When the Batman Forever Soundtrack Conquered the World
How Seal, U2 and the Wu Tang Clan helped Batman Forever fly up the charts and become one of the greatest movie soundtracks.
There are a number of reasons why Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever is not held in higher regard by fans of the Caped Crusader’s cinematic outings. Bat nipples, swapping Billy Dee Williams out for a scenery-chewing Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, and a sequence in which Chris O’Donnell’s Dick Grayson demonstrates his suitability for the role of Robin via some laundry-based karate all rank pretty highly.
Yet if there is one element of the movie that has stood the test of time more than anything, it’s the soundtrack. Batman Forever arrived at multiplexes in 1995, and it was a time when movie soundtracks were still a key part of the marketing machine. Few would play that game better either than the first one with Bat-nipples.
From Prince to Paupers
The power of the soundtrack album had already been demonstrated to fine funky effect in Tim Burton’s original Batman (1989), which featured an album of entirely new songs from Prince. The first soundtrack album for a superhero movie, Prince’s Batman album was a smash, with the song “Batdance” scoring Prince a hit single while tracks like “Partyman” helped capture the strange, perverse goofiness of the movie’s central villain, the Joker (Jack Nicholson), and Burton’s film as a whole. And it could have been even wilder still. In a 2001 interview with Rolling Stone, Prince revealed how the album was initially pitched as being a collaboration between himself and Michael Jackson.
“Did you know that the album was supposed to be a duet between Michael Jackson and me?” Prince said at the time. “He as Batman, me as the Joker?” According to Prince, the plan was to divide the songs up between the pair, with Jackson taking on the ballads associated with the heroes while the Purple One was assigned the funk songs that would play for the villains.
Ultimately, Jackson ended up being too busy with touring to contribute while the fact the two artists were on different labels would have made it difficult to say the least. In hindsight, it was probably for the best.
Buoyed by the success of the first film, Burton was given greater creative control for Batman Returns (1992) and that extended to the film’s soundtrack. As per the Hollywood Reporter, composer Danny Elfman had been opposed to the idea of working on a soundtrack strewn with big name popstars the first time around and even threatened to walk. Burton, too, had appeared reluctant to include the Prince songs in the proceedings, with only “Partyman” and segments of “Trust” heard in the final 1989 film.
So the second time around, Elfman’s score took center stage, save for a single track by Siouxsie and the Banshees titled “Face to Face.” Co-written by Elfman, the song served as a reflection of the film, a darkly Gothic affair that centered on the movie’s main villains and especially Catwoman. Burton had sought out the band to record the track, telling reporters: “Siouxsie is one of very few women who can create a realistic primal cat sound.”
However, despite its brooding and strangely sensuous qualities, “Face to Face” failed to make much of an impact with fans and has been largely forgotten in the years since.
Saturday Night Fever On Acid
With Batman Returns ultimately deemed a little too bleak and Burton-y for mainstream tastes, Warner Bros. decided to plot a new course with Batman Forever. Burton moved into the role of producer, with Joel Schumacher, fresh from the success of courtroom thriller The Client (1994), drafted in to create a version of Batman that retained the Caped Crusader’s darker qualities, albeit with a splash of color and, dare we say it, even comedy.
The move was motivated, at least partly, by the studios’ desire to exploit Batman’s merchandising appeal to the MTV Generation—a desire perfectly crystalized from the moment, mere seconds into the movie, when, having missed dinner, Batman tells Alfred he will get “drive thru.” The soundtrack was an obvious avenue for that as well given the popularity of physical media like CDs and cassette tapes at the time.
With Burton now sidelined and Elfman absent, save for a hint of his main title theme buried in composer Elliot Goldenthal’s more bombastic score, the idea of creating a star-studded compilation soundtrack, a la Top Gun (1986) or Beverly Hills Cop (1984), was finally realized. Though finding musical artists to contribute to a Batman soundtrack proved relatively straightforward, putting together an album that reflected the ethos of Schumacher’s movie was a less easy feat.
