The Best Batman Movies, Ranked
Batman has been gracing the big screen since 1943. The iconic Caped Crusader starred in his first film just four short years after he was introduced in DC Comics. Of course, considering it was 1943, the very first theatrical Batman serial was rough. A very young Wilson Lewis played a not-very-compelling costumed Batman in a plot filled with war propaganda and racism. In 1949, Batman starred in another, far less offensive serial, Batman & Robin. However, the production was pitifully cheap and still didn’t come close to capturing the essence of what we now think of as Batman.
It wasn’t until 1966 that the hero received his first proper theatrical film adaption in Batman. Adam West took on the role and engaged audiences with his campy take on the Caped Crusader. In 1989, Warner Bros. began its initial Batman series, which saw Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney consecutively take on the role of Batman over the course of four films. Sadly, the franchise ended on a sour note when the fourth installment, Batman & Robin, missed its mark with a lackluster Clooney in the role of Batman.
However, that didn’t stop Warner Bros. from giving Batman another go with The Dark Knight trilogy starring Christian Bale, which was a massive success. Just a few short years later, Warner Bros. introduced Ben Affleck as the DC Extended Universe’s Batman and also introduced Robert Pattinson’s Batman in Matt Reeves’ Batverse, separate from the DCU. Now, the studio is looking to reinvent the character on the big screen yet again with the upcoming The Brave and the Bold, which will recast the role of Batman in the DCU. Needless to say, viewers will have a few more Batman films from both the Batverse and the DCU to watch out for in the future.
To prepare for the Dark Knight’s impending rise, let’s look back on the 10 best Batman films, ranked from worst to best.
10. Batman Forever
Batman Forever, which hit theaters on June 16, 1995, is the third installment in Warner Bros.’s original Batman series. The film is quite different from its two predecessors, with Val Kilmer replacing Michael Keaton as Batman and Joel Schumacher stepping up as director in place of Tim Burton. Batman Forever follows Batman as he contends with the villains Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and The Riddler (Jim Carrey), takes in an orphan boy named Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell), and pursues a relationship with Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman).
Batman Forever received mixed-to-negative reviews. The drastic shift in tone from its predecessors and the replacement of Keaton with Kilmer put the film at a disadvantage. It’s also overstuffed and overly campy, with villains who are way too zany. While Kilmer offers a unique take on Batman, it’s undeniably a step down from Keaton’s pitch-perfect portrayal. With that being said, Batman Forever is still one of the most fun and entertaining Batman films to watch. While Carrey and Jones are a little over the top, they’re still charismatic and enjoyable to watch. It isn’t the best Batman film out there, but it’s at least worthy of a watch.
9. Justice League (2017)
Justice League premiered in 2017 and features Ben Affleck’s second turn as Batman in the DCEU. The film sees the catastrophic threat of the villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) arise in the wake of Superman (Henry Cavill)’s death. Batman steps up to face the threat alongside Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and quickly realizes they are overpowered. As a result, Batman rallies a team of metahumans to join his fight against Steppenwolf. Among his recruits are Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
Justice League also received largely mixed-to-negative reviews. Viewers had high expectations for the big budget superhero team-up, but Justice League takes on an unexpectedly light tone that doesn’t mesh with the original direction of the franchise that Zack Snyder had established. Additionally, the plot suffers from being predictable and the film features too many poorly executed action sequences. However, the cast of Justice League is delightful and they deliver heartfelt performances, and seeing so many superheroes together on screen is exciting. While it lacks depth, it’s not bad as a basic, action-packed superhero flick.
8. Batman (1966)
Released in 1966, Batman was the very first full-length live-action Batman movie. It didn’t have much of a precedent to follow aside from the low-budget theatrical serials from 1943 and 1949. The film is based on the 1966 TV series of the same name and stars Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. Batman sees Batman and Robin team up to confront some of Batman’s most iconic villains, including Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and The Penguin (Burgess Meredith).
