Investing In Batman: 30 Years Later An Executive’s Gamble On The Dark Knight Pays Off
By: Ryan Mac, Forbes Staff
More than 30 years ago, Michael Uslan took a gamble. A self-proclaimed comic book fanboy who first identified with Batman as an 8-year-old boy, Uslan, one of the executive producers of The Dark Knight Rises, decided to bet everything on his passion.
Teaming up with a partner and wrangling up some investment capital, he bought the film rights to the Batman franchise from DC comics in 1979. Uslan, who had worked as a comic book artist while still in college and later as a production attorney at the then-bustling United Artists film studio, had the vision of creating a more serious comic book film with a human story.
Today, with the most successful Batman reboot ever about to release the last movie in a trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan, Uslan’s investment has turned out a considerable return. While he would not discuss his personal financial stake in an interview with FORBES at Comic Con 2012, Uslan says he feels vindicated that a 30-year bet has resulted in a trilogy that has already grossed $1.3 billion worldwide.
The third film, The Dark Knight Rises, will be released in the United States next Friday.
While Uslan’s investment may seem obvious now with comic book film hype reaching fever pitch, Uslan’s push for creating darker superhero movies was met with laughs and derision in the late 1970s. Back then, on-screen productions that originated from comics were meant to be lighthearted and silly, akin to the Adam West version of Batman complete with slapstick humor and “KAPOW” onomatopoeia to boot.
Uslan, who was horrified as a teenager that his Gotham hero had turned into a court jester of sorts, vowed to make something heavier and more meaningful after buying the Batman film rights from DC. He then began to court every major Hollywood studio with his idea.
“I thought Hollywood was going to embrace this and they were going to lineup at my door, but instead… They told me I was crazy,” he remembers. “It was the worst idea they had ever heard.”
Yet Uslan persevered—for nearly 10 years. His first dark knight film, the 1989 Batman starring Michael Keaton, was also his first concrete assurance that perhaps he was right and that audiences wanted a deeper way to connect to their heros.
“I never once lost my belief that this was the right thing to do—that this was the way to restore the dignity to Batman and show the world that we would ultimately have success,” he says from his 49th annual Comic Con. “The key was, how do you hold on by your fingertips when you have seemingly nowhere else to turn and the clock is ticking?”
Fortunately for the 61-year-old Uslan, in an era of plenty of comic book movie reboots the executive producer and author of The Boy Who Loved Batman has a little more time—and justification. While he was mum on any future Batman series, Uslan called this “the golden age of comic book movie making.”
“This is our modern day mythology,” he says. ”This is American folklore and it’s becoming international folklore. The ancient gods of Greece, Rome and Egypt still exist, except now they wear spandex and capes.”