'Shrek' or 'Zoolander'? Theories abound over what movie Bruce Wayne's parents were killed after seeing in 'The Batman'

THE BATMAN, Robert Pattinson as Batman, 2022. ph: Jonathan Olley / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection
Robert Pattinson as Batman in The Batman. (Photo: Jonathan Olley / © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection)

As social media’s movie cognoscenti (aka “Film Twitter”) proves time and time again, there is no cinematic detail too large or small or really, really small not worth thoroughly analyzing.

See the glut of theories that have popped up in the wake of the release of The Batman, the Matt Reeves-directed, Robert Pattinson-starring DC Comics reboot that follows a younger, more emo Bruce Wayne than we’ve ever met only two years into his secret life of a vigilante and still reeling from the double murder of his parents that he witnessed as a child.

It’s revealed in the film that Bruce’s parents, Thomas and Martha, were killed 20 years prior to the story’s events, a week’s span that begins on Halloween and ends on Election Day. Anyone who’s ever read a Batman comic book or has seen a Batman movie knows that the Waynes were killed by a mugger or assailant in an alley after leaving the Monarch Theatre in downtown Gotham.

Making the assumption, then, that the detective-themed Batman takes place in fall of 2021, internet sleuths have taken to theorizing and threading which real-world 2001 movie the family watched together before that fatal attack.

The first such hypothesis to gain popularity came from CNN’s Josh Billinson, who posited that it was “very likely” they went to see Shrek, the age-appropriate (Bruce is believed to be around 10 at the time) animated mega-hit that opened in May 2001 and subsequently spawned its own franchise. More than 250,000 Twitter users “liked” the [idea].

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This past weekend, though, comedian and television writer Mike Drucker — admittedly unaware of Billinson’s viral tweet — arrived at another conclusion. Since the film implies the Waynes were killed in October 2001, it’s possible that they were coming out of Zoolander, the beloved Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson male-model comedy that opened in late-September. (For the record, Twitter user Scott Simpson made the same claim weeks earlier.)

As Drucker argues after being made aware of Billinson’s post, the early-summer release Shrek wouldn’t still be in theaters in May. “In fact, according to my research, they were murdered mere days before Shrek was released on VHS and DVD,” Drucker states.

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Of the highest-grossing films in October 2001, Zoolander probably makes the most sense, even if it was rated PG-13. It feels likelier than the month’s three top earners ahead of it: Training Day, Don’t Say a Word and Serendipity.

Of course there were a couple other movies in theaters that month that could’ve possibly fit the bill in inspiring a Wayne family fun day. The Chris Kattan-starring mafia comedy turkey Corky Romano, anyone? (Probably not, but man would that make those murders even more tragic.) Max Keeble’s Big Move? It was kid friendly, even if the world has collectively forgotten this movie existed until this very moment.

But wait! Turns out there’s a wrinkle in Drucker’s detective work, too.

As referenced in the comments to Drucker’s tweet, documentarian Ben Crew — Letterboxd famous for meeting his wife over their mutual love of Mank — pointed out that Bruce states in his opening narration that the date is Thursday, Oct. 31.

That would put the current year at 2024, not 2021, which means Bruce lost his parents in 2004. “The Wayne family saw Shark Tale that fateful night,” Crew decisively states of another DreamWorks-released animated hit, which opened in theaters Oct. 1, 2004.

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But wait again! As a commenter points out to Crew, it’s shown in The Batman that Thomas Wayne was running for mayor in 2001, which means Bruce’s folks were in fact killed that year.

Does your head hurt yet?

It’s almost like Reeves and company didn’t map out this severely vital detail to his masterwork. (We’ve reached out for comment and expect an answer back in no time, meaning never.)

But it probably wasn’t Shrek. Or Zoolander. Or Shark Tale. Not even Corky Romano.

In actuality, if Reeves put any thought into what movie the Waynes watched together that fateful night, maybe he defaulted to canon, to the hero that inspired Batman creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane, and to the movie that they’ve watched since Frank Miller’s 1986 comic The Dark Knight Returns: the 1940 swashbuckler The Mark of Zorro starring Tyrone Power. It’s the movie the Waynes walk out of in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, too, even if the Monarch’s marquee in 2019’s Joker listed 1981’s Zorro, the Gay Blade (along with Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, which they definitely did not see together).

Tim Burton’s Batman ignored Zorro, instead going with the fictitious musical Footlight Frenzy. In Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, they skipped the movies altogether, instead going to the opera (Mefistofele), which at least felt on brand for the well-to-do Waynes.

But the black-masked vigilante Zorro, it’s long been known, inspired Bruce Wayne to become Batman.

Who would he have turned into if he’d watched Shrek or Zoolander?

Watch Reeves, Pattinson and costars talk The Batman: