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Ranking All Theatrically Released ‘Batman’ Films

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films

Celebrate 85 Years of this Iconic Caped Crusader

Many superheroes are beloved by comic fans, but most of them are not as recognized in the mainstream as the one and only Batman. Within the countless array of comics, movies, shows, etc, this character has become one of the most beloved superheroes of all time. Within the character’s lifespan, he has gone through countless iterations, especially in film, from serious to comedic to a mix of both. So in honor of the character turning 85 this year, here is a ranking of every theatrically released Batman movie. Minor Spoilers Ahead! 

12. Batman & Robin (1997)

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films
Chris O’Donnell as Robin, George Clooney as Batman, Alicia Silverstone in ‘Batman & Robin’ | Warner Bros. Pictures

The final movie in the Burton/Schumacher Batman Quadrilogy follows the titular Batman (George Clooney) aka Bruce Wayne and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) aka Dick Grayson as they face off against Mister Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), and Bane (Jeep Swenson). This is considered one of the worst superhero movies ever made. Even its director, Joel Schumacher, and star George Clooney have since publicly apologized for the movie, according to IMDb. While neither of them should have to do that, since it was ultimately the studio who was pulling the strings, it is easy to understand why this film got that reputation. The neon colors throughout are unpleasant to look at, the action scenes are mostly underwhelming, most of the jokes fall flat, and the plot is all over the place. 

The characters aren’t that great either. Clooney’s Batman is one of the weakest versions of the character, as he lacks a lot of depth or any imitation, Robin mostly argues with Bruce, Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) is wasted, Bane is just a glorified henchman, Poison Ivy acts more over-the-top than the ‘60s Batman series, and Mister Freeze is hamming up the screen with ice puns. Alfred (Michael Gough) is enjoyable, however, even if he doesn’t have a ton to do. Ultimately, Batman & Robin can still be enjoyed as a “so bad it’s good” kind of film, so there’s that.

11. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) 

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films
Henry Cavil as Superman and Ben Affleck as Batman in ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ | Warner Bros. Pictures

This film follows Superman (Henry Cavill) who comes face-to-face against Batman (Ben Affleck). The biggest problem with this film is it is extremely convoluted. There’s Batman’s story, Superman’s story, a Lois Lane (Amy Adams) subplot, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), a set-up for future DC stories with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and other Justice League members, etc. It’s way too much for one movie, especially for it being the second film in this cinematic universe. Again, it’s probably not the director’s fault, but it affects getting immersed in the film. The Ultimate Edition cut of this film does add a bit to help flesh some of these stories out and even adds some more character development for Batman and Superman, but it only improves so much. 

Another problem is the villain. Eisenberg’s performance comes across as a stereotypical smug CEO when that’s not all Lex’s character. He even makes decisions that make no sense, such as forcing Superman to fight Batman or he will kill his mom, Martha (Diane Lane), when Superman could easily save his mom since he has super speed and invulnerability. Still, there are some positive elements of this movie. The action scenes are done well with amazing choreography, most of the performances are solid, and the score is outstanding. All in all, this movie is an ambitious crossover, but falls short in execution. 

10. Batman Returns (1992) 

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films
Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman | Warner Bros. Pictures

The sequel to the beloved original follows Batman (Michael Keaton) as he has to deal with both the Penguin (Danny Devito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). This movie unfortunately suffers from three main issues. The first is the tone, since it goes from being dark—including a couple attempting to kill a child—to ridiculously silly, with Penguin riding a giant duck boat. Having a film be comedic and serious is fine as long as there is a good balance, but that isn’t the case here. The second big issue is that it has interesting story ideas, such as Penguin trying to be accepted into society or Bruce and Selina dating while not knowing their secret identities, but they barely do anything with them, with the latter one in particular being introduced in the second half of the film. 

The last major issue is that for a movie called Batman Returns, Batman is barely a main character in his own movie. Most of the focus goes to Penguin and Catwoman. Plus, most of Batman’s screen time is while in the suit, since Bruce is in even less of the film. That said, Keaton does good as always as Batman, and Pfeiffer is an excellent Catwoman. Overall, Batman Returns is a step down, but it has its merits. 

9. Batman Forever (1995) 

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films
Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Jim Carrey as The Riddler in ‘Batman Forever’ | Warner Bros. Pictures

The first film directed by Joel Schumacher follows Batman (Val Kilmer) as he teams up with Robin (Chris O’Donnell) to fight Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and The Riddler (Jim Carrey). There are a lot of interesting ideas this film introduces, such as delving deeper into Bruce’s traumatic past and being haunted for killing criminals, even warning Robin not to follow a similar path. For as controversial as Batman being a killer is, this movie does something intriguing with it by showing why it might be something he should not have done and how he wants to guide Robin to make better decisions. 

