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Ranking Every Batman Film, 1966 - 2023
Updated to include The Flash.
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With last weekend’s release of The Flash, I thought now would be as good a time as any to update my ranking of the Batman movies.
I love Batman. He’s my favorite superhero. There’s no version of Batman that I dislike — so keep that in mind as you read. Obviously some work better for me than others, but I think you’ll find that my list both aligns with some common consensus, while having some outliers as well.
I’m including all live-action versions of the character, excluding the serials. We all know that Batman: The Animated Series reigns supreme.
12. Batman and Robin (1997)
Along with crime-fighting partner Robin and new recruit Batgirl, Batman battles the dual threat of frosty genius Mr. Freeze and homicidal horticulturalist Poison Ivy. Freeze plans to put Gotham City on ice, while Ivy tries to drive a wedge between the dynamic duo.
I defended this movie for a really long time. I got so tired of hearing about Batsuit nipples and Bat-credit cards and I never really felt like it got a fair shake. Campy? Sure. A little too far? Maybe.
But how could you dislike a movie that has Uma Thurman and Alicia Silverstone in the same movie? Did we die and go to heaven? That alone means it can’t be bad.
And Arnold’s ice puns! This is good stuff.
And then I rewatched it in anticipation of making this list and I’m sorry but...you guys were right the whole time. It stinks.
Calculated camp is one thing. I think Batman Forever rides that line really well. And I’m all for Batman being downright cheesy, as you’ll see later. But I felt this time around that Schumacher wanted to make Batman feel like Broadway. I love both of those things, but they just don’t mix. Ask Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.
It feels disjointed, without aim, and ultimately too witty for its own good. I’m still into it, (I would follow this cast through Hell) but I just don’t think it’s as purposeful with the fun as I always thought it was.
11. Batman Begins (2005)
Driven by tragedy, billionaire Bruce Wayne dedicates his life to uncovering and defeating the corruption that plagues his home, Gotham City. Unable to work within the system, he instead creates a new identity, a symbol of fear for the criminal underworld — The Batman.
I just...think this movie is boring. Sorry! Always have!
I’m pretty averse to origin stories and so an entire film dedicated to one just falls short for me.
Especially because it’s Batman. Everybody knows this story. It’s American folklore at the point. Kids could tell you how Batman became Batman better than they could tell you about what happened to Humpty Dumpty.
I think that’s one reason why I love Tim Burton’s Batman so much — we got an origin story in a thirty-second flashback. Training montages and Ra’s al Ghul does not a whole film make. I’m appreciative it gave us The Dark Knight, but that’s about it.
10. The Batman (2022)
In his second year of fighting crime, Batman uncovers corruption in Gotham City that connects to his own family while facing a serial killer known as the Riddler.
You can read my extended thoughts on this film here.
This movie is strong, has some exciting elements and does some things with the character that I’d always wished had been done, but in the end I still felt hungry. I miss the fun.
9. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Following the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman assumes responsibility for Dent’s crimes to protect the late attorney’s reputation and is subsequently hunted by the Gotham City Police Department. Eight years later, Batman encounters the mysterious Selina Kyle and the villainous Bane, a new terrorist leader who overwhelms Gotham’s finest. The Dark Knight resurfaces to protect a city that has branded him an enemy.
I have the exact opposite problem that I have with Batman Begins as I do with The Dark Knight Rises, as I’m apparently Goldilocks when it comes to the Nolan films. While Batman Begins can’t seem to justify its nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime without a ton of padding, The Dark Knight Rises is way too packed and can’t even tell its story in three hours.
They are constantly setting up storylines so that they can overcome that obstacle 15 minutes later. For example, start with the beginning of the film: Bruce has given up being Batman. The encounters with Joker and Harvey Dent showed him that this might not be the best way to do good. When Bane appears to take over Gotham, Bruce responds by...becoming Batman! What was the point of all of that trouble?
It does that up and down the entire movie. Setting things up just to barely do anything about them later. Miranda Tate, John Blake, the pit...they do it time again and again. It’s exhausting, especially since it clocks in at three hours.
8. The Flash (2023)
When his attempt to save his family inadvertently alters the future, Barry Allen becomes trapped in a reality in which General Zod has returned and there are no Super Heroes to turn to. In order to save the world that he is in and return to the future that he knows, Barry’s only hope is to race for his life. But will making the ultimate sacrifice be enough to reset the universe?
