With the exception of a few painted freaks, everyone loves Batman. The Caped Crusader is one of, if not the most popular characters in modern fiction. Whether it’s his flaws, his cool toys, or the magic of Christopher Nolan, Batman movies, shows, and comics are just phenomenal. But… some are more phenomenal than others.
Here’s a subjective list of the live-action Batman movies, from the worst (you know the one), to the very best. And before anyone gets upset, yes, live-action. There have been several awesome animated Batman movies, and they deserve a list all their own.
Ranking the Batman Movies
Honorable Mention: Batman & Bill
No, this isn’t really a Batman movie as much as it is a movie about Batman. If you have Hulu, and you fancy yourself a fan of the Batman movies, you absolutely need to give Batman & Bill a view. Without giving too much away, just know that it revolves around Bob Kane, the creation of Batman, and a man named Bill Finger. Who is Bill Finger? Better watch to find out.
9. Batman and Robin
Do we even have to address this? This movie was so bad, it kept Batman off the big screen for nearly a decade. This movie was so ugly, not even George Clooney could make it easy on the eyes. Want an example of why this movie was garbage? The “ca-ching” noise that happened when Clooney pulled out a Batman credit card? How does that even work? Is that linked to Bruce Wayne’s account or does Batman have his own money?
Also, the puns. The never-ending assault of puns. Becky Lynch cringes at these puns. Some movies are so bad, they’re good. This movie was so bad, I started reading Marvel comics.
8. Batman vs. Superman
Small confession. I was one of the people that was furious when Ben Affleck was cast as Batman. I was one of the people that brought up that terrible Daredevil movie, and threatened to boycott it altogether. Now, I’ll be one of those people that admits he was wrong. Ben Affleck was surprisingly good as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. I genuinely enjoyed his performance, and I’m looking forward to the movie. However, that’s where the praise for this movie stops.
This movie just tries so hard to do so much and fails to accomplish most of it. Instead of releasing several movies over a decade to build the superhero team-up movie, BvS tries to cram everything into one movie. There’s too much going on, and the “Martha” plot twist makes M. Night Shyamalan cringe.
7. Batman Forever
It hurt me to rank this movie so low, but there’s no denying that it’s just not a good movie. You couldn’t have told kid Ryan Smith that though. Kid Ryan Smith loved this movie so much that his favorite song for several years was Kiss From a Rose by Seal. Not a joke. Facts.
But as I’ve grown older, my love for this movie is born almost completely of nostalgia. Jim Carrey‘s Riddler being a cartoon is almost forgivable, but the objectively brilliant Tommy Lee Jones goofing off as a neutered Two-Face makes me long for Billy Dee Williams. Val Kilmer‘s Batman isn’t the worst thing ever, but the whole tone of the movie is just off.
In the first two Batman movies of this era, Gotham is gritty and dark. This movie has flashy characters, flashy lights, and did I mention, a song by Seal? The Batmobile from this movie is easily the coolest, but it isn’t cool enough to justify a goofy movie that ultimately opened the door for Joel Schumacher‘s disaster.
6. The Dark Knight Rises
In a word, the Dark Knight Rises is good. It would’ve been very good, but it ran about 45 minutes too long. The problem with this movie is simple, it doesn’t feel like a Batman movie. It’s easy to see why, after all, the caped crusader barely appears in the flick. But the movie takes too long to get going, and then it just builds and builds without a real finish. The ending is a bit ridiculous, and it’s easily the worst of the trilogy.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love this movie. Tom Hardy‘s Bane is interesting, and Anne Hathaway‘s Catwoman was much better than I thought it would be. But ultimately, the legacy of this film is nothing more than a series of bad Bane impressions we do with our friends. Following the second movie (that’s called foreshadowing) in the Dark Knight trilogy was a tall order, and even the great Christopher Nolan came up short.
5. Batman: The Movie
Anyone who read my article ranking the Joker actors (and I can’t recommend it enough) probably already knew this movie wouldn’t be ranked high on my list. The reality is that Batman had already changed by the time I started reading the comics or watching the shows and movies. I fell in love with a darker, grittier Batman, and only cautiously tolerated the campier one.
However, that doesn’t mean I don’t love this movie for what it is. This is the turning point on the list where we go from meh to magic. The legendary Adam West is at his best in this movie, and while it’s a good laugh, that’s why I can’t rank it any higher than six. This movie is a parody of itself, frequently mocking just how silly Batman was.
There’s a scene in this movie where West literally runs around for two minutes with a bomb over his head, running into hilarious situations. Seriously. Stop what you’re doing right now, go to YouTube, and look up “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
Long before Michael Keaton was winning Oscars for Birdman or making money fighting Spider-Man, he was the Batman. Batman had been absent from the big screen for over 20 years when Tim Burton and company took a swing at him, but boy, did they connect.
Tim Burton‘s Batman is very good. It manages to take Adam West’s dark knight and change the tone without abandoning the target audience. With the exception of the “wanna get nuts, let’s get nuts” moment, Keaton’s Batman is very good. However, it’s another performance that earned this version such a high ranking.
I’ve said before that Jack Nicholson‘s Joker is the most authentic one we’ve seen on the big screen, and I meant it. Nicholson’s Joker is over the top in the most wonderful way. Nicholson gleefully taunts and terrorizes Gotham, taking lives without a moment of hesitation, and he perfectly captures the essence of everyone’s favorite clown. This movie brought Batman back to life on the big screen, and it’s a shame that it’s sequels were all terrible. Well… Except for one.
3. Batman Begins
After the atrocity that was Batman and Robin, Batman disappeared for a while. In his absence, Spider-Man and the X-Men made their way into theatres, and kept the superhero genre alive. It wasn’t until 2005, when the brilliant Christopher Nolan gave us Batman Begins, starring Christian Bale as the dark knight.
Very, very far removed from the campy, pun-slinging Bruce Wayne of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher years, Bale’s bat was gritty, dark, and most importantly, real. Sure, like all comic book movies, there are parts that challenge your ability to suspend your disbelief, but for the most part, it felt deeper than a bloated special effects experiment.
Michael Caine‘s Alfred was spectacular, and while Liam Neeson wouldn’t have been my frist pick for Ra’s (Raas) Al Ghul, he made the character his own. Hans Zimmer set the tone with spectacular music, and Christopher Nolan showed us a different side of an origin story we’ve heard a million times. Everything about this movie was fantastic, down to the smaller roles played by Cillian Murphy (Dr. Crane/Scarecrow), Gary Oldman (Lieutenant Gordon), and Ken Watanabe (fake Ra’s/Raas).
2. Batman Returns
In my personal opinion, Batman Returns is the best of the Batman movies, if we’re speaking purely from the point of it being a Batman movie. It’s dark, but it still manages to capture that Batman magic. Danny Elfman‘s soundtrack is on point, and we got phenomenal performances from Danny DeVito as the Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.
DeVito’s Penguin is genuinely off-putting. As his story unfolds, you feel just about every emotion for his Oswald Cobblepot, and by the end, you’re just happy to be through with him. As for Pfeiffer, the relationship between Catwoman and Batman in this movie is done brilliantly, showing four different characters dance as Gotham goes through the same weekly chaos.
Batman Returns is the perfect blend of camp and grit and it perfectly represents the caped crusader. However, there is one movie in this series that’s just too damn good to ignore.
1. The Dark Knight
C’mon. Is anyone really surprised? The Dark Knight wasn’t just a good comic book movie, it was an objectively good watch. The characters were compelling, the plot was fascinating, and for a brief, glorious moment, it felt like even the rumbling avalanche that would become the Avengers movies couldn’t touch the bat.
One thing that the Dark Knight did really well that no other comic book movie has accomplished is juggle two villains. Spider-Man failed, Batman Forever failed, and Iron Man 2 was… laughably bad, despite the best efforts of Sam Rockwell. The Dark Knight managed to give us the Joker, the best villain in fiction, while also introducing Two-Face, a longtime favorite in Batman’s rogues gallery.
What makes the Dark Knight the best Batman movie is this. It’s a fantastic movie, and it’s a fantastic Batman movie. You never lose sight of the fact that you’re watching Batman, but it feels like a Martin Scorsese movie as well. Throw in the iconic performance by Heath Ledger, another amazing soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, and you have yourself one hell of a movie.
Disagree? Think I was unfair to the older movies? Want to discuss whether or not the ice age did kill the dinosaurs, as Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s Mr. Freeze claims? Let me know in the comment section below or harass me on twitter @RyanSmithLWOS. Thanks for reading, and be on the look-out for the animated version of this list.