With all that said, this film is far from perfect. This film’s more comedic moments can sometimes be forced, since the studio wanted a lighter movie in contrast to Schumacher’s original darker version, according to IMDb. Then there is Chris O’Donnell, who seems a bit too old to play the Boy Wonder, being 25 at the time. While they don’t officially say how old Robin is, Donnell looks too old to be underage, so it’s hard to buy Bruce having to be Dick’s new guardian. When all is said and done, Batman Forever is not that bad, but it isn’t perfect either. 

8. Batman (1989) 

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films
‘Batman’ | Warner Bros. Pictures

The first film in the Burton/Schumacher series follows Batman (Michael Keaton) having to stop the Joker (Jack Nicholson). This film did so much for superhero films. It showed they can be dark while still being for everybody. It showed they can take aspects from the comics and adapt them to the screen, even if they seem silly on the surface, like the Batsuit. This film paved the way. So much of this film is done right. The action, the costumes, the design of the Bat vehicles, the cinematography, the score, etc. Keaton is wonderful as Batman and Nicholson makes a delightful Joker. They each are fun to watch in their unique way. 

Even though this movie has some problems, such as the dated soundtrack, more focus given to the Joker than Batman, and Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) feeling underdeveloped, it still is enjoyable. At the end of the day, Batman is a step forward for comic book films that should never be forgotten.  

7. Batman: The Movie (1966) 

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films
Burt Ward as Robin and Adam West as Batman in ‘Batman: The Movie’ | 20th Century Studios

The first official Batman movie, not counting serials from the ‘40s, follows Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) having to fight four of their dangerous foes. This feels like an extended episode of the show, which can either be a good or bad thing, depending on how one feels about the series. Surprisingly, for a film that has a lighter tone compared to most Batman films, this has some high stakes, with the villains kidnapping U.N. leaders. It gives this movie another layer to make it more than a goofy story. 

Some might not enjoy this film for its cheesiness, but when one remembers that the time period this came out was when superhero stories had to be more kid friendly, it can still be pleasant to watch, especially for kids. What helps is the performances of West and Ward, whose more “serious” acting helps offset some of the more over-acting from the other cast. Not that the latter is bad, just that having something to balance it helps. All in all, Batman: The Movie is a goofy adventure with lots of charm. 

6. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) 

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films
Tom Hardy as Bane and Christian Bale as Batman in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ | Warner Bros. Pictures

The concluding chapter to The Dark Knight Trilogy follows Batman (Christian Bale) being forced out of retirement to stop Bane (Tom Hardy) from detonating a nuclear bomb in Gotham. Many have criticized this film as being the weakest of the trilogy, and it certainly is easy to see why. Bane, while significantly better than the previous iteration, still isn’t the best, partly due to his voice being a little difficult to understand. There are some continuity errors that don’t add up, such as Batman healing from his injuries a little too fast, and the surprise villain twist is obvious. 

Even with all this film’s problems, it’s not terrible. The cast give brilliant performances, some of the action is decent, and the score is gratifying. This film, much like Batman Returns, gives Batman a little less focus and more on the supporting characters in Gotham, but it works better here for two reasons. First, despite a slightly reduced role, it is still Batman’s movie. He is the main focus. Second, the trilogy started with Bruce saying he wanted Batman to be a symbol for people to use to stand up to criminals and that’s exactly what happens here. In the end, The Dark Knight Rises wraps up the stories and themes in this trilogy nicely. 

5. The Batman (2022) 

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films
Robert Pattinson as Batman in ‘The Batman’ | Warner Bros. Pictures

In this iteration of the caped crusader, Batman (Robert Pattinson) has to stop the Riddler (Paul Dano), only to discover Gotham’s dirty secrets. This film is a wonderful fresh take on the character. It has a grounded, serious tone like the Nolan films, but has more of a thriller aspect, much like films by David Fincher. This film tries to be more of mystery, marking one of the few times Batman is being a detective in a movie. The mystery surrounding why Riddler is targeting people and the secrets around them is compelling. The movie has fantastic tension, having almost uncomfortable moments. 

The cinematography is impeccable, with some shots being out of focus, leaving audiences to imagine what’s happening. The action sequences are all outstanding, and the music is thrilling. Pattinson is a solid choice for Batman. While some might complain about his version being more “moody” and spending more time as Batman than Bruce Wayne, given this iteration is in his early years and still growing makes this decision seem fine in the long run. One issue here is the climax of the film goes on a little longer than it needs to, and certain characters make less than smart choices. Regardless, The Batman is incredibly satisfying. 

