by    in Data

Why Batman This Halloween? The Anatomy of a Batman Fan

So it’s Halloween time.  What are you going as?  Wait!  Let Doc take a guess.

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Batman.  Right?

Unless you’ve got a lot of green hair dye lying around, in which case you’re probably going as The Joker. Or Harley Quinn, if you’re into bats. Well, baseball bats.

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See? It was a bat joke. No, a bat joke.

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.

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 (Batman costumes are the #5 on the list for the 35 and over crowd) 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.

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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.

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 Kane, Chinatown, Ben-Hur, Amadeus.  Add in a sprinkling of cult classics (The Big Lebowski, The Truman Show, The Princess Bride) and animation milestones (Finding Nemo and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), 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 Mother, Supernatural, procedurals like Law & Order and Criminal Minds, and Sesame StreetSesame Street?  Hmmmm… a picture is starting to come into focus here.

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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.

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 Scrubs, Sesame Street, Supernatural, Peter Griffin and Carlton Banks.  The other likes The Wire, Breaking Bad, Mad 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.

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And Doc’s got one more telling fact, not based on cross-referencing any single list, but the range of lists that the fans tend to vote on.  Across all of Ranker, enough movie-Batman fans have voted to create cross-listings with 181 other lists.  The comic book fans have voted enough to be cross-listed with 134 lists.  Of those 134 lists, 38 of them (28%) are lists that, not to put too fine a point on it, rank female celebrities and/or characters on physical attractiveness.  Across the movie fan voting, only 18 lists (10%) have a similar focus.

Doc isn’t sure if the movie fans are more enlightened, or just haven’t hit puberty yet.  In any event, those comic book fans can’t get enough of weighing in on the top animated sex symbols or which actresses cross their legs most spectacularly.

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Doc admits it, he was looking for something to maybe cut against the stereotype of the horny comic-book geek obsessed with women he has no chance at (partly because some of them are fictional), but the data paints a picture that supports it: Older, better educated, with more refined tastes, except for an unmistakable emphasis on completely unattainable fantasy women.

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Meanwhile, the movie generation is young, in the first flush of fandom, relying on the consistency of franchises to point them towards movies they’re gonna like, and then probably going home to finish up their bio homework while watching Scrubs reruns.

So that’s the citizenry of Bat nation this Halloween. As time passes and Ranker absorbs the consensus around Suicide Squad and the character’s continuing evolution in the Affleck Era, its contours will probably shift a little. We’ll keep watching. Until then, Doc is gonna let his freak flag fly and power up the 1966 Adam West/Burt Ward camp classic. POW. THWACK. BYE.