By McKinley Noble
Batman’s always been known for his near-genius intelligence and extraordinary combat abilities, but it wouldn’t come together without his trademark Batsuit. Not only does it help create a frightening visage of Gotham’s resident superhero, but the sheer amount of gadgetry in each build features cutting-edge technology that constantly reinvents itself as the need arises.
Through the Caped Crusader’s first silver screen appearance in 1940s to the current blockbuster series headed by director Christopher Nolan, each incarnation of Batman has looked dramatically different, taking advantage of new developments in costuming, design, and technology. Starting from the groundbreaking 1989 film, here’s a close look at the Batsuit, and how it’s changed over more than 20 years.
- Grappling Hook
By far, the Batsuit worn by Michael Keaton in director Tim Burton’s debut superhero movie was the most advanced and visually stunning version that had ever been seen on-screen at the time. Instead of a simple cloth and polyester costume, this was designed to act as body armor, protecting its wearer from blunt force and point-blank gunfire. Additionally, it set a precedent for all future Batsuits, as the first one had to simulate a muscular tone that Keaton didn’t possess.
Only one version is ever seen in the 1989 film, but this Batsuit was actually 28 different costumes, with multiple capes and half a dozen cowls. For the initial fitting, costume designer Bob Ringwood went as far as creating a full-size model of Keaton’s body out of fiberglass, which was critical to make the Batsuit form-fitting.
Although the on-screen action done with this Batsuit was impressive when seen in theaters, the reality is that the stunt actors and Keaton barely move at all in the inflexible sculpted latex and rubber design, even with the entire outfit being made up of more than half a dozen pieces. From the chest to the cape to the individual limbs, the whole Batsuit was separated at various joints to allow basic movement, not to mention the difficult process of getting actors in and out of the bodypiece.
Batman Returns (1992)
- LSD Screen Enemy-Targeting Batarangs
When you look closely, you’ll notice the Batman Returns Batsuit isn’t designed to emphasize synthetic muscular like the previous model. Instead, the straight lines and geometric details more closely follow the “armor” aspect of the costume, although it’s still largely made from similar materials.
Notably, the foam rubber is much thinner than before, yet the suit’s rigidity still limited Keaton’s movement by large degrees. Particularly, he was still unable to turn his head while wearing the cowl, necessitating him to move his entire body at once to see properly. Eagle-eyed filmgoers will also notice that the chest emblem is different, resembling the bat-shaped icon that more closely followed the comics and officially licensed merchandise from DC Comics.
Batman Forever (1995)
- Batarang Launcher
Joel Schumacher’s take on Batman introduced a much more organic Batsuit design that reemphasized sleek musculature instead of hard body armor. Like Ringwood’s Batsuit, the entire piece was made out of a combination of latex and foam rubber, but the wider range of scenes required hundreds of them to be made for filming.
Oddly enough, this costume is most known for its prominent nipples, which were either outright hated or played up for humor amongst the Batman fanbase. It’s only during the final act of the film that the nipples disappear, as the sole remaining “sonar suit” harkens back to a look closer to the Michael Keaton Batsuit.
Batman & Robin (1997)
By the time George Clooney took over Val Kilmer’s role as Batman, the “panther” design of the Batsuit had undergone even more drastic changes in comparison to the models before it. Although it was made of the same foam rubber and latex materials, a change in the color scheme rendered the main costume dark blue with no visible primary colors, such as the yellow on the chest piece’s logo.
In general, the Batsuit’s musculature had been slightly toned down from Batman Forever in favor of a cleaner pattern, while the one worn near the end of the movie is painted half-silver with more aerodynamic streaks etched into the bodywork. Notably, it’s also the only model that doesn’t have a utility belt of any kind. Like the 1989 and 1992 Batsuit designs, this one also featured a stiff, inflexible cowl that rendered Clooney unable to turn his head without pivoting his entire body.
Batman Begins (2005)
- Mini mines
- "The Tumbler" Batmobile
- "Memory Cloth" cape
When director Christopher Nolan aimed for a much more realistic take on the Batman saga, that theme extended to the Batsuit itself as much as possible. Although it still used much of the stifling latex-rubber combination, this new costume featured a neoprene skin (much like a surfer’s wetsuit) in order to allow Christian Bale and his stunt doubles a larger range of movement, working towards the fluidity that the Dark Knight was supposed to have.
Costume designer Lindy Hemming and her team supported the suit’s armor by creating, baking, and hand-shaping plastiline molds which were later injected with a latex foam solution. By far, the most high tech part of the production process was inventing a material for Bale’s cape—a parachute nylon refined by an electrostatic finish, something used on helmets for the London Police Service.
Still, like so many others before it, the suit’s density and claustrophobic fit was reportedly very dangerous for Bale and stunt actors to wear, as they became extremely hot while wearing it. In fact, it was so unbearable, the studio updated the suit as soon as possible, making a point to reference it in the sequel.
The Dark Knight (2008) / The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
- Batpod motorcycle
- The Bat plane
Finally, the Batsuit in Batman Begins featured a cowl that fully allowed its wearer to move his head with a completely free range of motion. Batman Begin’s cowl was improvised by thinning the material enough to soften it, but this next cowl separated the head—which now resembled a helmet—from the neck altogether. However, The Dark Knight costume was still much heavier than the previous model, with over 200 pieces of rubber, fiberglass, nylon, and metallic mesh built into it.
Finishing off the Batsuit’s exterior, the rest of the suit is also constructed with polyurethane, a material used to create hard, solid (but much lighter) plastics seen in products like steering wheels, apartment flooring, and various types of furniture. With the application of cutting-edge chemistry and engineering, it’s essentially the most realistic comparison to the Batsuit that’s possible outside of the comics.