Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, and Ben Affleck have all played Batman, and Robert Pattinson is next. But, everybody knows that. People love Batman movies like The Dark Knight and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and so everybody already has their own favorite version of Batman. This article isn’t about that. Because, while I love the various actors who have portrayed the character, sometimes, the best Batman movies aren’t even because of the Caped Crusader.
Not entirely, anyway. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Award for his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight, and one could argue that he was the best part about that movie. Similarly, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is much more of an ensemble film than a Batman flick, even though he is the guiding force of that movie. So, with that said, I am judging these films on their overall quality, not so much on the Batman in said films. Sound good? Good! So, let’s get dangerous (Whoops! Wrong crimefighter). Oh, and minor spoilers up ahead.
10. Batman & Robin (1997)
I’m going to be honest with you. I like Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin a lot more than most of the Batman movies on this list. But it’s not because it’s good. No. Batman & Robin is a total turkey! George Clooney plays a silly Batman—with a Bat credit card—and Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone as Robin and Batgirl, respectively, are equally silly. It’s not necessarily their fault, though! The script is laughably bad, and I’d put it up there with movies like Troll 2 and Sssssss. You know, movies so bad, they’re good!
I’m well aware that most people don’t like this film. They don’t like Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze trying to put Gotham on ice and dropping puns every second, and they don’t like Uma Thurman vamping it up as Poison Ivy or the hulking, grunting Bane. And, quite frankly, I feel bad for those people. Trust me, I get it, the movie sucks. But, still. Batman & Robin is awesome in its crappiness. Embrace the cheese!
9. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Oh, brother. Remember how I said that I liked Batman & Robin a lot more than other movies on this list? Well, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is definitely one of them. It’s not even Batman’s fault! Played expertly by Ben Affleck, I actually think that he’s the best part about this Zack Snyder movie, which pits Superman against Batman…and Lex Luthor…and Doomsday. In fact, I think that Affleck is really great as Batman since he exhibits both unbridled rage and pathos.
That said, I just can’t stand Superman in this movie, and unfortunately, he makes up half of the film. I don’t really think that this is Henry Cavill’s fault, either. It’s just that I find the Superman in the Snyderverse to be too broody. Add in the whole “Save Martha” nonsense, and you have a Batman movie that isn’t so bad it’s good. It’s just bad. And that’s not good.
8. Batman Forever (1995)
My good friend, John, who worked on the artwork for my book, told me that I need to re-watch Batman Forever. Not for the story or acting, mind you, but for the visual style. And, he’s right! The cinematography, done by Stephen Goldblatt, is exceptional.
The only problem? The rest of the movie sucks. Okay, maybe “sucks” isn’t the right word, as it certainly has its fans. But Joel Schumacher’s first attempt at Batman wasn’t nearly as fun as his second attempt with Batman & Robin. If anything, it feels like a half step. In his first and only appearance, Val Kilmer is not a terrible Batman. It’s just that Jim Carrey as The Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face are insufferable. Especially Carrey, who is far too cartoony for the role. I love the actor, but his version of The Riddler is a lot more Frank Gorshin than Paul Dano, which I guess is okay. It’s just not for me.
7. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
I think there’s a lot to like about Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Tom Hardy’s Bane is mostly compelling, and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is good ... in theory. The rest of the movie around them, though, which features Batman coming out of retirement to fight Bane, doesn’t do them any favors. For the end of a trilogy, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Let me explain. I really like acts one and two of this movie, but that third act is a real stinker. We get a late surprise enemy out of Marion Cotillard’s Talia al Ghul which takes away from Bane’s character. Then, we get a corny fake-out death, as well as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character cheekily being “Robin.” In the end, it’s just all ugh. That’s the best word I have for it. Ugh.
6. Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
I actually think Batfleck is much more interesting in Batman v. Superman, but again, this article isn’t about the best Batman. It’s about the best Batman movies, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League is definitely a better movie than Batman v. Superman. I can actually tolerate this one.
Batman is a changed man following the events of BvS, and he takes on the role as the leader against a villain named Steppenwolf, which is interesting, since he’s the only one who doesn’t have any powers (besides being rich). Ezra Miller still annoys me as The Flash, but the rest of the film around him is good, and Batman plays a pivotal role. It works.
5. Batman: The Movie (1966)
If you asked me who my favorite Batman was, I’d say Adam West, because I love camp. Thankfully, this movie, which also stars Burt Ward, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, and Lee Meriwether as Robin, The Penguin, The Joker, The Riddler, and Catwoman, respectively, is as campy as can be. I hope you brought your shark repellent!
The movie feels like multiple episodes of the ‘60s show patched together, and that’s a good thing. The villains want to take over the world, and Batman and Robin are going to stop them. Simple plot and simple fun. Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!
4. Batman Returns (1992)
Best Christmas movie ever? Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is not as good as the first movie, but it takes a lot of risks, surprisingly making it one of the darker Batman films. The plot follows The Penguin, played by Danny DeVito, and a businessman, played by Christopher Walken, who team up to take down the Batman. Michelle Pfeiffer accidently gets involved and becomes Catwoman. So, yeah, standard superhero stuff.
However, it’s the dark mood that really shines. The Penguin is both monstrous and yet sympathetic, and he makes a good counterpoint to Michael Keaton’s Batman. DeVito’s Penguin seems to be over the top, but there’s a subtlety to the role that is surprisingly deep. An overall great film with excellent atmosphere.
3. Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan ushered in a very different Batman than any we had seen before on the big screen. Instead of the comic-booky approaches that Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher took, Christopher Nolan settled for a more realistic approach. Batman Begins sees Bruce Wayne training in Asia under ninjas and then he becomes one himself. Christian Bale growls his way through every Batman scene, creating a new version of the character.
You know, the only thing really holding this movie back is the villain. Don’t get me wrong. Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow is fantastic. But his arc could have been better, and having Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul be the real villain felt like a cop out. It’s a great movie, but it definitely feels like a starting point.
2. Batman (1989)
Tim Burton knocked it out the park on his very first try with a superhero movie in 1989’s Batman. Michael Keaton is a lot of people’s favorite live-action version of the character, and there’s a good reason why. He plays both a convincing Bruce Wayne, as well as a convincing Batman.
Then, you have Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Nicholson’s transformation from Jack Napier to the Joker is one for the ages. He taunts Batman and looks like he’s having a great time doing it. The Joker has obviously had a lot of different interpretations over the years (including Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning performance), but Jack Nicholson’s is the closet live-action one to the comics that I can think of (other than Cesar Romero), and probably the most enjoyable. But, it isn’t the best…
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
There are those who believe that the only reason we now have 10, rather than five, possible Best Picture nominees is because The Dark Knight was snubbed for the 2009 Oscars, and I 100% buy that. The Dark Knight is one of those rare comic books movies that transcends the genre and is just a great movie overall, “comic book movie” be damned. Christopher Nolan’s crime epic features a horrifying Joker, played by Heath Ledger. His character makes Christian Bale’s Batman all the more compelling, as there is this great back and forth of ideals between them, making the conflict feel almost tangible. The Two-Face stuff could have been a bit better (or left out entirely), but you can’t always get what you want.
That said, The Dark Knight is not only the greatest Batman movie of all time, but many would say, the greatest “comic book movie” of all time, too, and it’s mostly because it takes itself seriously and it actually works. Think about this. The first Iron Man also came out in 2008. While that was definitely an enjoyable film, most would argue that none of the movies in the MCU have ever measured up to The Dark Knight. That’s how groundbreaking this film was, and still is, actually.