Marvel has a huge leg up when it comes to comic book movies. However, DC seems to more than hold their own when it comes to films featuring the Caped Crusader. Batman’s first feature-length film was released in 1966, but the character hit true blockbuster status in the 1989 smash hit. In total, there are 10 solo films that have been released theatrically, plus two ensemble films. With a new solo movie, Matt Reeves’ The Batman being released in March, now is a perfect time to look back on the films featuring the legendary Dark Knight. Batman has several duds as a franchise, but the highs in the series are known as some of the best comic book movies.
From campy beginnings to dark and moodier atmospheres, the series has plenty of variation throughout each era. While each Batman film has something to enjoy (whether intentionally or not), only a select few can stand out above the rest. Rather than ranking all 12 films featuring the Caped Crusader, we will be ranking the best of the best. We have taken the eight highest rated Batman films on IMDb, and ranked them to decide which one does the character the most justice. Which one is the best made, technically speaking? Which one has the best action and supporting characters? Most importantly, which one takes the character of Batman and brings him to life the best? Matt Reeves’ highly anticipated The Batman hits theaters in March and is set to be epic, so this list of the best Batman movies is a great way to prepare for a fresh take on the World’s Greatest Detective.
8 Batman: The Movie (1966)
It is fitting that the first theatrical Batman movie is the first one on the list. The classic Adam West-led television series hit the small screen in January 1966, and a theatrical movie followed in July of the same year. The movie is essentially a feature-length episode, so the same campy tone is present. Modern fans think of a dark and brooding character when they think of Batman, but this version should not be overlooked. If not for its success, odds are the character would not exist the way he does today. The Batman comics had been rapidly declining in sales for years, so much so that the comic would have likely been canceled if not for Adam West reigniting the character and making him a campy pop culture icon. If not for the success of this movie and show, the character of Batman would have faded into obscurity.
What made this movie so special to fans of the show was that it featured the most popular villains in one story. Never before had more than one villain appeared in the same story, and this movie had four: Catwoman, Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler all joined forces to take on Batman and Robin. While not the best movie by any means, this movie should still be seen, and even respected. After all, this movie saved Batman.
7 The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
The Lego Movie was a surprising success. Perhaps even more surprising was the spin-off featuring Batman. The movie should have been just a way to make a quick buck from young Batman fans, but instead, the film is beloved by fans of all ages. The movie is essentially a love letter to all aspects of the character– from movies to shows, to the good and the bad, everything is touched on and explored here to some extent. Will Arnett portrays a version of the character that mocks the overly brooding tone of Batman, and some people claim he is one of the best to play him.
This movie is very much a children’s film, but it is more than enjoyable for any fan of the character. The humor is top-notch, and the countless references to Batman’s past media iterations will please even the most die-hard fans. The Lego Batman Movie may not be the most faithful version of the character, but it wasn’t supposed to be. In the dark and gritty world of post-Nolan Batman, this is a bright and charming movie that still managed to be worthy of the name. The movie was way better than it had any right to be, and this is due largely in part to the filmmakers’ love for the character.
6 The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The finale to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy left many fans split, but most agree it was a great way to end the trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises had some major shoes to fill after the success of its legendary predecessor. Tom Hardy is featured as the film’s villain Bane, in the character’s first live-action portrayal since 1997’s Batman & Robin. The polar opposite of that film’s portrayal, Nolan’s Bane is a force to be reckoned with here. He trades Heath Ledger’s chilling and terrifying Joker for a brute and imposing performance. This difference in tone is what makes this film stand out from The Dark Knight. The film takes heavy inspiration from a few of the best-regarded Batman comics of all time including Dark Knight Returns, No Man’s Land, and, of course, Knightfall. While perhaps the weakest in the trilogy, it is still an incredible film that shows what it means to be a true hero.
5 Batman Returns (1992)
When the first Tim Burton-directed movie skyrocketed the character’s popularity, a sequel was inevitable. Reception to this movie wasn’t as great as its predecessor, however. Most of the complaints were about the more disturbing elements of the film. The first Burton Batman was dark for sure, but the truth is nobody could have guessed the cultural impact the film would have. When Returns was in production, Warner knew they had a hit on their hands, so there was even heavier marketing to a younger audience with toys and other children’s merchandise.