Despite its flaws, Schumacher’s film remains a wild ride with the heady mix of Jim Carrey and Jones as the Riddler and Two-Face giving events a colorful, anarchic sense of whimsy alongside the brooding performances of Val Kilmer and a vamping Nicole Kidman. As the late producer Peter McGregor Scott put it on the Shadow of the Bat documentary, the results were something akin to “Saturday Night Fever on Acid.”
Bono vs. Batman
Front and center for the soundtrack was Irish rock band U2, who came onboard off the back of arguably the most unusual chapter in their storied career. In 1993, the band had released Zooropa, an album that explored prescient themes of technology and media oversaturation, blending the group’s familiar rock sound with darker electronic elements. It was promoted with the worldwide Zoo TV Tour which saw Bono introduce fans to his new on-stage alterego, Mr. MacPhisto.
Bono donned white face makeup and red devil horns to play the character during live shows. It was either a genius move or the height of pretension, depending on your preference for U2, but it undoubtedly played an influential role in shaping the sound of the band’s single for Batman Forever, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.”
Recording during the sessions for Zooropa, the song was originally written as a tale about the decadent life of a rock star. However, many of the lyrics could easily have been about Batman. Lines like “oh Lordy, you’ve been stealing/From the thieves and you got caught” or “You’re a big smash/You wear it like a rash” were brought to life in the context of the Caped Crusader thanks to a lively animated music video that pitted Mr. MacPhisto against Bono and his U2 band mates.
Featuring clips from the film as well as an animated cameo by Batman himself, originally Schumacher had intended to take Bono’s involvement one step further. According to the Sun Sentimental, the singer had actually wanted to be in the film and, initially, the director was eager too.
“I thought I could have him standing on a piano in costume as Macphisto,” Schumacher revealed at the time. “But I wasn’t sure it would work out for him to sing an entire song and advised him the idea wasn’t a good one for him. He agreed.”
Sparing fans a cringeworthy cameo of Madonna in Die Another Day proportions, this entirely sensible decision allowed the focus to sit squarely on U2’s musical output and what was arguably one of the band’s best songs of the mid-’90s. Based around the kind of guitar riff The Edge was famed for, the track’s orchestral backing, electronic sounds, and Bono’s scuzzy-sounding vocals all contribute to a song that captured the movie’s demented spirit of fun while retaining the gothic undertones of the Batman brand.
Though U2 would try to recapture some of the song’s magic on their next album, Pop, it proved to be one of those lightning in the bottle moments, never to be replicated and only revisited during the occasional live show.
“Kids Thought I Was Batman”
The same could well be said for the soundtrack’s second single. If U2 captured the crazed spirit of the movie’s double act of Riddler and Two-Face, Seal’s “A Kiss From A Rose” focused more on the tortured soul of Batman and his growing attraction to Kidman’s Dr. Chase Meridian. If anything, Seal’s song bolstered what was, in truth, a paper thin romantic plotline for the Caped Crusader. Written nearly a decade earlier in 1987, Seal had initially dismissed the song as a flight of fancy before later returning to it while working on his second album Seal II.
It might have gone unnoticed, too, were it not for Batman Forever. Upon initial release in July 1994 (nearly a year before the third Batman flick), “Kiss From A Rose” dropped out of the charts. “It went into the charts at No. 60 and dropped to No. 80-something the next week and that was the end of it. It was over,” Seal explained in a video posted to Instagram. Then while he was working on his next album, Seal received a call from Schumacher who asked if he could use one of his songs for a love scene in Batman Forever. The director ultimately settled on “Kiss From A Rose,” though he opted to put the song over the final credits. It was an interesting ask since Batman Forever wasn’t even the first movie soundtrack to pick up the song. The track had also just featured in The NeverEnding Story III (1994).
To seal the deal—pun possibly intended—Schumacher shot a new video with Seal performing in front of the Bat-Signal. “He didn’t even charge me, he said he loved the song so much,” Seal recalled. “Subsequently, kids thought I was Batman because the song was so big.”
Big might actually be an understatement. The song became the biggest hit from the album, helping Seal top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and establishing him into a household name overnight. As with U2’s song, “Kiss From A Rose” was big, gothic, and open to wide and imaginative interpretation. However, Seal remains coy on what any of it means.
