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1989 Warner

2010 La-La Land

2011 Warner

Composed and Co-Produced by:
Danny Elfman

Co-Orchestrated and Conducted by:
Shirley Walker

Co-Orchestrated and Co-Produced by:
Steve Bartek

Performed by:
The Sinfonia of London Orchestra

Co-Orchestrated by:
Steve Scott-Smalley

Labels and Dates:
Warner Brothers Records
(August 8th, 1989)

La-La Land Records
(July 21st, 2010)

Warner Brothers Records
(April 12th, 2011)

Also See:
The Danny Elfman and Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box
Batman Returns
Edward Scissorhands
Dick Tracy
Pee-wee's Big Adventure

Audio Clips:
1989 Warner Album:

1. The Batman Theme (0:30):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (148K)

7. Batman to the Rescue (0:30):
WMA (195K)  MP3 (242K)
Real Audio (150K)

17. Up the Cathedral (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (243K)
Real Audio (151K)

20. Finale (0:29):
WMA (211K)  MP3 (260K)
Real Audio (161K)

The Warner album of 1989 was a regular U.S. release. The collectible "Batcan" release of that same year includes Prince's songs and no score. The 2010 2-CD set from La-La Land was limited to 5,000 copies and was sold through soundtrack specialty outlets for $30.

The 2011 Warner set is a limited edition of 2,000 copies, sold for $500 primarily through the official site of the album. Consult with the separate review of that set for more details about its availability.

  Nominated for a Grammy Award.

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Sales Rank: 109437

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Buy it... if you have any affection for vibrant, exciting, and tragic superhero scores, for Danny Elfman's Batman is among the best ever recorded.

Avoid it... if Elfman's famous theme for the character has become too overexposed for your liking, or if you disapprovingly recall some of the passages that reveal the composer's inspiration from others' works.

Batman: (Danny Elfman) Action movie aficionados have Tim Burton's 1989 vision of Batman to thank for the resurrection of the superhero concept on film, a genre that would flourish with success for almost two decades following Batman's explosive debut. With its outrageous marketing bonanza courtesy of an enthusiastic Warner Brothers, Batman was one of the rare action productions that actually exceeded expectations, predictably replacing serious awards consideration for the kind of eye candy approach that yielded several sequels throughout the next decade. Balancing the carnival atmosphere natural to Burton's zany artistic tendencies, embodied in both Jack Nicholson's extremely expensive Joker and the handful of songs performed by Prince that actually made the final cut of the film, was the director's ability to provide serious, adult comic book-style action and sensuality. Burton had collaborated with composer Danny Elfman for the wildly creative Beetlejuice the previous year, serving notice to film score collectors of the composer's arrival into the mainstream (beyond just the sideshow theatrics of Pee-wee's Big Adventure and Elfman's other stabs at comedy). The highly effective score for Batman, however, would not only shake the producers' initial notion that the film's music could be provided by a series of pop stars that included Michael Jackson, George Michael, and Prince (only the latter would remain), but also introduce the composer to the masses and consolidate a budding group of avid collectors and fans of Elfman's whimsically tragic music that would solidify with Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas in the following four years. In the interim, Elfman and Burton attempted to carry the success of Batman over to a 1992 sequel, and although Batman Returns takes far more chances in the diversity of its score, Elfman proved unable to recapture the same raw sense of action and elegance of performance. While considered more of a "guilty pleasure" by critics at the time, the Batman score has aged remarkably well, outlasting the sequel scores by Elliot Goldenthal and remaining leagues ahead of the music resulting from the continuance of the franchise in the 2000's.

