Dark and bruting is his style. Fighting crime and pushing himself past the limits to do everything in his path to find justice, all without superpowers. Simply put, The Caped Crusader is the best superhero ever created. Batman is one of the biggest pop culture icons. From some of the greatest cartoons ever created to Academy Award-winning movies, from groundbreaking graphic novels to silly costumes and cheap effects and dominating the comic book video-game space, Batman has seen and done it all. Today to celebrate this amazing character and the release of Joker this weekend, this is my list from the worst to best theatrically released Batman films.
Batman and Robin
Batman and Robin single-handedly killed an entire franchise and turned countless people off from the character. From its betrayal of characters like… well pretty much all of them to its cheesy and painful one-liners and tone, this movie reeked of awfulness… but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you this was a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. What can I say, I have fun with this movie. I know it’s horrible and I can and will list the reasons why, but for whatever reason, I enjoy watching this from time to time. I think it has to do with the fact that I used to watch this movie all the time when I was a kid late at night on T.V. With that being said, let’s rip into it. First off, the casting. Everyone is terrible. George Clooney is a pathetic Batman (a decent Bruce Wayne however), he doesn’t even try. Uma Thurman is a great actress but does some of the worst overacting I have ever seen as Poison Ivy. And as much as I love him, this is a poor representation of Mr. Freeze. Arnold Schwarzenegger is terribly missed cast. Those one-liners are painful to say the least. The worst character is by far Bane. This is an intelligent character, one of Batman’s greatest foes, but nope, he’s just a big dummy, whose only purpose is to grunt and be the muscle for Ivy. Batman and Robin has a tone that says, we don’t care. It’s cheap, lazy, disrespectful of the source material, and completely out of touch with the character and the genre. Thank God for Christopher Nolan, without his gritty reboot, I’m not sure we’d even be talking about Batman anymore.
Batman: The Movie
Coming off the wildly wacky and silly television series, Batman: The Movie is weird and goofy and again, pretty entertaining. This is more of a spoof comedy then it is a comic book movie. It’s a product of its time and for what it’s going for, it succeeds. Adam West and his oddly syncopated speech pattern are now iconic, I personally love his Batman. I mean he has shark repellent, I bet you no other Batman can say that. This is a fun movie adapted from a time that comics could only be goofy. This is not a great movie, but it has wacky and entertaining characters and a good slew of villains for Batman and The Boy Wonder to fight, so if you know that going into it, this could be a fun watch.
Don’t hate me, but I kind of like this film. I know I know, but again I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have fun with this movie. I think Jim Carrey is actually a pretty great Riddler. It’s zany and over the top, but I think it fits the character pretty well. Val Kilmer I quite like as Batman/Bruce Wayne. I think he does a great job playing both roles and honestly, I would’ve liked to have seen more from him. Tommy Lee Jones… Okay, you’ve got me there. He’s not really playing Two-Face so much as he’s playing the Joker. This is where the over the top performances start to hurt the movie. Two-Face doesn’t feel like Two-Face, and it hurts the character. Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face sounds awesome but that’s not what we get in this movie. Also, I love the cop at the beginning trapped in the vault with Batman. He’s horribly perfect, he’s so bad that I love it. But aside from the characters I kind of like the incredibly over the top world of Joel Schumacher’s Gotham. I like the huge statues that fill Gotham’s skyline and the crazy neon colours of the streets and gangs. Again, this is not a great movie or even a good one, but it is fun for what it is.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
I remember hating the news that Ben Affleck was cast as Batman. I remember thinking they must be crazy for doing something like that, and since then I have eaten those words. Ben Affleck is one of the best Batmans we have seen. His Batman is brutal and terrifying. If I were a criminal, I would definitely think twice knowing that he was out there. When this movie came out I loved it. I knew it had problems, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to love it so bad. Having just rewatched it, I have since lost that admiration for this film. Batman v. Superman is so convoluted. There is way too much stuffed into this movie that just doesn’t need to be there. Unfortunately, Batman v. Superman is a product of DC and Warner Bros. trying so hard to catch up to Marvel. They tried stuffing in way too much story into one movie that would have benefited from having been told over multiple films. In a movie that is supposed to be about Batman vs Superman, there is only a couple of scenes that are dedicated to the plotline and only one 10 min fight scene between the two of them. Instead, we have the first-ever on-screen introduction to Wonder Woman, a setup to Justice League, the death of Superman storyline, and way too many conspiracy plot points. The 3hr Ultimate Cut is definitely the way to go in my opinion. It fleshes out the story and makes a lot more sense than the regular cut does. Let’s talk about the Martha moment. I think it’s a really interesting idea and could have been a cool twist, but the execution of that scene was so sloppy and sudden. One moment Batman is trying to kill Superman and only a few short moments later is calling Superman his friend. It’s way too quick of a switch for Batman. However, this does lead to one of the coolest Batman moments ever, the warehouse scene. Watching Batman take out a room full of armed men is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen put to screen. I love how imposing they portray Batman as this insane and tactical brawler. I didn’t go into Superman or Lex Luthor (or should I say The Riddler 2.0) here as I am focusing on Batman right now, but overall, this movie is a mess. It’s unfocused and tries and fails at setting up a cinematic universe.
I know I’ve said that I at least can find some entertainment in the bottom four movies, albeit a guilty pleasure kind of entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless. From this point on there is a significant jump in quality. From here on out, I think all of these movies are at least good movies on their own merits.
Tim Burton’s aesthetic is a match made perfect for Batman. Burton’s gothic imagery and dark sense of humor fall completely into place in Batman (1989). I never had a favourite Batman actor, for me, no one has quite nailed the character yet although some have come close, and maybe one of the closest is Michael Keaton. I genuinely believe this guy is insane enough to dress up as a bat and hunt criminals down. It also helps being one of the coolest people alive. Not only is this a Batman movie, but it’s also equal parts a Joker movie. For the longest time Jack Nicholson was everyone’s favourite Joker and rightfully so. Nicholson had so much fun in this role and you can see it. This is the kind of comic book movie that doesn’t get made anymore. One where it is a contained story focused solely on making the best movie they can, and not worrying about setting up any future installments. Batman is fun and exciting and you can’t go wrong with that.
For some, I know ranking Batman Returns over Batman is sacrilegious but I just find more enjoyment in this movie. The depictions of Catwoman and Penguin are very different than the traditional comic origins for these characters, but they are portrayed by two stellar performances. Both Danny DeVito and Michele Pfeiffer are electric in these roles and in my mind have become iconic villains in the comic book genre. Pfeiffer is stylized and badass, while DeVito is disgusting and revolting. But they aren’t the only villains in this movie, Christopher Walken as Max Shrek is very entertaining as well. I think the reason I rank this film higher than Batman is because of Tim Burton’s direction. Here he was allowed to go full out with his quirkiness whereas Batman had to be a little restraint until he was able to prove himself. Batman Returns is nowhere near as kid-friendly as Batman. The Penguin is violent and says some pretty disgusting things but it works so well with this version of the Penguin. Batman Returns I know isn’t for everyone, but it just hits me the right way. I think it’s a creative and unique comic book film.
The Dark Knight Rises
At one point in my life, this used to be my favourite Batman movie, but like Batman v Superman, my love for this movie has lessened. I still love this movie, don’t get me wrong, I’m just more aware of this movies missteps than I was when I was younger. All my problems with this movie have to do with just how convenient some plot devices are, like a magical knee brace. But there is so much to love about The Dark Knight Rises, so let’s focus on that. First off, Tom Hardy’s Bane is a top 3 comic book villain for me. I love this character. This is a proper adaptation of Bane. Yes, his origin is very different then the comic book but the movie captures his essence so well. I love how huge and imposing Hardy is in this role. Joseph Gordon Levitt is an awesome addition and a great character added to Batman’s allies. How Nolan concludes this trilogy I think is perfect. It brings a tear to my eye every time I hear Alfred give that heartfelt speech at the grave of the Wayne’s and then watching him see Bruce in that restaurant at the end. This is an epic conclusion to an epic trilogy that will go down in history as one of the best.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
I don’t think a Batman movie has so captured who Bruce Wayne is and the pain he feels quite like Batman: Mask of The Phantasm did. This is a great character piece for Batman, jumping back and forth between the present time as a seasoned caped crusader and to his early days as a crime fighter. This is a simple, yet a deep story of the emotional pain and the responsibility of the vow Bruce made to his parents to stop crime from happening in Gotham. Kevin Conroy is simply the best. It’s his voice I hear when I read any Batman comic, Conroy understands that Batman is who he really is and Bruce is the mask he puts on. It’s a nuanced performance that I just don’t think anyone has ever matched. And the same is to be said for Mark Hamill as the Joker. Creepy and playful while being menacing and violent. For being an animated film Mask of The Phantasm hits dark themes just like it’s animated television counterpart does. I won’t go into any spoilers as I know a lot of people have never seen this movie, and if you haven’t, I highly recommend that you do. It’s a great story and a great mystery.
Joker is a movie that won’t be for everyone. It’s violent and graphic which will easily turn people off from this movie. It’s grim and dark and won’t leave you feeling happy, but it will leave you thinking. I found this movie to be a methodical character study, a deep dive into the mind of mental illness and a man thrown away by society. Joker is smart and so much deeper than your average comic book film. Joaquin Phoenix delivers an Oscar-caliber performance as Arthur Fleck/Joker. The film balances the audience’s sympathy for the character and feeling of horror for the actions he takes with precision. Joker is one of the year’s best movies and will be one talked about for years to come.
If it wasn’t for Christopher Nolan and this incredible, gritty reboot of the Batman franchise, I would imagine Batman wouldn’t be talked about nearly as much as he is. This is a game-changer. Not only for the Batman character but for comic book movies. We’ve seen comic book movies at this point taken seriously with X-Men and Spider-Man, but never quite like this. Nolan decided to take as realistic as he can approach on the caped crusader and we’re all better off for it. Christan Bale is probably my favourite Batman. Yes, the voice can get a little hammy at times, but it makes sense why he would talk like that in a grounded real world like this. I love how much time we spend this movie with Bruce Wayne training and taking the time to develop why he would choose a life dedicated to justice. It is by far the best live-action exploration of this character. The villains of this movie are some of the best comic book movie villains ever. I love how integrated Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul is tied into the origin of Batman. It adds a whole new level to their on-screen dynamic and their different ideology. Batman Begins is one of the best comic book origins put to film
The Dark Knight
What more could I add that hasn’t already been said about this movie. Every time I watch this movie it takes my breath away. From the sweeping scale of the gorgeous iMax shots to the grounded and well-realized characters to the incredibly well put together story and of course Heath Ledger’s showing stopping performances. There is a reason why this is the only comic book movie to have an Oscar nomination and not only that but actually win the award in one of the acting categories. Heath Ledger’s Joker will go down in film history as one of the greatest performances and villains of all time, there is no doubt about that. I love everything about this movie, how perfectly they nail the Joker character, Two-Faces sudden and violent turn to vengeance, the mob influenced story, Alfred and Bruce’s friendship, Rachel Dawes and the love triangle formed between Bruce and Harvey, Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon. Everything about this movie is excellent and is crafted by a master. This is the best comic book movie made, and not only that but is in my top 5 favourite films of all time. The Dark Knight will stand as one of the greatest Hollywood movies ever made.