Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for Matt Reeves’s The Batman (2022)
Back in 2018, rumblings of a new Batman film echoed across the internet as Warner Bros hobbled around to make sense of its chaotic DC Cinematic Universe. Those rumblings turned into screeches when Robert Pattinson was announced as the new caped crusader. Those screeches devolved into war cries as film “gurus” took Pattinson’s joke about not working out to become Batman a little too seriously. Then the famous first-look teaser dropped with Pattinson, decked out in his Batsuit, walking towards the screen to Michael Giacchino’s gothic score and transformed the not-so-unanimous trepidation into genuine hype. And now that the movie is out and has been watched, it’s safe to say that everyone from Reeves to Pattinson has delivered in droves.
That said, the road from Ben Affleck’s solo Batman outing aspirations to Batman fanboy Matt Reeves’s dream project wasn’t an easy one. Especially due to the major restructuring of the DCEU, salary issues, and oh, that little thing called the COVID-19 pandemic. During this process, Reeves turned to a bunch of movies and comics to co-write the script with Peter Craig. He drew heavily on comics like Batman: The Long Halloween (1996-1997) and Dark Victory (1999-2000). However, as the title suggests, this list is about Reeves’s cinematic inspirations, so we are going to limit our focus to just that. Now, some of these movies have been explicitly mentioned by Reeves. Some of them are examples that I think have influenced Reeves’s script and direction. And then there’s the vague admission by Reeves that Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography guided his hand, which I am leaving out of this list and up to your imagination.
11. The French Connection (1971)
Directed by William Friedkin, written by Ernest Tidyman, the film is based on Robin Moore’s 1969 book of the same name. It tells the story of NYPD detectives Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) pursuing a wealthy French heroin smuggler, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). The book is about the actual “French Connection” drug trafficking scheme which is seen through the eyes of NYC detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, the inspirations for Popeye and Cloudy, respectively.
According to Collider, Reeves had said at the DC Fandom that The Batman “was very much inspired by those kinds of movies like French Connection, and cop movies like that… A lot of ’70s street, grounded stories.” And you can draw parallels between Friedkin’s dilapidated depiction of New York City and Reeves’s vision of a rotten Gotham City, with both being told from a very human point-of-view. Although Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne or Batman isn’t as belligerent or racist as Hackman’s Popeye, there are similarities between their short fuse and the way they become consumed by their eagerness to crack the case at hand. Also, Popeye and Cloudy’s good-cop-bad-cop routine bears a resemblance to Batman and Lt. James Gordon’s (Jeffrey Wright) bad-cop-batshit-cop dynamic.
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10. Klute (1971)
Directed and produced by Alan J. Pakula, and written by Andy and Dave Lewis, the film follows a New York City prostitute named Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda) whose name comes up after the disappearance of a Pennsylvania chemical company executive. When the police hit a bunch of dead ends after working on the case for six months, the titular Klute (Donald Sutherland) is hired to begin an independent investigation. Klute starts following Bree like a shadow which leads him to some startling revelations and brings him dangerously close to Bree romantically.
According to Den of Geek, Reeves saw similarities between Sutherland and Fonda’s relationship and that of Bruce and Selina’s dynamic. He said, “Klute’s such a straight arrow and he seems so naïve. I think he judges her and he assumes because of the world she’s in that she is a certain kind of person. And yet he can’t help but be drawn to her and he can’t help but be affected by her. He’s putting himself above her only to discover that he’s deeply connected to her.” Additionally, you can draw parallels between Klute and Selina’s (Zoë Kravitz) entire subplot about finding her missing roommate Annika (Hana Hrzic) and then coming to know that she was murdered by someone close to her profession.
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9. Chinatown (1974)
Directed by Roman Polanski and written by Robert Towne, the movie follows Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) who is hired by a fake Evelyn Mulwray to follow her husband Hollis Mulwray (Darrell Zwerling). After exposing Hollis, Gittes is visited by the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) who threatens to sue him for ruining their lives. Assuming that Hollis is the real target of this set up, Gittes goes to a reservoir to search for clues and instead comes across Hollis’s dead body. That’s when he starts tackling the case as a homicide, which eventually brings him close to Evelyn. The film is said to be inspired by the California water wars, a series of disputes over the southern California water at the beginning of the 20th century.
Reeves said at the DC Fandome that, “Chinatown was a key one, because in Chinatown, Jake Gittes, in investigating the series of crimes that were part of that story, he discovers the depth of corruption of Los Angeles. So in that way, [The Batman] is like a classic noir. This series of murders that Batman is investigating are very much in that mode,” said Reeves, who stressed that Batman doesn’t have superpowers. He’s just a man — albeit a man on a mission of vengeance.” Thankfully, The Batman’s conclusion to its expansive conspiracy isn’t as bleak as Chinatown’s. I mean, just imagine The Batman ending with Selina getting shot in the head by Falcone (John Turturro) and Gordon taking Batman away from the crime scene by saying, “Forget it, Batman. It’s Gotham.”
