Every Live-Action Batman Movie, Ranked
Which Batman movie is #1?
Is there any comic book character more beloved than Batman? Well, unless you’re going to suggest Spider-Man or Superman, I’d say that you’re reaching. That’s because Batman is so versatile as a character, and no wonder! He’s been around for over 80 years! In that time, we’ve seen several incarnations, many in print, many animated, but also quite a few in live-action. Prior to the most recent movie, everybody had their favorite version of the live-action Batman actors, but Robert Pattinson adds such a rich, new layer to the character, that some might even consider Robert Pattinson’s Batman as one of the top tier versions of the character.
But, this article isn’t about who the best Batman is. It’s about the best Batman movie, and at the time of this writing, there are now 11 different live-action films in the Batman saga, bringing about the need for a guide of the Batman movies in order just to keep everything straight. Each version of the caped crusader is unique in its own special way, and each movie has its pluses and minuses. To be fair, there’s never been a perfect Batman movie in the sense that it has truly captured the essence of the comic book character, but some of them have come extremely close. So, what is the best Batman movie of them all? Well, you’re about to find out.
11. Batman & Robin (1997)
I’m going to be honest with you. I like Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin a lot more than most of the Batman movies on this list. But it’s not because it’s good. No. Batman & Robin is a total turkey! George Clooney plays a silly Batman—with a Bat credit card—and Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone as Robin and Batgirl, respectively, are equally silly. It’s not necessarily their fault, though! The script is laughably bad, and I’d put it up there with movies like Troll 2 and Sssssss. You know, movies so bad, they’re good!
I’m well aware that most people don’t like this film. They don’t like Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze trying to put Gotham on ice and dropping puns every second, and they don’t like Uma Thurman vamping it up as Poison Ivy or the hulking, grunting Bane. And, quite frankly, I feel bad for those people. Trust me, I get it, the movie sucks. But, still. Batman & Robin is awesome in its crappiness. Embrace the cheese!
10. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Oh, brother. Remember how I said that I liked Batman & Robin a lot more than other movies on this list? Well, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is definitely one of them. It’s not even Batman’s fault! Played expertly by Ben Affleck, I actually think that he’s the best part about this Zack Snyder movie, which pits Superman against Batman… and Lex Luthor… and Doomsday. In fact, I think that Affleck is really great as Batman since he exhibits both unbridled rage and pathos.
That said, I just can’t stand Superman in this movie, and unfortunately, he makes up half of the film. I don’t really think that this is Henry Cavill’s fault, either. It’s just that I find the Superman in the Snyderverse to be too broody. Add in the whole “Save Martha” nonsense, and you have a Batman movie that isn’t so bad it’s good. It’s just bad. And that’s not good.
9. Batman Forever (1995)
My good friend, John, who worked on the artwork for my book, told me that I need to re-watch Batman Forever. Not for the story or acting, mind you, but for the visual style. And, he’s right! The cinematography, done by Stephen Goldblatt, is exceptional.
The only problem? The rest of the movie sucks. Okay, maybe “sucks” isn’t the right word, as it certainly has its fans. But Joel Schumacher’s first attempt at Batman wasn’t nearly as fun as his second attempt with Batman & Robin. If anything, it feels like a half step. In his first and only appearance, Val Kilmer is not a terrible Batman. It’s just that Jim Carrey as The Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face are insufferable. Especially Carrey, who is far too cartoony for the role. I love the actor, but his version of The Riddler is a lot more Frank Gorshin than Paul Dano, which I guess is okay. It’s just not for me.
8. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
I think there’s a lot to like about Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Tom Hardy’s Bane is mostly compelling, and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is good... in theory. The rest of the movie around them, though, which features Batman coming out of retirement to fight Bane, doesn’t do them any favors. For the end of a trilogy, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Let me explain. I really like acts one and two of this movie, but that third act is a real stinker. We get a late surprise enemy out of Marion Cotillard’s Talia al Ghul which takes away from Bane’s character. Then, we get a corny fake-out death, as well as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character cheekily being “Robin.” In the end, it’s just all ugh. That’s the best word I have for it. Ugh.
7. Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
I actually think Batfleck is much more interesting in Batman v. Superman, but again, this article isn’t about the best Batman. It’s about the best Batman movies, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League is definitely a better movie than Batman v. Superman. I can actually tolerate this one.
Batman is a changed man following the events of BvS, and he takes on the role as the leader against a villain named Steppenwolf, which is interesting, since he’s the only one who doesn’t have any powers (besides being rich). Ezra Miller still annoys me as The Flash, but the rest of the film around him is good, and Batman plays a pivotal role. It works.
