The Lego Batman Movie hits theaters February 10th, and a new live action Batman movie starring Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader is in development (although Affleck is no longer directing it). While it remains to be seen whether these new movies will help or hurt the Batman movie cannon, it got us thinking about all the Batman movies that have come before – some great and others terrible. Like any movie franchise, Batman has been subjected to numerous highs and lows over the years, and it seems appropriate to take a few minutes to rank all of the Batman movies to date. Here then is a ranking of every Batman film so far – listed from worst to best (we’ll add more when they are released). Enjoy!
9. Batman & Robin (1997)
A true abomination that will forever be remembered for the fact that there were nipples on the Bat suit, the 1997 movie Batman & Robin ranks as the absolute low point for this film franchise. Director Joel Schumaker went for full campiness with this movie that starred George Clooney as Batman and Chris O’Donnell as the Boy Wonder. And the results are, at best, silly, and, at worst ridiculous. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy do their best to liven up this movie as the token villains, but it just doesn’t work. By the time Alicia Silverstone shows up as Batgirl, the audience has pretty much thrown in the towel on this popcorn movie. This film effectively killed the Batman franchise for close to a decade until it was revived by director Christopher Nolan in the mid-2000s. Savaged by critics and disowned by fans, Batman & Robin stands as an example of the worst type of comic book movie.
8. Batman Forever (1995)
The first Batman film to be directed by Joel Schumaker, 1995’s Batman Forever is almost as bad as the aforementioned Batman & Robin – minus the nipples, of course. However, when it was released in 1995, Schumaker’s vision for the Dark Knight and Gotham City seemed curiously different than what had come before with director Tim Burton — it was decidedly more neon. It was also intriguing to have major stars such as Val Kilmer (Batman), Jim Carrey (The Joker), and Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face) in leading roles. Sadly though, it just didn’t all come together. The source material is never properly respected and the whole project is treated too much as a farce. To watch this movie now is cringe worthy. Tommy Lee Jones, in particular, is way too over-the-top as Two-Face. Add in actress Nicole Kidman and a dreadful theme song by Irish rockers U2, and this movie just plain stinks like trash on the streets of Gotham during a hot July night.
7. Batman: The Movie (1966)
We can only assume that Joel Schumaker’s inspiration for his two terrible Batman films was the 1960s television series that starred actor Adam West. And, though you may have forgotten, there was a theatrically released film based on the TV show called Batman: The Movie, that came out in 1966. Basically starring the entire cast of the television series, this film has the Dynamic Duo square off against four supervillains who plan to hold the world for ransom with the help of a secret invention that instantly dehydrates people. As one would expect, this movie is as campy and goofy as the TV show that inspired it. The scene where Batman fends off a shark while hanging from a rope ladder below a helicopter is classic cheese. As is the scene where Batman tries desperately to get rid of a bomb that is about to explode, only to throw it in the ocean where a kindly dolphin commits suicide by swallowing the bomb and saving nearby people. Ridiculous? Of course. But intentionally so. Definitely not the worst of the Batman films.
6. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
This most recent Batman movie was a letdown, no question. And one could even argue that Batman is a secondary character in this film – taking a backseat to Superman. But this movie is still miles ahead of the aforementioned disasters, and Ben Affleck proved himself to be a competent Caped Crusader. He definitely adds a touch of ruthlessness to the character. And, if nothing else, this film set up the Justice League movie due out later in 2017. Still, the script by screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer tries to cram too much into one film and director Zak Snyder made some critical errors in casting choices, namely Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther. While Batman v. Superman is certainly ambitious, it nevertheless left fans underwhelmed with overstuffed subplots and subpar special effects. We’re hoping for more from the Justice League movie, or even the Wonder Woman movie.
5. Batman (1989)
It’s easy to forget now, but Batman proved to be controversial with fans when it was announced back in the late 1980s. People were unsure what to make of the fact that Tim Burton, who had earlier directed a Pee Wee Herman film, was at the helm of a big budget movie about the Dark Knight. And the casting of slightly built Michael Keaton (best known at that point for starring in the movie Mr. Mom) made some fans hyperventilate. Thank God Jack Nicholson agreed to star as The Joker. Fortunately, the end results were better than people imagined. Burton created a dark and interesting world for Gotham City, Keaton was much better than expected as Batman (and especially as Bruce Wayne), and Nicholson delivered in another signature role. If there’s any knock on this movie today, it’s that the action is pretty light and stilted. This is also the movie where Batman is not able to turn his head from side-to-side in the Batsuit. Still, these are quibbles and, overall, Batman delivered.
4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
By no means a bad movie, 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises is still the weakest of the Christopher Nolan trilogy. The inclusion of villain Bane (Thomas Hardy) is commendable, but the story and action in this film never quite gel together. Anne Hathaway does her best to fill out the Catwoman suit, but never fully convinces the audience. As well, the Gotham-held-hostage-by-a-bomb plot seems somewhat contrived and light. In the end, this movie, while good, doesn’t live up to its predecessors. Sequels, after all, should always aim to eclipse the films that came before them (although they rarely do). This movie aims high, but falls a tad short in that regard. Still, the fight scenes between Bane and Batman (Christian Bale) are great and well worth watching.
3. Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Returns is an interesting movie that grows more interesting with repeat viewings. The second Batman movie to be directed by Tim Burton and to again star Keaton in the title role, Batman Returns is darker and more imaginative than 1989’s Batman. Many critics praise this movie for being a more fully realized vision of both Batman and Gotham City. Indeed, armed with a bigger budget, Burton seems to delight in creating sets that are larger than life and elaborate – particularly the ones featuring the sewers beneath Gotham. Danny DeVito’s grotesque Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s ferocious Catwoman are two of the best realizations of Batman villains in the movie cannon. And Christopher Walken in a supporting role is pretty great too. This movie shows Burton at his artistic best.
2. Batman Begins (2005)
The first Batman movie directed by Christopher Nolan, 2005’s Batman Begins took the beloved character in a whole new direction and showed fans what is truly possible with a comic book movie. A straight ahead origin story, this movie treats Batman with the seriousness of the best fiction and never compromises in its vision. Less cartoon oriented than its predecessors, Batman Begins brought a new level of realism into the film franchise and awed moviegoers with its action, storytelling, and the way in which it made the world of Batman seem plausible. Plus, there are ninjas in this movie, which is always a good thing. In this film, the Batmobile is a tank-like behemoth and Bruce Wayne is a flawed character with serious parental issues. This is the definitive Batman origin story, which truly shows the psychological scars and rigorous training that transformed Bruce Wayne into Gotham’s number one vigilante. A must see.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
This selection should come as no surprise to ardent fans of the Batman films. The Dark Knight, released in 2008, is arguably Christopher Nolan’s best movie to date, and the single best film about Batman. Much of the praise needs to be heaped on late Heath Ledger, who deservedly won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of The Joker. It is a singular achievement and the yard stick by which all past and future Joker performances will be measured. In Ledger’s performance, the Joker embodies pure criminal anarchy, and it is a sight to behold. However, the entire movie also holds up exceptionally well. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman manages to stand toe-to-toe with the Joker, and many of the choreographed action scenes are exceptional in their execution. All-in-all, this is one of the best realized comic book movies ever made and sets the standard for such films going forward. All superhero movies have had a lot to live up to after The Dark Knight.