‘Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm’ Writer And Producer Alan Burnett Admits Film Failed Theatrically: “It Didn’t Do Great”

Phantasm mask-ed
The Phantasm (Stacy Keach) walks among the tombstones in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Warner Bros. Animation

Batman: Mask of The Phantasm is lauded today as a high point of Bat cinema that’s on par with the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy and arguably is more influential.

Phantasm wants you
Phantasm (Stacy Keach) confronts Chuckie Sol (Dick Miller) in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Warner Bros. Animation

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Without it, there would be no string of DC Animated features that are often better than what we get from the chaos of live-action productions. However, it was a pretty big swing by Warner Bros. that didn’t pay off at first.

Alan Burnett, one of the producers of the animated series the film sprung from who co-wrote the story, knows this all too well. On Phantasm’s 30th anniversary, he reflected on its theatrical performance and how that release came about.

Jiu jitsu
Bruce (Kevin Conroy) practices jiu-jitsu in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Warner Bros. Animation

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“I’ll tell you the truth because I wrote the story and I liked the story and it was a group effort with all the writers on staff. It was originally, it was supposed to be a video for home,” Burnett admitted to The Pitch.

Many Bat Fans were aware of this fact or had an inkling of the truth they heard in passing, but Burnett revealed more about the motion behind the scenes. An unnamed executive came by the crew’s studio and was amazed by the opening credits.

“In particular, he was looking at the opening credits, which were all computerized, which was a very new look back in 1992. And he said, you know, ‘Why don’t we release this as a movie?’” Burnett explained.

“The rest of the show has no computer graphics in it at all, but he didn’t know that and it became a movie,” he added. Sadly, fortune didn’t favor such a spontaneous move as Mask of The Phantasm’s short run was a bust logistically and commercially.

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“It didn’t do great,” Burnett recalled. “Here in Los Angeles, it only played in the afternoon. It didn’t play in the evening, and it had its week and a half in the theaters and then it went away.” 

Reviews weren’t positive until a pair of famous and reputable critics got to see the movie later than most. Things gradually turned around after that and the rest was history.

Batman (Kevin Conroy) is wounded by an explosion in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Warner Bros. Animation

“We didn’t get the greatest reviews, either,” said Burnett. “It wasn’t until a year later that Siskel and Ebert reviewed the film as a DVD. They liked it a lot and suddenly, I think that’s when critical opinion changed–or people who liked it finally said they liked it.” 

Burnett was elated by this. “That was a bit of a turning point and made me feel good,” he said. The same can’t be said for BTAS executive producer Bruce Timm who learned Mask of The Phantasm was turning into a movie while in Japan, and cringes to this day when he watches it.

Batman (Kevin Conroy) crashes Chuckie Sol’s (Dick Miller) operation in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Warner Bros. Animation

“It had all been formatted for the old-school TV ratio, which was practically a square. It was like, ‘What the heck are we going to do?’” Timm said of the film’s negligible standard-definition aspect ratio.

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