Alongside Superman, Batman has been a staple of conversation for DC fans. He’s been something of a safe bet for popularity long before the current era of superhero movies. It’s not too surprising then, that he’s one of the few DC heroes to have some smash hits on the silver screen.
The idolized Caped Crusader has had Oscar-winning success (Christopher Nolan’s trilogy) as well as the good (Tim Burton’s films), the bad (Zack Snyder’s collection), and the ugly (Joel Schumacher’s flops) when it comes to his solo films.
So, to discover which of his blockbusters are worth watching, here’s our take on all Batman movies ranked worst to best…
14. Justice League (2017)
Actor: Ben Affleck
IMDb Rating: 6.1/10
We’re almost not sure where to start in criticizing this film. Maybe it’s enough to point out that it’s the only one on the list that was so disappointing, its director insisted that his own personal cut be released. But more on that later….
To recap for those who may be fuzzy on the particulars of the mess that is the DC Extended Universe, Justice League picks up a few years after the death of Superman in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice – and a few thousand years after new baddie Steppenwolf failed to conquer the Earth.
As it turns out, Superman’s death awakened Steppenwolf, who is determined to obtain three ‘Mother Boxes’ with which he can remake Earth in the image of his own home world. Or something like that.
That summary is half the film’s problem. Snyder, co-writer/director Joss Whedon, and (we assume) a room full of very smart Warner Bros. executives, tried to cram an MCU’s worth of ominous build-up into a single movie.
Marvel may be imperfect, but Kevin Feige and Co. were clever enough to introduce villains gradually, establish their motives, and slowly expose us to greater and greater dangers – all as a roster of heroes took shape over the course of several years.
By contrast, the DCEU took one big, sloppy swing: a tremendously powerful new villain, magical boxes we know little about, and some super-friends (who are super not friendly with each other) to stop him. Right then.
Frankly, this concept never had a shot, but it doesn’t help that its execution is stiff, soulless, and numbingly self-serious. The good news is that this is barely a Batman project in the first place, and so the critique doesn’t matter a whole lot in this context (but we must rank it as the worst Batman movie to date). Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is basically just there to get the gang together.
13. Batman Forever (1995)
Actor: Val Kilmer
IMDb Rating: 5.4/10
Batman Forever marks the point at which Tim Burton’s iconic series was handed over to Joel Schumacher – and it’s probably most famous for taking said series in a campy direction.
Aiming to adopt some of the playful nature of the ‘60s Batman (as well as the old TV series), Shumacher produced a far sillier movie than the two Burton directed. In doing so, he made a more family-friendly film, and thus one that sold a lot more tickets and Batman merch.
In that sense, Batman Forever is a success. But that doesn’t make it a good movie.
What bothers us when we go back and watch this one is that it feels lost in an unappealing space in between Burton’s vision and that of Schumacher.
Burton established Gotham as a sort of nightmare circus – light and fun at times, but genuinely spooky at others. Schumacher tried to cram his campier take into a version of that world, and the result just feels kind of off.
Throw in an uninteresting performance from Val Kilmer (who took over the Batman mantle), an utterly wasted Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian), and a villain duo (Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey as Two-Face and Riddler, respectively) that is flat-out annoying, and this one just hasn’t held up.
12. Batman (1966)
Actor: Adam West
IMDb Rating: 7.5/10
1966’s Batman is an important film. It was the first full Batman movie, and thus played a part in establishing the viability of comic book superheroes on the big screen.
Starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin, this movie functioned essentially as a feature-length follow-up to a successful television series. Like the TV show before it, Batman was a campy, cartoonish exhibition, giving viewers plenty of action, but never for a moment taking itself too seriously.
There’s a lot to appreciate here, frankly. I mean, almost right away Batman is nearly eaten by a shark (“Holy sardine!” yells Robin), only to get away by punching it a few times and calling for the “shark repellant bat spray” – which, naturally is then pulled from a whole rack of oceanic bat repellants.
The movie is funny, and it’s meant to be.
But we still can’t pretend it’s a great watch. If we ranked it any higher, we’d only be doing so out of a sense that we’re not supposed to dismiss dated films for being dated.
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11. Batman & Robin (1997)
Actor: George Clooney
IMDb Rating: 3.8/10
This is Schumacher’s second installment, and marks the end of the ‘90s Batman saga. And we have a sense that most people consider it to be worse than Batman Forever.
Fair enough; Batman & Robin is a truly ridiculous film. The thing is though, it comes across as being far more self-aware than its predecessor.
In this film, Batman (now George Clooney) and Robin are basically taking on a fresh batch of villains after dispatching Two-Face and Riddler in Batman Forever.
Two main baddies take center stage (though Bane is in the mix as well). First, there’s Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a former scientist with a condition that forces him to maintain a freezing body temperature by wearing a suit powered by… um, diamonds for some reason.
