Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Long Live The Bat: Batman 1989 and the Home Video Revolution

The 30th anniversary of Batman 1989 is this Sunday, so it's time to ramp up the celebration!

As much as the movie revolutionized summer blockbusters and their impact on popular culture, it also caused a revolution in the home video industry. The movie was released on home video (in glorious VHS format, God love it) on November 15, 1989, a mere five months after the theatrical release, which was unheard of at the time. Movie fans usually had to wait a year or more after a theatrical release for a film to appear on home video.

Not only that, the suggested retail price was a mere $24.98 per copy, another massive change from the status quo of the industry. Videocassettes of other films sold for nearly $100, when home video was mostly a rental business. Warner Bros. decided this was a film fans wanted to own, so they made it affordable. They were right: audiences bought it right and left. Many stores sold it at an even lower price, at $20 or even $15 dollars. One of my brothers bought his copy for only $15 at our local Wall to Wall Sound and Video (RIP). He still has it today!

One of the ways Warner Bros. was able to keep the price low was by allowing a commercial to appear at the beginning of the tape, courtesy of Diet Coke. This was another radical change from the norm. Here is the commercial in all of its glory!

Also featured was this animated call for people to purchase Warner Bros. swag, with the help of studio favorites Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck!

The timing of the video release was, unsurprisingly, tied into that year's holiday shopping season, as this commercial for the video confirms. I posted this same commercial during my Christmas programming last year, and of all the countless commercials I've featured on the blog, this is one of the hardest sells I've ever seen!

Not everyone was happy with the early and affordable release of Batman on home video. Theater chains, smaller ones in particular, were upset over lost revenue to the home video release, as the movie was such a box office success that it was still playing in some theaters as late as November of that year. This local news coverage of the home video launch from Los Angeles conveys that story as well as a publicity event the studio held in LA, plus some (failed) attempts at humor by the local news team.

With all of the Internet streaming options we have today, it's easy to forget how momentous it was when a favorite film was released on home video, and up to that time, no home video release was as momentous as Batman.

Thanks for reading!

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