Top 10 Differences Between The Gothams Of Nolan And Burton

Batman Nolan vs. Burton 700x384We’re waiting (not so patiently) for a brand new Batman movie, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice directed by Zach Snyder. But while we’re waiting, let’s take a look back at 25 years of iconic Batman movies dominated by directors Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan.

1. Crowds of Gothamites
Gotham City dwellers spend lots of time looking on as super villains perform dastardly deeds, and the retro opulence of these folks in the Burton films is starkly replaced by people who look like, well, you and me in the Nolan updates. Details like these help to distance these films as practically of two distinct genres: the earlier films are escapist, edgy comic book capers, while the later movies succeed as brooding urban crime thrillers.

2. Greys and Blacks vs. Washed-Out Ochres
Burton’s Batman movies are studies in blacks and greys, with measured pops of bright color, much in the style of a comic book. On the other hand, Batman Begins has a warmer (but still effectively unsettling) color palette, typified by the Scarecrow’s horrifying burlap mask and the evil visions he inflicts on his victims.

3. Henchmen
Burton clearly enjoyed the circus-freak motif for his gangs of villainous sidekicks, since both his Joker’s henchmen as well as the Penguin’s costumed child-stealing crew follow this trope in his take on Batman. On the other hand, the folks that Nolan’s villains choose to associate with are often just thugs wearing black.

4. Jack Nicholson vs. Heath Ledger
Most would agree that Gotham’s baddest bad guy is none other than the Joker, a favorite villain within the Batman mythos long before Jack Nicholson first committed him to celluloid in 1989. Although Ledger’s posthumous Oscar win all but eclipsed the work of Nicholson in the first Batman movie, let us not forget that Jack knows how to be scary with the best of ‘em. Re-watching Batman now, it’s clear he was going for camp with a tinge of pretty serious psychopathic tendencies, while Ledger did just the opposite: a core of terrifying insanity peppered with the lightest touch of kitschy theatricality.

5. New York vs. Chicago
Gotham is a moniker for New York, which serves as the basis for Burton’s version: a mayhem-filled artsy metropolis. Nolan, who shot many key scenes of his first two movies in Chicago, wanted a decidedly un-New York sensibility for his sometimes deserted Gotham.

6. Pat Hingle vs. Gary Oldman
Gotham City is nothing without its stalwart police commissioner. The late Hingle made a career out of being Gordon, having reprised the role through both Burton movies as well as the two Joel Schumacher movies, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. On the other hand, Oldman’s take on Gordon is much more personal and haunting, giving the character depth.

7. Product tie-ins: Coca Cola vs. Mountain Dew
It’s a sign of the times and how things have evolved since 1992, when McDonald’s discontinued a Happy Meals tie-in for Batman Returns as a result of angry parents protesting the movie’s violent and sexual content. However, the Coca-Cola Company went ahead with its promotional run for the movie. We were presented with a Mountain Dew tie-in for The Dark Knight Rises, and the tagline “Rule the Streets with Dew.”

8. Soundstages vs. On Location
Perhaps the most vital difference between these filmmakers’ approaches: Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns was shot in Burbank CA, while Nolan’s 2008 sequel The Dark Knight includes such diverse locations as Hong Kong, London and Chicago. This is just another ingredient in the larger distinction between these two universes, one that makes them virtually incomparable: Tim Burton set out to make a comic book film, while Christopher Nolan places Batman (and Gotham) in the context of our reality.

9. Stylized Dark vs. Bleak Dark
Tim Burton had already proven himself as a master “film aesthetician” by the time he made the Batman movies, with his trademark look featured in Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. The style for his Batman movies is no exception, with gothic architecture and artfully macabre scenery galore. While everything in his movies has a specific design and influence, Christopher Nolan’s style is entirely more haphazard, gritty and, well, bleak.

10. The Bat-Signal
On a purely visual level, Gotham serves as the backdrop for the Bat-Signal: the bright Batman logo appearing in the night sky as a call for help from the Caped Crusader. A more rounded version is used in a rather marketing-heavy way in the Burton movies, appearing with much pomp and circumstance in the last shot of Batman Returns. A much more angular, horizontal Bat-Signal in the Nolan franchise has more of a functional purpose: in The Dark Knight, Jim Gordon projects the updated Bat-Signal to warn Gotham criminals of Batman’s continued presence. The Bat-iconography serves its purpose, scaring the bejesus out of various riffraff.

For more on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, check out reasons why Jason Momoa is the perfect Aquaman.