In 2020, he told American Songwriter: “I have avoided explaining these lyrics for over 25 years. I am not going to start doing it now.” That helped its placement in the film, with fans able to project the idea of Batman onto the song, as well as the idea of Bruce Wayne opening up to Dr. Meridian, as he does in the movie. “There used to be a graying tower alone on the sea / And you became the light on the dark side of me” Seal sings at one point, while the lyrics also mention how “A light hits the gloom on the gray.”
To date Seal has sold eight million albums but he’s never forgotten Schumacher’s role in that success and was among those to pay tribute following his passing. “I love you Joel,” Seal said at the time. “Thank you very much for everything that you’ve done for me. One day, we’ll all meet again back home.”
The Wu-Tang Clan Connection
While U2 and Seal provided the musician yin and yang producers had likely hoped Prince and Michael Jackson would achieve on the first movie, the Batman Forever soundtrack was so much more than those two headliners. Produced by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, it featured an eclectic mix of musicians, many of whom have remained as revered today as they were back in their ‘90s heyday. There were contributions from more commercial acts of the period like Brandy and The Offspring, as well as critical darlings like PJ Harvey, Mazzy Star, and Sunny Day Real Estate, which made it something of a time capsule of the era.
The Offspring recorded a special version of The Damned’s “Smash It Up” for the album while there were equally memorable covers by the likes of Massive Attack, who performed The Marvelettes’ “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” with Tracey Thorn, and INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence whose brooding version of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” offered a taste of the solo career fans tragically never got to see.
The Flaming Lips also appeared with “Bad Days,” providing the perfect soundtrack to Edward Nigma’s life prior to becoming a supervillain while Method Man reunited with Wu Tang Clan cohort RZA for “The Riddler,” a slick slice of ‘90s rap that finds the lyricist and occasional actor in good form. The soundtrack’s other notable highlight came courtesy of Nick Cave and the song “There Is A Light,” which finds the Aussie rocker on suitably grungy form. Though Cave’s incredible back catalog means it’s a song he often overlooks, “There Is A Light” remains a firm favorite among his fanbase.
Released in an era when many cash-strapped fans would have opted for cassette over CD, the sheer quality of what was on offer across the album made for enjoyable, fast forward free, listening and helped the soundtrack maintain a place as a firm favorite among nostalgia fans. Criticize the movie all you want, they might say, but the soundtrack rocked.
Batman and Robin
A major success upon release, the Batman Forever soundtrack still didn’t hit the sales figures of Prince. Nonetheless, it remained a huge hit, helping Seal secure three Grammys in the process. Eager to repeat the feat, producers returned to the well with a similar approach when it came time to build the soundtrack album for Batman & Robin (1997), which delivered top ten hits in the U.S. for Jewel, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and R. Kelly. The Smashing Pumpkins also scored a Grammy with the song “The End is the Beginning Is The End,” which played over the end credits.
Yet the accompanying film would ultimately signal the death knell of Batman’s brief foray into the world of all things commercial. And while the soundtrack album might have sold steady numbers, banking on the likes of R. Kelly to repeat the success of his efforts on the Space Jam soundtrack, the early optimism proved to be a mistake—particularly in hindsight.
By the time Batman Begins arrived in 2005, the world was a very different place, with physical media on the wane and soundtrack tie-ins proving less and less common. Director Christoper Nolan’s decision to take things back-to-basics also ensured there would be no room for soundtracks of this kind again.
Although Batman Forever as a film has, by any modern film fan’s standards, not stood the test of time, there’s a warmth and nostalgia for what was a fun, but flawed movie. One that captured the zeitgeist of the times not just with the casting of Carrey and Jones but in a soundtrack that remains a key cornerstone of Batman pop culture for many fans. Today, “Kiss from a Rose” ranks among the most famous and beloved of movie soundtrack singles from that era, coming in the golden age between Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” for the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves soundtrack in 1991 and Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” courtesy of a little movie called Titanic (1997).
It’s a part of Schumacher’s enduring legacy and it had us almost—almost—forgetting Bat-Nipples ever existed.