It has already been a month since DC's Blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released and became a memorable chapter in the history of Batman on screen. Thus, I thought now was the perfect time to look back through Batman's live-action films and decide which one really is the best.
Before I begin, I just want to inform you that my decisions are based on a number of things: how much I enjoyed them, critic reviews and how well they were received by the general public. I took all that into account and did my utmost to come up with a list that highlights the worth of each and every one of these films. NOTE: I am not including the 1943 and 1949 serials, as they are not films (even though they are both legendary and I really enjoyed the 1949 one!)
#9. Batman & Robin (1997)
Batman & Robin has become notorious for its neon lights, over the top performances and the almighty BatNipples. It was as if a pantomime had come to life on the big screen. Although Schumacher's previous outing had received mixed reviews, it still pleased a large portion of Batfans. However, Batman & Robin seemingly forgot about any good aspects of the previous film and instead gave audiences a campy extravanganza of explosions and ice puns. The film's central story (Mr Freeze's arc) was based on the same storyline created by the iconic Batman: The Animated Series. However, the film completely missed the thematic depth of the story and somehow managed to turn a dramatic, powerful story into a tongue-in-cheek pun-fest.
This is definitely the most negatively received film on the list, among both fans and critics. On a personal note, I grew up with the film so a part of me will always find the film comedically enjoyable. On the plus side, Arnold Schwarzenegger is on fire as Mr. Freeze (when he should have been on ice - see what I did there?!)! But when it comes to storytelling, especially with Mr. Freeze, stick to Batman: The Animated Series.
#8 Batman: The Movie (1966)
Batman was also a colorful exravaganza of explosions and puns - the only difference is that it worked in 1966 and was executed masterfully. The cast and crew of the 1966 TV Series took their shot at the big screen and boy, did they deliver. In a fun, action-packed and enjoyable outing, Batman: The Movie took everything that made the TV Series so successful and multiplied it! Adam West and Burt Ward just thrived as Batman and Robin and the selection of rogues really gel well together. Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin excelled as they reprised their iconic roles from the series and Lee Meriwether did a fantastic job, replacing Julie Newmar as Catwoman.
Critically, the film received overwhelming praise and holds an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes! Personally, I adored this film (and series) as a child and still enjoy watching it to this day (it looks amazing on Blu-Ray!). I have nothing but love and respect for everything that Batman 1966 is.
#7 Batman Forever (1995)
Arguably the most underrated film on the list, Batman Forever was Joel Schumacher's first entry in the Batman franchise. Yes, it also featured neon lights and over the top visuals but, unlike its successor, it actually had a really mature storyline and quite a lot of character development. Furthermore, it had some strong performances, particularly Val Kilmer's portrayal of Batman/Bruce Wayne and Jim Carrey was electric as the Riddler.
Critically, Batman Forever received mixed reviews. Some people liked it and some people didn't. Personally, I loved the film - yes, it wasn't an edgy dark epic, like the films that came before it or after it, but it never tried to be. It is an entertaining comic book film that always brings a smile to my face.
#6 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
This film was the tricky one. There was much to love and much not to. After years of anticipation, Batman v Superman was a grim, dark, heavy spectacle that saw the two greatest heroes clash on the big screen. I must admit, the film spent far too long trying to set up the Justice League films than focusing on the great story it had. Furthermore, I felt that the first half of the film was very disjointed. However, its saving grace was its powerhouse performances from Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot as Batman and Wonder Woman. Moreover, the film's second half was incredible. The two iconic battles were simply phenomenal.
Critically, it's the second most negatively received film on the list. Personally, I found this film to be an enigma. Part of me really didn't want to put this grim spectacle above enjoyable films like Batman Forever or Batman: The Movie (1966) but the other part of me that was really impressed with the second half of the film, and more importantly, Ben Affleck was what helped me decide on this film's placement. Affleck has the potential to be the greatest Batman ever, but this film didn't give him the platform to show that - I'm sure that 2018's The Batman will.
#5 Batman Begins
The film that reinvigorated the Batman franchise, Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins earned its spot in the top 5 Batman films. The film was like a Batman graphic novel come to life. And as Batfans, we couldn't ask for anything more than that. An incredibly well-written, mature and compelling storyline that verges on realism, Batman Begins (unlike its successors) manages to maintain the Gothic element of the comic books. Christian Bale showcased exactly why he should be considered as one of the two best live-action Batmen and was arguably at his best in this. His raspy voice was far more organic here than in the two sequels. Strong performances helped steer Batman into a new direction...a direction that we would all benefit from in a big way.
