If you don’t count the serials from the 1940s — and obviously we can’t full judge either the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or Suicide Squad — Batman has still appeared in eight different motion pictures. That’s the same number of Harry Potter movies, and at least those had some sort of continuity to them. Now that it appears the Caped Crusader may also get his own solo title — and because, let’s face it, lists are awesome — now seems as good a time as any to take a look at those aforementioned eight films and rank them from worst to best
We’ve included the Tomatometer rankings for each film (like you do), but their actual placement on this list is pretty much just based on subjective opinion, so feel free to include your own ranking below.
Batman & Robin (1997) — Tomatometer – 11%
Imagine this wasn’t a Batman film. Imagine that instead of Batman & Robin, it was just Hero Guy & Sidekick, and it didn’t have the expectations that come with being a Batman film. It still wouldn’t be very good. Take retinal-scarring production design, a middling story, and a cast that clearly would rather have been anywhere else, and you have an easy choice for the worst Batman movie of the bunch.
An interesting exception to all of this, interestingly enough, is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who looks like he’s having the time of his life in this movie. Though, it’s a performance that would only really work in this Batman movie. Arnold lobbied hard to be cast and even pays Warner Bros. $1 a year in order to keep his Mr. Freeze costume.
If you ever get the chance to watch the film on DVD, be sure to watch it with Joel Schumacher’s commentary running. It’s essentially 125 minutes of Schumacher apologizing profusely. He shoulders most of the blame for the film — while tossing some of it towards the direction of the studio — while, at the same time, praising the cast and crew.
Batman Forever (1995) — Tomatometer – 41%
Compared to Batman & Robin, Batman Forever may as well be The Dark Knight. Unlike its sequel, Forever knew when enough was enough. Yes, there’s probably too many villains and, yes, the their plan to “take over the city” or what have you is pretty ridiculous. Also, the dialogue is pretty bad. On the other hand, everyone in this film looks like they’re having a lot of fun… especially Jim Carrey, who got paid a lot of money to act like we all just sort of assumed he acted like in real life anyway.
Although, technically, Forever was supposed to be a continuation of Tim Burton’s previous two films, once the title role was recast with Val Kilmer, all of that went out the window. Replacing Billy Dee Williams with Tommy Lee Jones in the role of Harvey Dent was, like, maybe the fifth most jarring change in the movies.
It’s also worth noting that Forever also has a pretty damned eclectic soundtrack, featuring songs by U2, The Flaming Lips, Method Man, Nick Cave and The Offspring. And that Seal song that everyone pretends to hate but secretly loves.
Batman Returns (1992) — Tomatometer – 80%
If 1989’s Batman was a Batman film that happened to be directed by Tim Burton, its sequel was a Tim Burton film that happened to have Batman in it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s certainly been proven that Burton’s films are generally better when he’s being himself than when he’s not (looking at you over there, Planet of the Apes). There’s also some great casting involved in it, as well (as if anyone else in 1992 other than Danny DeVito was going to play The Penguin).
Compared to the next five movies on this list, however, it kinda comes up short. The movie has three villains to juggle and sort of runs out of good ideas for them by the end. Still, unlike the two movies that followed it, Batman Returns still managed to keep a dark edge. We also need to give this film a few extra points simply due to the fact that Christopher Walken is in it, and he’s just as weird and creepy as you would hope.
Batman: The Movie (1966) — Tomatometer – 80%
Comparing Batman: The Movie to Christopher Nolan’s films from the past 10 years is a lot like comparing the Batman comics from those eras. While the character may have started out as a hard-boiled vigilante in the comics, he was… well, a lot like he was on his ABC TV series in the ’60s. Of course, on the series, satire was a primary goal, and it never took itself too seriously. And Batman: The Movie — which was released in theaters shortly after the first season of the show ended — did the same.