Second, there’s Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), a botanist who gains the powers of poison and – seduction? – when she’s nearly murdered with toxins in a Wayne Enterprises lab. We won’t break down the whole movie; it largely amounts to Batman and/or Robin getting themselves in and out of trouble with the aforementioned villains.
Once again though, it’s a notch above Batman Forever, because it’s significantly more in on the joke. The sets feel a little cheap, the CGI is goofy, and nothing makes a whole lot of sense. At one point, a hockey game breaks out.
But if you turn your brain off, you can have some fun with a delightfully insane Uma Thurman performance, and a Schwarzenegger who – by 1997 – had very much realized that he was funny. (Side note: It’s kind of fun to go back through his career and try to pick out exactly when he realized it.) He’s absolutely machine-gunning one-liners in this film.
Also: Clooney’s Bruce Wayne is better than Kilmer’s. Fight me.
10. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Actor: Ben Affleck
IMDb Rating: 8.1/10
If you want to know why there’s a special four-hour ‘Snyder Cut’ of Justice League, there are entire tomes on the subject littered across the web. But we’ll offer a brief summary…
While working on Justice League, Warner Bros. brought in The Avengers director Joss Whedon to re-shape Snyder’s vision of the broader franchise, and gradually gave him more control over this film. Then, Snyder’s daughter tragically passed away, and after a brief attempt to continue working, the director more or less relinquished the entire project to Whedon.
Whedon, then, is largely responsible for the mess that was Justice League. This ultimately led to a massive campaign (consisting of everyone from fans to main cast members) for HBO and Warner Bros. to release Snyder’s four-hour version of the film.
The ‘Snyder Cut’ was uploaded directly to HBO Max in the spring of 2021… and while we’re not great Snyder fans, there’s really no denying that it’s significantly better than the original.
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The broad plot points are largely the same, and this still isn’t really a Batman movie. Nevertheless, it’s a much-improved project – still deeply flawed, yet hinting at a grand, sprawling vision you can kind of appreciate.
Wonder Woman steals the show, but in his limited time on screen, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Affleck) delivers a thoughtful performance very much rooted in the regrets he has following the events of Dawn Of Justice.
Which brings us to….
9. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)
Actor: Ben Affleck
IMDb Rating: 6.4/10
Sigh…the ninth spot feels high. This really isn’t a very good movie. It’s far too serious. Its Batman isn’t given a whiff of an origin story (save for the standard parents-being-murdered thing). And it has plot holes as wide as the gaps Superman continually blasts through Metropolis infrastructure for no apparent reason.
As is his custom, Snyder pollutes this film with a heavy dose of action-for-action’s-sake, and the result is a project that really doesn’t make you feel…anything.
We’ve given it as strong a ranking largely on the basis of Affleck’s performance when the mask is off. He’s a laughable Batman, because the suit, voice, and Corvette-headlight eye slits are snort-out-loud-in-the-theater absurd.
But he’s a pretty good Bruce Wayne, and manages to lend a pulse to a movie that otherwise has none.
8. The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
Actor: Will Arnett
IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
Here’s one without a self-seriousness issue. This is a full-fledged spoof in Lego form, building on the Will Arnett-voiced Lego Batman character that stole the show in The Lego Movie.
It’s actually kind of a real Batman movie, too. One could have imagined a version of this concept that would basically have consisted of Lego Batman joking and stumbling his way through a bunch of small tasks and challenges. Instead though, we get a full cast of characters and a real plot, albeit one fit for kids.
Basically, Batman has told the Joker that he’s not important to him - leading the villain to seek revenge, with plenty of other classic baddies joining in along the way.
The film gets a little tiresome by more or less pushing the same “yay, teamwork” message of The Lego Movie. It’s also a slight bummer that no other character comes close to matching how funny Arnett’s Batman is. Nevertheless, this is an endearing, amusing, and well-made animated Batman movie that everyone can enjoy.
7. Batman (1989)
Actor: Michael Keaton
IMDb Rating: 7.5/10
We’ve touched on what Tim Burton created with his Batman films, and it’s really something only he could have done. No one else has ever quite seen cinema the way Burton does. And while he’s not everyone’s cup of villain-spawning chemical waste, it’s hard to deny the fullness of his vision.
An ‘80s-noir clown show of a comic book adaptation was a pretty radical concept at the time, and Burton pulled it off convincingly.
1989’s Batman begins with the constant struggle between Gotham’s authorities and its criminals. But when one such criminal named Jack Napier seizes control of an evil organization, he winds up in a vat of chemicals that turns him into a deformed lunatic, self-styling himself as the Joker. Napier blames his criminal rival Carl Grissom and Batman alike for the accident – but more or less takes it out on all of Gotham via an uninhibited campaign of terror and mass murder.
