Box Office Smash Batman Likely Never Made A Profit — And It Was The Joker’s Fault

With a budget of $35 million, “Batman” wasn’t exactly an impoverished production. In fact, it was one of the biggest projects Hollywood had yet seen, with a massive 95-acre Gotham City set erected across 18 sound stages at the UK’s famed Pinewood Studios. And while Nicholson was undoubtedly the film’s biggest star, Kim Bassinger, who played photographer/Bruce Wayne’s love interest Vicki Vale, and Michael Keaton in the lead role were far from unknowns. Burton, too, who had only made “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” and “Beetlejuice” at the time, had nonetheless acquired significant buzz in the industry despite being only 30 during the production of “Batman.”

That all meant, as Alexander Knox actor Robert Wuhl put it, that “Batman” was “the biggest movie of all time,” and “there was a lot of people’s careers riding on this thing, especially at the Warner Bros. end.” It’s a good thing that the movie became the smash hit it did, then. At least, it would be if it weren’t for some tricky accounting considerations that likely meant “Batman” never really made any significant profit for Warners, despite bringing in almost half a billion dollars worldwide.

Back in 1991, the LA Times reported that two years after its release, “Batman” was showing a “$35.8 million deficit” and would likely “never show profit.” The Times blamed the financial woes on “extraordinary outlays for advertising, publicity and high-priced talent,” which, considering the film’s massive marketing campaign, multiple stars, and profit-sharing contracts, makes sense. But, as laid out by Entertainment Weekly, “Batman” had made more than $250 million at the box office at the time, which should have brought Warners’ blockbuster at least out of the red. But this is Hollywood, where there’s always some creative accounting going on behind the scenes.

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