Every Batman Movie,  Ranked from Worst to Best

by Lamzy 

It feels like the right time to write about Batman, so I’m gonna write about Batman. 

It’s been a fun couple of weeks revisiting the many interpretations of a character that defined a lot of my childhood while picking up some informative first watches along the way (including seeing the new one in theaters twice). 

I remember it like it was 14 years ago. The first time I set eyes on The World’s Greatest Detective,  his shadowy frame and menacing figure shown to me in the Justice League animated series from the early 2000s. I remember being taken aback by the position he held canonically. To me, Batman was designed like a foe of the League, not their leader. This contrast that the Bat shares with most superheroes has contributed to the character’s iconic status and is part of what makes him a very attractive superhero to a lot of filmmakers. Similar characters to compare to in this instance would be Superman, Spidey & The X-Men. Whereas with those movies you can see bookmarks of Hollywood trends & studio quota, Batman films (even the crtically reviled ones) tend to always set a precedent of sorts, giving the rest of the superhero genre a blueprint to follow.

Now that Matt Reeves’ newest interpretation of the character has had some time to settle in our minds, I figured I’d have a go at examining every theatrically released Batman film and patronisingly rank them in order of preference.

For a film to be included on this list;
  • It has to be of average feature runtime length.
  • It has to have been theatrically released for longer than a week.
  • The character of Bruce Wayne must be featured in the film, If Bruce Wayne is not the main focus of the film, the protagonist has to be an established character in the Batman mythos, hereby disqualifying team-up films like Justice League or The LEGO Movie.

That’s it, lets get to ranking.

13. Batman & Robin

I hate to be predictable, I really do.

I reapproached Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin with the enthusiasm of critical reappraisal, hoping to take it in for what it is and not what I want it to be. My relationship with the film has always been somewhat hostile. As a 7 (or 8?) year old child, I wanted nothing more than the Batman & Robin DVD . For as long as I could remember I always had a special spot in my heart regarding the position Robin held in the DC Universe. It’s kind of hard to relate to Batman in your early stages of youth. Sure you could think he was cool but the elements that made him an essential character were quite adult. The way for a lot of children like me to get into the world of Gotham City was through the eyes of a Robin (Grayson, Todd, Drake, you name it), providing a splash of ebullience to the acrimony that was ever so present in the comic book pages. You would not believe my joy when I discovered that there was a film that exists in which my favourite fictional character, a sidekick, received the title treatment. Time went by and the DVD was eventually gifted to me as a present. It was a Friday night in Lagos city, all my assignments for the weekend had been done, the air conditioner was on, food was ready, I sat back and watched through the film that had besieged my sleepy thoughts.

I finished the film.

I finished it confused.

“That was not a film about Batman & Robin, it really wasn’t a film about anything”

When describing the film he made, Joel Schumacher used the word “toyetic”, giving adult Batman fans everywhere the freedom to pass off Batman & Robin’s failure to its eagerness to appeal to children who play with Batman toys, therefore completely lacking to feed the sensibilities of its older fanbase. I find this common perspective interesting when discussing one of the most sexually alive blockbusters of the past 40 years.

Rubber butt shots, homoerotic bickering between the two leads and a superhero attire modelled in the shadow of Farnese Hercules. Joel Schumacher made a Batman film like no one ever could and quite frankly, had the balls to. Yet in all of this, the film is detrimentally incomplete in almost every single way. Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy have what it takes to become deeply rich and contextualised villains in a story that would allow them to be, but sadly that is found nowhere in Schumacher’s bright, neon-lit hellish landscape that dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to unfunny quips instead of character motivation. In the centre of all this is a non-performance by George Clooney, trudging his way through a hollow shell of one of the most explored characters in all of fiction, accompanied by a forgetful Chris O’Donnell, who manages to leave less of an impact when his character’s name is featured in the title.

The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey once stated that he finds Batman & Robin to be the most important studio film made in the last thirty years as the rageful response to the film made studio executives tighten the leash on its filmmakers, ensuring that a disaster on this level should never repeat itself. In this sense, the film has truly become an artifact when trailing the machinations of the studio system but even with Schumacher taking every risk there is, it fails to be fascinating.

12. Batman ‘66

A boring experience for me personally. The zaniness got really old after the 40 minute mark and I was left snoozing through a bland action-adventure film that often woke me up with a hilarious line here and there.

