Why Batman This Halloween? Anatomy of a Batman Fan

Y’see, the National Retail Federation recently announced its top selling Halloween costumes for 2016 (Doc always wakes up extra early to get to the press conference). And topping the list for “millennials” (the 18 – 34 crowd) is Batman and his bat-ilk. Captain America: Civil War and Deadpool may have outpaced Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad at the box office, but when it comes time to don a costume themselves, millennials are drawn to Gotham.

Batman

Now, a franchise doesn’t just claw its way to the top of the Halloween heap by appealing to just one segment of our media-hungry millennials.  The folks dressing up in Batman costumes include everyone from the person who’s been collecting comics for 20 years to the college freshman who just saw Suicide Squad last week.

MOST POPULAR HALLOWEEN COSTUMES FOR MILLENNIALS (National Retail Federation 2016)

1. Batman Character

2. Witch

3. Animal (Cat, Dog, Bunny, etc.)

4. Tie: Marvel Superhero (Deadpool, Spider-Man, etc.) AND DC Superhero (Wonder Woman, Superman)

5. Vampire

6. Video Game Character

7. Slasher Movie Villain (Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, etc)

8. Pirate

9. Yoda

10. Zombie

So who are these people?  How do we separate the comics fans from the movie fans?  Obviously, there’s going to be some overlap, but thanks to Ranker Insights, it’s not hard to see that we’re talking about some pretty distinct groups.

Here we go. There are two different kinds of Batman fans. First, let’s talk about the movie fans.  On Ranker’s Best Movie Characters of All Time, The Joker ranks as #6 and Batman himself is #11. (Doc guesses Warner Bros was right to give Jack Nicholson top billing over Michael Keaton back in 1989.)  As you’d expect, when you narrow the list to millennials, though, The Joker jumps outright to #1, and Batman uses his utility belt to climb to #7.

Dig deeper into that data, and you find some stuff that’s surprising, and some less so.  For instance, when fans of Batman as a movie character are cross-listed against Ranker’s list of Best Movies of All Time, the result is a lot of love for Batman movies; they’re 4 or 5 times more likely to be boosters of the Chris Nolan trilogy and the Nicholson/Keaton outing.  Doc was less than stunned by this finding. But if there’s one thing this group loves, it’s epic franchise filmmaking.  After the Batman films, the movies most likely to be admired by movie-Batman fans are Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Godfather parts I and II, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  It’s only when you get to #11 that you find a stand-alone film, Nolan’s Inception.

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So what about the folks who are fans of Batman as a comic book character?  Like their movie-fan brethren, The Dark Knight tops the list of movies these guys are likely to admire.  But after that, the list is a bunch of films that, for the most part, you’ll find on or near the AFI top 100: Citizen KaneChinatownBen-HurAmadeus.  Add in a sprinkling of cult classics and animation milestones, plus one more superhero flick—significantly, NOT a Batman movie but Spider-Man 2, for Doc’s money by far the best of the Tobey Maguire trilogy.  This is an impressive bunch of films, with tastes that run both deep and broad. Those tastes may be more refined than the movie fans’, but they’re also less intense. A Batman movie fan is about 7 times more likely than the average ranker to vote up The Dark Knight; the Batman comic-book fans are only about 2.5 times as likely to vote to push The Dark Knight up the lists.

The picture gets clearer once you look at the kinds of TV shows the two fandoms watch.  According to Ranker Insights, Batman movie fans love one show above all others, and that show is… Scrubs.

Wait, what?  Doc did not see that one coming.

But the numbers don’t lie.  If you like movie Batman, you’re almost three times more likely than the average Ranker to call Scrubs one of the better shows of the past 20 years.  Less strongly, the tastes of this group overlap with How I Met Your MotherSupernatural, procedurals like Law & Order and Criminal Minds, and Sesame Street.  Sesame Street?  Hmmmm… a picture is starting to come into focus here.

How about the comic-book fans?  The show they’re most likely to overlap ain’t Scrubs… it’s The Wire.  The rest of the list has the grown-up sensibility of the group’s movie list: Band of Brothers and Justified appear near the top, and the comedies (Arrested Development and It’s Always Sunny…) have a lot more of a TV-MA feel.

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How about each fandom’s all-time TV characters?  Batman himself unsurprisingly tops both lists, but after that, the movie fans go for pretty lighthearted icons… Family Guy‘s Peter Griffin, Ron Swanson of Parks & Recreation, Homer Simpson and even Carlton Banks from The Fresh Prince.  The comic fans run in the opposite direction—serious-minded anti-heroes like Tony Soprano, Walter White and Don Draper.  For comic relief, this group turns to Peter Falk’s Columbo and Fred Gwynne’s Herman Munster.

Okay, one group likes ScrubsSesame StreetSupernatural, Peter Griffin and Carlton Banks.  The other likes The WireBreaking BadMad Men and The Munsters.  What do we draw from this?  The fault line here is age. Doc wonders if the movie-Batman fans have even seen an episode of The Munsters.

You even see it in the overlaps with non-pop culture lists like The Greatest Minds of All Time.  For the movie fans, the top answers are MLK, Abe Lincoln, Mozart and Einstein… in other words, the great minds you learn about in grade school and high school.  The comic book fans line up behind Immanuel Kant, Socrates, Hippocrates, Plato and a bunch of other guys whose work you have to go to college in order to blow off.