Since 1940’s “Batman” #4, and his first movie serial three years later, the Caped Crusader has called Gotham City his home. On screen and on the printed page, its visual representation has changed quite a bit over almost 70 years. At times, the look of the metropolis has been an afterthought; at others, directors have paid more attention to Gotham’s appearance than to the characters living in it, and its latest appearance, in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” may be its most unusual yet. (None the least for sparking a heated New York/Chicago debate.) Here’s a look at eight movies full of gargoyles, dark alleys, and, yes, big naked statues.
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
Production Designer: Uncredited
This bargain basement production didn’t even bother giving the Dynamic Duo a Batmobile, letting them make do with a generic black sedan, so it’s no surprise Gotham is equally indistinct. The “Gotham City Foundation” is just a backlot street, and the chase scenes look an awful lot like the Bronson Canyon back roads where the ’60s “Batman” would eventually house its Batcave. The only memorable location is Gotham’s “Little Tokyo” where the serial’s shockingly racist narrator informs us “a wise government” has rounded up all the residents and sent them off to internment camps, turning it into a “virtual ghost street.” It makes for a nice contrast with the numerous scenes set on streets with some un-Gotham-like white picket fences; apparently, Mayberry is one of the town’s rarely discussed suburbs.
Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
Art Direction by Serge Krizman and Jack Martin Smith
This big-screen adaptation of the iconic mid-’60s “Batman” television show was filmed between the series’ first and second series, which explains the series’ notably small scale and scope. Little to no attempt is made to disguise the fact that the production was shot in and around Los Angeles; when the Batcopter winds its way over Gotham, it looks suspiciously like the Hollywood Hills. Most of the action takes around water: at the docks where the super-villains have their hideout, in the Batboat, or atop the Penguin’s pre-atomic submarine. None of these sequences, all shot in water tanks, include any shots of a Gotham skyline. The only major municipal landmark we see is the United World Building, headquartered on “Gotham East River.” This, of course, is simply stock footage of the real life United Nations Building in New York City.
Directed by Tim Burton
Production Design by Anton Furst
If audiences still had the Adam “Pow!”-“Zot!” West’s Batman on their minds when they walked into movie theaters in the summer of 1989, the first shot of Tim Burton and production designer Anton Furst’s Gotham City erased all of that in a moment. Their Gotham was a moody, messy tangle of granite and steel peaks and spires. When Burton takes us down to street level, the city assumes even more nightmarish proportions: buildings, which look like they’ve been built on foundations of garbage, are encased in tentacle-like steam pipes. Jack Napier’s transformation into the Joker takes place at Axis Chemicals, a factory that looks like some kind of cancerous growth of concrete, and the finale is set inside the tallest church bell tower in history. Furst’s creations are weird amalgams of different types of structures: apartment buildings with smokestacks, an art museum that looks like a bank vault, as if the place itself is as schizophrenic as its wildly costumed citizens.