I will not apologize for this take: this movie is way better than people are making it out to be.
Yes, the off-screen controversies, Ezra Miller and all, are bad. Yes, Warner Bros. is quickly resembling a shell of its former self - this movie is trash to them anyway. And it had the unfortunate luck to play just weeks after the latest Spider-Verse movie.
And I understand that I'm partially being a hypocrite here: I'm, just like many of you, exhausted by multiverse movies. I'm bothered by a cheap nostalgia grab as much as the next guy. And I'm pretty much over superhero flicks in general.
But this is also doing all of the things I like in my superhero movies: it's fun, it's light-hearted, it's an episodic film that feels like a standalone movie. It's also a Batman movie with one of my favorite Caped Crusaders returning to the cowl. I think the humor works, the callbacks play well for fans of these films, and I think it's Snyder-versey enough without having to be a complete Snyder drab. I mean come on, this movie almost made me want to revisit Man of Steel.
Criticisms are valid (except for those complaining about how the Speed Force looks - a very clear stylistic choice and if you don't understand that...), but sometimes it's okay to notice flaws in something without letting it ruin your experience.
7. Batman Returns (1992)
Having defeated the Joker, Batman now faces the Penguin — a warped and deformed individual who is intent on being accepted into Gotham society, with the help of Max Schreck, a crooked businessman, whom he coerces into helping him run for the position of Mayor of Gotham, while they both attempt to frame Batman in a different light. Batman must attempt to clear his name, all while also deciding just what must be done with the mysterious Catwoman slinking about.
This is a controversial take. I know that. I understand that I’m in the minority here.
It’s low on my list for a few reasons. First, I just didn’t really grow up with this movie. Growing up, I had the VHS tapes of every film from Adam West to Val Kilmer and this was, without a doubt, the least-watched of the rotation. I’m not sure why I didn’t like it as a kid, but it probably has something to do with the fact that the film is terrifying, gross, and surprisingly demented for a kids’ movie.
The other reason I’m not the biggest fan of this flick is that I’m not the biggest fan of Tim Burton. He was kept on a short leash when he directed Batman and I think the toned-down version of his insane mind was perfect for bringing the Dark Knight into a darker night. But when Batman was a megahit and he got a proverbial blank check for the sequel, he got to do all of the things he wanted to do (particularly in terms of vibe and atmosphere) that are just a little far for me.
6. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Fearing the actions of a god-like Super Hero left unchecked, Gotham City’s own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis’s most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman and Superman at war with one another, a new threat quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it’s ever known before.
Yes, I did just put a Zack Snyder film above your beloved Batman Returns - and I’m about to do it again.
We are now at the point of the list where I put these movies on just for fun. I will rarely choose The Dark Knight Rises, but I’ll throw on Batman v. Superman.
And I really hate the fact that people snicker when you say you like this movie. I think they group you with Snyder fanboys — but those folks are dreadful. I just like this movie! (I promise I found Army of the Dead unwatchable).
I like choosing Ben Affleck for Batman, I thought he was a great choice. I like the rock ’em, sock ’em rhythm. I like the fact that this movie has one (1!) villain.
But maybe Jesse Eisenberg wasn’t the best fit. Maybe the “Martha” thing is a stretch. Maybe Snyder’s imagery can grow old (especially in the over-bloated director’s cut), but I think all of that simplicity makes for an easy watch.
5. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Determined to ensure Superman’s ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne aligns forces with Diana Prince with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions.
I’m choosing to put this version of the movie on the list for a few reasons. First, the Joss Whedon cut is a total trainwreck. It’s a terrible film. Since there is a significantly better cut of the movie (this one) that is actually the intended film, this one not only makes the list but ranks high.
I would argue that just about any other movie on this list is a better “Batman movie” since they are more about The Caped Crusader as this is an ensemble movie, but if we’re doing movies featuring Batman — it doesn’t get any more epic.
Epic in every sense of the word.
As in: sweeping
As in: exactly how we used it in 2011
I understand that the Snyder vibe isn’t for everyone — it isn’t for me most of the time. But I think that something about his vision for this saga really works.