It’s because of that lack of pretension that both the series and this movie have fared so well. Batman: The Movie may not be a great Batman film, but it’s an awesome, smart comedy. You have to respect any movie that reminds us that, some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) — Tomatometer – 87%
Bear with me for a second: Do you remember that scene in Walk the Line where Jerry Lee Lewis finished a performance and then, as he walked backstage, basically told Johnny Cash to “follow that?” Replace Lewis with The Dark Knight and Cash with Rises, and you can probably see where I’m going with this ridiculously convoluted metaphor. While Rises had a lot to live up to, it certainly succeeded on its own terms.
What The Dark Knight Rises did was show how the characters from the previous two films dealt with the choices they made. And, while it also suffered from the same issues in Batman Returns — namely an overabundance of villains — at least it did so in a more plausible manner. While Bane might not be as iconic a bad guy as The Joker, he was still portrayed well. Plus, come on. Is Catwoman really a villain? Well, sort of. Yeah, I’m copping out on that one.
Batman (1989) — Tomatometer – 72%
As a film, is Tim Burton’s Batman better then the previously mentioned Dark Knight Rises? Probably not. Factor in both nostalgia and the impact the film had upon its release, however, and the 1989 film gets a spot higher on this list. While not exactly a live action version of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns by any means, Batman was still a darker and more stylized superhero movie then had been seen before. Batman’s moral code still prevented him from killing, but that certainly didn’t prevent him from hucking dudes into vats of acid.
While Michael Keaton‘s turn as the Dark Knight is fondly remembered now, it’s easy to forget just how angry fans got when he was first cast. He was still overshadowed by Jack Nicholson as The Joker (itself an inspired bit of casting), but it’s important to remember just how good he was in the role. His recent Oscar nomination should be a good reminder of that.
Also, you should really watch this trailer mash-up.
Batman Begins (2005) — Tomatometer – 85%
Batman Begins was the movie we never thought would get made. We can complain about comic book movies constantly relying on “origin stories” until the cows get blue in the face. The fact of the matter is that, after Batman & Robin, if Warner Bros. was willing to let an acclaimed director (I think the term “visionary” was tossed around at the time, too) make a serious, “realistic” Batman film, they could origin it up all they wanted. Or, they also could have just made Batman Beyond, instead.
The cast was probably this film’s biggest successes. Christian Bale may not have been a household name at that point, but he had a history of playing dark, troubled character (no, Newsies doesn’t count). Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred and Liam Neeson as — Spoiler alert? Come on guys, the movie’s ten years old — Ra’s Al Ghul were all on point. Even Katie Holmes was great in it. Come to think of it, were her and Morgan Freeman the only two Americans with major roles in that movie?
Above all else, Batman Begins set the table for what is, arguably, the best live action Batman film yet.
The Dark Knight (2008) — Tomatometer – 94%
In what has now become a grand tradition, fans weren’t exactly pleased when word got around that Heath Ledger was announced as taking the role of The Joker. Sure, he had just been nominated for an Oscar for his role in Brokeback Mountain. But, The Joker? Who does he think he is? Michael Keaton?
Now, put aside for a moment that Ledger was so awesome in the role that he scared Michael Caine into silence the first time he saw him on set. He’s not the only reason this movie is on the top of this list. To begin with, more than any other Batman film, this one really portrays the character as “The World’s Greatest Detective” that he is in the comics. We also saw how being an honest cop in a corrupt police force weighs on Jim Gordon and his family, and Harvey Dent’s character come full circle over the course of the film, blatant beat-us-over-the-head foreshadowing not withstanding.
There’s just enough humor to break a lot of the tension in the movie and, while there’s a number of plot holes that keep it from being a perfect flick, at least it gives us something to argue about on the Internet. And who doesn’t love doing that?
Now, as we look back on Batman films of the past, we also wait and see what Ben Affleck will do with the role. Will he be yet another in a long line of actors judged before their performances are seen? Will he surprise us all? Will he really sound like that throughout all of Dawn of Justice? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out.