Regardless of the lack of connection in crew, cast, or concept, Elfman's primary theme for the Batman character has proven useful in advertising the franchise long after the composer's exit from it, testifying to the lasting impression that the composer provided for the character on screen. Whereas John Williams is universally recognized as the musical voice of Superman, Elfman has cemented himself, despite the attention-seeking cries of the most ardent in the Hans Zimmer fanbase, as the same for Batman. Perhaps no title theme has had more impact on a superhero as this one, however; its four-note minor key ascent and two-note major key descent is frightfully simplistic and yet it perfectly addresses the duality of the Bruce Wayne character. The theme is often misidentified as only consisting of five notes; even Jeff Bond's notes for the 2010 album release of Batman made this error. The sixth note is the payoff only occasionally afforded the theme, a keen acknowledgement by Elfman that Wayne's existence is defined by a lack of personal completion. The easily recognizable construct of this theme allows Elfman to use fragments of its progression with ease, often producing the suspense before a battle with only the rise of the first two notes. The composer claims that he first thought up the tune on an airplane flight from London back to America and embarrassingly went to the toilet several times so he could hum various portions of the tune into a tape recorder in private. Later, he also acknowledged that some of the inspiration in how the theme was fleshed out came from Bernard Herrmann's opening to Journey to the Center of the Earth, with almost a complete reprise of the Herrmann composition at the outset of Batman. The three-minute opening credits to Batman follow the tradition of the great superhero films of the modern age by providing an overture in which the score introduces itself. Elfman maximizes the effectiveness of his identity for the title character by drawing out the performance of the title theme, repeating the first five notes in heavily dramatic layers before only proceeding to the last, major-key descent as the character's logo is revealed in full on screen. Two such massive and lengthy crescendos highlight Batman, including the opening bars of "Charge of the Batmobile," the seemingly obligatory scene in which Michael Keaton is suiting up for the battle to the death.

When the title theme for Batman is performed by sweeping strings, as in short interludes in "First Confrontation," or in its slightly altered suspense mode, as in "Bat Zone," Elfman presents its elegant alter-ego. The melody is eventually performed by every section of the ensemble, including light percussion and massive organ, before sending the character on to the sequel with rousing ensemble performances in the uplifting "Finale" and the first half of the end titles cue. The legacy of this theme would live on in Elliot Goldenthal's two Batman scores, though the later composer cleverly altered the same minor-to-major key progression to suit his own style. The concept of building a crescendo around the anticipated switch to the major key remained effectively intact. Other themes and motifs exist in Batman, but they are relatively unmemorable or obscure by comparison to the title theme. For the Joker, Elfman chose to utilize a comical, over-the-top waltz that explodes with the introduction of the altered character in "Face-Off" (as everyone's favorite one-armed push-up master Jack Palance receives his share of hot lead) and culminates in a lengthy, robust performance in the climactic "Waltz to the Death" atop the cathedral. Elfman offers very subtle foreshadowing of this theme for Jack Napier's pre-Joker persona in "Jack vs. Eckhardt" (along with some faint noir jazz in "Card Snap"). Elfman also adapts Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" theme for the Joker's more sensitive side, if one could call it that, and faint performances of this theme echo after the Joker's death at the conclusion of the film. A music box effect underlines these performances, providing a humorous side to the character's sickness with a triangle and xylophone-like atmosphere that is interrupted quite rudely by a fragment of the waltz at the end of "Joker's Poem." For his henchmen, Elfman conjures an array of wildly percussive rhythms that accompany their chaotic activities, eventually yielding to Prince's recordings for the balloon parade sequence. The love theme, based in part on the Prince's song "Scandalous" (which the singer co-wrote with John L. Nelson), has pieces of Batman's primary theme built into its construct, a bittersweet and yearning adaptation of the score's main identity into a piano and string performance in "Love Theme" that only exists in small pieces throughout the film (reinforcing the fleeting nature of the affair).

A variant of Elfman's love theme also represents Wayne's lingering affinity towards his dead parents, with one of the score's more poignant moments of reflection existing on cello in "Flowers." Several rhythmic motifs also represent specific locations or concepts. A distant and menacing bass line in "Childhood Remembered" is performed by piano under dissonant brass and choral effects. Far more splashy is the rolling, churning string rhythm that Elfman provides the Axis chemical company, complete with tuba and bass bassoon for additional depth; the style of this rolling rhythm (which quite well represents a manufacturing atmosphere), with its frenetic variations in "First Confrontation," strays the closest that Elfman came to the more colorful comic book style that would prevail in Dick Tracy the following year. In this cue, Elfman also introduces a motif specifically for the Joker's falling, an act that both creates and destroys the character. The far more melodramatic performance of this motif, obviously, occurs in "The Final Confrontation." As impressive as Elfman's themes for Batman may be, the instrumental assignments and their performances are even better. For many years, there was some controversy over the roles that Steve Bartek and Shirley Walker played in the orchestration and conducting of Batman, specifically whether they indeed deserve more credit for the success of the finished version of the score than Elfman himself. Some in the establishment of the composing industry simply did not believe that Elfman, an untrained rocker, was capable of writing a score of this caliber, and just as they had joked that William Ross had written much of Beetlejuice (rather than just conducting it), the same issue arose with Batman. Bartek and others have reminded us, however, that Elfman during this period refused to delegate writing duties and instead insisted upon controlling the sound of the score in totality. As such, Elfman has long been rather annoyed by the speculation that Bartek and Walker contributed more than their documented roles to Batman, despite the acknowledged assistance they provided in shepherding the inexperienced composer's music through challenging recording circumstances. As testimony to Elfman's guiding hand in both scores, Batman is much like Beetlejuice in that its instrumental creativity may be the most memorable aspect of the recording, despite the catchiness of the title theme.

The orchestra's brass section for Batman is handled brilliantly, often performing in successive layers that treat normal trumpet usage as a distinctly different layer as muted ones. The muted trumpets in the score, though noirish in intent, seem like another throwback to the techniques of Herrmann. A pipe organ often lends overwhelming power to cues in a fashion far more forceful than in Beetlejuice; it's used during all of the major crescendos involving the title theme and understandably receives a prominent solo role in "Up the Cathedral." Hints of the agonizing heroism of the organ in this cue would be touched upon again by Elfman in his subsequent music for Darkman. The organ is also a staple of Batman Returns, though its application to the Penguin's material in the sequel is extremely overbearing in the bass region; compared to its clarity in Batman, the organ in Batman Returns may as well have been cheaply synthesized. The piano reprises its role from Beetlejuice and Pee-wee's Big Adventure as well, mixed with dry clarity at the forefront of the recording and often serving as a rhythm-setter for the less bombastic cues. Cutting jabs on the piano often do battle with the trumpets in those louder moments. Sorrowful elegance results when the piano beautifully conveys the title theme in "Beddy Bye." Whining violin solos also emphasize moments of lonely sympathy, sometimes sickeningly when applied to the Joker. The choral employment in Batman is less obvious than it would be in Batman Returns, often used as only an accent to orchestrally robust cues. The two striking exceptions both involve scenes of nature; in "Childhood Remembered," the choir offers disjointed and unsettling ambience, though in "Descent into Mystery," a cue that stands out as a highlight in the film, Elfman relies on the chanting of the voices (in the style of Carl Orff, but not with the same resonance) to provide the awe necessary to introduce the Kim Basinger's character to the mystique of her winged savior. Together with the title theme, this cue is a glorified advertisement for the batmobile (the scene is even shot like a car commercial), and veteran Elfman collectors will hear similarities in choral technique to Scrooged here as well. Unfortunately, the emphasis on the choir evident in the album mix of "Descent into Mystery" is not utilized in the film, where the singers were somewhat dialed out for apparently no good reason.

