Every Batman Movie Ranked, Worst To Best
Batman has taken many forms on the silver screen across decades of cinematic history. Here’s how each movie stacks up against the others.
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Here’s our ranking of the Batman movies from worst to best. In 2019, DC’s iconic Caped Crusader feels as vital to the silver screen as he does to the world of comic books, but it hasn’t always been that way. Although earlier attempts had been made, Tim Burton is the director who proved once and for all that Batman’s story made for cinematic gold and Warner Bros. have constantly reinvented the character ever since.
Various shades of the Batman palette have been explored in live-action, including tortured nocturnal menace, campy comic book crime-fighter and visceral, realistic urban vigilante, with each iteration enjoying varying degrees of success. One constant in Batman’s movie output, however, is popularity. Even when a film has failed miserably, Bruce Wayne has returned to the big screen before long, usually with a renewed sense of energy and purpose.
Beginning with the droppings on the Bat-cave floor and working up to the best the Bat has to offer, here are the Batman films ranked.
Batman & Robin
Very few people involved with Batman & Robin have anything positive to say about the movie, with George Clooney famously declaring they’d “killed the franchise” after the film released to widespread derision. Stripping the character of any semblance of seriousness, Clooney’s Batman reverted to the wise-cracking, fun detective from the early days of the comic books but even for younger fans, the tone was too cartoonish.
With a miscast Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, a misjudged Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and misguided nipples on the Bat-suit, Batman & Robin is the biggest misfire in the franchise’s canon.
Batman V. Superman
The first cinematic meeting between the Dark Knight and Krypton’s favorite son, directed by the man behind Man of Steel, couldn’t possibly fail, could it? Expectations were sky high for Zack Snyder’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice but a muddied, at times nonsensical, plot and too much focus on establishing DC’s answer to the MCU brought fans swiftly back to reality.
While nowhere near as bad in the role as some had expected, Ben Affleck’s feud with Superman was fraught with inconsistencies, culminating with the infamous “Martha” moment. It speaks volumes that the strongest element of Batman V. Superman was the introduction of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman.
Starring the iconic pairing of Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, respectively, this continuation of the 1960s Batman TV series is innocent, good-humored fun. Has it aged well? Not entirely. Production is understandably crude but, unlike Batman & Robin, there’s an unquestionable charm to the silliness and simple storytelling.
The 1966 Batman movie may not be considered one of the best feature-length outings for the character, but it’s still remembered fondly 50 years after releasing and that alone is a feat to be proud of.
Joel Schumacher’s first Batman effort is often criticized for beginning the franchise’s transition away from the gothic brooding of Tim Burton’s vision to a brighter, more light-hearted tone, but Batman Forever packs far more substance than its successor. Some of the gags are corny and both Jim Carrey’s Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face are overblown, but Robin’s origin story is expertly handled and the neon Gotham redesign doesn’t hit the garish lows seen in Batman & Robin.
Val Kilmer offers an underrated portrayal of Batman and while his romance angle with Nicole Kidman’s Dr. Meridian falls flat, the actor adds new shades to Bruce Wayne’s character, particularly as a mentor to a younger superhero. Chris O’Donnell’s casting as a somewhat-older-than-he-should-be Robin also proved fruitful, hitting all the right angsty 90s rebel notes. The soundtrack was awesome too.
The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s final piece in his Dark Knight trilogy didn’t quite receive the acclaim of the previous two, but remains vital Batman viewing. Inspired by the “No Man’s Land” comic arc and featuring Tom Hardy’s unintelligible Bane, The Dark Knight Rises is another intense dose of Bat-realism from the visionary director. The plot isn’t as tight as past installments, with several glaring leaps in logic and a Talia al Ghul twist that feels more awkward with each viewing, but the visuals are stunning and the core story of Bruce Wayne coming to the end of his career is well delivered.
After the chaos of The Dark Knight, Bane’s ‘city under siege’ tactics also make for an interesting new angle, and while the additions of Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt provoked mixed reactions, the core supporting cast were reliably magnificent alongside Christian Bale’s outgoing Batman.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Perhaps the most overlooked Batman movie, Mask of the Phantasm is often considered the Caped Crusader’s best animated adventure. Following on from Batman: The Animated Series, the art and visuals hold up remarkably well by modern standards, however, a mixture of gothic horror mystery, classic cartoon action and a well-told romance story is Mask of the Phantasm’s greatest strength. Despite being a lesser known effort, Kevin Conroy’s Batman has every layer and nuance of his live-action counterparts and with classic villains falling out of every corner, this original tale feels like something taken straight out of the comics.
Mask of the Phantasm may not have hit the mainstream in the same way Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s movies have, but its status as a cult favorite has endured over the past 26 years.
Tim Burton’s first Batman feature is entirely responsible for the character’s current status as an icon of cinema. With Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne and Jack Nicholson as Joker, Burton sizzled the essence of the Batman story down to its key components, introduced a more contemporary backdrop and added his own trademark quirkiness. The cringe-worthy Prince dance scene aside, the 1989 Batman movie was faithful enough to entice comic fans, but accessible enough for newcomers, only slightly reworking Joker’s origin story.
As with many Tim Burton films, the director’s playful darkness appealed to both young and old, bringing a whole new generation into the wonderful world of masked vigilantes with psychological trauma fighting criminals.
George Clooney thought he’d helped kill the Batman franchise, but it was only just beginning. Christopher Nolan’s looser take on the Dark Knight’s mythology was firmly rooted in reality and a star-studded supporting cast featuring Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman ensured Bruce Wayne’s cinematic return felt like a big deal. With Ra’s al Ghul and a reworked Scarecrow as villains, this origin story was far from conventional, but made Batman more relevant than ever before.
Not for the first time, Batman Begins struggles to give Bruce an engaging love story, but in all other areas, Nolan’s superhero debut is a huge success, despite taking huge risks such as replacing the traditional Batmobile and destroying Wayne Manor. Still, this was merely a taste of the greatness to come.
Fresh from their success with 1989’s Batman, the partnership of Tim Burton and Michael Keaton returned with an added confidence for the sequel, driving Batman Returns to surpass its predecessor in every way. Set during the Christmas season, Burton’s gothic design influence was ramped up a few notches and the pairing of Danny DeVito as Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman expertly filled the franchise’s Nicholson-shaped gap.
Batman Returns walks just the right side of sublime and ridiculous, but also boasts a more involved plot than the previous movie, adding further layers to Keaton’s Batman along the way.
The Dark Knight
As the archetypal modern Batman story, The Dark Knight in undoubtedly the character’s greatest big screen moment. A large part of this success can be attributed to Heath Ledger’s game-changing performance as the Joker, but there’s also the perfectly-balanced plot – a character driven story that touches on politics, philosophy, morality and more. Despite its relative complexity for a superhero movie, The Dark Knight never forgets its roots, mixing in beautifully shot action sequences and some old-fashioned car chases to counter the more cerebral qualities of the film.
The incoming Maggie Gyllenhaal helps fix the broken love story from Batman Begins, Christian Bale hits his stride as the franchise’s leading man and the combination of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard bring everything together with a note-perfect score. The Dark Knight’s box office success may have been eclipsed in recent years, but its legacy in proving superhero movies could be works of art lives on.
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