What ensues is what we now recognize as classic Batman cinema: There’s hostage-taking, demagoguery, a bit of terror, a bit of romance, and plenty of angst over hidden identities and haunted pasts.
There are also some unforgettable sequences, most of which involve Nicholson’s Joker being simultaneously comical and actually kind of scary. For us, Joker’s out-of-nowhere freak-show cash parade is one of the most bizarre but unforgettable scenes of all time.
There are a few weak points. Batman’s origin is glossed over, for instance, and his romance with Vicki Vale is both unearned and uninteresting. All in all though, it’s an excellent movie, and a fun one to revisit if it’s been a while.
6. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Actor: Christian Bale
IMDb Rating: 8.4/10
The Dark Knight Rises was Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman film, and it’s a bit of a mess. It’s riddled with plot holes, it’s overextended, and you can barely hear a word spoken by thuggish, masked supervillain Bane.
The movie also lacks the comedic touch that, although slight, at least existed in its predecessors. It’s perfectly fair to say this isn’t a great film.
But it is a good one (it was after all, Batman’s most successful movie). For all the justifiable criticism he sometimes receives regarding plotting and character development, Nolan knows how to make a larger-than-life action movie look both spectacular and realistic. That’s largely what made his trilogy feel so fresh and groundbreaking in the comic book genre, and the effect is still there in The Dark Knight Rises.
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It still looks and feels like the closest possible thing to a comic book saga playing out in the world as we know it, somewhat grounded within the confines of reality. And it accomplishes this while still being leaps and bounds beyond most superhero cinema in terms of pure spectacle.
Also, we seem to be the only ones, but we think Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman was a nice addition…even if we’re scratching our heads to remember why she actually shows up.
5. Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993)
Actor: Kevin Conroy
IMDb Rating: 7.8/10
Animated action movies aren’t for everybody. We get it. Frankly we’re in the seemingly non-existent camp that would knock Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse down just a few spots in the Spider-Man rankings. But we digress. Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm is just a really good movie.
Building on the success of Batman: The Animated Series, this was at the time of its release, the only feature-length animated Batman film to earn a theatrical release.
It concerns a Bruce Wayne who is just beginning to fight crime, and who ultimately adopts the Batman persona while heartbroken over the sudden departure off his fiancé Andrea Beaumont.
Batman ultimately becomes entangled in ongoing struggles against the mob, the Joker, and a mysterious villain named the Phantasm - but we won’t spoil anymore, in case anyone overlooked this animated feature and wants to go back and check it out.
All we’ll add is that it’s better plotted and more fully realized than a lot of its live-action counterparts – despite being only 78 minutes long. No matter what generation you’re in, whether you prefer Keaton or Bale, etc., if you like Batman, you’ll like this film.
4. Batman Returns (1992)
Actor: Michael Keaton
IMDb Rating: 7.0/10
Take everything Burton got right in 1989’s Batman, triple down on it, and you get the glorious gothic nonsense of Batman Returns.
Again: It is nonsense. A wealthy businessman is kidnapped by a circus troupe and bribed to empower a deformed outcast who was raised in the sewer by penguins. That’s the plot, or at least that’s what kicks it off. But in Burton’s Gotham, it works - probably better than it has any right to.
Batman movies are to some extent, defined by their villains, and the Penguin should by nature, be a difficult character to take seriously in this film. But there’s an argument to be made that he doesn’t get quite enough credit in the shadow of Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
Danny DeVito really goes for it in this movie, and turns what could be a lazily freakish character into a compelling villain - a conniving ghoul, clever in his schemes but naïve in rejoining society, and (almost) equal parts sympathetic and sinister. (For those who don’t remember, the Penguin – real name Oswald Cobblepot – was set adrift by his parents as a deformed child.)
The movie sees this character using businessman Max Shreck to catapult himself into a mayoral campaign, ultimately seeking revenge on society. His rise to prominence carries the film, to the point that Batman almost feels like a side character. In this case though, that’s kind of okay.
The only real issue with Batman Returns is Selina Kyle. As Shreck’s brutally disillusioned secretary (slash assistant), and as a more compelling romantic interest than Vicki Vale, she’s effective – even strangely haunting.
Her metamorphosis into a legitimately super-powered Catwoman, however, is baffling to the point of being clumsy. But not to the point of spoiling a spooky joyride of a film.
3. The Batman (2022)
Actor: Robert Pattinson
IMDb Rating: 8.6/10
Some may doubt our positioning of this film, especially as it ranks above Michael Keaton’s films. But if there’s one thing to learn here (as told by this Twitter user), it’s that you can “love the past and embrace the present at the same time”.
We had little hope for this Batman movie when we heard about its release, its duration, and its lead actor, Robert Pattinson. But this turned out to be an unexpectedly gripping cinematic experience that didn’t feel like three hours at all.