The most intriguing element in the score for Batman is easily the hyperactive percussion section. During the lengthier performances of the title theme, including the credits pieces, you do hear the stereotypical snare rhythms that you'd expect. But beyond that, Elfman's use of drums is astoundingly dynamic. The composer incorporates the percussionists as a bridge between his score and the few Prince songs that made the film, and the mix of the drums specifically creates an outstanding soundscape, especially for moments of rowdy Joker behavior and the resulting havoc. The metallic percussion also is significant, with cymbals and gong often performing in succession to present ultra-cool transitions (no better is this utilized than at the beginning of "Charge of the Batmobile"). With Gotham and its cathedral hosting several tolling bells, Elfman typically returns to the banging of chimes to emphasize a point in the plot. Always harmonious, these clangs are a highlight of the conclusion of the cues "Attack of the Batwing" (tolling away for the premature death of the flying machine) and "Finale" (which uses them, along with organ and harp, to push the envelope for unrestrained heroism in the genre). The harp provides several lovely flourishes in the score, perhaps most notably in the interludes of the end credits, though this contributor again suffers from a generally poorer balance of all the elements in the film mix as opposed to the album presentation. A handful of unique sound effects (from either the percussion section or synthesizers) include the sound of an aerosol can shaking in "Batman to the Rescue" and a fading steam train whistle in "Attack of the Batwing." The aerosol can effect, mimicking the spray-painting by the Joker's henchmen in the film, borders on genius. In sum, an inspired performance by The Sinfonia of London with Walker at the helm brings Elfman's best superhero score to life. Some critics continue to lament that they hear pieces of Holst, Orff, Strauss, and Wagner in Batman (not to mention Herrmann, of course), but Elfman packages all of the pieces of the score so well that these influences don't hinder its effectiveness. In sales, the score album has fare relatively well against Prince's hyped (and much better promoted) song album despite being released six weeks later, and so profound the score's legacy has been that it was the subject of one of Scarecrow Press' Film Score Series of books, devoting an entire volume to the analysis of just this score (and Prince's songs).

The legacy of Elfman's work for the Batman franchise remains untarnished despite Hans Zimmer's 2008 denouncement of the classic 1989 title theme as "happy" and "jolly," a clear misunderstanding of the incredibly dark and brooding applications of Elfman's theme in most of the original film. Elfman's ability to leave his theme in yearning flux (by dropping its sixth note) and balancing major and minor-key progressions within its construct far better represents the duality of Wayne than anything Zimmer has provided the franchise. The long-standing 1989 Warner Brothers score-only album of 55 minutes for Batman has served Elfman's music well, despite the composer's negative opinion of it. Its mix often differed from that heard in the film in terms of sound quality, section emphasis, and edited arrangements. The most intriguing distinction comes from the fact that the album has always presented a more powerful, vibrant mix of the score than the film itself. This circumstance was made painfully clear when La-La Land Records had to assemble the film version of the score from three different sources to compile a decent presentation of its entirety for a limited, 5,000-copy release of Batman in 2010. For some listeners, the most noticeable distinctions are the edits that the score underwent when transferred to album, but for audiophiles, engineer Shawn Murphy's resounding mix of the album version simply blows away the film version without exception. La-La Land's 2-CD set contains the film version of the score on the first CD and the album version on the second, along with a variety of alternate takes and source music. The Murphy mix of the album version is remastered for the 2010 product, but there is no significant improvement on the already impressive sound of the 1989 original. For those accustomed to this fuller, magnificent version of the original album mix of Batman, hearing the film version will likely be a disappointment, highly reminiscent of the muted, restricted soundscape of Beetlejuice and, not surprisingly, Batman Returns (which La-La Land also tackled in 2010). The varying sources may be to blame for these extremely divergent presentations, and it does bring into question whether the 2010 album is worth its price for fans of the score. Complicating matters is the release of the immense $500 set, "The Danny Elfman and Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box" in 2011, which itself contained a disparate, expanded version of Batman on its third CD.

Learn about

Both the 2010 La-La Land album and the 2011 Elfman/Burton set contain interesting additional material not contained on the original album, but those extra tracks are not identical. The 2011 set contains Batman only on one CD, which means that it could not provide all the extensive bonus cues of the La-La Land product. It does, like many of the scores in that set, exhibit a collection of worktape demos that show the music's evolution in primitive form. But if you seek the most comprehensive presentation of the film version of the score, the La-La Land album is clearly superior. On that product, you'll best be able to appreciate nuggets like the outstandingly restrained performances of the title theme in "Bat Zone" and "Showdown I." The bonus tracks at the end of the second CD of that album include two alternate versions of the overture, but with only subtle changes. Ironically, the "Joker's Commercial" is the most entertaining track (and far better in sound quality). The final track on the 2010 album has a hidden recording at the end with the studio crew seemingly drunkenly performing "Beautiful Dreamer" complete with catcalls, testimony to the toll that long days of recording must take on peoples' sanity. That album does have a curious editing defect that fades out about five seconds in "Joker Flies to Gotham/Batwing I," and that problem is solved by the bonus track on the 2011 set. Both products feature the extended version of "Attack of the Batwing" that was missing from the 1989 CD. It is clear that those who assembled the 2011 set recognized that a presentation of Batman as thorough as that on the 2010 2-CD set was not possible, so there is really no intent to try to match it. The mastering and mixing of the two products is slightly different, however, and the only way to maximize your material from the score is, unfortunately, to have both. When compared to the legacy of the original album, the La-La Land product still didn't live up to the hype that it initially generated because of the blatant sound quality issues involving the film versions of the recording, and the 2011 set suffers from the same concerns (as well as the detraction of failing to provide a chronological presentation). As for the entirety of the score, while die-hard Elfman fans continue to argue that the more varied and brooding sounds of Batman Returns are superior, the majority the mainstream agrees that the original Batman is a classic of such accomplishment that none of the sequel scores (by any composer) can compete. Dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight would never sound so good again. ***** Price Hunt: CD or Download

