This idea came to me on a whim. Why not rank all of the Batman movies from worst to best? Why not, eh? The Caped Crusader is showing no signs of slowing down in the film world and his popularity is still on an all time high, I figured I would reap the benefits of said popularity and give my little opinion on every Batman movie, live action and animated, that I’ve seen. The rules are that the films have to be about Batman himself, no team-ups.
That’s about it on the rules stuff. Oh, and I haven’t seen every on screen depiction of Batman yet so the list will be a tad incomplete. Said unseen films would be the serials from the 1940’s, “Batman vs. Dracula”, “Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman” and “Lego Batman: The Movie.” This list will be somewhat unpredictable and predictable at the same time if that makes any sense. I have a feeling some of my rankings will make a good portion of the fanboy/girl populations head explode, but that is a risk I am willing to take.
So without further bullshit I present to you my personal ranking of all the Batman films I’ve seen from worst to best-or least favorite to favorite…
15- “BATMAN AND ROBIN”
Yeah, no surprise here right? I’ve heard some defense of this film from fans who see it as a homage of the campy Silver Age comics and the Adam West television show of the 1960s. While I won’t begrudge them their opinions I can’t see how they can view this abomination in those terms. This is no tongue-in-cheek send up. This is a hollow, over indulgent, bloated, ugly toy commercial. Hell, half of the cast and crew admit it as such. Joel Schumacher himself apologized to the fans on the special edition DVD for crying out loud. Not one second of this film feels like it came from genuine want or urge to tell an honest story. This is one of the most transparent instances of a blockbuster film being made by the studio and not the filmmakers. If you haven’t seen this film yet, don’t. It’s reputation is all you need to know. I don’t always agree with the internet on films, but this is one I stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone on.
This is one of the first of the DC Animated line and it came out to coincide with “The Dark Knight.” I myself was hyped for it. It looked cool as hell. Short stories about Batman in anime style? Yes please! Alas, what I got was unsatisfying, incomplete experience. Not all of the stories are bad, they just don’t leave much of an impression. They are too short to leave any dramatic stamp and unlike most anthology films, there is no narrative connection tying these shorts together. They all just kind of happen. “In Darkness Dwells” and “Working Through the Pain” are the only noteworthy stories to check out. All the rest are completely average or forgettable. And to top it off the voice acting doesn’t always mesh well with the animation style of each short. Overall, it’s not horrible or anything, just mediocrity incarnate.
13-“BATMAN: YEAR ONE”
This is one bound to gets some panties knotted. Overall, I think the DC Animated films are fantastic. They tell good stories, feature good voice acting and are sometimes better than their big screen counterparts (Just watch the two animated Green Lantern films for proof of that) but every once in a while they put out a dud. “Batamn: Year One” is one such dud. The graphic novel (by pre-crazypants Frank Miller) it is based on is one of the most acclaimed Batman stories ever told, so you would think an animated adaptation would knock it out of the park. Well, I have to disagree with the fans here and say it fell flat. The narrative structure of the comic does not lend itself well to film, leaving the movie without a central lead to follow. The audience is bounced between James Gordon and Bruce Wayne far to much to really get into either story and before the plot finally settles into itself it’s damn near over. I know I’m in the minority on this one, but it left me feeling largely cold. The plus side is of course, the good animation and well done action scenes.
Ahhh, this is more like it. This really isn’t anything but an extended episode of “Batman: The Animated Series”, but it’s a good extended episode. One of the their most successful villains, Mr. Freeze, is front and center and bigger parts for Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon are a welcome treat. There really isn’t much to say about this one. It’s dramatic and action packed. Give it a go.
“What!? Why is this one ranked reasonably well!? BAT NIPPLES, Mogwai!? BAT NIPPLESSSSS!!!!”
Honestly, a big part of it is nostalgia. Another big part of it is that I think there are big chunks of actually good in this movie. unlike “Batman and Robin”, it seems like Schumacher wanted to at least tell a good story amid all of the neon and over-the-top performances. Now, if you want to make the argument that this film is a good homage to the more campy era of the character then you may have a point. The big, lavish, colorful Gotham in this movie actually works for the most part and Val Kilmer makes for a good Bruce Wayne and Batman. Arguably, he gets more to do as Bruce then Keaton did. There are some good deleted scenes that shed some light on Bruce and are actually pretty heavy. If they were to ever officially put those scenes back in they could push the movie into genuine “good” territory instead of a fun nostalgia-fest. I like Jim Carrey as The Riddler, very Frank Gorshin, but Tommy Lee Jones is too manic and one note to make an impression as Two-Face. Despite the character being too old I actually think the whole Robin arc was done surprisingly well and is one of the strongest aspects of the film. Dick and Bruces relationship is actually dramatic and feels real. If only they didn’t cut out the most dramatic scenes in the movie. If only Two-Face was distinctive. If only….As it stands though, I think “Batman Forever” is slightly underrated. It has fun action scenes, a good comic-booky plot, and some nice character work if you can see through the neon.
