Even with Marvel continuing to be the ultimate box office juggernaut, no hero can top the incredible run Batman has had on the big-screen. With the release of The Lego Batman Movie, it’s a good time to look back and rank the many adventures the Caped Crusader has had on the big screen. And no, Suicide Squad does not count in my book.
11. Batman and Robin
If you are a fan of ice puns, this is movie was made for you. In all seriousness, Joel Schumacher does make an earnest attempt to return the franchise to its 1960’s campy origins. He creates grand sets and the film has a generally solid look.
Pretty much everything here is a disaster, with many film remaining among one of the worst superhero films ever made. George Clooney is a legitimately great actor, but never for a moment disappears into the role of the Caped Crusader. Chris O’Donell continues to be annoying as Robin, and I don’t even know where to start with how cartoonish Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance is.
As a fan of the 1960’s brand, the attempt to re-create that campy style sounds fun on paper. The humor here though is so lazy, with everything from a bat credit card and dozens of ice puns all being groaners to watch. Let’s not forget the appearance of Bat Nipples that will forever go down as one of the worst costumes ever.
10. The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan is one of the best filmmakers working today, and it would be impossible for him to not make a visually interesting movie. His grounded style makes this third entry in the Nolan Batman franchise unique. The Dark Knight Rises is a very ambitious film, with it wrapping up its core arcs and introducing thoughtful subtext over its nearly three hour run time. It’s also one of the few Batman films to truly focus on the character, wrapping up his arc as well as his relationship with Alfred in a heartfelt way.
For as well-made as this movie is, it continues to be a lackluster conclusion to Nolan’s great era. Unlike the previous two films which had cohesive narratives, this film is jam-packed with just too much stuff that the audience doesn’t care about. Tom Hardy’s controversial performance as Bane was a misfire, with the great actor being subject to one of the silliest accents possible. I enjoy the focus on Batman here, and Christian Bale continues to give a strong performance in the role. However, it feels like that strong arc is surrounded by too much plot and characters.
This is a film that a lot of Batman fans enjoy and for good reason. It’s a well-made film that brings a great trilogy to a close. Personally, I have never been able to connect with the film, with its bloated running time and script bogging it down from having a real impact.
9. Batman Forever
Despite only being in the role once, I liked Val Kilmer’s performance as Batman. He has the quiet confidence that one would expect from the character. Jim Carrey gives himself completely into the role of the Riddler, and his crazy energy make for a lot of entertainment value. As Joel Schumacher’s first entry in the franchise, he does a lot better job managing the campy aspects, with the film not being too silly to take seriously. Schumacher’s visual style is also a joy to watch, with some grand visuals bringing this material to life on-screen.
Out of all the Batman films, this is the one that is the biggest mixed bag. There is a lot of entertainment value here, but this is film suffers from an issue that plagues a quite a few Batman films. The film focuses far too much on the villains and ultimately leaves Batman in the back seat. Kilmer does a good job in the role, but doesn’t have a whole lot to work with as the villains take up just as much screen time.
While Carrey brings a lot of entertainment value to the role, he is never believable as a sinister villain. Tommy Lee Jones is just ok as Two-Face, for the most part feeling miscast in this campy role. It’s an entertaining ride, but one that lacks any sort of substance to be all that memorable.
Tim Burton’s debut with the Batman franchise proves why he was such a great choice to bring the Caped Crusader to life. He creates a distinctly gothic look that feels perfect for the character. Michael Keaton remains as my favorite actor to bring Batman to life, mainly for the textures he adds to Bruce Wayne. He’s an eccentric, but one can see his tortured past through his eyes.
A lot of credit is given to Burton and company for making a film that is very adult, with this film staying grounded in the dark world of Gotham from start to finish. It’s also impossible to not mention Prince’s great music for the film, which remains to be one of the most impressive soundtracks around.
This may be controversial to some, but Jack Nicholson to me is one of the weakest actor to bring the Joker to life (the distinction of worst goes to Jared Leto). He’s obviously a good actor, but he seems more like just an average crook rather a maniacal psychopath. This is a Batman film that also doesn’t focus enough on Batman, with much of the running time being dedicated to Nicholson instead. It’s a satisfying flick however, and one that gets a lot of credit for its style.
7. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Ben Affleck’s unique take on Batman is simply one of the best we have seen. His brooding anger and violent acts mask his prolonged feeling of sadness. Everyone complains that the character is too violent, but I think this approach is perfect, as it shows a Batman character who has lost what he stands for along the way.
Everyone has their own perspective on Dawn of Justice, as its easily the most controversial of the Batman films to be released. Personally, I admire the ambition and merit here, as well as Zach Snyder’s stylish and dark tone. This is a movie that successfully grounds to of comics most iconic humans in a thoughtful way, with both being fully-developed and uniquely human characters.
At the same time, I understand the aspects about the film that everyone detests. There is just far too much going on here from a story perspective, with most of it being either uninteresting or under-developed. Even the Special Edition fails to make some of the film’s more plot-oriented aspects all that interesting. The action here I also find unimpressive, with its overuse of CGI taking away potentially cool moments. The debate on whether this film is good or not will continue to rage on, but I think it’s a movie that should be credit for its ambition.
6. Batman: The Movie
For fans of the Adam West Batman, Batman: The Movie is essentially one long episode of the television show. This film’s camp value is undeniable, with there being a lot of laughs to have over the Bat shark repellent and Batman running around the street trying to get rid of a bomb. There is a certainly earnestness to the film that continues to make it an enjoyable relic of what Batman once was.
It’s clear this film isn’t for everyone, as its campy tone will be a turn off to a lot of modern Batman films. The film isn’t perfect, with its uneven pace leading to some lackluster moments. The film was made in era where movies were made to gear towards all audiences, and that is clearly felt. The romance between Batman and Catwoman here is silly in a bad way, and just fells out of place compared to the rest of the movie. Still, there is a lot of fun to be had watching this film today.
5. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
This is easily the least-talked about Batman film to hit the big screen, but also one of the best. As far as being honest to the source material, this is the best entry of the Batman franchise. Fans of the Batman Animated Series get to enjoy the great voice acting of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as both the Batman and Joker. Even though its animated, it’s one of the best realizations of the Batman character, featuring a script and story crafted with intelligence. The animation is also gorgeous, delivering the great 2D animation fans know and love.
Batman: Mask of The Phantasm runs at a brisk 80 minutes, which I think is more of a hindrance than a helping point here. The film could have used more time to round out its characters and story even more. This makes the movie feel a bit slighter in comparison to the higher-ranking entries on this list. Regardless, this is a Batman film that fans should certainly seek out.
4. The LEGO Batman Movie
The newest adaptation of the Caped Crusader on the big screen is a hilarious satire as well as a loving tribute of the character’s lengthy cinematic history. Like The LEGO Movie before it, this film does a fantastic job at appealing both to an older and younger demographic. Will Arnett continue to prove he is one of the best voice actors around, embodying Batman with a hilarious mix of arrogance and lack of awareness. Michael Cera is also fantastic as Robin, with his energy and enthusiasm bringing the character to life. Despite being in lego form, the action scenes are also a lot of fun and very creative.
The LEGO Batman Movie at times can be a little too silly, with some of the gags appealing to kids being slightly tiresome. Pacing wise, the film loses its way a bit in the second act before picking itself up again for the final third. Aside from that, this is a great tribute to Batman and I am sure all fans will enjoy it.
3. Batman Begins
As the first Christopher Nolan Batman film, Batman Begins sets the tone for the most grounded approach to the Batman universe. The film has a real sense of grit and creates its own interesting universe. Christian Bale brings a strong presence to the role, embodying the tortured persona of Bruce Wayne very well.
While most first films in a series are often times weak on story, Begins actually has one of the best villain plotlines. Liam Neeson is terrific as Ra’s Al Ghul, and makes for a worthy adversary of Batman. The plan to make the city go crazy through the Scarecrow’s fear vaper is inventive and makes for some tense moments.
Compared to his next two entries in the franchise, Batman Begins has the least amount of depth. It does an admirable job at bringing the character to life and delivering an entertaining experience, but it’s very much an introduction to the character. Aside from that, this is still one of the strongest entries in the franchise.
2. The Dark Knight
Ranked by most as the best superhero film ever, The Dark Knight is deserving of all the praise it receives. Nolan certainly reeves up his efforts here, with this film being a full-fledged crime thriller. What stands out most his Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker, which takes the classic character to a new level. He’s a truly menacing villain, stealing the screen in every scene he appears.
Ledger may be the star, but everyone in this talented cast does a fantastic job. Aaron Eckhart is fantastic as Harvey Dent, with his character’s transformation having a big effect on the film. For a mainstream blockbuster, The Dark Knight is not afraid to go into some dark and depressing territory, with it essentially being a movie where the bad guy wins. At the same time, it still delivers the blockbuster excitement one would expect from a Batman film.
This is where a lot of people are going to disagree, as many have the film as the definitive Batman film. While I think it’s a near-flawless film, I do think this is one of the many Batman films where Batman himself is over-shadowed. The presence of all these great villains do make Christian Bale’s Batman stand more in the background, which is why I do not rank it as the best Batman film.
1. Batman Returns
While the battle for the number one spot was close, I personally lean towards Tim Burton’s second and last entry in the Batman franchise. Like Nolan did with The Dark Knight, Burton takes what works about the first film and brings it to a higher level. Michael Keaton in my opinion still gives the best portrayal of Batman/Bruce Wayne, delivering a performance that gives the character much-needed layers.
Batman Returns is Tim Burton in his prime, creating a wonderfully gothic world matched with weird and fascinating characters. Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman make for great advisories, with this being the only film to accurately capture the complicated dynamic between Catwoman and Batman.
Where I give a slight edge to Return is how it captures its characters. The trio of Batman, Catwoman, and Penguin may be separated by their morality, but are ultimately connected by their alienation from society. The film has a great juxtaposition with its alienated characters battling it out during Christmas, the time of the year for family and friends. Like The Dark Knight, this is a film that isn’t afraid to go to dark places and ultimately ends on an effective emotional note.