“They may be drinkers, Robin. But they’re still human beings.”

Definitely a more interesting cultural artifact than Batman & Robin though (and a better Batman AND Robin film altogether), although that feels unfair to compare when looking at the age difference between the two films. Watching the 60s Batman film and television show as a Gen Z-er ends up being quite a rewarding experience especially when realizing that you are viewing, in many ways, what made Batman a pop culture icon. When listening to interviews of directors who have helmed Batman films they often reference Adam West’s portrayal as their first encounter of the character. It cannot be understated just how successful and foundational this version of Batman was and although its a far cry from the version we know today, it does still have incredibly interesting and enjoyable portrayals of The Bat’s iconic rogues gallery that still holds up unlike most of the film.

11. Batman ‘89

Nostalgia is killing my people.

Probably the hottest take on here (?). I really could envision seeing this in a theatre in 1989 and leave feeling like I unlocked a new chapter of life. Even in 2022, you can see what made Batman ‘89 the record breaking phenomena it was. The explosive energy matched with the flawless production design and cinematography is still effective today but truly wasted in a film that lacks purpose almost everywhere else.

I like Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the title character, he’s far from the best but has a lot of fun moments in his two films that make me understand why his performance is so beloved. Jack Nicholson’s performance as the Joker is one that continues to stand tall when discussing the character’s cinematic history, and for good reason. Still, I left underwhelmed as it felt like this performance was something Nicholson could do in his sleep and quite frankly, it looks like that was the case.

Batman 89’s biggest problem is its insistence to have it both ways. The film’s blockbuster instincts are at war with the version of itself that wants to become a fully realized psyched-out Tim Burton picture. Leaving the end product as a half formed candle that holds a frail light to the rest of the films in the franchise.

10. Joker

Fifteen minutes into watching Joker in theaters I was confronted with two ways to continue to watching the film

  1. Do I see this the way Todd Phillips wants me to? As a character study enrapt with the underbelly of post-modern society in the vein of work from Scorsese, Schrader & Ferrara. 
  2. Do I view this as a word-for-word adaptation of a graphic novel that never existed. 

For a better experience, I chose the latter because viewing it as the former would leave me vitriolic. 

The dialogue from every character in Joker carries itself with the same amount of self-seriousness that Phillips walked around with throughout the whole press tour of this film. It truly is laughable (no pun intended) and ironic that Phillip’s attempt to elevate the world of Gotham into avant garde cinema comes off so comic-booky. When you realize that the words uttered by characters in this movie belong in speech bubbles, it’s not that bad of an experience.

Similar to Nicholson before him, it feels like Joaquin Phoenix could do this type of character in his sleep. It was great seeing my favorite actor get the attention I always felt he deserved but it was still dissapointing that this was the film that got him there. Hope this got more people to see films like You Were Never Really Here I guess.

All that said, the cinematography and production design are astonishing and it’s really cool to see Gotham from the perspective of someone that isn’t a billionaire.

09. Batman Forever

Now we’re getting to the good pictures.

While far from perfect, this is the Schumacher film that works. Yes, it throws the little semblance of grounded realism from the Burton films away. Yes, Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey are just playing two (three?) versions of The Joker. But who really cares when it’s this much fun.

The Val Kilmer performance in the center of all this chaos is criminally underrated. So is Nicole Kidman’s Chase Meridian, who while unintentially hilarious, provides a unique dynamic that is rarely found with the other love interests in superhero movies.

The third act paces itself into oblivion though. The unity of Batman & Robin by the end feels unearned and it’s a lot of weird scenes in here. Some good, some bad, some include laundry.

08. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

I’ve always liked this one. I’m biased though. 

My obsession with the pre-production process of BvS swept up a lot of my pre-teen years, It was my grand induction into fandom hype culture, I tracked every single casting and creative decision for this film as it was being announced with so much curiosity. I had never felt as much anticipation for a film and I never will. 

I’d like to believe I’ve grown past that though, and can remove this Zack Snyder blockbuster from the prism of my unrealistic expectations. BvS is flawed for sure, but I earnestly believe that it does so much right.