Yes, I’m like most fans in that I prefer my Batman to be brooding, dark and serious. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy and appreciate the lighter side of the character. Many fans like to push the goofy side of Batman under the rug and pretend it never existed. I don’t think that’s fair. You don’t have to like it, but to act like it’s not an important era for the character ain’t cool. If one can get over the silly nature of 60’s Batman, they will see an obvious tongue-in-cheek television show and movie. It’s not like the producers said “hey, lets take this serious and dark character and make it bright and campy!” No, they took their inspiration from the source. The comics had been light for years and that WAS what Batman was like back then. in reality, the 60s show and movie are probably some of the one of the most faithful adaptations of the character yet. Don’t pretend you don’t know that it’s true. So like I said, if you can let your guard down for a little while pop this movie in. It’s a madcap, whacked out, bizarre and utterly hilarious romp. Seriously, it’s a gem.
‘WAHT! WHAT! WAHT!????? Why is this so low on you list!!!!!!!?!?”
I don’t know what to tell you my friends, I’ve always found this movie overrated. I did as a kid, I still do now. I love pieces of this movie, but not the whole. I love the look and design of Gotham, but not how it constantly feels like a set. Tim Burton had big visions for this movie and I won’t take that away from him. He brought Batman back from the dead in the public’s eyes and delivered a pop culture phenomenon. But I think he didn’t really have the chops at the time to pull it off completely. Like I said, on a visual level this IS Batman, but on directing level the movie suffers from odd pacing issues, bland action scenes, and a narrative that stops and starts. I don’t think Burton really knew how to make the sets feel less like sets. Most of the time it’s painful how obvious it is. It’s not so much an issue of it being dated, I just don’t think the execution of it was all that great to begin with. Jack Nicholson is highly entertaining as The Joker and Michael Keaton makes for one badass Batman. It’s the Bruce Wayne in this movie that needs more work. More on that when I get around the “Batman Returns.” Overall, I love what they tried to do with this movie. I love the design of everything from Gotham, the Batmobile, the Batsuite, the Joker and everything in between. The pacing and flow of the film needed more finesse and the Burton just couldn’t use his sets properly. Visually, it is Burtons two films and the animated series that come into my mind when people mention the character, so while I feel this movie has major issues, I still respect it and appreciate it. I think Burton understood what made the character tick, he just needed one more go at it in my opinion.
8-“THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS PART 1 & 2”
Considering I felt let down by “Batman: Year One” I was worried that my personal favorite Batman comic (ya, ya what Batfan doesn’t have this story somewhere in their top 5?) would suffer the same fate. thankfully it was mostly a success. The gritty tone of the comic didn’t totally convert over to the animation, but enough of it did to feel like this story on screen. The violence was there, the story, the characters, the psychology…all was represented faithfully. Peter Weller is an awesome older Bruce Wayne/Batman and Mihcael Emerson is an already underrated Joker. His performance of the character is EXACTLY how I read it in the comic. My only quibbles are that the animation, while faithful to the art of the book, is too clean looking (a nitpick, but one that irks me slightly) and the second part of the film doesn’t feel as tightly put together as the first. Still, it’s a better adaptation of one of the most brutal Batman stories ever than it has the right to be.
7-“Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker”
I was hesitant to put this on the list because it stars a different Batman-Terry McGinnis, but Bruce Wayne is still a big and integral part of the “Batman Beyond” mythos and Terry has proved himself to be a worthy Batman. So yes, this film makes it to the list. “Batman Beyond” the show, is shockingly good. It branches off of “Batman: The Animated Series” beautifully and is just as much about Bruce as it is passing the torch. The show could have easily been a cheap cash-in to sell toys but Bruce Timm and his team wanted it to be a legitimate continuation and it succeeded with flying colors. “Return of the Joker” is no different. Just like the show, it is as much about Bruce and his demons as it is about Terry and him dealing with the burden of being Batman. It’s not only about facing his own enemies, but the enemies of Bruce’s past as well, that seem to want to haunt The Batman forever. This film beautifully plays into that and delivers something truly dramatic, sad and exciting. The science behind some of it is wonky as hell, but it’s easily forgivable because everything else is so damn good.
6-“BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD”
Just like “Return of the Joker”, this film focuses on a traumatic event in Batman’s past and it’s lasting effects. The twist of the film isn’t all that hard to figure out, even for people who aren’t familiar with the comics, but I don’t think it is supposed to be all that mysterious to tell the truth. This is a harsh, violent Batman film and one that raises some great questions about Batman’s code and morality and it does it as good, if not a tad better than Nolan’s films. Just like the film before it and the ones to follow, it is dramatic and compelling with a downer ending that took me by surprise.
