The worst DC superhero movie has a secret link to a 32-year-old Batman classic

In the annals of DC’s cinematic history, one of its most notorious low points inadvertently hinted at a shared universe long before the formal establishment of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). The cinematic universe officially commenced with the release of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel in 2013, but a subtle reference in Batman Returns, a classic Tim Burton-directed Batman film from 1989, set in motion a narrative thread that would only be fully realized years later.

The unexpected connection arises from Halle Berry’s Catwoman, a movie that, despite its lackluster box office performance and critical reception, ingeniously linked itself to the earlier Batman films. Within the narrative, as Berry’s character, Patience Phillips, grapples with her newfound feline powers, Frances Conroy’s Ophelia Powers explains the legacy of those chosen to be messengers of the Egyptian deity Bast after a near-death experience. In a pivotal scene, a photo of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman from Batman Returns is prominently displayed, hinting at a shared universe.

This subtle yet impactful visual cue suggests that the Gotham City portrayed by Michael Keaton in Burton’s Batman films is part of the same universe as Berry’s Catwoman, adding layers of complexity to the timelines of the Burton and subsequent Schumacher eras. Despite the lack of official confirmation from Warner Bros. and DC, this connection sparks discussions and debates about the intricate web of timelines within the early Batman film series.

Halle Berry sees an image of Michelle Pfeiffer's Batman Returns character Selina Kyle in 2004's Catwoman

The backstory of Catwoman adds another layer of intrigue. Originally conceived as a direct spinoff to Batman Returns with Pfeiffer reprising her role, the project underwent years of rewrites and revisions before Berry’s version reached the big screen in 2004. While there was never a direct acknowledgment from Warner Bros. or DC regarding Catwoman’s place in the pre-Batman Begins timeline, the photo of Pfeiffer’s Catwoman served as an explicit nod to the interconnected franchise.

The complicated timeline of the Burton films, featuring Michael Gough and Pat Hingle as Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon, respectively, has long been a topic of speculation. While the quartet of movies featuring Keaton as Batman created a belief in a linear progression, the absence of definitive connective tissue between Burton and Schumacher led to uncertainties. Even with Keaton’s return in The Flash, which seemingly negates the possibility of a direct connection, and George Clooney’s cameo reinforcing the idea of separate universes, Pfeiffer’s visual cameo in Catwoman adds another layer of confusion.

Batman and Catwoman holding each other in the middle of a fight in Batman Returns

In essence, this obscure yet intriguing connection highlights the intricate dance of timelines within DC’s early cinematic ventures, offering fans and critics alike more questions than answers. The legacy of the first Batman films continues to evolve, with each subtle reference and visual cue adding layers to the rich tapestry of the Dark Knight’s cinematic history.

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