Matt Reeves’ eagerly anticipated take on the Dark Knight will soon be hitting theaters. The Batman will be a three hour long epic that’ll center on the early days of Bruce’s heroics in Gotham. Reeves has been open about his neo-noir influences on the film. So I’m here to provide you with some thematically on-point watches to get you in the mood for The Batman. From films that Reeves himself has declared are influential to movies that blazed a trail for the newest DC hero, this is a cinematic marathon that can be enjoyed by anyone. But hopefully our list will expand your understanding and enjoyment of the flick when it hits screens on March 4.
The gritty texture and intimate, crime-focused storytelling of Mann’s debut makes it seem like a perfect introduction into the dark world of The Batman. James Caan gives a career-best turn as Frank, a jewel thief looking to settle down with his girlfriend. Character-focused and atmosphere heavy, this is one of the most effective neo-noir films ever made. Balancing a heartfelt character piece about a conflicted man while also diving into the criminal underworld and the corruption at its core, Thief is a must watch before The Batman.
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Available to rent from YouTube, Apple, and Vudu
Donald Sutherland takes on the titular role of detective John Klute. He’s hired to investigate the mysterious death of an exec whose body was found with letters addressed to a woman named Bree Daniels. According to Kravitz, the relationship between Sutherland’s Klute and sex worker Bree played by Jane Fonda became key to her understanding of the relationship between Selina and Bruce. That actually makes a lot of sense, especially as Klute works as both a detective story and a brilliant and dark tale of a relationship born in the midst of a murder case.
Kravitz also gave this interesting insight, “What I love about Donald Sutherland in that movie is he judges her—he judges her and yet he falls in love with her.” It’s something that she felt was reflected in Selina and Bruce. “I just thought that there was something about that, that related to what I thought could be a Batman-Selina Kyle story. He doesn’t understand… what it takes to survive in this place. What you have to do just to survive in a place this rough.”
Directed by Jack Hill
Streaming free on Pluto
If The Batman is really about a street level vigilante taking on multiple levels of corruption in a broken city, then there’s no better film to watch than Coffy. Pam Grier is unstoppable as the nurse turned crime-stopper whose sister’s life is ruined by addiction. Just like Batman, Coffy takes on an alter ego to go after the people responsible for her family’s strife. One of the best Blaxploitation movies of all time, this is also a searing crime drama that points the finger at the powerful and puts the power back in the hands of the people. While Matt Reeves definitely hasn’t mentioned this one, it’s been at the forefront of our minds while thinking of The Batman.
Directed by Roman Polanski
Streaming on HBO Max
This is another of Reeves’ go to inspirations. When he first introduced the movie at DC Fandome, he mentioned that the neo-noir detective story of Chinatown was a key influence. There’s another level too. “Chinatown is a kind of metaphor for just how corrupt we are,” Reeves said in the Movie Maker interview in which Zoe Kravitz revealed her Klute thoughts. That exploration of corruption at every level of society is vital to The Batman. Polanski’s iconic tale stars Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes, a PI who’s drawn into a dark web of corruption.
Aesthetically, the influence of Chinatown on The Batman is clear. This is a dark world where street lights glint off the puddles on grimy pavements. Interestingly, Reeves’ specification of neo-noir actually makes a lot of sense. Noir from the ’40s and ’50s often has more humor, a sparkling wit that punches through the darkness. But neo-noirs are far more likely to focus on the bleakness and shadows than the quips and satire that often defined their predecessors.
All the President’s Men (1976)
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Streaming on HBO Max
Also from the director who made Klute, Reeves’ has brought up All the President’s Men as a key part of his journey to The Batman. Seeing as one of the few things we know for sure about The Batman is that it’s about institutional corruption, the connections here are clear. Pakula’s take on the Watergate scandal is a classic political intrigue tale. Once again focusing on citizens rather than police, it’s based on the true story of (and book written by) the two journalists who broke the story of the criminal corruption that ended Nixon’s presidential career.
This isn’t just a cinematic influence, though, as two characters in Reeves’ Batman share names with key figures in the Nixon case. Rupert Penry-Jones’ Gotham Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. and Peter Sarsgaard’s District Attorney Gil Colson names echo those of Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell and political advisor Charles Colson respectively. So this era of vast and public political corruption is clearly playing into The Batman.