8. All The President’s Men (1976)
Directed by Alan J. Pakula and written by William Goldman, this political drama thriller about the infamous Watergate scandal that brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon. It is based on the Carl Bernstein (played by Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) book of the same name. Unless you live under a rock, you’ll probably have some idea about the Watergate scandal. If you don’t, then All The President’s Men is a pretty good primer as it unravels the conspiracy through the eyes of Bernstein and Woodward, and the subsequent surveillance on those reporting on the case in a detailed fashion.
Matt Reeves told Moviemaker that, “There had to be a very deep conspiracy going on. And so I watched All the President’s Men, I re-read the book, and I just started saying, OK, so how do we start to describe just how high the corruption went? It’s very much like All the President’s Men in that way. The premise of the movie is that the Riddler (Paul Dano) is kind of molded in an almost Zodiac Killer sort of mode and is killing very prominent figures in Gotham, and they are the pillars of society. These are supposedly legitimate figures. It begins with the mayor, and then it escalates from there. And in the wake of the murders, he reveals the ways in which these people were not everything they said they were, and you start to realize there’s some kind of association. And so just like Woodward and Bernstein, you’ve got Gordon and Batman trying to follow the clues to try and make sense of this thing in a classic kind-of-detective story way. I wanted bits of those names because I wanted the conspiracy to come with that forcefulness of history and believability for me.” Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) and Gil Golson (Peter Sarsgaard) share surnames with Watergate scandal figure John N. Mitchell and Charles Colson.
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7. Taxi Driver (1976)
Directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader, this iconic film follows Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a taxi driver and war veteran, as he drives around a decaying and morally bankrupt New York City following the Vietnam War. The narrative shifts from Bickle’s encounters with various customers to his love interest Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) to a failed assassination attempt to the prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) who Bickle wants to save from the evil clutches of Sport (Harvey Keitel). In doing so, it paints a morbid picture of a man who is in dire need of therapy. But instead of that, he is roaming around with guns and knives, thinking that he’s the only person who can save the city from its doom.
This is not the first time Taxi Driver has been cited as an inspiration in a DC movie. Todd Phillips’s Joker (2019) certainly used it as a blueprint while not imbuing it with any of the sensible commentaries in Schrader’s script and Scorsese’s direction, in my opinion. Reeves, on the other hand, indicates his love for the film a little more subtly via Bruce and Riddler’s journals. And he updates Scorsese and Schrader’s depiction of incel culture with the Riddler’s use of the internet and even subverts it with the partial success of his plan. Bickle and Riddler’s warped understanding of the world is almost identical though. Both of them think that society can be cleansed through sheer focus on one’s plan and some violence. The only difference is that no one’s there to save or stop Bickle while Batman is there to stop the Riddler and the people he has radicalized.
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6. Manhunter (1986)
Written and directed by Michael Mann and based on the 1981 novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, the movie follows FBI profiler Will Graham (Will Peterson) coming out of retirement to lead the Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan) investigation, a killer known as the Tooth Fairy. This forces him to confront the demons of his past and meet with Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox). Additionally, it focuses on the forensic work carried out by the FBI to track down killers and the long-term effects those cases have on profilers like Graham as the lines between him and his prey become blurry.
As per Variety, in an early cut of The Batman, Barry Keoghan’s Joker shows up much earlier following the revelation that the Riddler has killed the GCPD commissioner Pete Savage (Alex Ferns) and left behind another note for Batman. That forces Batman to sneak into Arkham and take Joker’s advice. Reeves said, “I thought he would be really insecure about this and he’d probably want to find some way to get into the [Riddler’s] mindset, like in Manhunter or Mindhunter — this idea of profiling somebody, so you can predict his next move. And this guy says, ‘It’s almost our anniversary, isn’t it?’ You realize that they have a relationship and that this guy obviously did something, and Batman somehow got him into Arkham.”
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5. Last Days (2005)
Written and directed by Gus Van Sant, the drama film is a fictionalized account of the last days of a musician who is loosely based on Kurt Cobain. The character is named Blake (Michael Pitt) who is seen escaping from a rehab clinic to his home while avoiding calls from his record company which is telling him to go on another tour. The rest of the movie aimlessly shows Blake and his roommates dealing with LDS missionaries, private detectives, and a whole lot of existential crises.
Reeves revealed to Esquire that, “Early on, when I was writing, I started listening to Nirvana, and there was something about [Nevermind song] ‘Something in the Way’, which is in the first trailer, which is part of the voice of that character. When I considered, ‘How do you do Bruce Wayne in a way that hasn’t been seen before?’ I started thinking, ‘What if some tragedy happened [ie: Wayne sees his parents murdered] and this guy becomes so reclusive, we don’t know what he’s doing? Is this guy some kind of wayward, reckless, drug addict?’ And the truth is that he is a kind of drug addict. His drug is his addiction to this drive for revenge. He’s like a Batman Kurt Cobain.” That’s when he cited Last Days and said, “He doesn’t care about any of the trappings of being a [millionaire] Wayne at this point.”
