The Batman has worn many hats – and cowls. The Caped Crusader has gone gothic, delivered plenty of cheese, and has been seen brooding in the shadows in recent decades. The film franchise has made icons out of villains, laughing stocks out of costumes – Bat-Nipples, anyone? – and has cemented DC’s legendary hero as one of the industry’s most versatile box office mainstays.
But the question still remains: what is the best Batman movie? And how do the others rank by comparison? With 2022’s The Batman adding a new entry into the Bat-canon, the GamesRadar+ and Total Film teams sat down and debated the best of the best when it comes to Batman’s on-screen adventures. Batarangs were thrown and Hot Take repellents were used. Then, the end result emerged amid a cloud of BIFFs and BAMs: the definitive ranking of the best Batman movies ever made.
Before we begin, some ground rules: we’re only counting theatrical live-action Batman releases. That means The Lego Batman Movie and Mask of the Phantasm don’t make the cut, but 1966’s Batman: The Movie just about squeaks in. That also means director’s cuts – such as Zack Snyder’s three hour-plus Batman v Superman Ultimate Edition – won’t be factored into the final ranking, nor will any adventures where Batman isn’t the main focus. Sorry, Justice League and Zack Snyder’s Justice League (and Suicide Squad, which had Affleck in, remember?).
10. Batman & Robin
Batman & Robin is just preposterous. Is it a good Batman movie? No. But it’ll definitely stay with you – and if that’s not damning it with faint praise, I don’t know what is.
Batman & Robin features George Clooney in the Batsuit, taking over from Val Kilmer. You can almost see the light fade in Clooney’s eyes – along with the audience’s, it has to be said – as he’s tasked with taking down Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, who comes equipped with an ice gun and a cooler’s worth of lukewarm puns. Uma Thurman and Alicia Silverstone star as Poison Ivy and Batgirl respectively but can do little to halt the movie’s sharp decline in quality.
The 1997 release’s overly cartoonish, cheesy tone did little to endear itself to audiences – and George Clooney has repeatedly apologized in the years since. Batman & Robin is unforgettable in all the worst ways.
9. Batman Forever
Some movies age gracefully. Batman Forever isn’t one of those, yet the Joel Schumacher-helmed superhero movie is a fun relic of a lost age where summer blockbusters could be a fun two hours and nothing more.
Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones star as the Riddler and Two-Face respectively opposite a new Batman, Val Kilmer. Upon a rewatch, these three are easily the highlight of Batman Forever and it’s still great fun to see the trio’s dynamic in action. The film, however, does fizzle out in its final act as Chris O’Donnell’s Robin is reduced to a hostage and Nicole Kidman (as original character Dr. Chase Meridian) becomes a damsel in distress. And we might never forgive it for thrusting Bat-Nipples onto the world.
8. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Zack Snyder’s vision may be a little stony-faced for some, but his wild swing at introducing a new Batman – a world-weary Ben Affleck putting on the cowl this time – and adapting fragments of the seminal comic book classic The Dark Knight Returns should be applauded.
Unfortunately, the meshing of Henry Cavill’s Superman with Ben Affleck’s Caped Crusader seriously falls down by its conclusion. Heavily-memed Martha moment aside, the movie contorts itself into finding a way to have the two DC titans clash. It’s spectacle over story from the final act onwards. A shame, too, as the Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman is a better slow-burn and further fleshes out Batfleck’s methods as justice dawns upon the DCEU.
7. Batman: The Movie
This movie explodes on the screen with a POW!, and while it’s not the most serious take on the Caped Crusader (and that’s understating things), it’s just so much silly fun it’s almost impossible not to enjoy yourself. Adam West’s take on the titular crimefighter sees him battling the combined and colorful forces of the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), and even Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), while accompanied in his crime-fighting quest by Burt Ward’s Robin (holy catchphrase!). The film is a world away from the somber takes of Christian Bale and Michael Keaton – and that won’t be for everyone. But, if a bonkers good time is what you’re after, there’s really nothing better.
6. The Dark Knight Rises
By no means a bad Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises simply couldn’t live up to the impossible hype generated by its predecessor. In the wake of Batman being marked as a fugitive by GCPD, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) retreats into Wayne Manor and a new villain, Bane (Tom Hardy) stakes his claim on Gotham in hard-hitting fashion.
The Dark Knight Rises, much like Spider-Man 3 half a decade prior, is spinning too many plates and never quite settles on the story it wants to tell. An older Batman going up against the next big thing works as a concept, but is muddied by Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, Talia al Ghul, a Robin surrogate in John Blake, and Gotham falling under martial law.
Nolan certainly doesn’t lose his touch – the opening set-piece with Bane abducting a nuclear physicist in mid-air is among his best – but the movie creaks under a bumper runtime and simply too many cooks spoiling the Bat-broth.