Think about it like this: When The Avengers came out in 2012, it was a big damn deal. They did it, they actually did it. But now, ten years and 20 movies on, it almost feels quaint. Movies like Endgame make The Avengers look like a side quest.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League will never feel quaint. Partially because it’s probably the best team-up (or only) DC will make in the near future, but partially because the scope, extravagance, and vision would never let that happen. It might not be my favorite, and sure it’s full of flaws, but we don’t see epic movies like this anymore.
4. Batman Forever (1995)
The Dark Knight of Gotham City confronts a dastardly duo: Two-Face and the Riddler. Formerly District Attorney Harvey Dent, Two-Face believes Batman caused the courtroom accident which left him disfigured on one side. And Edward Nygma, computer-genius and former employee of millionaire Bruce Wayne, is out to get the philanthropist; as The Riddler. Former circus acrobat Dick Grayson, his family killed by Two-Face, becomes Wayne’s ward and Batman’s new partner Robin.
Schumacher’s Batman movies get a lot of flack and I can’t deny why. I’m fully aware of why they don’t work for people and I’ve said that Batman and Robin doesn’t really work for me anymore. But I think that Batman Forever excellently walks the tightrope (catch the pun?) that is the darkness of the Dark Knight and the fun and glitz Schumacher brought with him to his first entry.
I said before that I found Batman Returns to be a little too much in the dark department and Schumacher takes it the other way to an Adam West-inspired funland complete with Jim Carrey’s gangly Riddler, Tommy Lee Jones’ schticky Two Face, and a lusty Nicole Kidman. If this was the one with Alicia Silverstone, it would compete with my top spot. Val Kilmer does a great job in the title role leading a cast that makes this one of my favorites.
3. Batman (1966)
The Dynamic Duo faces four super-villains who plan to hold the world for ransom with the help of a secret invention that instantly dehydrates people.
Adam West’s Batman is not the most accurate interpretation, but it is my most sentimental.
When I was a boy, my grandfather taped this one off the tv for me. And I watched the hell out of that tape.
I love the interpretations of every character (especially the villains — this may be the only movie to successfully fit in this many villains), every location (what a fun Batcave, complete with the iconic firepole), and all of the memorable moments, (Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!).
It’s not what everyone thinks of when you think of Batman, but it’s what I think of when it comes to great memories, Sunday afternoons, and my grandfather — whom I miss every day.
2. Batman (1989)
The Dark Knight of Gotham City begins his war on crime with his first major enemy being the clownishly homicidal Joker, who has seized control of Gotham’s underworld.
This is so close to being my number one.
My favorite interpretation of my favorite superhero is Batman: The Animated Series. I find it to be basically definitive. Look, style, characterization, interpretation — it wins in just about every category.
And that show would not exist without Tim Burton’s version of this universe. This may sound hypocritical from the guy who wasn’t amazed by The Batman (2022), but I think the World’s Greatest Detective is at his best when he lives in a world that is a solid mixture of film noir and classic cartoon, (There is zero cartoon in Matt Reeves’ rendition).
I think that Burton achieves that balance perfectly in his first film. His film is all about dichotomy. Dark and light, good and evil, Batman (an excellent Michael Keaton) vs. Joker (a visionary Jack Nicholson), and of course, noir and camp. It may be the best film representation of the world I love so much.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Batman raises the stakes in his war on crime. With the help of Lt. Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman sets out to dismantle the remaining criminal organizations that plague the streets. The partnership proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a reign of chaos unleashed by a rising criminal mastermind known to the terrified citizens of Gotham as the Joker.
On the other hand, The Dark Knight may be the best film with Batman in it.
Nolan clearly had a more grounded vision for the character after the Schumacher debacle and so although I’m not the biggest fan of his Chicago-inspired Gotham, Batman’s toys, or some characterizations (sorry, Christian Bale!) — those things are honestly so nit-picky because this movie kicks ass.
Obviously Heath Ledger’s performance became instantly iconic, but the entire film is filled with memorable moment after memorable moment. Once it gets going, it does not let up. I’m the first to complain about runtime, but this two-and-a-half-hour dance doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it. Every scene, every line, every setpiece has become synonymous with the character and his portrayals on film. I think it transcends “comic book movie” like few others can.
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.
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