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The Many Inspirations For Every Onscreen Portrayal Of Gotham City

Updated May 28, 2020 13.6k views12 items

Gotham City isn't just a location on a map; it's a character as rich and storied as the Dark Knight himself. Through the decades, Gotham has evolved and transformed to reflect the different eras and artistic tastes of comic book creators. It's always been plagued by villains, but you can feel the unique quirks and differences between the Gothams of different eras. 

The variations in Gotham's aesthetics are perhaps most distinct in the many onscreen adaptations of Batman, where filmmakers' various styles have a massive influence on the city's appearance. Joel Schumacher's films are filled with as much pop and color as a comic book, while Nolan's gritty Gotham feels like a real city in our own world. Take a journey through the many iterations of Gotham, and learn what inspired them all. 

  • Gotham City Is 'Manhattan Below Fourteenth Street At Eleven Minutes Past Midnight On The Coldest Night Of November'

    Since its very inception, Gotham City has always been an analog for New York City. Batman writer Dennis O'Neil has described the city as "Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night of November."

    In many ways, the early writers of Batman were really writing about the world around them. Many of them worked out of Times Square, so setting the series in a world inspired by the seedier side of New York came naturally to them. New York has even been called "Gotham" in the past, although the origin of the nickname isn't particularly flattering. The name comes from the village of Gotham, a small town in England whose residents had a historical reputation for madness.

  • Mostly forgotten in modern pop culture, 1943's The Batman serial was the first appearance of the Dark Knight on film. While it still featured Bruce Wayne taking down villains in Gotham City, the aesthetic of the city was largely sidelined to make way for B-movie action and WWII propaganda. The series was developed more as a way to drum up support for the WWII effort than to properly adapt the source material, and there were a lot of questionable decisions made in the process.

    For one, the villain is a racially insensitive depiction of a Japanese evil genius named Dr. Daka Daka. The cheap production quality of the time is also a big factor in the lazy appearance of Gotham. Even Batman's costume is a loose-fitting abomination of fashion. 

  • The 1960s TV Series Replicated The Bright Color Palette Of The Comics Very Literally
    Photo: ABC

    The original Batman television series is remembered as a hokey yet charming adaptation of the comics, but it's not a very faithful one. "Gotham City" as a unique entity barely exists in the show, as the series was filmed primarily around various sound stages and locations in 1960s Los Angeles.

    The creators did try to remain faithful to the comic's overall aesthetic, hence the bright colors and zany costumes. The storylines of the Batman comics of the time were also much lighter than those of the 1940s, which added to the light atmosphere. At the time, the Batman television series was considered one of the most accurate comic book adaptations ever. 

  • There had been a few different Batman screen projects before Tim Burton's version hit the big screens in 1989, but few took the world by storm the way this particular adaptation did. Production designer Anton Furst won an Oscar for his live-action reimagining of Gotham City, and for good reason. He looked to early 20th-century Futurist artists for influence, as well as to German filmmaker Fritz Lang. 

    Furst's Gotham definitely evokes imagery from Lang's Metropolis. Harsh, dramatized edges make the city look sharp and uninviting. Burton allegedly told Furst he wanted Batman's hometown to look like "hell burst through the pavement and grew."

    The Gotham of Burton's film was also heavily inspired by New York City. References to then-mayor Ed Koch are included, as well as a not-so-subtle reference to the "Fuggenheim" museum.