Now, these are the movies that I think helped shape Matt Reeves’s The Batman (2022).
4. Se7en (1995)
Directed by David Fincher and written by Andrew Kevin Walker, this film follows retiring Detective Lieutenant William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) who is partnered with Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) to take care of an apparently open-and-shut case. While Somerset tries to distance himself from the case in order to end his tenure on a simple note, Mills does his best to take charge of the situation. But they’re forced to work together and that’s exactly when the one-and-done homicide turns into a case involving a serial killer inspired by the seven deadly sins. Things become particularly gnarly when the whole ordeal starts to affect Somerset and Mills’s personal lives, which then crescendos with what’s considered to be one of the greatest endings in film history.
Ever since the trailer for The Batman hit the internet, every Tom, Dick, and Harry has said that The Batman is essentially Se7en but with Batman in it. To a certain degree, it is. The grimey, water-drenched visuals of The Batman, captured beautifully by Greig Fraser, are similar to Darius Khondji’s work in Se7en. The Riddler’s riddles and murders and John Doe’s killings and clues are alike. The short-tempered but idealistic Mills paired with the calm and rational Somerset is just like the angsty Batman and the world-weary Gordon. Both of the third acts feature the villain surprisingly surrendering to the police and then revealing their explosive final hand. And they’re a meditation on evil masquerading as a police procedural. But then they begin to differ in terms of their treatment of the protagonists, the antagonists, the love interest, and the concluding note, with The Batman’s being far more hopeful than Se7en’s. The Batman is much more action-heavy and is a celebration of the myth and legend of Batman.
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3. Zodiac (2007)
This film is directed by David Fincher, written by James Vanderbult, and based on the non-fiction books by Robert Graysmith, Zodiac, and Zodiac Unmasked. It takes place over the course of a decade, centering around the search for the Zodiac killer, a serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area, taunting the police with letters, bloodstained clothing, and ciphers mailed to newspapers. Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and San Francisco Chronicle journalist Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) are central to the investigation. But the story is largely told through cartoonist Robert Graysmith’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) perspective as he is shown to be the only one who followed the clues pointing towards suspect Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch) while many others gave up.
As mentioned before, Reeves has modeled this iteration of the Riddler after the Zodiac killer, thereby giving the otherwise ridiculous character and his riddles a realistic touch. So, the most famous and well-made movie about the Zodiac killer deserves to be mentioned. In addition to that, Reeves updates the Zodiac killer’s method of advertising himself and inspiring copycats. But apart from those bits of similarity, Zodiac and The Batman vary vastly in terms of tone, characterization, and overall storytelling. Also, even though there’s not a sliver of a chance that Warner Bros. will allow Reeves or any other director to tell a Batman story that takes place over the course of a decade, it’ll certainly be interesting to see one.
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2. The Dark Knight (2008)
Directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, this hugely popular film is a sequel to the equally popular Batman Begins (2005). It shows Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale), Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) forming an unlikely alliance to dismantle organized crime in Gotham and tackle the Joker (Heath Ledger).
The introduction to Bale’s Batman and Pattinson’s Batman are comparable. But Pattinson’s version has more juice because it’s releasing in an era where it’s okay to celebrate the ridiculousness of a man in a bat-suit inducing fear in thugs with his Bat-signal. Bale and Nolan didn’t have that luxury because they were tasked with making Batman marketable again after the debacle that was Batman and Robin (1997). There are echoes of Batman and Joker’s interrogation scene in the one between Batman and Riddler, with the central idea being that Batman and his villains are two sides of the same coin. And their concluding acts actually involve hiding a damaging truth in order to preserve the base on which Gotham is built upon. All that said, there’s a big chance that these semblances exist because of the fact that both Nolan and Reeves referred to The Long Halloween in the conceptualization phase.
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1. Prisoners (2013)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski, this brooding thriller tells the story of the abduction of two young girls, one belonging to the Dover family and the other to the Birch family, in Pennsylvania. Following that, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is asked to bring in a man named Alex Jones (Paul Dano) under suspicion of carrying out said abduction. None of the evidence proves that Alex is guilty and he is released to his aunt, Holly (Melissa Leo). But since Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is convinced that Alex is the kidnapper, he goes on a mission of his own to kidnap Alex and interrogate him (pretty violently) until he confesses. Meanwhile, Loki continues his investigation, hitting one dead end after another.
It’s a shame that Prisoners isn’t getting name-dropped while talking about movies that inspired The Batman. Because I think it owes a lot to Villeneuve’s film in terms of its modern integration of religious imagery, one rain-drenched scene involving a car on a highway, and the emotionally-heavy atmosphere to fuel the urgency of the mystery. If you watch The Batman and Prisoners back-to-back, you’ll find Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Loki and Pattinson’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman melting into one another. Also, guess the jingle that the two children were singing, that Alex sings to Keller to trigger him? It’s “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, Robin Laid an Egg”.