Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) takes on its ultimate COPYCAT Black Scorpion (1995)!
We have ourselves another ultimate showdown between Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and the B-movie rip-off Black Scorpion (1995) in this edition of COPYCATS! (Check out past episodes on Lethal Weapon vs LA Vice, The Fugitive vs. Fugitive X, and RoboCop vs. RoboVampire)
Copycats is a bimonthly column about popular action movies and the low-budget films they inspire. Each column, we take a popular action movie and find its cinematic doppelganger, revel in their similarities and dissect their differences. Some of these copycats are good enough (or strange enough) to earn their place in action movie history, but most are being chronicled here to preserve their existence – for better or for worse.
Batman (1989) vs. Black Scorpion (1995)
Original Film: Batman, 1989, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, directed by Tim Burton
Copycat: Black Scorpion, 1995, starring Joan Severance and Garrett Morris, directed by Jonathan Winfrey
Synopsis of both films: In a crime-ridden major metropolitan city, only one masked hero – with a really cool car – can keep the city safe from a criminal mastermind.
Until 1989, most non-comic-book-reading people knew batman as the Caped Crusader portrayed on the cheesy 1960s serial starring Adam West and Burt Ward or as a member of the animated Super Friends. Director Tim Burton, fresh off directing Beetlejuice (1988) and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), was given the task of bringing Batman to the big screen. His version (which made the fanboys and fangirls go nuts) was much darker, much more action driven, and completely devoid of the cartoony cheesiness common viewers had come to expect from Batman and his Boy Wonder.
With a budget of $35 million (which seems crazy by today’s standards) Burton’s Batman was a huge hit – grossing $411 million worldwide and spawning a number of sequels and imitators. One such copycat was Black Scorpion.
Produced by B-Movie Behemoth Roger Corman – who is credited for coming up with the idea after saying to writer Craig Nevius that he “wanted to do a female Superman-Spiderman-Batman” – Black Scorpion premiered as part of his Roger Corman Presents series on Showtime. You see, kids, back in the day, movie channels didn’t spend hundreds of millions on creating original content, they spent a large portion of their meager budgets on the broadcast rights of movie blockbusters – which they premiered during primetime – and the rest was used to either purchase or produce low-budget fare to fill the rest of the schedule. And, if you’re reading this column, you were probably up at about 3 a.m. religiously watching these “filler” movies.
Back to Black Scorpion. Starring former model Joan Severance [No Holds Barred (1988) and Bird on the Wire (1990)], Black Scorpion does share some similarities to Batman – albeit low-rent homages to the blockbuster – including:
- Both Batman and Black Scorpion are alter egos of prominent citizens (Bruce Wayne, a millionaire philanthropist, and Darcy Walker, a cop)
- Both have a backstory that involves the death of a parent
- Both have no actual super powers, but have access to super-powered technology
- Both have really cool cars, black costumes and identifying accessories (Batman has the utility belt while Black Scorpion has a taser ring)
- Both face off against villains with man-made deformities (Batman had the Joker, a maniacal clown, and Black Scorpion had Breathtaker, an asthmatic baddie trying to steal the air – which, as I write it, sounds like something The Simpsons’ Mr. Burns would do).
- Both have a tech guy (Batman has Alfred and, of course, a ton of money, while Black Scorpion has a former car thief/car-pimper-upper Argyle (the always funny Garrett Morris)
- Both kind of reveal themselves to a love interest – Batman to Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and Black Scorpion to her police partner Michael Russo (Bruce Abbott). Side note, Black Scorpion reveals her secret identity during sex, so Russo is really the winner in this faceoff.
Remember when Corman said he “wanted to do a female Superman-Spiderman-Batman?” Well, he did, pretty much exactly. The difference being he probably did it for one thirty-fifth of Batman’s budget, or less.
Also, like Batman, Black Scorpion was followed by a sequel, Black Scorpion II: Aftershock (1996), and a reboot/tv series, Black Scorpion (2001, with Michelle Lintel in the lead).
Which is better?
Black Scorpion. SURPRISE! You see, I’ve always found Burton’s Batman to be kind of boring. Like everyone else in 1989, I saw it in the movie theatre, and it was fine. But during a summer that also had the release of the third Indiana Jones, the second Ghostbusters and Lethal Weapon, Road House, The Abyss and two other underwater movies, Kickboxer, UHF and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Batman was literally the dark horse.
It looked great back in 1989, but it was also dim and moody. In my humble opinion, Batman Returns (1992), is a much more enjoyable movie (primarily because it looks like Burton allowed himself to have a little fun), and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy captured Batman’s character better – keeping the mood dark without dimming the lights.
Black Scorpion is a Roger Corman movie. It’s not trying to be anything other than a knockoff, and there’s satisfaction in that. It’s an easy watch, especially Joan Severance … I know, probably not supposed to say that anymore, but Severance is a beautiful woman who kicks butt wearing a tight black outfit with thigh-high boots, so, cut me some slack! Its low-rent imitations of big-budget Batman adds to the enjoyment, as does Garrett Morris. It’s a fun movie, and it’s better than Batman. There, I said it, and I don’t care what you think!
Article by Eric LaRose – a Wisconsin-based connoisseur of action, horror and sci-fi movies from the ‘80s and ‘90s. A former journalist and podcaster, Eric wrote the ending to the Toxic Avenger Part 4, but the only person who will back up that claim is his wife.
What are your thoughts on this Batman v Black Scorpion showdown? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!