The Batman is a wonderful dark tale, bordering along the lines of a crime-thriller blockbuster, with stunning visuals that were artistic and wowing to the eye (that car chase!). While the movie’s pace is moody (as is Batman himself, but it works), the complex narrative is gripping, and possibly the strongest in the superhero genre so far.
Pattinson ends up shining as an emotional brooding Dark Knight and every aspect of his story is captured perfectly. Not a playboy billionaire, but instead, a deeply tormented individual, battling his inner demons, while striving to save gritty Gotham from its terrifying villains.
Its characters are all thoroughly explored, even the minor role of The Penguin gets enough character depth, and the lead villain, the Riddler is fascinating, but extremely frightful at the same time. Let’s not forget the undeniable chemistry between Pattinson’s Batman and Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman – phenomenal!
With its brilliant detective story, spectacular score, vivid cinematography, and of course, unexpectedly impressive Batman, this movie is a highlight among the caped crusader’s library of films.
But should we really be surprised? Matt Reeves only makes masterpieces.
2. Batman Begins (2005)
Actor: Christian Bale
IMDb Rating: 8.2/10
If there’s one common thread through all of the prior films on this list, it’s that they largely gloss over where Batman came from.
It’s actually surprising, if you haven’t seen Burton’s Batman in a while, to go back and watch it with this in mind. The hero is just sort of fully formed from the outset – and tends to be in most of these films. Save for allusions and/or flashbacks to the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, there’s not a lot of explanation as to how and why the billionaire turned vigilante.
This tends to work, because we all know who Batman is. But it’s clear that Christopher Nolan wanted to remedy the relative lack of backstory in caped crusader cinema. In Batman Begins, he manages to do so in a deep and thorough manner, and without making a lesser standalone Batman adventure.
The film kicks off with a slightly younger Bruce Wayne in a dark place – nearly murdering his parents’ killer, running afoul of Gotham crime boss Carmine Falcone, and ultimately departing on a globe-trotting journey to immerse himself in crime and learn how to instill fear. This leads him eventually to the mysterious League of Shadows, with whom he trains in stealth, deception, scare tactics, and combat.
In other words, he actually learns to do the things Batman does.
From there, Wayne returns to a troubled Gotham and winds up fighting to save the city from its boiling-over criminal underworld – with the wonderfully weird Scarecrow emerging as his primary foe.
And that part - Wayne’s growth as a vigilante for good, within a Gotham that Nolan designs to feel far more like a real(-ish), modern city - would make for a good Batman movie in and of itself. That Nolan works in the whole origin bit as an added bonus is what sets this film apart.
Batman Begins was a fresh start for the character in 2005, and in many respects, it feels like the only true ‘beginning’ we’ve ever been treated to.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Actor: Christian Bale
IMDb Rating: 9.0/10
And finally, we’ve arrived at the indisputable best Batman movie.
Not exactly a creative pick for the number one spot – but why argue with a near-perfect film? The Dark Knight is one of very few genuine masterpieces in the superhero genre, and - we would argue – the only Batman movie worthy of the label.
The film is often compared to Michael Mann’s Heat, for a few clear reasons. It begins with a heart-pumping heist; it’s a tactile, street-level crime thriller more than a superhero movie; and the hero and villain seem to need one another.
Within this general construct though, Nolan and his team did something simple but brilliant: Rather than making this a movie about saving Gotham from its newest villain, they made this a story about whether or not Gotham deserved saving. It is, as is overtly stated in the film, a battle for the soul of the city.
That concept ups the stakes, and enables Bale to do his best work of the Nolan trilogy. More crucially though, it helps Ledger to shine in what is – almost beyond question – one of, if not the greatest villain performance in cinematic history.
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Interestingly enough, where so many other Batman films give us little to no Batman backstory, but a lengthy explanation for where villains come from (and what they’re mad about), Nolan flips the script.
We have the Batman backstory, but Ledger’s Joker pops out of the Gotham underworld fully formed, spewing sociopathic philosophy and inflicting semi-aimless chaos. He is so thoroughly free of the ultra-specific vengeance narratives past Batman villains have been saddled with, that he won’t even keep his story straight as to how his face got scarred. He simply wants to inflict chaos, and – with a “little push” – make society recognize that it’s as mad as he is.
Of course there are a few plot holes (did Gordon really need to fake his own death?). And maybe it’s a touch too long. Aaron Eckhart’s much-praised Two-Face performance isn’t quite for us either.
But The Dark Knight is ultimately an excellent crime thriller bent into the shape of a Batman movie – and elevated to the top of superhero cinema by the indescribably great performance of Heath Ledger.
We can’t imagine this one being topped.
Our list of Batman movies ranked has mostly been ordered out of personal preference. Everyone’s got their own favorites and their cannot-bears, so feel free to tell us how you would rank these flicks differently…
This post was originally published in June 2020.
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