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Cultural Allusions in Batman (1989)
Posted on
Mon, 30th Jan 2017

We've already looked at how the comics influenced Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film. Now we’re looking at influences derived from other sources – from films, music, architecture, literature, history, politics, real life people and events.

Danny Elfman’s score was influenced by numerous composers. The opening title theme begins with a reference to Bernard Herrmann’s score for Henry Levin’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959).

The title theme also references the score for George Waggner’s The Wolf Man (1941), composed by Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner. Elfman would go on to score Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman (2010), which was a remake of the 1941 film.

Tim Burton and Anton Furst both cited Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) as an influence on the look of the movie. Roger Pratt served as director of photography on both pictures.

The look of Gotham City incorporates elements from several different artistic movements, including Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Gothic. The architectural works of Otto Wagner, Norman Foster, Louis H. Sullivan and Albert Speer all proved influential, as did the futuristic city featured in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927).

As the two muggers count their loot, one of them finds an American Express card and says “Don’t leave home without it.” This is a nod to the ‘Don’t Leave Home Without Them’ ad campaign for American Express Traveller’s Cheques that began in 1975.

Batman’s use of his cape to simulate wings visually references Bela Lugosi’s performance in Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931).

Mayor Borg was modelled on New York City mayor Ed Koch. Koch served in office from 1978 to 1990, winning his first election on a law and order platform similar to Mayor Borg’s. Actor Lee Wallace bears a strong physical resemblance to Mayor Koch.

Harvey Dent’s press conference recalls Charles Foster Kane’s campaign speech in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941). Both characters launch scathing attacks against corrupt opponents – Kane attacks Boss Jim W. Gettys, while Dent and Mayor Borg attack Boss Carl Grissom – and both vow to protect the “decent” people of their constituency.

When we first see Jack Napier he is playing with a deck of cards. This may be a nod to one of Jack Nicholson’s earlier films, Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), in which Nicholson’s character is often seen toying with a deck of cards.

Alicia is portrayed by real life model Jerry Hall. The photographs of Alicia seen throughout the film are taken from Hall’s portfolio.

Alicia has a copy of Vogue in her apartment. Although the issue featured in the movie – with Alicia’s face on the cover – is clearly fictional, the publication itself has been one of the world’s bestselling fashion and lifestyle magazines since 1892.

William Hootkins’ performance as Lieutenant Eckhardt was influenced by Orson Welles’ portrayal of Police Captain Hank Quinlan in his 1958 film noir Touch of Evil. In addition to the obvious physical similarities, both characters are highly corrupt and villainous police officers whose deep gravelly voices are almost identical.

Napier’s appearance references that of Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949). The scene where Napier attempts to escape from Axis Chemicals is similar to the climax of Reed’s film, where Lime is pursued by the police through the sewers of Vienna.

The signature on the sketch the newspaper cartoonist shows Knox is that of Batman co-creator Bob Kane.

When Knox first meets Vicki he pretends to be familiar with her work, claiming to have seen her pictures in Vogue and Cosmo. Cosmo is a nickname for Cosmopolitan, a real magazine that’s been in print since 1886.

Vicki has made a name for herself documenting a revolutionary conflict in a fictional South America island nation called Corto Maltese. Corto Maltese was first mentioned in Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986), though the name ‘Corto Maltese’ originally comes from an Italian comic created by Hugo Pratt in 1967. The revolution in Corto Maltese was likely inspired by the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959) led by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement against the Cuban government back in the fifties.

Vicki’s photos were published in Time, a news magazine founded in New York in 1923.

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Feature written by
Silver Nemesis



Silver Nemesis is a writer and a lifelong fan of Batman comics, movies and TV shows.
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