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 Track Listings (1989 Warner Album): Total Time: 54:55

• 1. The Batman Theme (2:38)
• 2. Roof Fight (1:20)
• 3. First Confrontation (4:43)
• 4. Kitchen, Surgery, Face-Off* (3:07)
• 5. Flowers (1:51)
• 6. Clown Attack (1:45)
• 7. Batman to the Rescue (3:56)
• 8. Roasted Dude (1:01)
• 9. Photos/Beautiful Dreamer** (2:27)
• 10. Descent Into Mystery (1:31)
• 11. The Bat Cave (2:35)
• 12. The Joker's Poem (0:56)
• 13. Childhood Remembered (2:43)
• 14. Love Theme* (1:30)
• 15. Charge of the Batmobile (1:41)
• 16. Attack of the Batwing (4:44)
• 17. Up the Cathedral (5:04)
• 18. Waltz to the Death (3:55)
• 19. The Final Confrontation (3:47)
• 20. Finale*/** (1:45)
• 21. Batman Theme Reprise (1:28)

* contains excerpts of "Scandalous" by Prince and John L. Nelson
** contains excerpts of "Beautiful Dreamer" by Stephen Foster

 Track Listings (2010 La-La Land Album): Total Time: 145:50

CD 1: All Previously Unreleased Original Score (Film Version) (75:40)

• 1. Main Title (2:42)
• 2. Family/First Batman/Roof Fight (3:24)
• 3. Jack vs. Eckhardt (1:37)
• 4. Up Building/Card Snap (1:54)
• 5. Bat Zone/Axis Set-Up (1:55)
• 6. Shootout (5:42)
• 7. Dinner Transition/Kitchen Dinner*/Surgery (3:00)
• 8. Face-Off*/Beddy Bye (3:59)
• 9. Roasted Dude (1:03)
• 10. Vicki Spies and Flowers (1:56)
• 11. Clown Attack (1:59)
• 12. Photos/Beautiful Dreamer** (2:30)
• 13. Men at Work (0:33)
• 14. Paper Spin/Alicia's Mask (0:30)
• 15. Vicki Gets a Gift (1:13)
• 16. Alicia's Unmasking (1:10)
• 17. Batman to the Rescue/Batmobile Charge/Street Fight (4:25)
• 18. Descent Into Mystery (1:33)
• 19. Bat Cave/Paper Throw (2:48)
• 20. The Joker's Poem (0:59)
• 21. Sad Pictures (0:38)
• 22. Dream/Challenge/Tender Bat Cave* (4:28)
• 23. Charge of the Batmobile (1:43)
• 24. Joker Flies to Gotham (Unused Version)/Batwing I (0:31)
• 25. Batwing II/Batwing III (6:02)
• 26. Cathedral Chase (5:07)
• 27. Waltz to the Death (3:58)
• 28. Showdown I/Showdown II (5:05)
• 29. Finale* (1:47)
• 30. End Credits (1:29)

CD 2: Original Soundtrack Album (Remastered) and Bonus Tracks (70:10)

