What year was Batman Returns set in?

It’s like Back to The Future with a man in black rubber, a woman in black PVC, a megalomaniac, and a dude who looks like a penguin.

As I got older, I started wondering “what period was Batman Returns set in?”. Its predecessor, Batman, seemed modern for the time (1989) but Returns felt a lot older. People wore clothes from the early 20th century, maybe 20s-30s and the architecture was very Art Deco.

The problem is, when you Google “What year was Batman Returns set in?”, you get the year the film was released: 1992. Not helpful. Then I found this on Quora about the first film:

It’s hard to tell. The architecture suggests that, but the technology suggests what was then the present day.

That was 1989, meaning that Thomas and Martha Wayne were probably killed around 1969 or so. So why, in the flashback to that scene, were they and little Bruce dressed like it’s the 1940s? Did somebody mess with the timestream? Does the Keaton Batmobile have a flux capacitor?

Batman Returns has a similar issue. It almost feels like the main characters are stuck in a period they aren’t from, as they appear modern and the rest of Gotham is still in a weird 20th century time warp. But let’s look at this logically. In the film, we start with Oswald Cobblepot’s birth and early days as a baby 33 years before what we believe is 1992, taking us to 1959. Are you telling me 33 years pass and people haven’t updated their clothes? And there are other suggestions about the time, as a commenter on this blog post mentions:

Some more timewarp craziness, this time form (sic) Batman Returns:

Ted Bundy exists and is a known serial killer. (Bruce Wayne dialogue to Selina)

And yet, only about 30-40 years earlier (whatever Penguin’s age is), Gotham was something out of circa early 1900s (judging by Penguin’s parents’ dress and house furnishings, Pee Wee and Simone)

Comment link

Bundy was alive between 1946–1989 and he admitted to murders committed between 1974 and 1978 so it definitely wasn’t set in the 20s or 30s. So maybe, like Batman, it was set in an alternate universe’s 1992 where Art Deco and German expressionism never died. Did I mention Tim Burton was the director and the film was criticised for being too dark?

So, to answer the question “what year was Batman Returns set in?”, my answer is: probably 1992 but not our 1992.

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