We are now approaching two weeks since Matt Reeves’ The Batman debuted in theaters, and people have been scrambling to update their Batman movie lists. It’s always exciting to revisit the caped crusader’s countless adventures, whether you rewatch them on a regular or yearly basis. I have always found it important to re-explore films to gain a new perspective that you might have missed.
There is never a bad time to talk about the world’s greatest detective, and I’m excited that I get to share my list with my fellow comic book nerds. Batman is one of my favorite heroes of all time, and it has been a joy to rewatch these films in a celebratory fashion. I might be a little late to this party bus, but I am here to list the best live-action Batman films from best to worst. Please be aware that this article will only contain listings of the live-action Batman films I have seen.
Batman & Robin (1997)
Growing up, this was a movie that I used to watch repeatedly. It is a film that is a product of its time, and to this day is not held in high regard. I always enjoyed how cheesy and goofy the dialogue can be. The film is supposed to give off a more heroic side of Batman as he takes down Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman). But unfortunately, that’s not who Batman is. On my current rewatch, it felt as if the script was written for a Superman movie. However, if you can look past the film’s obvious flaws, Batman & Robin is still a fun time and it knows exactly what it wants to be: a kooky, nutty story made for kids.
I might be in the minority on this, but Batman ’89 has never worked for me as a film. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Bruce/Batman, and I cannot discredit Jack Nicholson’s interpretation of the Joker. Both actors had amazing chemistry and it reflects well on screen, and Tim Burton’s direction and vision of Gotham is top-notch. But I think the film’s biggest flaw is its story. Outside of Batman, The Joker, and Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), the rest of the cast is pretty forgettable. This was supposed to be the start of Tim Burton’s grand Batman universe and knowing how it ends is disappointing.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
This movie showed all the potential in the world. I adore how this story goes full circle with Bruce’s relationship with Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and adding Bane (Tom Hardy) and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) into the mix was a nice touch but it could have been done better. It’s difficult to follow up on the level of excitement when it comes to the closing of this trilogy, and adding Talia al Ghul (Marion Cotillard) felt forced and unneeded. I felt like this film would have done better if they focused on building a better relationship between Batman and Bane. With that being said, It’s the weakest out of the Dark Knight Trilogy.
Batman Forever (1995)
Much like Batman & Robin, this film is geared more towards a younger audience. After the backlash that Batman Returns received for being too dark of a story for children, Batman Forever was born. I must admit this is a tried and true Batman film. Val Kilmer was a killer Bruce Wayne, and his Batman was a welcome element as well. The story is a perfect blend of what being Batman is all about, with adding a few laughs along the way. You could tell that The Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) were having the time of their lives playing these iconic villains. Even though the casting of Robin (Chris O’Donnell) was a bit questionable due to the age of Robin in the film, it’s the perfect popcorn Batman movie we deserved and then some.
Batman Returns (1992)
Tim Burton’s sequel is perhaps the best 90s Batman movie we received during the decade. On my rewatch of this film, I can understand how children were turned off by the idea of a grittier Batman. As I mentioned before, Tim Burton did a phenomenal job with the aesthetic of Gotham and, in this film, it shines. I also forgot how much adult humor was baked into this script. I found myself in awe of the dialogue between The Penguin (Danny Devito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). What makes a good superhero story is a villain, and they both played their parts so well. You can empathize with both characters on so many levels and at times you almost forget that they are the antagonists of the film because of the performances they deliver. It’s a shame that we never got another film with Michael Keaton, but it looks like that might be changing shortly.
For the longest time, I’ve viewed this film as the Godfather of live-action Batman films. At the time, it set a new standard for what comic book movies could be. We have seen multiple films in this genre reach higher heights than we, as movie fans, ever thought possible. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is engraved into the minds of fans, alongside Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman). Even though I adore this film, it has always felt more of a Joker story than it does a Batman movie. Yes, Batman is in the film, but the villains and side characters of the movie overshadow the fact that this is supposed to be the climax of Bruce’s journey as the Dark Knight. This movie will always be remembered by Batman fans as one of the greats.
Batman Begins (2005)
“Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” These are the wise words of Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne. This line is delivered simply, but leaves a lasting effect on anyone that may hear it. It serves as a motto for this film, and the result of the message reflected in the man that Bruce Wayne eventually becomes. This entry is the only film in the dark knight trilogy that doesn’t feel like a Christopher Nolan movie, and I adore it for that reason. We get to witness a 30-year-old Bruce Wayne wrestle with the demons of his soul as he tries to gain clarity in how to honor his late parents by becoming the one symbol that struck fear into his heart. Comic book origin stories have evolved into a more introductory format in recent years, and I consider Batman Begins to be a heavy influencer on superhero origins.
This might come as a shock, but I assure you I’ve had a generous amount of time to mull this film over as I have seen it on multiple occasions. The Batman isn’t just another entry in a trilogy or a multi-directed Batman starring three Bruce Wayne’s. It’s a love letter to fans who have waited decades for a faithful adaptation of Batman. This film leans in on the investigative side of Batman. After all, he is the world’s greatest detective and director Matt Reeves did an excellent job of bringing the film noir side of the Dark Knight to life. His use of Nirvana’s song “Something in the Way” is a perfect metaphor for Batman’s psyche and the city of Gotham feels like a character in the story. This truly is the best ensemble cast for a Batman film I have ever seen. I could ramble over Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Jeffery Wright, and Paul Dano’s performances for hours, and I have high expectations that we’ll receive a sequel to this new variant of the caped crusader.