Snyder plunged himself into the world of the DC Universe after spending 4 years doing the impossible, adapting Alan Moore and David Gibbon’s Watchmen, in which the characters of Superman and Batman can be seen in the emotionally distant Dr. Manhattan, vengeful Rorshach and bashful Nite-Owl. It’s only fair that when Snyder is passed the keys to the car that led the trail, the first thing he does is deconstruct the machine. Man of Steel is kind of like the car being pushed forward by hand. a promising experience at first eventually becoming tedious, Batman V. Superman is the car being hotwired and launched to extreme speeds it can’t handle. The overstuffed third act nearly kills the film and everything it attempted to set up through incredible sequences that attempt to explore the ramifications presented by Superman through our central characters.

In all of this is Batman, brought to life near flawlessly by Ben Affleck. It goes without saying that the character is broken and the movie agrees with that. Older, gruff and gun-wielding. Many people found this portrayal of the character to be a betrayal of everything he has stood for in previous iterations (there is a panel in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which this film is heavily based off of, in which Batman denounces guns and snaps one in half) and while it was not wise for Snyder and writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer to place this version of the character in an Iron Man-like position for the DC Extended Universe, the film that was built for his first appearance truly supports this iteration of the character, placing him smack in the middle of Superman’s misunderstood virtuousness and Lex Luthor’s immoral virtuoso. Affleck’s Bruce is one who knows almost every trick in the book but is far too blinded by ego and fear of incompetence to see things how they truly are. A tragic portrayal of a man left behind by the world he sought to protect.

Also, some love for Jeremy Irons’ Alfred please.

07. The LEGO Batman Movie

Thrilling, funny and heartfelt. Satirizes almost every single aspect of the canon and somehow manages to make it work in under 2 hours. The film weaponises your previous encounters with the characters to its benefit. When Batman completely disregards the power that Joker holds over him, you can’t help but feel for the Clown Prince of Crime when he is dumped by his spiritual soulmate, especially because you’ve seen them in the same rooms for more than half a century.

Chris McKay and his team craft a gorgeous brick-laden landscape for our characters to play in. Similar to Affleck’s portrayal of the character, Arnett’s Batman is forced to confront the aspects of his character that prevent him from moving forward and becoming the best version of himself. The catalyst of that process in Dick Grayson, who after years of trial and error, finally gets his due on the silver screen through the voicework of Michael Cera. Often times, the best things are unexpected.

06. The Dark Knight Rises

Yeah, it’s incredibly silly.

Come on though...

The craft on display here is awe-inspiring, Christopher Nolan blew his blank check, made a war picture set in Gotham and secured ten more. Like it’s predecessor it’s convoluted to the point of comedy but that’s just to be expected with every Nolan film at this point right?

As time goes by, people often cite The Dark Knight Rises as the one in the trio that got away. Its gaping plot holes and Bane’s funny voice turn a lot of people off. That’s fair, considering this was the film in the trilogy Nolan wanted to make the least. I still think it’s worth noting all the things in that work in the picture. I much rather prefer an incosistent film that continues to swing for the fences than one that lacks audacity and self belief.

05. Batman Returns

The studio loosened the leash on Tim Burton and the film is all better for it. This goes where the previous entry never had the gall to. 

We have three animals in a cage. A bat, a cat and a penguin. Three animals dealing with their trauma in distinct ways, being manipulated to destroy each other by a man who has been benefitting from their battle-fatigue all along. 

Many say it doesn’t work as a Batman film but I think that’s because it shows the character for what he truly is. Sad, desolate and constantly in denial with the fact that he is closer to his villains than he’d rather admit. In the opening minutes of the film, we see Keaton’s Wayne seated in a dark room, alone to himself, doing nothing. That is until he sees the Bat-signal flare up in the sky, he stands up in attention and his face widens. Nothing else matters to him, how could it? 

Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman continues to be the strongest thing about Returns, In a film where big screen titans like Christopher Walken and Danny Devito are throwing a 100, Pfeiffer is the only thing on your mind throughout, providing not only one of the best performances in a comic book film but one of the best ever seen on the silver screen.

04. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

After hearing nothing but positive things about this for many years on end, I finally saw this brief but astonishing piece of workand just like I expected, I’m extremely glad I did.

Truly a blessing that this film exists and was granted the availability of a theatrical release, making it a must watch whenever going through the Batman franchise anytime a new one comes out.

Based on all my writing up to this point, I’m sure you can gather that I’m open to all portrayals of the Caped Crusader but it’s always nice to see one that the fanbase collectively decides is the best one.

Romantic, layered, concise. See this if you haven’t. 

