Ranking All of the Batman Movies

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The Lego Batman Movie hits theaters this weekend, spoofing just over half a century of Batman films as manically and warmly as possible. But where does this brand new loving satire rank in the grand scheme of big-screen Batman adventures? Here’s our ranking of all the Batman films.

 

 

11. Batman & Robin (1997)

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The obvious low point of half a century of Batman’s big-screen endeavors, Batman & Robin is so impressively terrible that it stands as one of the all time great bad movies. Despite being better than Val Kilmer, George Clooney phones in his performance, failing to hit the sarcastic level of Adam West or the deep routed tragedy of Michael Keaton or Christian Bale. The stunt casting of Arnold Scharzenegger admittedly has its delightfully cooky moments, but is eventually overpowering and a complete bastardization of the Mr. Freeze character. Gotham continues to look like its under siege by a never-ending rave. Its only saving grace is a self-aware Uma Thurman who does her best just go with the tone and ham it up as Poison Ivy. Other than that, this was a franchise-killer in the time before reboots.

 

10. Batman Forever (1995)

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With Warner Bros. desperate to make a more family-friendly version of Batman, Tim Burton was ushered out and replaced by Joel Schumacher, a name most Bat-fans cringe at the drop of. Gotham got a makeover, putting glow sticks and bright neon, uh, everywhere in place of moody gargoyles and dark allies. Batman got a makeover too, namely the infamous nipples on the Batsuit. This sequel is off it’s rocker, something villain actors Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones try to take advantage of. For Carrey, right in his prime in 1995, this was another movie he was simply allowed to own. The result is a pretty decent Jim Carrey movie, the only good thing about Forever. Riddler is a character that can get away with it. Two-Face is not, but man did Tommy Lee Jones give it an embarrassing shot. On the side of the heroes, Val Kilmer is the worst Batman ever and we get a half-baked Robin origin that hits in some moments but completely misses in others. Ironically, Batman Forever had fans hoping that this series of Bat-flicks wouldn’t last forever.

 

9. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

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With decades of Batman and Superman movies behind it, and Marvel leading the way to make superhero crossovers both profitable and awesome, Dawn of Justice should have been a lot better than it is. Sure, it has its moments. Wonder Woman actually rocks and Ben Affleck makes for a great Bruce Wayne. But, as with Man of Steel, director Zach Snyder just doesn’t understand his heroes. Not only is Batman a flat-out murderer in this film, but we have no understanding of what his role in Gotham is. He’s referred to as a legend, with cops running scared, but there’s still a Bat-signal? Superman feels like he went through a whole extra movie worth of material for the world to react to, but that’s just Snyder trying to raise questions about these two iconic heroes just for the sake of doing so. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is somehow a worse villain than the dialogueless, CGI Doomsday. For all the places this film succeeds, as few and far between as they are, it can’t make up for weak characters and a thinly drawn world. The duel between these two legends deserved better.

 

8. Batman: The Movie (1966)

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More Bat-parody than an actual Batman movie, the big-screen version of Adam West and Burt Ward’s TV series is full of hilarious moments and over-the-top villains. Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman join forces, calling Penguin’s bathtub-ready penguin submarine their base of operations, to turn the world leaders into literal dust. This is also a movie where Batman uses his shark repellent to get an obviously rubber shark off his leg, Robin solves Riddler’s insane riddles with gusto, and Catwoman purrs her way through every scene she’s in. This thing is a hoot. What puts it so low on the list is its lack of genuine drama (this is a Batman story after all) and its annoying foray into Cold War commentary. The movie eventually starts to feel like it’s trying to capitalize on the critical acclaim for Dr. Strangelove just a few years prior. It doesn’t work.

 

7. The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

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Acting as a tonal answer to the dreadfully bleak Batman v. SupermanLego Batman is an aggressively warm take on the character that also manages to parody every single film on this list in some way or another. It’s an animated spectacle clearly by and for Batman lovers. The fact that it isn’t much more than that is why it doesn’t ascend higher on this list. There are some astute observations about the character, his relationship with the Joker, and what drives him to do what he does, but no Batman movie should ever have to resort to villains from other franchises to increase the spectacle (as fun as having Voldemort and Sauron around was). For every clever in-joke, there’s an opportunity missed to further authenticate the film’s satire, rather than using to just make the wildest Batman movie ever. Still, having that title is hardly something to complain about.

 

6. Batman (1989)

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Tim Burton’s mega-blockbuster gets so much right that the things it gets wrong feel almost tragic. With a few tweaks, this could have been the defining Batman movie. The old-school noir sets effectively lift Gotham from the pages of the comics and vibrantly bring it to life. Danny Elfman’s rip-roaring score is worthy of a brooding superhero and remains the ultimate Batman theme. The tone is dark and gothic but still allows for the utterly ridiculous. Michael Keaton remains the best Batman under the cape and cowl, even if Christian Bale eventually outdid his Bruce Wayne. Where the film fumbles is its handling of the Joker. Upon release, Jack Nicholson’s take was well-received, and its a fun performance to be sure. But there’s definitely a sense that Nicholson is playing himself more than the Joker. Then there’s the fact that the script has Joker killing Bruce’s parents, which takes something away from their more ambiguous dynamic seen in better films down the list. The climax is also pretty terrible, with it mostly being shots of people walking up stairs and Batman eventually being responsible for the death of the Joker. For all Burton got right, these are some pretty big things to get wrong.

