The Caped Crusader. The World’s Greatest Detective. The Dark Knight. The Batman. The world has been neck deep in love for Batman, making him arguably the most popular hero in comicdom. Although, that wasn’t always the case. There was an ebb and flow for a long time.
There was a peak in the 60s with his super popular TV show that was broader than comic fans. But then that drifted away as he went back to the niche market at the time. Then he came back to the popular consciousness with the late 80s 1-2 punch of Frank Millers work on The Dark Knight Returns/Year One and the 1989 release of Tim Burton’s truly iconic Batman.
Since then? Nonstop Batman, reaching an absolute fever pitch with Christopher Nolan’s work in the mid to late 2000s with The Dark Knight Trilogy. Prior to Wonder Womans massive success, WB was really leaning on Batman’s massive popularity to bolster the then struggling DCEU being set up.
With announced Nightwing, Gotham City Sirens, and Batgirl entries in addition to Matt Reeves’ The Batman, we’re not gonna have a shortage of the Bat on the big screen for a long time. So while we wait for the November release of Justice League, the next time we’ll see the Bat, let’s take a look back on his cinematic excursions thus far and give them the definitive ranking. Well, definitive until the requisite comment on this article that says I’m a doofus or some such nonsense. Let’s go!
11. Batman Forever (1995)
This is truly the only movie Batman has been in that can be considered boring. It’s stuck in this weird little limbo, trying to be a Burton Batman movie and Joel Schumachers version. It never really reaches an apex for either version, becoming this boring little stew that is just limp and obnoxious.
Boring being Val Kilmer’s sleepwalking in a nippled bat suit and Chris O’Donnell playing the oldest ward history has ever seen, with a little dash of a gorgeous but nothing else Nicole Kidman as the love interest. Obnoxious being pretty much everything else.
Jim Carrey’s first cinematic scream for help, a warning plea to the world that he is a damaged soul that just constantly needs attention and will derail a movie if he has to and a sign to the world that he wasn’t gonna be bulletproof forever. Tommy Lee Jones, a man who very rarely sanctions buffoonery, is acting as if his contract stipulated a paycheck that gets bigger and bigger equally to his performances’ decibel level.
The plot itself is just a weird mish mash of nothing happening, with The Riddler coming to be because Bruce Wayne doesn’t give him enough respect and Two-Face just happening to be around. So Batman is thrown into this situation, that isn’t actually an issue until the third act, for no reason other than wounded pride. Which could be interesting if the movie did anything with it, but it doesn’t. The action isn’t even on a level that can be enjoyed.
All of this is bad enough, but the truly monumental sin is that the movie cures Batman. Yeah, that’s right. Batman is cured, finally getting over the death of his parents. So he is ready to quit, until he’s brought back after a raid on the mansion. But then he stays Batman, but is also over it. Just a stunning, fundamental misunderstanding of the character.
10. Batman and Robin (1997)
Long considered the worst movie in the Bat bunch, there is some fun to be had here. It’s not a boring movie at the very least. There’s some interesting elements that could have been special, but aren’t executed very well. Like the storyline with Alfred’s mortality. It could have been something really cool to do. Just that execution is lacking.
But the attempt is there and helps elevate it above Batman Forever. The biggest issue is that Schumacher isn’t the guy for these kinds of movies, incapable of utilizing the big screen for comic book cinema. He’s also not the guy who should be in charge of Batman, as he obviously isn’t much too keen on the character. There’s no passion to the movie, just the madcap insanity of man in too deep in a world he doesn’t know.
Some fans of the movie like to argue that it is a big screen redo of the 60s tv model, going for camp as a direct rebuttal to the success of Burtons darker work. Which would be fine, except the movie doesn’t reach that shows delirious heights. It doesn’t feel earned, like the movie is off the rails whereas the show did exactly what it was trying to do.
The acting isn’t much better than it was in the last entry, Clooney not doing anything to justify his replacement of Kilmer. O’Donnell is still around for some damn reason. The new love interest is Elle McPherson, although you wouldn’t be wrong for not remembering that since she’s not a great actress and doesn’t make much of an impression in her 3 minutes of screen time.
What is more successful and helps tone the obnoxiousness levels down a good deal is Arnold Scwarzenneger and Uma Thurman. They know exactly what movie they’re in and are having a blast. This is not a good movie. Gotta get that out of the way. But it’s a fun movie, especially in group, and it was luckily so bad that we were able to get the Nolan movies out of it.
9. Batman (1989)
The movie that helped to start it all. A big ole piece of marketing perfection, selling a movie based on it’s logo that dominated the country in 1989. The bat logo was on everything and it was everywhere. The movie itself, at the time, didn’t disappoint. It was one of the biggest movies ever at the time, a true phenomenon. It put a little life into the comic book movie market, which was still in it’s infancy at the time, after the colossal collapse of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.
Slowly but surely, it paved the way for Blade and X-Men, which then helped birth the world we are in now. But with a little hindsight, it is not a very good movie. It’s not bad, far from awful. But it really does not hold up well at all. The biggest issue that causes these problems are a very bad script, one that has no cohesion at all.
There’s no drama, no propulsion from one scene to the next. It’s a collection of moments that culminate in a moment that feels really unearned and reliant on a twist that completely hinders Bruce Wayne’s tragedy, turning it into a world narrowing crutch for the narrative.
Another big problem is partly on Burton and partly on the time/budget. The action scenes are bland. They can’t do much because the suit is not built very well and the budget doesn’t allow for much more than anything other than badly choreographed fist fights in the suit. A problem that is also kind of a positive?
Jack Nicholson, not even close to playing The Joker but is an absolute delight to watch anyway. He’s here to chew up all the scenery in a role that would more accurately be considered Jack in face paint. It’s a performance that becomes the only thing the movie is interested in, letting nothing else breathe.
It’s a crutch for the weak script, especially when you realize there’s nothing to the Jokers story. He just does stuff, and not in the chaotic way Heath Ledgers would attack things. No, it’s just underwritten chaos for no other reason than the script says so. Which is a shame that he takes so much away from the movie, as Michael Keaton is an interesting Batman/Bruce Wayne.
He wouldn’t really get a chance to shine until Batman Returns. He’s interesting because it’s a different way for Bruce to be portrayed, as a barely controlled maniac instead of the highly intelligent detective/ninja he’s usually portrayed as. Kim Basinger is fine? She doesn’t have much to do, other than be a kind of audience surrogate.
The biggest strength of this movie has to be the production design by Anton Furst, a truly beautiful work of art that catches the eye. Credit also has to go to Burton for managing to make something worth watching with all the issues he had to deal with. Not a great movie, no. But one that is definitely watchable and very important to cinema.
8. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
One of the most anticipated sequels of all time, following up the landmark The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan delivers his first true disappointment of his career. Not to say that this is a bad movie. It really isn’t. There’s a lot to like in here. But it doesn’t even come close to living up the Batman Begins, let alone The Dark Knight. Maybe the hype had something to do with it? Possible, but doubtful, since there are way too many storytelling flaws to really make a legitimate case for its superiority.
For a movie as long as it is, there feels like way too much story is missing here. For the most interesting aspect of the narrative isn’t there, that being the time that Gotham is under Banes thumb. It could have been really fascinating to see the city fall like that, in a way much more severe than the case of chaos that The Joker delivers in The Dark Knight.
Then there’s the issue of Bruce Wayne himself and the narrative arc that he is given. Bruce going into hiding/retiring after the events of the last movie isn’t a problem on its face. The real issue comes with the reasoning and execution of the idea. It’s implied that Bruce retired because of the death of Rachel Dawes, not that the government instituted a law that severely dampens crime or that he is a fugitive. It’s a weird arc for him to take, especially with much juicier ways to take that arc. And while Bane himself is a great character with some great moments that delivers quite well on the thematic front, there’s some issues within this narrative too.
Mainly one of too much convenience that borders on insulting, especially within a series that has typically gone to great lengths to show how everything works. Add in the ending twist that just lands with a thud, Talia Al Ghuls introduction is silly and her farewell is even worse. Maybe the biggest problem is Joseph Gordon Levitt, having to portray a character that doesn’t work at all.
The movie tries to set it up that he could be the next Gotham vigilante, but it rushes through it to the point that the ending feels more conceptual than logistical. Yet, despite these flaws, the movie works pretty well as an action vehicle. The big scope of the thing works in it’s favor, as does the typically stellar visuals.
Anne Hathaway just kills it as Catwoman. And the third act, while involving some narrative flubs, contains some of the most fist pumping moments of pure cinematic ecstasy in Nolan’s career. Flawed on some surprising levels, considering the pedigree, but it works.
7. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
The biggest hot take in this article? Possibly. Even hotter? Ben Affleck is probably the best live action version of Batman we have seen thus far. While this movie may have taken its fair share of beatings (some of it earned), the movie is far from a dumpster fire it is made out to be and contains some of the best Batman material we’ve seen. The movie is quite large and is spread between the two titular heroes, focusing on Batman seems correct.
What this movie does is something quite ingenious, a relative to something being done in the comics currently. For decades, Batman has been defined by the darkness imbued into him by Frank Miller. What this movie presupposes is, what if that’s a bad thing? A man so driven by rage and obsession would only get worse as he gets older, right? Especially in a world we he feels like he’s constantly losing his war against crime, seeing supervillains rise up with ease to keep the fight going and seeing his allies either die or become villains themselves.
It’s a real interesting thematic choice to follow, essentially making Batman the bad guy of the narrative. To make a movie that is structured around a fight between these two titans, it stands to reason that there needs to be some excuse for them to fight. A misunderstanding that is brushed aside quickly would be the easy choice to make.
But to follow this thread, allowing Superman to obviously stay in the right during the bout, is a stroke of genius. And by having the DCEU exist as one where most of the heroes have existed before the events of Man of Steel, it allows Batman to have an arc going forward built into a preexisting history that doesn’t need to be dealt with.
Much like the movies and the world of the movies, Batman is starting dark but moving towards the light. Ben portrays it perfectly too, the rage just simmering at all times. But you get a sense of his intellect and detective skills, while also getting the sense that he does kind of enjoy being Batman/Bruce Wayne. Or at least, he did in his past and the enjoyment is few and far between these days. Not to mention the best on screen portrayal of Batmans skills as a fighter in the amazing Warehouse brawl, this is a pretty complete package for Batman.
Bonus points for Batman barely taking part in the final fight with Doomsday, just having to dodge some lasers a few times as he’s essentially worthless in this fight, a brief flit of humor that works thematically. Justice League should keep this thread going, as the idea of building a team in and of itself is growth for Batman towards shedding his loner skin yet again.
Then there’s The Batman that is being helmed by Matt Reeves, a visionary blockbuster director that is smart enough to see where the Bat has to go. Ignore the cries of misery from some. The future is quite bright for Batman.