5-“The Dark Knight”
Yup. This is not my favorite Batman movie. Its not even in my top 3. Deal it now and we can all be happier :)
I still do greatly enjoy this film but it has a few major problems I can’t overlook. let me get those out of the way first. One, to echo a complaint people have about Burton’s films, I feel like Bruce got lost in the shuffle of the plot a little too much here. He went from being the most compelling character to the least compelling in one film. Christian Bale seems bored most of the time when he’s out of the suite. Just a little more emphasis on Bruce would do the movie some good. Also, the last act feels incredibly tacked on and rushed. For the first 2hrs this movie has me. It’s intense, entertaining and gripping. But after the hospital explosion the film looses steam and seems to want to race to the credits. It kicks into overdrive and makes Two-Faces arc feel rushed, loosing much of it’s power. And one last thing, I just don’t like Gotham in this movie. It’s too real, too close to real live to feel like a genuine comic book movie. “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight Rises” have a better Gotham, making the city feel more like a metropolis than it does in this film. But like I said, the movie it’s freakin’ great for the first 2 hours. The plot moves, Heath Ledger, as we all know, is already legendary as The Joker, Aaron Eckhart is good as Harvey Dent, Gary Oldman is THE Jim Gordon, and the action is top notch. If only the film didn’t blow it’s load too early…and if only the narrative had a bit more focus on Bruce….
4-“THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”
Yup, I like it better than it’s predecessor. This film had something of a backlash when it came out. Some were disappointed with it, saying it tried to do too much and had too many plot holes. Well, lets just say it has no more plot holes than “The Dark Knight”, but that is a whole other post entirely. In fact, it has less plot holes than “The Dark Knight”, considering the entire plot of the Jokers hinges on him being omnipresent, and the plot feels less overstuffed as well….but I digress. Bruce is back to being the most compelling character once again and the films intensity builds and builds and builds to a huge climax without giving out too early. It’s a massive, epic film. Bane is almost as badass as The Joker and Ann Hathaway is surprisingly strong as Catwoman. The mid-film beatdown Bane gives Batman is harsh and brutal and the best live action fight of the entire Batman franchise, new and old. The ending is the perfect cap off to the series and the whole film only gets better then more I watch it.
3-“Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”
There is a contingent of fans who say this is the best Batman movie ever made. At first I scoffed at this notion as just elitist fanboys being contrary for the sake of it. I adored the animated series as kid. It was one of my things. So why didn’t I know about this movies existence? Seriously, why? I tracked it down and gave it a watch and now I know why some fans can see this as the best Bat film yet…because it is a serious contender. For such a short film it tells a compelling, dramatic, sad, intense, and touching alternate origin story for Batman that feels completely legitimate. It also features the most well rounded female of love interest of the franchise, animated or otherwise. To say more would to ruin what a gem this is. Seek it out if you haven’t already.
A bit of a shocker, right? This is one of the most polarizing comic book films ever made. It has been controversial since it’s release. Was it too dark? Was it too light? Was it too Tim Burton? Well, for some people all it was each of these things. Yet there are a legion of fans who adore it and it was been growing in fanboy appreciation over the years. This movie is particular and the cartoon are what etched Batman into my mind as a kid. Just as the show was a staple of my viewing, so was this movie. Oddly enough, most of what people dislike about it are what I think makes it work. This is a Tim Burton movie, make no mistake about it. Some hate that it is, I think that is what makes it work. He felt more comfortable this time around and it shows. While you know this movie is just as set bound as the first Burton and his team do a better job of masking it. This is my favorite Gotham City ever. Gotham in the snow is just what it’s all about. Much has been said recently about this films use of German Expressionism. It uses images to convey a story more so than dialogue or exposition. It’s actually kind of obvious if you think about it. Gotham is the mind of Bruce Wayne and each character is a side of his personality. The Penguin is the tortured orphan, Max Shreck is the powerful businessman and Selina Kyle/Catwoman is the dark vigilante. And they are all fighting for dominance in Gotham and they all are at odds with each other. Burton really gets the idea that Batman is not right in the head. He’s a bit crazy and “Batman Returns” emphasizes this perfectly. Too many villains is usually one of the big complaints about the film, but I disagree completely. All three antagonists and Bruce/Batman entwine wonderfully in the narrative. Plus, Bruce is more Bruce in this film than the first. He is seen taking an active roll in his business instead of simply being a weirdo in his mansion. The pacing is smoother than the first film and the action is more exciting. It also has my favorite live action Batsuite to date.
Yet another issue is Burtons treatment of the villains. Well all I have to say is, if Nolan can change up the villains to suite his films why can’t Burton? It may be nostalgia, but everything about this film just clicks with me. The darkness, the over the top silliness like an army of rocket-strapped Penguins, the amazing score by Danny Elfman that totally out does the first, the mood, the look, the performances. It’s all so wonderfully Batman to me. It’s like an Elseworlds tale that was never printed.
This movie came out of nowhere for me. I went to see it, wondering what it would be like and it blew my mind. This is still the definitive Batman film to me. It single handedly rejuvenated my love of Batman and started my fandom into comic books proper. I had read a few here and there, but “Batman Begins” really made me want to get into that world and I haven’t looked back since. This is the dramatic telling of Bruce Waynes rise to become Batman that I’ve always wanted. It’s big, it’s emotional, it’s well acted, it’s engrossing and it’s genuinely great film making. There are a few little nitpicks I have but nothing worth mentioning.