 

5. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

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Christopher Nolan’s epic trilogy closer is a lot like Return of the Jedi, not as good as the two films that came before it, distracted by plot twists it thinks it needs but probably doesn’t, and still somehow utterly satisfying. At almost three hours, The Dark Knight Rises is the most ambitious Bat-flick to date. Here’s a list of things this film tries to accomplish: tying together loose ends from Nolan’s other two films; having Bane break Batman’s back, forcing him to recover away from everything else for the entire second act; finishing the Bruce Wayne story in a satisfying manner; a love triangle between Bruce, Catwoman, and Talia al Ghul; a Robin origin; a twist ending; and a commentary on the Great Recession and the Occupy movement. The Dark Knight may have been too tough an act to follow, but they get some serious points for trying. Better yet, most of it at least partially works. Bruce’s arc in this film is the best in any Batman film. Anne Hathaway is the definitive Selina Kyle. Bane is legitimately horrifying for most of the movie. John Blake’s road to take up the cape and cowl feels genuine and earned. But the films also feels like its about to crumble under its own wait the whole time, as seen through its ridiculously clumsy editing. Still, the last five minutes are among the best five minutes of any superhero movie ever made.

 

4. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

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Many Batman fans will tell you that Batman: The Animated Series is the best adaptation of the character (personally, I think it’s a three way tie between that, the number one film on this list, and Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy). Capitalizing on the show’s popularity and positive reception by older fans, Warner Bros. rushed out a theatrical release of Mask of the Phantasm. The film made just $5 million at the box office, by far the lowest grossing Batman movie ever. Still, that doesn’t stop it from being absolutely terrific. Bouncing back and forth between Gotham’s present and the days leading up to Bruce putting on the mask for the first time, Mask of the Phantasm shows us a plausible alternate life for Bruce Wayne before the very city he’s sworn to protect takes it away from him. It’s a beautifully animated superhero noir with smart action and high emotional stakes. The Phantasm character is a great creation that deserves more attention in the comics while Mark Hamill’s iconic Joker steals the show. For Batman fans who’ve missed this one over the years, it’s well worth checking out.

 

3. Batman Returns (1992)

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Building on the aesthetic he created in his 1989 original, Tim Burton nailed it his second go around and made the most pure big-screen Batman adaptation ever. Sure, there are some quibbles. Batman seems to kill a few people and Catwoman’s origin didn’t need to delve into the supernatural, but when this film is firing on all cylinders, it’s one of the most fun superhero films ever made. Danny DeVito’s Penguin is one of the only interesting recreations of an overrated character, while Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is flat-out iconic. She pulls some interesting themes of duality out of a fun relationship between her and Bruce Wayne/Batman. The Christmas setting just adds to the gothic feel of Gotham City, while making it even more striking to look at. But without the major mistakes of the first Batman, this sequel just lets its artists play in the darkly colorful world of this hero. It’s a movie that forces us to wonder what Burton would have done given the chance to dive deeper into Batman’s comic book history.

 

2. Batman Begins (2005)

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Batman Begins sort of invented the whole idea of reboots. With superhero movies making a killing at the box office in the early 2000s, shortly after Batman & Robin stopped the Burton/Schumacher series dead, Warner Bros. had to capitalize on their star hero. Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale were both up-and-comers back then, but this movie turned them both into household names. Now sort of forgotten in favor of its first sequel and divisive second sequel, Begins is deserving of a grand legacy of its own. Retelling the Batman origin story with more emotion than both of Uncle Ben’s big-screen deaths combined, this movie immediately created the most fully realized version of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Throw in an unbeatable supporting cast (Michael Caine as Alfred? Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox? Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon? We Bat-fan were spoiled with this trilogy, even if we had to endure Katie Holmes for this entry) and you’ve got one of the most well-acted, artistic superhero movies on the market. It doesn’t hurt to have Liam Neeson playing Ra’s al Ghul, one of the Dark Knight’s best foes previously unseen on the big screen. For many, this was the Batman film they has been waiting for. That is, until three years later…

 

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

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I’ve seen all of the films on this list a thousand times, but when rewatching them for this list, there was only one that still had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. The Dark Knight isn’t just the gold standard for superhero filmmaking, it’s a flat out masterpiece, a work of art masquerading as a good guys vs. bad guys saga. Batman’s world felt more real than ever in Batman Begins, but this sequel throws it right into post-9/11 America, with an insane terrorist striking fear into the heart of Gotham City and the film’s questionable hero acting as a one-man NSA. But aside from its real-world relevance, this film is intricately plotted, undeniably intense, surprisingly fun, endlessly quotable, and incredibly well-acted. It’s been said a million times, but it will always deserve saying again: what Heath Ledger accomplished in this film is nothing short of astounding. This Joker ranks up there with Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter as one of the greatest on-screen villains of all time. But don’t forget Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent/Two-Face, the beating heart of both the film and Gotham itself until he gets burned halfway to hell. No superhero movie has even come close to touching this one since its release, and it’ll likely be a long while before one does. The Dark Knight is king and deserves to be so.

 

How would you rank the Batman films? Let us know in the comments below!

 

By Matt Dougherty

 

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