The film was received positively. Personally, I loved it and, dare I say, might have even enjoyed it more than The Dark Knight. There's just something about Batman Begins that keeps us all coming back. If you want to hear more of my thoughts on Batman Begins, click here.
#4 The Dark Knight
A movie that completely redefined everything about superhero movies, The Dark Knight broke records, won awards and spawned a new wave of 'realisitic' superhero films. The film quickly picked up from its predecessor; however, it shedded all the comic-like ties, becoming a more realistic film. What followed was a stunning piece of film-making, rife with flawless performances, strong storytelling and cleverly executed action scenes. Batman had never fought a more grave battle because he had never fought a more formidable foe. The late, great Heath Ledger was captivating as the Joker. More of an anarchist than ever before, the Joker wanted to destroy Gotham City's soul...and came very close to doing so. Ledger's organic, charismatic and at times, terrifying performance rightfully earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and still remains the only time a superhero film received a nomination for acting. The film raises questions and makes definitive points, none more poignant than: "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain".
The Dark Knight received universal acclaim and has re-shaped beliefs about what the superhero movie genre can achieve. Personally, I absolutely loved it and agree that it's probably the best written Batman film. This will most likely be in everyone's Top 2, but there were 3 Batman films I personally enjoyed just a little bit more.
#3 The Dark Knight Rises
The final chapter in Nolan's trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises was a grim narrative that focused on Bruce's last stand to save his city from Bane. Definitely the biggest scale film of Nolan's, it borrowed elements from Miller's The Dark Knight Returns comic. Batman's returns throughout the film nerver failed to give me goosebumps each time and the film itself was a visual spectacle. Bale, Hardy and Hathaway manage to stand out in an amazing ensemble cast that the film benefits from a great deal. An epic story of holding out hope for heroes.
The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Personally, it's my favorite of Nolan's three films. Yes, I'm aware of the fact that it isn't as coherent as The Dark Knight and that it is rife with plotholes, but neither of those take away from the viewing experience. I love a good return and this film is full of them. This was a fitting ending to a phenomenal film trilogy.
#2 Batman Returns
Everything about Batman Returns was golden. The cast was stellar, the story was strong and man, those sets were visually stunning! Tim Burton's gothic sequel ventured deeper into darkness than it's predecessor. Furthermore, it gave us a narrative full of depth, focusing on the villain of the story long before it was considered "cool". In a cast of remarkable actors, it's hard to stand out, but Danny DeVito absolutely stole the show as the Penguin. Daring to change the mould, Burton's Penguin wasn't like the one from the comics (a mob-boss) and instead, was a deformed individual, living in the sewer. In fact, Batman: The Animated Series actually borrowed this design for its iteration of the Penguin. Michelle Pfeiffer also stole the show as the sheepish-turned-dangerous Catwoman. Both of these incarantions remain the best adaptations of the characters to this day. Like something straight from the pages of a twisted, fantastical, nightmarish comic, Batman Returns is quite simply a work of art.
Critically, the film was praised, although criticised by some for being "too dark" (this was before dark superheroes were cool). Personally, I think this remains one of the greatest Batman stories ever told. It was such a mature, emotional and gothic piece that taught us that comic book films don't have to be kid-friendly. A lesson that DC would learn from greatly in the years that followed.
#1 Batman (1989)
The film responsible for reinvigorating the Dark Knight, Batman put superhero films on the map and broke records while doing it! A brilliantly styled noir-like mob film, Batman focused on the rise of the Joker as the urban legend of the "Bat" began to spread. However, once the Joker infested Gotham with toxins, Batman had to come out of the shadows and stop him. A film that transcended the decade it was produced, Batman was a step in the right direction for the hero and once again shrouded Batman in darkness. Powerhouse performances from Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson anchor the film and the gothic city backdrop is just the perfect setting for these two icons to clash. A rivalry that becomes personal, Batman and the Joker are caught in a struggle that culminates with a phenomenal ending. That final act is just too amazing. And Danny Elfman's score complemented the haunting film perfectly. Batman is quite simply, a masterpiece!
The film was received positively and has left behind an amazing legacy, inspiring modern superhero films and even Batman: the Animated Series. I have nothing but love and respect for Batman and am incredibly proud to call it my favorite Batman film. Like I said, it's a masterpiece!
To read more of my thoughts on Batman, click here.
Thus, we conclude my list. I know you may feel differently about the films. Feel free to let me know which one you enjoyed most by voting below! :) Thanks for reading!