The Dark Knight trilogy influenced a number of filmmakers, including Skyfall’s Sam Mendes, but what was the driving influence for director Christopher Nolan? The father of the dark-and-gritty comic-book movie has cited A Tale of Two Cities and other "good old books" for The Dark Knight Rises. But when it comes to Batman Begins, there’s one particular film Nolan looked to that you might never have thought of.
While Marvel’s cinematic universe was dominating the big screen with Iron Man and Hulk, Nolan’s Batman Begins kickstarted the brave new DC world with a Caped Crusader unlike any we’d ever seen. As he revealed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan thanks the 1978 Superman movie by Richard Donner for his revitalized take.
One of the great films that I am very influenced by that we haven’t talked about was Dick Donner’s Superman — 1978, that came out. It made a huge impression on me. I can remember the trailers for it, I can remember about Superman the movie, all of that. … You know, you had Superman in 1978, but they never did the sort of 1978 Batman, where you see the origin story, where the world is pretty much the world we live in but there’s this extraordinary figure there, which is what worked so well in Dick Donner’s Superman film. And so I was able to get in the studio and say, 'Well, that’s what I would do with it.'"
As he said, the term reboot wasn’t thrown around as easily as it is today, which turned the question behind Warner Bros.’ new Batman trilogy into, "What would you do with this?" He couldn’t have picked a better movie as inspiration. With Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and the great Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent, Donner’s Superman is one of the best of the character’s cinematic adventures. Telling the origin story of Kal-El’s journey to Earth as an infant and growing up to become Earth’s mightiest hero, Superman tells of how this DC mainstay got a job at The Daily Planet, wooed Lois Lane and grappled with Luthor. It also has one of the best scenes of any superhero movie — Superman turning back time by flying around the Earth at mind-blowing speeds.
As Nolan said elsewhere in the interview, Tim Burton’s Batman never quite accomplished for The Dark Knight as Superman did for the Man of Steel.
It’s interesting to see Nolan bring up both Donner and Burton’s work, though, because Batman Begins has elements of both. While it set up this origin tale of Batman, it also exists in this very Nolan-esque world, much how the director described Burton’s take. And now, coming up on 10 years after the film debuted, Batman Begins has become the inspiration for many others. And that’s the circle of life, folks.