Batman Returns (1992) is undoubtedly one of the most bizarre movies ever made. You wouldn’t expect anything less from a Tim Burton movie, but even then, it’s a hard movie to pin down. It's a Batman movie, a comic book movie, and somewhere between an action and sci-fi movie—that much is clear. But is the superhero showdown also a Christmas movie?
Yes, it’s that time of year again when everyone from families to film connoisseurs sit down to watch their favorite holiday classics. However, this usually leads to the inevitable debate of what actually is and isn’t a Christmas movie. And, much like Die Hard (1988) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Batman Returns often finds itself at the heart of that debate.
What is Batman Returns about?
Batman Returns is the sequel to Tim Burton’s 1989 game-changer Batman. With Keaton reprising his role as The Dark Knight, it picks up an untold amount of time after its predecessor, when the hero has definitively established himself as Gotham City’s protector. But that title comes into question when multiple new threats emerge.
Just as Gotham is preparing to celebrate the holidays, The Penguin emerges from the sewers of the city to take back what was stolen from him decades beforehand. Elsewhere, another tortured soul, Selina Kyle, is reborn after falling through the skies, becoming the deadly Catwoman, who also sets out to make those who wronged her pay.
With the lights brighter than ever, Batman must stand against both threats to ensure that the residents of Gotham City don’t experience a real life nightmare before Christmas.
Is Batman Returns a Christmas movie?
There has been a lot of debate as to whether or not Batman Returns is actually a Christmas movie, or if it’s just a superhero movie set at Christmastime. The truth is that both are accurate descriptions, but if we really look at the movie in-depth, it’s safe to say that it does meet the criteria of being the former.
This isn’t just a movie that happens to be set at Christmas. Elements of the holiday season play into the plot, with examples being the tree-lighting ceremony and mistletoe (“can be deadly if you eat it”). But even then, it's far more complex than that, using Christmas itself to tell a story that is a total subversion of the season.
Batman Returns isn’t a horror movie, but it does lean into the nightmarish aspect seen in other festive films such as Burton’s own The Nightmare Before Christmas. In spite of being draped in Christmas lights and festivities, Gotham City still looks eerie and corrupt, and the film’s clever script portrays its three major characters as the very antithesis of what Christmas is.
As one Twitter user excellently put it, these three tortured souls have no family during a time built upon family itself; they are the people that Christmas forgot.
So no, Batman Returns isn’t your classic Christmas movie. It takes the beauty of the season, that Christmas spirit, if you will, and feeds it to a story that is its complete antithesis, with the background festivities serving as an incredible contrast to a city completely unfamiliar with it. It relies on that contrast to make its story work—and it simply wouldn’t be as successful without it. And it's that clever subversion of the Christmas archetype that ultimately makes it a great Christmas movie—perhaps even the best.