6. Batman: The Movie (1966)
If you asked me who my favorite Batman was, I’d say Adam West, because I love camp. Thankfully, this movie, which also stars Burt Ward, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, and Lee Meriwether as Robin, The Penguin, The Joker, The Riddler, and Catwoman, respectively, is as campy as can be. I hope you brought your shark repellent!
The movie feels like multiple episodes of the ‘60s show patched together, and that’s a good thing. The villains want to take over the world, and Batman and Robin are going to stop them. Simple plot and simple fun. Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!
5. Batman Returns (1992)
Best Christmas movie ever? Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is not as good as the first movie, but it takes a lot of risks, surprisingly making it one of the darker Batman films. The plot follows The Penguin, played by Danny DeVito, and a businessman, played by Christopher Walken, who team up to take down the Batman. Michelle Pfeiffer accidentally gets involved and becomes Catwoman. So, yeah, standard superhero stuff.
However, it’s the dark mood that really shines. The Penguin is both monstrous and yet sympathetic, and he makes a good counterpoint to Michael Keaton’s Batman. DeVito’s Penguin seems to be over the top, but there’s a subtlety to the role that is surprisingly deep. An overall great film with excellent atmosphere.
4. Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan ushered in a very different Batman than any we had seen before on the big screen. Instead of the comic-booky approaches that Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher took, Christopher Nolan settled for a more realistic approach. Batman Begins sees Bruce Wayne training in Asia under ninjas and then he becomes one himself. Christian Bale growls his way through every Batman scene, creating a new version of the character.
You know, the only thing really holding this movie back is the villain. Don’t get me wrong. Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow is fantastic. But his arc could have been better, and having Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul be the real villain felt like a cop out. It’s a great movie, but it definitely feels like a starting point.
3. The Batman (2022)
One thing I’ve kind of always disliked about the various Batman movies is that none of them really tackled the detective side of the character. Sure, we’ve gotten the bruiser version in Ben Affleck, the perfect Bruce Wayne in Michael Keaton, and the calculated Batman in Christian Bale, but it wasn’t until Matt Reeve’s The Batman, that we actually got the detective version of the character with Robert Pattinson, and it was wonderful.
Set in Batman’s second year as a crime fighter, The Batman introduces us to brand new interpretations of The Riddler (A super creepy version performed by Paul Dano), The Penguin, and Catwoman. But, we also get new interpretations of Alfred and the Batmobile as well. All together it creates a Batman that feels familiar, but also dramatically different in all the best ways.
Plus, this is the most “Batman” Batman movie ever, since Robert Pattinson is in costume for almost the entire movie. If I have only one complaint, it’s that the movie could have been a bit shorter (Matt Reeves’ Batman epic has a runtime of two hours and 55 minutes), but otherwise, it’s one of the most unique and exciting movies featuring the character. Fans will be loving this movie for years to come.
2. Batman (1989)
Tim Burton knocked it out the park on his very first try with a superhero movie in 1989’s Batman. Michael Keaton is a lot of people’s favorite live-action version of the character, and there’s a good reason why. He plays both a convincing Bruce Wayne, as well as a convincing Batman.
Then, you have Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Nicholson’s transformation from Jack Napier to the Joker is one for the ages. He taunts Batman and looks like he’s having a great time doing it. The Joker has obviously had a lot of different interpretations over the years (including Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning performance), but Jack Nicholson’s is the closest live-action one to the comics that I can think of (other than Cesar Romero), and probably the most enjoyable. But, it isn’t the best…
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
There are those who believe that the only reason we now have 10, rather than five, possible Best Picture nominees is because The Dark Knight was snubbed for the 2009 Oscars, and I 100% buy that. The Dark Knight is one of those rare comic book movies that transcends the genre and is just a great movie overall, “comic book movie” be damned. Christopher Nolan’s crime epic features a horrifying Joker, played by Heath Ledger. His character makes Christian Bale’s Batman all the more compelling, as there is this great back and forth of ideals between them, making the conflict feel almost tangible. The Two-Face stuff could have been a bit better (or left out entirely), but you can’t always get what you want.
That said, The Dark Knight is not only the greatest Batman movie of all time, but many would say, the greatest “comic book movie” of all time, too, and it’s mostly because it takes itself seriously and it actually works. Think about this. The first Iron Man also came out in 2008. While that was definitely an enjoyable film, most would argue that none of the movies in the MCU have ever measured up to The Dark Knight. That’s how groundbreaking this film was, and still is, actually.
And that's the list. The legacy of Batman (and ultimately The Joker, since the two characters are basically the yin and yang of each other) will undoubtedly persist for years and years to come. But, what's your favorite Batman movie? For more news on the Caped Crusader, make sure to swing by here often.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.
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