clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Breaking down the 1970s movies influencing Matt Reeves’ The Batman

New, 3 comments

Batman, meet J. J, Gittes

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Batman watches the sunrise in Gotham City in The Batman Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

While The Batman fits into the trend of longer runtimes, director Matt Reeves appears to be relying on more than the works of Bob Kane and Bill Finger to shape his DC Comics adaptation. Beyond the creators of the original character, Reeves also seems to be mostly looking past Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, Joel Schumacher, and every other director who has brushed up to The Bat.

So where is Reeves looking? If his interview with MovieMaker is to be believed, the 1970s.

While there’s longstanding debate over what the best individual year for movies was, there’s a loose consensus for the 1970s being the best decade. Emerging out a Hollywood which had been overloaded with historical epics and stifled by the censorious Hays Code, “New Hollywood,” as the moment became known, started in the late 1960s and moved into full force in the following decade.

Reeves name checks five ’70s classics in his MovieMaker profile. Here’s a breakdown of each one, and how seeing them before The Batman could enhance your viewing experience.

All the President’s Men (1976, Alan J. Pakula)

All the President’s Men: Robert Redford on the phone
Robert Redford working the phones in All the President’s Men
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

What it is: All the President’s Men was focused on one of the decade’s biggest stories: Watergate, the ur-scandal of modern Washington that forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, President’s Men is a thriller focused on two journalists working step-by-step to take down the most powerful man on the planet. It’s not a violent movie, but the threat of violence constantly hangs over the two.

The Batman connection: All the President’s Men’s poster tagline was “the most devastating detective story of this century.” It’s an ethos Reeves wants to embody: “this story is, in addition to being almost a horror movie, and a thriller, and an action movie, at its core, it’s also very much a detective story,” he tells MovieMaker.

But there’s more than lip service to Batman’s detective past here. Two characters, Gotham Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) and District Attorney Gil Colson (Peter Sarsgaard), have names which reference Nixon’s scandal. John Mitchell was Nixon’s Attorney General, and has the distinction of being the the only United States attorney general to serve a prison sentence. Charles Colson was one of Nixon’s confidantes.

“I wanted to do a story in which the corruption of Gotham was one of the most important aspects of the story, because Gotham is a sick place. Bruce is desperate to try and make a change,” Reeves tells MovieMaker.

All the President’s Men is available to stream on HBO Max.

Klute (1971, Alan J. Pakula)

Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda in Klute
Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda in Klute

What it is: Klute’s name is somewhat misleading. While Donald Sutherland’s character, detective John Klute, is a lead in the movie, Jane Fonda’s Bree Daniels is the key protagonist. Bree is a sex worker in New York City, trying to survive the best she can while venting to her psychiatrist. Klute is on the hunt for a missing man, and the police have found obscene letters in the man’s office addressed to Bree.

Once Klute finds Bree, the two begin an uneasy partnership brimming with sexual tension.

The Batman connection: Zoe Kravitz tells MovieMaker that Klute “became a Bible for me in terms of tone and the relationship between” between Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne. “What I love about Donald Sutherland in that movie is he judges her — he judges her and yet he falls in love with her. And I just thought that there was something about that, that related to what I thought could be a Batman-Selina Kyle story.”

Klute is available to rent on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (1972 and 1974, Francis Ford Coppola)

John Cazale as Fredo Coreleone, with Al Pacino
John Cazale as Fredo Coreleone, with Al Pacino

What they are: Getting tagged “greatest movies of all time” makes The Godfather movies sound stuffy, when in fact they are deeply human stories, a moving saga of immigration and corruption following the Corleone family from patriarch Vito (Marlon Brando), his son Michael (Al Pacino), and the rise of organized crime in America.

The Batman connection: Reeves seems to be drawing from a smaller part of the sweeping saga: Fredo Corleone, Michael’s older brother, played memorably by John Cazale. Fredo grows resentful of Michael being chosen for leadership despite his place in the pecking order, and it’s this sort of jealousy that Colin Farrell will be bringing to The Penguin.

“There’s a certain amount of brokenness in [Oswald Cobblepot] that, I think, as a reference, not for me performance-wise, but just emotionally, as a reference for Matt — I think Fredo from The Godfather was a bit of a reference,” Farrell tells MovieMaker.

The Godfather films are available to rent on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.

Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski)

Jack Nicholson in Chinatown
Jack Nicholson in Chinatown

What it is: One of the classic neo-noirs, Chinatown follows detective (picking up a trend here?) Jake Gittes in 1930s Los Angeles, who is hired to capture pictures of a woman’s supposedly cheating husband. Gittes gets dragged deep into an underworld of deceit, corruption, and violence which has repercussions for the entire city.

The Batman connection: While the movie only gets a passing reference in the MovieMaker profile, the elements resonate all over: a corrupted city in need of a hero, gorgeous dames with dubious motives, people trying to survive and doing whatever’s necessary. Things don’t go so well for Gittes in his hunt for corruption, so it will be interesting to see what fate befalls Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne.

Chinatown is available to stream with a library card on Kanopy and Hoopla.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon