Liverpool, Glasgow and London were among the places to double as Gotham City during the filming of The Batman, as a growing number of British locations are given starring roles in blockbuster movies.
One day in October 2020, onlookers in Liverpool looked up to see a mysterious figure dressed in black standing on top of the city’s famous Liver Building. A helicopter hovered as he apparently prepared to jump.
Batman had arrived, and Liverpool’s waterfront had become, for a short time, the dark heart of Gotham City.
In the finished film, keen-eyed fans may spot the Liver Building’s clock tower and domed turrets as Batman leaps off the roof – although the giant Liver Bird has been airbrushed out during its transformation into the Gotham City Police Department.
The Liver Building isn’t the only Liverpool landmark to double as a key Gotham City location for Batman’s latest big-screen outing, which stars Robert Pattinson.
The neoclassical steps and columns of St George’s Hall become Gotham City Hall, with several more scenes shot nearby. Batman also visited Anfield Cemetery.
Parts of London, Glasgow and Chicago were also used to create the new Gotham City, as well as studios in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, all finished off with computer-generated visual effects.
According to production designer James Chinlund, the film-makers were looking for locations with a sense of gloomy Gothic grandeur to fit the history of Batman’s fictional home town.
“The idea [was] that in the 1920s and 30s, there was this incredible boom. So we wanted this base layer of crumbling, decaying ornament,” he says. “And at various points in Gotham’s history, the idea was that there were these attempts at revival and renewal.”
While searching for places with suitably fading glory, Chinlund stumbled across St George’s Hall on Google. “I was just blown away”, he says.
“I started looking around that area and it started slowly revealing itself, how rich that world is and what an amazing city Liverpool is in terms of [how] it follows the story. It had this incredible boom period, and then it’s fallen on hard times over the years, and the patina that existed in the buildings, and obviously the heavy weather… it all just fitted like a glove.”
Producer Dylan Clark says Gotham is like a character in the movie in its own right. “But the job of creating a real, authentic-looking Gotham is challenging and Liverpool provided a city square that had immense architecture that was Gothic, that we could put our visual effects on top of.”
The Liver Building “offered this amazing perch” for Batman’s jump, Chinlund says. The helicopter’s aerial shot was then heavily altered to turn Liverpool’s waterfront into the Gotham cityscape.
The caped crusader didn’t actually leap off the Liverpool landmark, but off on an 8ft (2.4m) platform at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire. That was all combined with bits of the Chicago Board of Trade Building and a “grittier, Gothamised” version of Chicago’s LaSalle Street to create the final flight sequence.
“It was a real puzzle but it was a joy getting to use all these incredible amazing pieces of architecture that the UK provided us,” Chinlund says.
Gotham is based on New York, of course, and Liverpool has doubled as the Big Apple several times, including in Captain America: The First Avenger, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and Florence Foster Jenkins.
Glasgow Necropolis and Central Saint Martins art school in London were among The Batman’s other UK locations.
The resulting Gotham City is “a decaying metropolis which is crumbling due to corruption and hopelessness”, according to Screen International’s review.
It is “rain-soaked, crooked, and tired”, wrote Bleeding Cool, while the Hollywood Reporter said it “resembles New York while establishing its own gritty, Gothic identity, pulsing with menace and mystery”.
Glasgow was also recently used as Gotham City for a new Batgirl film, and Hollywood studios have made the UK a second home.
Blockbusters to have been shot in Britain in the past two years include Indiana Jones 5, Aquaman 2, The Marvels, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Fantastic Beasts 3, Jurassic World: Dominion and Mission: Impossible 7.
That helped push spending on British-based filming to more than £1.5bn in 2021, according to the BFI, and a decent slice of The Batman’s reported $200m (£150m) budget was spent in the UK.
“Obviously the architecture is incredible here,” says Dylan Clark. “But it’s also the crew. The people that work in the film industry from the UK, they’re just top tier.”
James Chinlund agrees. “The fact that that Liverpool let us do what we needed to do in the middle of the city centre like that… not every place will give you that sort of freedom to play and build a world,” he explains. “And on top of that, the crews in the UK are second to none.”
The Hollywood money supports jobs in hotels, catering and transport as well as in the film industry itself. That was especially valuable when The Batman filmed during Covid, according to Kevin Bell from the Liverpool Film Office.
“The Batman used five hotels exclusively,” he says. “Those five hotels would have been empty and a lot of them would have closed over that period.”
Although The Batman only spent around a week actually filming in Liverpool, members of the crew were based in the city for much longer, he says.
“With a production of that scale, the location department were in Liverpool for months. And then the art department came up weeks in advice to start building sets and getting the places ready.
“Then it continues afterwards because you’ve got to reinstate and wrap, so the art department stays around, and the location department. So we probably had Warner Bros crew in the city consistently for near a year.”