03. The Batman

“There’s a lot of talk about how this is the sexiest Batman or the most emo Batman. What’s more important is that this is finally a Batman who sits down and looks for clues in a big stack of dusty old files”

Patrick H. Willems
This quote was pulled from Willem’s Letterboxd review of Matt Reeves’ The Batman and is as of right now, the most popular review of the film on the website. 

Even after decades of film. Matt Reeves and his team unravel an integral aspect of the Batman mythos unexplored by the many filmmakers that came before them. Other than Phantasm, no other Batman film has ever had this much focus. Fitting for a detective story, I know. But seeing examples of previous films in the franchise that start with so much promise and end unrecognizable, I can’t help but be impressed with what the cast & crew pulls off here, start to finish.

The film avoids the “too many villains/supporting characters” plague these superhero movies are riddled with by taking notes from the handbook left by the noir pictures that Reeves and co-writer Dylan Clark were clearly influenced by in the process of making this. It was a wise move to scatter the film with characters Batman doesn’t trust, placing us in the shoes of an uneasy and unsure protagonist. The performances are stellar across the board, reminds you that some really good acting can still take the place in these movies. But the film sinks without a strong leading performance. Pattinson does not only provide one of the greatest leading performances in the superhero genre, he provides one of the best in his already well-accomplished career. Bringing to life the best portrayal of the character yet. Shoutout to the casting team of this film for never going the obvious route with their decisions but surprising us with casting choices we would not replace if given the opportunity to. (I remember the Armie Hammer & Jonah Hill fan-casts)

Can see this one moving up the list, but I need to sit with it a bit more. It paled on a rewatch due to contrivances I found in the story structure but I can’t pretend I’m not absolutely head over heels for a Batman film I’ve wanted for years now. Listened to Michael Giacchino’s score while writing a lot of this article and it made the experience a lot less dreadful.

02. Batman Begins

Still the best superhero origin story ever put to film (Favreau’s Iron Man film a close second). Begins was the first Batman film to ask “why?”. Why somebody would risk their lives, putting on a Bat costume, inflicting their sense of justice on the world, night after night. Nolan and co-writer David S. Goyer were wise to pluck multiple aspects from different Batman origin stories from the comics, giving us the most worldly Batman film yet.

The influence this film had post-release can not be understated, there’s clearly a before Batman Begins and an after when it comes to examining the approach taken by studios with every franchise launcher. With every rewatch, you can see where those other films failed and this one succeeds. The realistic approach makes it necessary to go through every major quirk that makes the character so special & weird (double lives, armored suit, driving a super car). This aided in making Batman publicly understood to audiences everywhere. You don’t need to pick up a single comic book or watch any other movie to get fully behind Batman Begins. It understands the responsibilty it has as being a major re-introduction to a character that

Christian Bale did what was impossible at the time by making the character of Batman relatable. Bringing a clear-eyed heart and soul to Bruce that was only grazed over by Kilmer in Batman Forever. Where a filmmaker like Matt Reeves wants to make it clear that being Batman is clearly a flawed coping mechanism for disregarded trauma, Nolan and Goyer make the deed of being an armored vigilante cop appear more righteous (a problem that has plagued too many superhero movies to count). Giving Bale the opportunity to go full hero from time to time, which is a cool break from his other performances.

Will always be so satisfying to see that suitmaking montage. This film will make you believe you can do anything even when you have no money in your bank account.

01. The Dark Knight

As I said, I hate to be predictable.

What more is there to say about it? I’ve seen The Dark Knight a billion times, you’ve probably seen it a billion times, I can’t wait to see it in theaters again. Yea.

It really is funny how this film is so pumpfaked with its impenetrably convoluted plot structure. What makes The Dark Knight so rewatchable is that it gives the audience a fun amount of work to do, examining where each domino touches the other. It constantly misdirects you in its first half hour, leaving you unsure of just what kind of film you’re watching, yet you thunder on because the Zimmer & Newman score is booming and the experience is just that gorgeous.

Nothing more to be said about the perfect action sequences, perfect performances, especially Ledger (what makes him the best Joker is the exact opposite of what I complained about with Phoenix & Nicholson)  & Oldman. Nothing more to be said about one of the most celebrated films by one of the most celebrated filmmakers. Everything has been said. Thank you for turning Batman into PG-13 Heat Chris, we are so grateful.