For comic book fans, Batman is the hero we need and deserve on the big screen. Well, minus the Schumacher years.
From Michael Keaton to Christian Bale, the Dark Knight has been avenging his parents and punching goons for almost 30 years. Ben Affleck is the latest actor to put on the cape, in the highly anticipated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In honor of the World’s Finest finally teaming up in their own blockbuster, we’ve ranked every one of Batman’s film to get a theatrical release – both live-action and animated.
9. Batman and Robin (1997)
“Grab the gem. Kill the heroes!”
That that’s one of the many “so-bad-they’re-really-not-good” lines to come out of Mr. Freeze’s mouth in this franchise killer. It doubles down on all the neon from Batman Forever, gives every hero’s suit some type of nipple decoration and forgets to give Batman anything remotely entertaining or interesting to do as the villains (especially Arnie) chew the scenery. Woof.
8. Batman Forever (1995)
Everything is either cranked up to 11 or wishing it could go higher in Joel Schumacher’s first Batman movie. Gone is Tim Burton’s “dark” everything, replaced by a black-lit Gotham and a worrisome amount of camp. Val Kilmer’s Batman isn’t half as interesting as his Bruce Wayne, but we do enjoy Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey as Two-Face and Riddler, respectively.
7. Batman: The Movie (1966)
Yes, it is incredibly campy. But it does feature the most villains in a Batman movie ever. And it doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of Batman storytelling that Batman Forever did, which is to have its hero forget why he dresses up as a bat to avenge his parents’ murder. And if there is anything better than Batman vs. rubber shark, we don’t wanna know about it.
6. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Christopher Nolan’s third – and final – Batman film had the unenviable task of being the follow up to The Dark Knight. The pressures therein are visibly on screen, if the uneven script and clunky “clean slate” plotline are any indication, as The Dark Knight Rises tries to pay off Batman’s storyline by saddling him with a love interest who does nothing to earn the right to be the woman he retires to Europe with. From a less-than-successful take on Bane to a climax ripped from Batman ’66, TDKR mostly succeeds at making you wish Batman got a better final movie.
5. Batman (1989)
Tim Burton’s first Batman film introduced two staples into the series: Batman’s gravelly voice and the black leather suit. Those elements have aged much better than the Prince-ified soundtrack, but Batman mostly holds up, especially in regards to Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson’s performances.
4. Batman Returns (1992)
Catwoman and Penguin steal the show from Batman, who is given very little action in this villain-heavy plot that finds Batman struggling with duality while romancing a woman in skintight latex with a whip who is trying to kill him. Burton’s second Batman feature isn’t a perfect movie, but it is surprisingly very rewatchable despite its flaws. It’s this series’ Temple of Doom, a movie proud to wear its dark sense of humor on its pitch-black sleeve. For better or worse, Returns set the stage for a new era of Bat films that would take almost a decade for audiences to recover from.
3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
For some, this is the best Batman movie ever. Released on Christmas Day in 1993, this animated film based on the hit animated series gives Bruce Wayne one of the most layered and tragic stories he’s ever had. Facing a new foe, the Phantasm (with ties to an old one, the Joker), Batman struggles to save Gotham from a pending terrible future while battling the demons of his past – and the pain of a lost love. Action-packed and emotionally satisfying, Mask of the Phantasm is one of the most underrated comic book movies ever – animated or otherwise.
2. Batman Begins (2005)
Using the theme of fear, Christopher Nolan crafts a sprawling, near-flawless epic that just happens to be a comic book movie. Gary Oldman and Michael Caine lead an inspired supporting cast, as Christian Bale delivers the closest version of the comics' Batman yet. Begins is character-first storytelling at its finest; if only more reboots could be this great.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Oh c’mon, you were expecting something else? The Dark Knight is the movie we need and deserve right now, or pretty much any time. The Joker battles Batman for both his soul and that of Gotham City’s in this gritty, Heat-inspired crime thriller that just happens to star comic book characters. The third act ferry sequence may drag down the pacing, but not at the cost of the drama or tension, which the film ratchets up until one of the best endings in movie history.