When 1989 'Batman' Premiere Reached a Fever Pitch: "We Were Afraid We Couldn't Control Security"

As 'Suicide Squad' fans flock to theaters for Jared Leto's rendition of the Joker, THR takes a look back at the buzz for Jack Nicholson's version.
Warner Bros./Photofest

Twenty-seven years before Jared's Joker, there was Jack's — and the world had never seen anything like it.

The hype for Tim Burton's Batman, starring Jack Nicholson (the Joker), Michael Keaton (Bruce Wayne) and Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale) was so great that Warner Bros. had to scale back the L.A. premiere for "security concerns," as reported in The Hollywood Reporter's June 5, 1989 edition.

Initially, the studio "seriously considered" planning a mega-party, complete with a full transformation of Westwood's Broxton Avenue into Gotham City. But the big-scale plans were scrapped, and the extra funds were donated to support the L.A. homeless, in the spirit of "the Caped Crusader's propensity for doing good."

Charlotte Gee, Warner Bros. vice president of publicity and promotion at the time, told The Hollywood Reporter, "There has been a swell of anticipation, rising to an intense point now, and we were afraid we couldn't control security and would have a problem occur that would spoil a wonderful evening. It just wouldn't be responsible."

Instead, Warners opted for two 8 p.m. screenings at the Bruin and Village theaters, where a crowd — made up mostly of 16- to 25-year-olds — flocked to snatch a seat, with "many sporting the yellow and black Batman trademark in some format." Out of 10,000 estimated Bat fans who flooded the scene, 1,700 lucky diehards were treated to free encore screenings.

In honor of Jared Leto's Joker hitting the big screen in Suicide Squad, look back at the historic premiere by reading THR's original June 21, 1989, Batman premiere coverage below.

Barry King / Getty

June 21, 1989  Nearly 1,700 well-behaved Batfans were rewarded for their patience Monday night when, after the premiere in two Westwood theaters of Batman, they were admitted to additional free late-night screenings of the film.

"We didn't honestly think that many people would stay," said Charlotte Gee, Warner Bros. vp publicity and promotion. "We thought when the celebrities left and the lights went out, the crowd would disperse, but they were having a good time, and they stayed."

Warner Bros. said that police estimated close to 10,000 fans filled the cordoned-off Westwood streets at the height of the arrival of the stars for the 8 p.m. premiere.

The crowd appeared to be made up primarily of 16- to 25-year-olds, many sporting the yellow and black Batman trademark in some format. A large evil-clown balloon from the film hovered above the theaters with the Batman logo spotlighted onto both theaters.

On Friday, fans began their weekend-long vigil for free premiere tickets. Warner Bros. had announced that those who came dressed as any of the film's characters would receive free souvenirs. Thus, the sidewalks around the theaters were filled with assorted Jokers and Batmen.

According to Gee, the studio handed out numbered wristbands to allow those who were first in line to receive better seats and also to allow people to go home without losing their places in line.

During the two hours that the film screened at the premiere, the majority of the crowd dispersed, but a few thousand die-hard fans stayed.

"We never officially said there would be a second screening, but it was always in our minds," said Gee, acknowledging that such a rumor spread through the crowd early on. "And when we saw that the fans weren't going home, Barry Reardon [Warner Bros. distribution president] decided to screen the movie again for the fans."

The crowd cheered after an announcement of the second screening was made on bullhorns, said Gee.

"All along we wanted it to be a people's premiere, and we just carried it through until the end," concluded Gee. — Andrea King

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