. I would end up living at the movie theaters for those few months, watching these films multiple times, and the one I went to see most was Tim Burton's BATMAN, which I saw six times.

The first time was a surprise. I had spent that night riding my white Mongoose Decade around the neighborhood, making stops at my friends' houses for snacks, socializing and general chit-chat. A bicycle at age 12 was the ultimate freedom. My group of friends would ride in packs all over the area, from house to house (even by this perpetually tanned girl's house, she was the Smurfette of the town) just eating, playing Nintendo and settling the occasional beef.

Thursday, June 22, 1989 was the night before my last day of 6th grade. Ending any year of school, my friends and I had a tradition of going in a group to see a movie that afternoon. It usually ended up being a great deal because we were already well into the summer movie season. We all had a plan- with parents lined up to drop us off and pick us up, timing to get tickets before they sold out (you had to buy them in person that day!) and we even mapped out who would sit next to whom. While all of these plans were in place, I spent that "Batman Eve" enjoying the late June sun, biking until I ran out of steam. I stopped by a neighbor's driveway and saw an older guy I knew. I always said "hi" to the people I liked. He asked me what my favorite number was that night. "Number 7" I replied, lying because I never had a favorite number. "Good, that's a good number. Mickey Mantle was number 7. Go Yankees!" I returned the salute half-heartedly and finally made my way home for (more) dinner.

Coming inside, I saw my mom at the kitchen table looking at the newspaper. My mom always had a scheme going when it came to my brother and me. She liked to spring a surprise on us when she knew it was a big deal. A few years earlier, on the day after Christmas, she came in the door trying like hell to carry a huge box through the door. That box held the G.I. Joe U.S.S. FLAGG aircraft carrier playset. That was a pretty amazing Christmas.

So, here's my Mom with a familiar grin because she's set to spring another surprise on me. "Do you want to see Batman tonight?" I was quick to nod yes, unable to talk. "Okay, there's a midnight show tonight down the road, let's go now and buy the tickets before they sell out."

HOLY SHIT! was all I could think. We jumped into the car and suddenly started to come back to earth a little bit. I asked my Mom if she was sure she was up to going to a midnight show. I had no idea what to expect and I didn't want her miserable for the rest of the night. "I'll be fine, this is going to be fun. Are you excited?" she asked me, excitedly.  Her Honda Accord seemed to pick up speed as we got closer to the theater.

At the time, it was impossible for me to truly understand the amount of joy it gave her to do things like this for me.  Looking back now at this very vivid memory, I recall many other times where my Mom had asked me "Are you excited?" So many times I wanted to blurt out "Of course I'm excited, why do you keep asking me that question?" But that's the thing, the words were irrelevant. She was excited to see me so happy about the gift she was giving me. That sort of a high is something that rarely compares to anything we do throughout life. And for my mom, a single mother with modest means to her name, this simple act of taking me to the movies was one of those moments.  We had a lot of great moments throughout the years- hunting for toys, going to the Diner late at night for strawberry cheesecake, getting a feast of Chinese food on a Sunday... I grew up never wanting for anything not because we had everything but my Mom made sure we enjoyed those things we had because we did them together.

Getting from the car to our seats in the theater was a blur. The place was packed, loud and rowdy. My Mom made some critical remarks about these "smelly comic book" types but she was mostly amused by the whole thing. I was concerned that these loud fuckers would ruin my ability to watch the movie. I was ready to talk to the theater manager if this didn't improve. I was always ready to go to management, even at age 12.

The movie kicked off at midnight and... those loud fuckers made this one of the best moviegoing experiences of my life. As the opening credits rolled, the theater roared with applause. With each name that appeared, the crowd got louder. Somewhere around Bob Ringwood and Danny Elfman, the place was going bananas. And then this popped up on the screen:

The crowd booed like mad. And then, just as quickly it started recognizing how hilarious it was that they cheered everything except Prince and then they started laughing. I mean... wow, this was already an awesome time! The crowd achieved self-awareness and a singular mind at this moment. And throughout the rest of the movie, it carried us through the soon-to-be classic one-liners, action sequences and reveals (The Batmobile was gorgeous, still is, always will be my first vision when someone says "The Batmobile").

While my friends were snoozing in their Batman bedsheets, I was up with the cool kids and my Mom watching Batman before anyone else.  We laughed at all of Jack Nicholson's lines (even though a bunch didn't make sense to me at the time), we endured Kim Bassinger's intrusion into the film and we (or at least I) wondered why Billy Dee Williams was in the film when he should be administering a facility in the clouds. I learned more than I could ever properly quantify from this film- how women don't like knowing how much they really weigh, how city government is a constant disaster at work, how OVERacting is sometimes the perfect level of performance and how amazing it is to see a movie premiere at midnight.

It was a special night, one that was burned into my mind and plays back so clearly 25 years later. To love a film is one thing, and I love BATMAN as much as the night I saw it. Yet, to see a film in such a special way, as a present from my Mom, with a crowd that was borderline unruly, was one of the most-cherished times I've ever walked into a movie theater. Happy Birthday, BATMAN.

"Now comes the part where I relieve you, the little people, of the burden of your failed and useless lives. But, as my plastic surgeon always said: if you gotta go, go with a smile."


  1. Awesome memory. It sounds like a magical experience.

    I was 17 when 89 Batman came out. Wait, that can't be right. It is! Holy shit, that's difficult for me to get my head around. I remember standing in a very long line in a very bad neighborhood in NJ to see it on opening night. I was a little more interested in not getting stabbed than in the movie, but it's grown on me a lot in subsequent viewings.

  2. Thank you, brother. Where in NJ were you from?

  3. Bloomfield in Essex County. Lived there until I was 21!

  4. Damn man, this is amazing. I remember less seeing it at the theater, as I know I did and more the cards, and toys, and bank and cereal and all the trinkets and baubles that came along with this movie all wrapped up in my head as one big experience, and THAT is my Batman 1989 memory.

  5. I am an astounding youngin' but the first time I saw 89' Batman was when I was about 3, when my stepdad sat me down with the VHS. In 1997 Batman was everywhere but at 3 years old I thought this Batman film was like a news clip of real events and that excitement of knowing that I had seen the feats of a great hero was an incendiary to my infant mind as it has lasted with me all of my life.