Scenes such as Penguin biting a man’s nose into a bloody pulp or Christopher Walken being reduced to a smoking skeleton didn’t sit right with parents, and led to the film receiving some serious controversy. The final nail in the coffin was McDonald’s pulling their plug on their Happy Meals promoting the movie, which eventually led to Warner Bros. firing Tim Burton as director and moving the series to a more light-hearted approach, much to the dismay of many fans. The film has become much better received in recent years, however, with some even preferring it over the ’89 original. Michael Keaton returns as Batman, which he will do once more in this year’s The Flash, but many agree the real show-stealers here are Michele Pfeiffer as Catwoman and Danny DeVito as The Penguin.
4 Batman Begins (2005)
After the flop that was Batman & Robin, a movie featuring Batman was seen as cinematic suicide. For years various Batman movies were pitched but failed to make any headway out of fear of failure. A reboot based on the comic book Batman: Year One (and its animated adaptation) was proposed and, after James Bond’s origin movie Casino Royale was a smash hit in 2006, Warner Bros. decided to take a chance and move forward. While this was seen as a gamble at first, it more than paid off.
This movie was the first in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and shows the transition from Bruce Wayne to Batman. The movie went back to a darker tone and settled for a more realistic take on the character. Batman Begins was key in rejuvenating the comic book movie, along with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and the X-Men movies. Christian Bale plays the titular hero, and fans were almost instantly praising him as the best Batman since Keaton. This movie made Batman a force to be reckoned with once again and kicked off one of the most successful trilogies in cinematic history.
3 Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
The success of the 1989 movie led to the creation of the equally successful Batman: The Animated Series. To many, this is the best version of Batman, and it led to the introduction of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and The Joker, respectively. It seemed as if everything in the show was perfect, so a theatrical movie based on the show was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the film had everything working against it.
The movie was seen as a kid’s film because it was animated. The marketing didn’t do it any favors, as the trailers were generic and made the film look as if it was just an action-heavy cartoon for children. Warner Bros. was more focused on the live-action Batman movies, the movies which most of the fan base saw as the ‘adult’ movies. Regardless of the poor marketing and misconception, Mask of the Phantasm took everything great about the show and somehow improved on it. The film is full of heart, and shows just how tragic of a character Bruce Wayne is; there were adult themes in the movie, and the performances were top-notch. From the animation to Shirley Walker’s breathtaking score, everything about this movie is nearly perfect. When the film was released on home video, fans saw just what they were missing out on. Now, the movie is rightfully seen as one of the best Batman films of all time.
2 The Dark Knight (2008)
There is little that can be said about The Dark Knight and do it justice. This is the comic book movie that every other comic book movie is compared to, as every single nail is hit perfectly on the head in this film. The story takes inspiration from some of the greatest Batman media of all time and creates one of the most iconic iterations to ever feature the character.
Every performance is top-notch and the returning actors step their game up in a big way. The highlight of the film is Heath Ledger’s chilling portrayal as The Joker; every single actor who takes on the role will be forever compared to this performance. Many agree that this movie took everything great about Batman and threw it on the screen. There is heartbreak, tragedy, horror, and of course top-notch action. If Batman Begins made Batman popular again, The Dark Knight made him a legend once more.
1 Batman (1989)
By 1989, most people’s vision of Batman was the campy Adam West version. However, this all changed when Tim Burton unleashed this groundbreaking film. Batman features Michael Keaton in the title role. Fans of the comics hated this casting at first, as they were afraid a comedian in the role would lead to another silly portrayal instead of the darker tone the character had taken on in the comics at the time. Their minds were very quickly changed, and now Keaton is, to many, the best version of the character.
True to the hype, the movie was much darker than any other comic book TV or film had been, and helped cement this as the tone that fans think of when Batman is brought up. Also included is Jack Nicholson as The Joker in a performance that would take nearly 20 years to top. While Dark Knight may be a better film from a technical perspective, Batman tops it by one simple thing– this movie knows it is a comic book film and isn’t afraid to lean into it. Dark Knight may be a more realistic take, but Batman is a comic book come to life. This movie was key in making superhero movies so popular, and remains the one that brought them into the mainstream with massive success.
The Batman star Zoë Kravitz and director Matt Reeves will build a foundation for the character before she becomes the DC icon.
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