• 1. The Batman Theme (2:37)
• 2. Roof Fight (1:22)
• 3. First Confrontation (4:43)
• 4. Kitchen/Surgery/Face-Off* (3:09)
• 5. Flowers (1:51)
• 6. Clown Attack (1:46)
• 7. Batman to the Rescue (3:57)
• 8. Roasted Dude (1:02)
• 9. Photos/Beautiful Dreamer** (2:31)
• 10. Descent Into Mystery (1:33)
• 11. The Bat Cave (2:35)
• 12. The Joker's Poem (0:59)
• 13. Childhood Remembered (2:43)
• 14. Love Theme* (1:30)
• 15. Charge of the Batmobile (1:41)
• 16. Attack of the Batwing (4:45)
• 17. Up the Cathedral (5:05)
• 18. Waltz to the Death (3:56)
• 19. The Final Confrontation (3:48)
• 20. Finale*/** (1:46)
• 21. Batman Theme Reprise (1:31)

Bonus Tracks: (All Previously Unreleased)
• 22. News Theme (0:11)
• 23. Joker's Commercial (1:23)
• 24. Joker's Muzak (Unused Version) (1:15)
• 25. Main Title (Alternate Version I) (2:42)
• 26. Photos/Beautiful Dreamer (Alternate Version)** (2:33)
• 27. Batman to the Rescue (Original Ending Version) (0:52)
• 28. Charge of the Batmobile (Film Edit Version) (1:47)
• 29. Main Title (Alternate Version II)/Hidden Track** (4:54)

* contains excerpts of "Scandalous" by Prince and John L. Nelson
** contains excerpts of "Beautiful Dreamer" by Stephen Foster

 Track Listings (2011 Warner Set): Total Time: 73:01

CD 3: (73:01)

• 1. The Batman Theme (2:38)
• 2. Roof Fight (1:23)
• 3. First Confrontation (4:45)
• 4. Kitchen/Surgery/Face-Off (3:10)
• 5. Flowers (1:52)
• 6. Clown Attack (1:46)
• 7. Batman to the Rescue (3:59)
• 8. Roasted Dude (1:03)
• 9. Photos/Beautiful Dreamer (2:31)
• 10. Descent Into Mystery (1:32)
• 11. The Bat Cave (2:36)
• 12. The Joker's Poem (0:59)
• 13. Childhood Remembered (2:44)
• 14. Love Theme (1:30)
• 15. Charge of the Batmobile (1:43)
• 16. Attack of the Batwing (Extended Version)* (6:03)
• 17. Up the Cathedral (5:07)
• 18. Waltz to the Death (3:57)
• 19. The Final Confrontation (3:49)
• 20. Finale (1:47)
• 21. Batman Theme Reprise (1:33)

Bonus Tracks: (16:49)
• 22. Bat Zone/Axis Set-Up (1:52)
• 23. Joker Flies to Gotham (Unused)/Batwing I (0:32)
• 24. Men at Work (0:32)
• 25. Vicki Gets a Gift (1:11)
• 26. Alicia's Unmasking (1:09)
• 27. Sad Pictures (0:40)
• 28. Joker's Commercial (Work Tape)* (0:27)
• 29. Joker's Commercial (Film Version) (1:13)
• 30. Unused Early Title Idea (Worktape)* (1:40)
• 31. Herrmann-esque thing (Worktape)* (1:05)
• 32. Axis (Worktape)* (0:30)
• 33. Wacky (Worktape)* (0:37)
• 34. Waltz - Music Box (Worktape)* (1:00)
• 35. Waltz - With Weird, Unused Ending (Worktape)* (1:54)
• 36. Wild Theme (Worktape)* (0:59)
• 37. Bat Wing Idea (Worktape)* (1:34)

* previously unreleased

 Notes and Quotes:  

The sparse insert of the 1989 Warner album includes no extra information about the score or film. The 2010 La-La Land album's insert contains an analysis of both, but not as in-depth as expected and erroneous at times. The 2011 Warner set features some notes from Elfman about his choices of music for inclusion on the product.

  All artwork and sound clips from Batman are Copyright © 1989, 2010, 2011, Warner Brothers Records, La-La Land Records, Warner Brothers Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 8/29/97 and last updated 6/2/11. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1997-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.