Batman is, by far, the campiest film on this list. However, that tone is intentional. The cheesiness and campiness are done so well that it makes the film endearing and delightful. The goofiness has an undeniable charm to it, and West is as masterful as Batman in the film as he was in the TV series. While it doesn’t come close to the maturity and depth of other films on this list, it is a fun film for true fans of Batman and for those who appreciate classics.
7. The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises was the final installment in Nolan’s trilogy and premiered in 2012. The film takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight and sees Batman living in exile after taking responsibility for the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). While lying low seemed like the best choice for Gotham, that changes when Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives on the scene. The mysterious and dangerous villain wants to finish Ra’s al Ghul’s plan and destroy Gotham completely.
The Dark Knight Rises was a worthy conclusion to the trilogy. It was a moving story, and featured great performances as well as solid direction from Nolan. However, it was at a disadvantage by following The Dark Knight, the best installment in the franchise. Plus, the whole film felt off because the third installment was meant to include the Joker, and Nolan chose not to recast the role following Heath Ledger’s passing. This led to Bane being the primary villain. Though masterfully portrayed by Hardy, Bane fell flat in the wake of the Joker and Two-Face. He lacked motivation and depth, and the plot as a whole was rather messy. But The Dark. Knight Rises was such a well-made film that these flaws are less consequential.
6. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
The tale of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a strange one. As has been extensively documented, Snyder was the original director of Justice League, but had to step down during production due to a family tragedy. Joss Whedon took over, and his version of Justice League, released in 2017, was largely a critical and commercial failure. Many fans were convinced that Snyder’s version of Justice League was a masterpiece before Whedon stepped in, and started the infamous #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign to demand Snyder’s version of the film be released. Warner Bros. acquiesced and released Zack Snyder’s Justice League in 2021.
The film’s plot is identical to that of Justice League, in which Batman (Ben Affleck) recruits a team of metahumans to fight a nefarious villain. However, the Snyder version is nearly double the length, providing much-needed context, character development, action, and depth. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a much more sophisticated and developed film than Justice League. The visuals are grand, the characters are fleshed out, and the film has a consistent tone. Snyder’s version is very good in comparison to Whedon’s Justice League, but on its own, it doesn’t hold up so well. It is an overly long film with a very basic plot, and it relies too heavily on action and CGI.
Ultimately, fans were right to think that Zack Snyder’s Justice League would be better than Justice League, but it didn’t offer much else. It also raised the question of whether the release was a good thing, considering that Snyder reportedly spent $70 million reworking his cut to make it into a full-fledged film, a budget that easily could’ve produced an entirely new original film. Compared to other Batman films, Snyder’s cut fares quite well, but whether it was really necessary is another matter.
5. Batman Begins
Batman Begins marks the start of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. The film follows a young Bruce Wayne who is still grappling with the trauma of witnessing his parents’ murder when he was a child. While looking to gain a deeper understanding of the criminal underworld, Wayne becomes acquainted with Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), who views Gotham as a wretched city that must be destroyed. Wayne rejects this philosophy and returns to Gotham under the guise of his Batman persona to prove the city can be saved without resorting to murder.
Batman Begins is an important movie in film history, and one that revolutionized how Batman was depicted on screen. It was the first Batman film to embrace a truly dark and gritty tone. Additionally, Bale masterfully portrays Batman as a flawed and vengeful man, echoing some of the Dark Knight’s most beloved comic books. Batman Begins is serious and mature, with advanced visual effects and outstanding performances. That said, the film works well as an origin story but it features an underwhelming villain and at times feels a little stiff and underdeveloped. It’s a hard film to rate because it was a particularly sophisticated superhero film for its time.
4. Batman (1989)
Warner Bros.’s 1989 film was the first truly modern Batman film. Batman ditches the cheap production of the serials and films before it, delivering a more nuanced exploration of the iconic hero. The film follows Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), a man haunted by his parents’ brutal deaths, who fights crime in Gotham as the vigilante Batman. When the Joker (Jack Nicholson) shows up in the Gotham criminal underworld, Batman finds himself faced with his most challenging opponent yet.