Directed by David Fincher
Streaming free with a library card on Hoopla
It’s impossible to talk about movies to watch before The Batman and not mention this Fincher classic. Not only does it fit into the ’70s influenced framework but it’s also a great primer on the case that inspired Reeves’ Riddler. Taking on the real unsolved murders by the so called Zodiac killer, Fincher delivers an engaging crime flick about the way that obsessions can take over lives. Based on the true crime book of the same name, this is a dark detective drama that interestingly—and likely important to note with The Batman—doesn’t focus on police investigation. Instead, our passionate detective here is political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal). The citizen in-character makes this a unique tale and one that will likely play into the movies that made The Batman. Also, it’s good cipher practice for the Riddler’s puzzles.
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Much has been made of the dark, rain-swept vision of Reeves’ Gotham. There’s nothing campy and bright to be seen, at least not in the trailers. The detective aspect of Reeves’ Batman is key, but there’s also the gloomy noir of it all. That’s why I had to include Ida Lupino’s stunning and terrifying noir classic, The Hitch-Hiker. Friends Ray (Edmond O’Brien) and Gilbert (Frank Lovejoy) are enjoying a fishing trip when they extend some kindness to a hitcher. Soon they realize they’ve made a fatal mistake as their passenger is a violent killer. The tension here is so thick you could slice through it, and this is the kind of efficient chilling noir turn Batman needs.
The French Connection (1971)
The ground level crime films of the ’70s clearly made their impact on Reeves. The French Connection is another touch point the director has mentioned on numerous occasions. Friedkin’s crime-thriller centers on the heroin trade in ’60s and ’70s America. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider star as narcotics detectives assigned to investigate. Though it has yet to be confirmed, some of the comics that seem to be an inspiration also include drug plotlines, so that aspect could play into some of the mob crime The Batman will deal with. Stylistically, The French Connection has a grit and texture that Reeves’ would surely love to replicate.
The film also features one of Hollywood’s most famed and well thought of car chases. The Batman will feature a new street level Batmobile, so hopefully some of that French Connection flair will make its way to Gotham. That balance of bombastic and memorable yet realistic action is something superhero movies have often struggled with. Maybe The Batman can change that. With films like The French Connection as inspiration Reeves’ ambition is clear.
In the Cut (2003)
Directed by Jane Campion
Streaming on Netflix
The murderous subplot and focus on Selina Kyle of The Batman got us thinking about female led neo-noirs. Jane Campion’s bleakly brilliant serial killer thriller is an off kilter gem. Meg Ryan stars as Frannie, a teacher who gets caught up in a series of killings after witnessing an assault. Soon she’s entangled with Mark Ruffalo’s detective, and her world begins to come apart at the seams. This grimy exploration of passion, romance, sex, and violence is radical for its subversion of the male gaze. It also features another conflicted and strange romance that could influence our Selina and Bruce. So if you’re looking for a contemporary thriller about with some recognizable faces to watch before The Batman, then make sure to add this to your watch list.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Sure, it’s a little lighter than our other choices, but Robert Altman’s delightful and twisty take on Philip Marlowe is a wonderful example of neo-noir that lavishes in the humor of the genre. That’s something we’ve seen touched on in the trailers for The Batman, where Batman mentions that Selina has a lot of cats—honestly could be a Long Goodbye nod itself—and her quippy response about strays. This lovely film centers on Elliott Gould as the charming down and out Philip Marlowe who gets drawn into a chaotic world of corruption while on a case. Moving the action to then contemporary ’70s LA, the film could be a great blueprint for Reeves to transfer the darkness of neo-noir of the past to the 2020s. It’s also just absolutely brilliant.
While I doubt Matt Reeves is going around talking about this majestic exploitation gem from Paul Verhoeven, it’s a gritty, glamourous neo-noir that takes place in a hyper real world filled with beautiful women and corruption. Sounds a lot like The Batman‘s Iceberg Lounge. If you’ve never seen Elizabeth Berkley’s starring turn as Nomi, a troubled young woman looking for a new life in Las Vegas, now’s your time. I’ve seen those pink wigs that Zoë Kravitz is rocking in the trailers for The Batman. If the Iceberg Lounge and the women who work there are going to play a big part in Reeves’ vision, then he and you could do far worse than look to this masterpiece.
Featured Image: American International Pictures, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures