Unless you spend your time in a cave with flying nocturnal animals, you’re probably aware there’s a new Batman movie in theatres this week. Matt Reeves’ The Batman is the first live-action Batman solo film in a decade, if you can believe it. Of course, Ben Affleck played the role in a few other films in between, and Lego Batman got his own movie in that time too. Still, there’s just something bigger and more resonant about a solo Batman movie and The Batman is certainly both of those things.
But where does it stand in comparison with the other films? That’s what follows in our Batman ranking post. We’ve pitted all 13 feature-length, theatrical films starring Batman against each other. So no direct-to-video films, no cameos, etc. Nevertheless, what’s last? What’s first? Click through and find out.
13. Batman and Robin
Was this ever in doubt? Joel Schumacher’s second Batman movie might be colourful to look at with villains no other film has dared touch to date, but it’s beyond silly. And not in that “Oh, everyone is in on the joke” kind of way. It’s more the “Either no one is taking this seriously” or “Everything is taking this WAY too seriously” way.
12. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
The biggest problem with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is everything that’s after the word “Batman.” It’s the first time Ben Affleck is playing Batman and he has to juggle a story with Superman while also fighting Superman, bringing in Wonder Woman, and teeing up an entire universe. There’s just so, so much going on that you rarely care. And don’t get us started on the “v.”
11. Justice League
For our money, Justice League is a better Batman movie than Batman v Superman. He’s the main character, he brings everyone together, we see him as a fully formed leader. Unfortunately, the movie itself is wildly uneven and just doesn’t work but it’s the better Batman movie, for sure.
Also, we should mention, since this list is theatrical releases, we used the original version of the film and not the Snyder Cut. The Snyder Cut is vastly superior in every way and jumps up the list at least three to four spots.
10. The Dark Knight Rises
If The Dark Knight Rises stood alone, it would be a better movie. Unfortunately, though, it came after Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. It’s the Godfather Part III of the trilogy. The lacklustre third act that’s OK, has its moments, but ultimately just doesn’t enrich or satisfy like the other films that came before it.
9. Batman Forever
Batman Forever gets the slight edge over the other third film in a Bat Trilogy because of two names: Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones. Few actors were bigger when Batman Forever was released (including co-stars Nicole Kidman and Val Kilmer) so to see the pair hamming it up when Joel Schumacher still had the tiniest bit of restraint was fun. Plus ”Kiss From a Rose” by Seal? Perfect.
8. The Lego Batman Movie
One of the many great things about Batman is how malleable the character is. He works in super serious ways as well as super campy, self-aware ways, and the next two entries on this list showcase that. Case in point: The Lego Batman Movie, which has a lot of fun with its place in Bat-history. In fact, it probably has too much fun, which undercuts some of the film’s more emotional throughlines and ultimately hurts it a bit. Plus, it falls a little lower on the list simply because there are truly a lot of great Batman movies.
7. The Batman
From one end of the spectrum to the other. While Lego Batman is the character at his most irreverent, Matt Reeves’ new film is Batman at his most grounded. There’s nothing about this version of the character you don’t believe. The story is realistic and really digs into its comic book roots, too. However, we feel it’s missing a little bit of the superhero swagger other film versions have, so it’s ranked here.
6. Batman: The Movie
Recently celebrating its 55th anniversary, Batman: The Movie is a hell of a ride. It’s silly but also serious. Dumb but also interesting. Plut, it remains the only Batman movie to have all four of the biggest Bat-villains together at once. Modern audiences might find it campy as hell, but generations of Bat-fans found the character through this iteration.
5. Batman Returns
After Jack Nicholson’s Joker, it seemed impossible for director Tim Burton to find actors to create villains nearly as iconic. And yet, with Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and Danny De Vito’s Penguin, he did just that. He also dove deeper into the psyche and character of Batman while telling a story as dark and rousing as the original.
4. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
While one generation of Bat-fans found the character through the old TV show, another found it through a different small-screen project: Batman: The Animated Series. And like Batman: The Movie, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is basically the crown jewel of the entire endeavour, bringing together all of the pathos and excitement of the TV show into an epic big-screen adaptation.
3. Batman Begins
History has shown that each Batman franchise starts on its own terms. A key is to have your own distinct tone and feel. Christopher Nolan’s version decided to press the rewind button and spend more time on the origin, digging deeper into the hows and whys of Batman. As a result, with raised emotional stakes, the resulting film became that much more rousing and exciting. The final scene of this film is my favourite Batman scene ever seen on screen: “I never said thank you.” “And you’ll never have to.”
Much of this list is about how Batman straddles the line between serious and camp. Tim Burton is the person who got that just right. Parts of 1989’s Batman are ridiculous. Parts are downright exhilarating. The combination of the two, as well as the perfect two-hander between Joker and Batman, makes this a near-perfect Hollywood blockbuster. (Plus it has, by far, the best poster.)
1. The Dark Knight
Again, was this ever in doubt? Coming off the excellence of Batman Begins, and with all of that character development in his pocket, Christopher Nolan hit that impossible bullseye of huge, rousing excitement and deep thematic storytelling. Of course Heath Ledger’s performance is the highlight but everything about The Dark Knight has come to showcase not just what a Batman movie can be, but what movies, in general, can be.