4. The Lego Batman Movie (2017) 

Robert Pattinson as Batman in The Batman | Warner Bros.Pictures
Will Arnett as Batman in ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ | Warner Bros. Pictures

This movie follows Batman (Will Arnett) as he has to stop all his worst enemies with the help of his Bat family. This movie feels like a celebration of all things Batman related, both the good and the bad. Whether it’s the cheesiness of the Adam West days, the grounded nature of the Nolan trilogy, or the edginess of BVS, this movie highlights every era of the character up to this point in a hilarious fashion. It comes across as a parody of the character, but not in a way that mocks him. It points out some of the goofier elements, like the various costumes he’s worn, while still showing why fans like him, such as his tragic backstory. 

The supporting cast is also great. Robin (Michael Cera) is one of the best depictions of the character, being energetic and sweet,  Barbara (Rosario Dawson) has an amusing dynamic with Batman, and Joker (Zach Galifianakis) has plenty of funny moments throughout. The animation is astonishing and the action is marvelous. All in all, The Lego Batman Movie is a grand time for fans of the character.   

3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films
Kevin Conroy as Batman in ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ | Warner Bros. Pictures

A continuation of the ‘90s animated series follows Batman (Kevin Conroy) investigating a mysterious Phantasm (Stacy Keach) who is killing mobsters. This is one of the few Batman films to get a theatrical release, since even though The Killer Joke (2016) and Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) got a release, it was a limited one compared to Phantasm, which was a full one. This is easily one of the best adaptations of Batman. It shows off his resourcefulness, compassion, tragedy, and intelligence. Like the Pattinson version, this plays like a mystery, and while the mystery isn’t difficult to solve at all, it’s still interesting and continues to be once Joker (Mark Hamill) enters the picture. 

The movie also delves into the origins of how Batman got to where he is, and it’s done so in a way that explains some aspects, but still leaves some areas up to the imagination. The animation is glorious. While some of the CG backgrounds may have aged, the rest is magnificent. The best part of this movie is Batman and Joker. Conroy and Hamill do such a fantastic job that it’s no wonder why fans read the comics with their voices. They truly feel like Batman and Joker coming to life. Overall, the film is amazing and continues to get better. 

2. Batman Begins (2005) 

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films
Christian Bale as Batman in ‘Batman Begins’ | Warner Bros. Pictures

The beginning of the Nolan trilogy follows Batman (Christian Bale) becoming the dark knight to protect Gotham from the corrupt. Similar to Phantasm, this is an origin story, but it goes further into explaining how Bruce was able to achieve as much as he did, such as his martial arts skills, gadgets, vehicles, etc. It makes for a splendid watch, seeing him go from where he starts to where he ends up. 

Bale is exceptional as Batman, adding a mix of darkness and fun to the character. The supporting characters, including Alfred (Michael Caine), Fox (Morgan Freeman), and Gordon (Gary Oldman) are all delightful. While this movie is great, there are some problems. Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) is a weak villain, and some of the action is edited a little clunky, but those are not too distracting. All in all, Batman Begins is a terrific start to an exciting trilogy. 

1. The Dark Knight (2008) 

Ranking All Theatrically Released 'Batman' Films
Heath Ledger as The Joker and Christian Bale as Batman in ‘The Dark Knight’ | Warner Bros. Pictures

This movie follows Batman (Christian Bale) facing off against the Joker (Heath Ledger), who starts killing innocent people every day in an attempt to get Batman to unmask himself. This is considered to be one of, if not the, greatest comic book movies ever made, and it has this reputation for a reason. So much of this movie is magnificent. The action, the editing, the score, the tension, the camerawork, etc. This movie is a thrill ride from beginning to end. 

Bale continues to be amazing as Batman, but Michael Caine’s Alfred has some standout moments, such as his speech about some men wanting to watch the world burn. Of course, one cannot talk about this film without mentioning the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal as the Joker. His version has everything right about the character. He has a memorable laugh, he can be scary, he can be entertaining, or he can be all over the place. There’s a reason Ledger won an Oscar for this role. At the end of the day, The Dark Knight remains an example of not only how to make a good Batman movie, but a good superhero movie in general. 

All the Batman movies can either be streamed on Max or Amazon Prime Video.

The Dark Knight (2008) Official Warner Bros. Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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I am from Michigan. I am a recent graduate of Bowling Green State University majoring in Film Production with a minor in Media Production.

Cailen Fienemann is a current student at Le Moyne College pursuing her BA in English and Communications with a film studies minor and a creative writing concentration.  Though uncertain about her career end-goals, any job that allows her to write is a cherished one indeed.