5. Batman Returns
Forget Die Hard, Batman Returns is secretly the best Christmas movie. But ‘tis not the season for this sequel to rest on its laurels. Michael Keaton’s return as the Caped Crusader really taps into the full Tim Burton-ness of a gothic Gotham, all while delivering a solid and surprisingly dark crimefighting adventure thanks to the presence of Danny DeVito’s lecherous Penguin.
Much of Batman Returns’ success also lies squarely on the shoulders of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, bettering the 1989 original’s love story (with apologies to Vicki Vale). The movie may be bettered elsewhere as an overall package, but it really excels in balancing the OTT comic book nature of the source material with rich interpersonal relationships, all topped with a festive flourish.
4. The Batman
The Batman shouldn’t work. It’s a near three-hour detective story set in an oppressively dark Gotham and led by a Batman in Robert Pattinson who arguably lacks any real mainstream appeal as a comic book lead.
But it works – and then some. Matt Reeves carefully constructs a tightly-plotted, interwoven narrative that pulls in Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman, the murky underbelly of the Gotham underworld, and Paul Dano’s Riddler in a captivating game of bat-and-mouse.
This Riddler – a sadistic serial killer – epitomizes the movie’s strengths: a brave, daring choice that could have gone very poorly in the wrong hands. With Reeves and Dano at the helm, he is easily the most terrifying of any on-screen member of Batman’s rogues’ gallery to date. Throw in a scorching score from Michael Giacchino and pepper in outstanding performances from the likes of Colin Farrell as a slimy Penguin and you’ve got the makings of a Batman movie that, we suspect, will only be looked on more fondly as the years pass.
For more on The Batman, check out our explainers on: The Batman Easter eggs and references, The Batman ending explained, The Batman secret message you missed, whether Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker was meant to be in The Batman, The Batman post-credits explained, and when you can expect The Batman on HBO Max.
3. Batman Begins
For some, Batman Begins’ greatest achievement may be that it helped set the tone for The Dark Knight. But Christopher Nolan’s Bat-origin story is so much more than that.
Batman Begins is a much-needed course correction after a series of cheesy Batman films were strewn throughout the ‘90s. It falls on the right side of gritty while not feeling maudlin, painting Gotham as a city drained of life and hope as Christian Bale’s Batman steps out of the shadows for the first time.
Crucially, it helped breathe new life into what was already becoming a tired and worn-out tale of a stick-up, an alleyway, and a handful of clutched pearls. Nolan juggles a definitive origin story, a Batman for a new generation, and sets the stage for a classic in masterful fashion. The Dark Knight may be objectively better, but it doesn’t reach those heights without Batman Begins skilfully laying the foundations first.
2. Batman (1989)
It’s difficult to remember a time before 1989’s Batman. Sure, it wasn’t the first big superhero movie – Richard Donner’s Superman holds that honor – nor was it the first mainstream take on Batman. What director Tim Burton offered alongside Batman actor Michael Keaton, however, was a darker vision that would come to define the Caped Crusader. It stands on the shoulders of Frank Miller’s seminal Batman works of the 1980s and helps bridge the gap to the noir-heavy stylings of Batman: The Animated Series and beyond. In that sense, its influence is unmatched.
On its own merits, too, Batman is stellar. It’s a great love story tangled in a larger-than-life comic book plot as Joker looks to bring Gotham to its knees with poisonous laughing gas. Keaton is superb, both as Bruce Wayne the playboy and Batman the icon. In this performance alone – and ably backed by a grimdark Gotham and a cartoonishly brilliant Jack Nicholson – he reinvents Batman from a figure of fun into something far more complex, shaping the character for years to come.
1. The Dark Knight
A predictable top choice, but The Dark Knight was anything but a sure thing back in 2008. Having thrown down the gauntlet with Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan decided to do something that carried a little more risk: make a great movie first and a great Batman movie second. The end result? A high-octane actioner filled with political commentary, edge-of-your-seat twists and turns, and Christian Bale’s strongest Batman performance. It’s one of the best films of all time. Period.
The Dark Knight sees Christian Bale’s Batman struggle with Joker, an anarchic force of nature who kills and maims without rhyme or reason. Anchored by a stoic Alfred (Michael Caine), Batman takes on the Clown Prince of Crime. It’s a compelling relationship embellished by Heath Ledger, who delivers one of the finest singular on-screen performances this side of the millennium.
Ledger’s casting was decried as a serious misstep, yet he turns a great film into an all-timer with his instantly iconic turn. His chaotic sense of control also helped redefine the supervillain for a new generation. Thanks to Ledger, Nolan, and the rest of the creative team, Batman films might never escape the long shadow that The Dark Knight cast.
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