Batman is a groundbreaking film and another important part of cinema history. Director Tim Burton has a strong style, and the end-product is appealing. The film has a very noir feel to it and features the brooding tone that would become characteristic of future Batman films. Meanwhile, Keaton and Nicholson are phenomenal in their performances as Batman and the Joker. At the same time, Batman‘s legacy may be a bit better than its actual quality. Despite some flaws, it reflects a clear vision from Burton and showed viewers everything that a Batman film could be.
3. The Batman
Released in 2022, Matt Reeves’ The Batman is a standalone film set outside the DCEU. It was initially supposed to be a part of the DCEU, with Affleck starring in and directing a more detective-oriented take on the Caped Crusader. However, Affleck dropped out of the film, resulting in Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson coming on board. Following the installation of James Gunn and Peter Safran as co-CEOs of DC Studios, The Batman became part of Reeves’ “Batverse,” which is expanding with a sequel and a spinoff centered on the Penguin, played by Colin Farrell.
The Batman follows the eponymous hero (Pattinson) as he investigates a mysterious series of murders in Gotham. His investigation becomes more urgent as he finds himself dealing with a sadistic killer who targets him with cryptic riddles and clues. Batman digs up more than intended as he uncovers deep-seated corruption in Gotham and a flawed family legacy. These difficult truths leave him struggling with the question of whether Gotham even deserves to be saved.
Reeves created a truly intriguing and powerful film with The Batman. Like 1989’s Batman, it capitalizes on that noir feel and brooding tone. Pattinson’s Batman is a fully realized and humanized character who is conflicted over how to carry on his family’s legacy and whether to maintain his superhero identity. The film also offers a nice dose of comic-book accuracy by delving into Batman’s detective role. The Batman has some minor flaws, such as not fleshing out several of its characters and dragging a bit with its slow pacing. However, it captures a clear vision and dazzles with its resonant noir atmosphere.
2. Batman Returns
Tim Burton and Michael Keaton returned for Batman‘s sequel, Batman Returns, which premiered in 1992. Batman Returns pits the hero against a formidable villainous duo, the Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). The duo becomes a trio when Shreck’s former assistant Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) transforms into Catwoman. However, things become even more complicated when an attraction develops between Catwoman and Batman.
Burton managed to deliver a sequel that exceeds its predecessor. While it doesn’t have quite the same legacy as Batman, it further captures Burton’s brilliant vision. The film benefits from being even edgier and grittier than Batman, fully embracing the noir tone with a bit of camp. Meanwhile, DeVito and Pfeiffer steal the show with their brilliant performances. Their villains are so masterful that few foes in live-action Batman films have been able to top them. Together, Keaton, DeVito, and Pfeiffer make for one of the best lead casts of a Batman film. There are very few flaws in this haunting and brilliant film, aside from Batman getting a bit overshadowed by his foes.
1. The Dark Knight
Released in 2008, The Dark Knight was almost immediately hailed as one of the greatest superhero films ever made. The second installment in Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy follows Batman as his reign as Gotham’s protector is elevated with the aid of Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). However, Gotham falls into a state of perpetual chaos as a deranged criminal, the Joker (Heath Ledger), shows up and plays mind games with Batman in an attempt to make him forgo his moral code.
The Dark Knight is both an action-packed superhero film and a mesmerizing psychological crime thriller. This nearly flawless sequel is bold and intense, action-packed yet intricate, and features one of the greatest live-action superhero villains. Ledger steals the show with his cerebral portrayal of the Joker, which can be described as nothing short of brilliant. Meanwhile, the film also features a very intriguing commentary on ethics and terrorism. What makes The Dark Knight so great is how deep it actually goes while remaining an exciting superhero movie on the surface. It brought something new and refreshing to the superhero genre, and few films have topped it since.
(featured image: Warner Bros.)
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