Ranking Batman’s Movie Gothams Based on Liveability
When The Batman hit cinemas on March 4th, it brought with it the latest big screen depiction of the Dark Knight’s hometown, Gotham City. Initially modelled on New York City when it debuted in the comics back in 1940, Gotham soon developed into its own distinct locale – something cinematic interpretations of the Batman mythos have leaned into in the decades since. Each new entry in the Bat-franchise has showcased a different side of Gotham, with the one constant uniting these often wildly dissimilar metropolises being their shared – and downright staggering – crime rates.
When it comes to rating which movie’s Gotham City is their favourite, fans usually cite the one they feel has the greatest atmosphere, most distinctive skyline or strongest storytelling potential. These are all worthwhile things to consider, however, rarely is the question asked, “Which of these Gothams would be the best to actually live in?” So, with this in mind, we’ve ranked every version of Gotham to appear in a feature film (sorry, 1940s serials) based on how liveable they would be.
9. The Batman’s Gotham
The most recent big screen iteration of Gotham also turns out to be the worst to live in. For starters, violent gangs roam the streets, while use of a highly addictive new drug called “Drops” goes largely unchecked. Then there are the city’s reprehensible public institutions, which are arguably more corrupt than those of any other version of Gotham on this list. Not only are city hall and the police department in cahoots with the biggest crime boss in town, but they also created a slush fund from cash originally allocated to an orphanage.
As if all of this isn’t bad enough, by the time the credits roll The Batman’s Gotham is still partially submerged, after the city’s (justifiably) militant underclasses engineered a flood of Biblical proportions. This, plus the existence of at least three heavyweight supervillains – The Riddler, The Penguin and The Joker – and it’s pretty obvious that things in this joint are going to get far worse before they get better. They could be giving houses away in this version of Gotham and we’d still advise against moving there.
8. Batman and Batman Returns’ Gotham
If this list were based on first impressions alone, the Gotham of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns would have ranked even lower. The very first scene set on this version of the Caped Crusader’s home turf comes complete with a violent mugging and things only go downhill from there.
True, the city’s elected officials and police department are at least trying to tackle organised crime (bent copper Lieutenant Eckhart notwithstanding), but well-meaning souls like Commissioner Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent would be lost without Batman’s help. There’s also this Gotham’s nightmarish town planning to contend with, which is great for those who love the aesthetic of every ugly architectural style in history mashed together – but not so great for everyone else.
Admittedly, Gotham has turned a corner by the time Batman Returns rolls around. Batman and the police have largely cleaned up the streets and the city’s architecture – while still gothic and oppressive – is decidedly less bleak. That said, white-collar crime remains a big problem, with one of the city’s biggest corporate benefactors, Max Schreck, secretly responsible for a string of crimes and felonies. Schreck also comes this close to installing the Penguin as Gotham’s new mayor, despite the pint-sized supervillain waging a campaign of terror that culminates in easily the most traumatic Christmas tree-lighting ceremony of all time.
But if you really want an idea of just how fundamentally broken the Gotham of Batman and Batman Returns truly is, look no further than the city’s abandoned zoo. Not only did the facility’s marine life exhibit apparently connect directly to Gotham’s sewer system, but when the zoo was closed, the staff apparently left the penguins behind to fend for themselves.
7. Joker’s Gotham
Joker director Todd Phillips has admitted to basing his take on Gotham on his experiences growing up in New York City in the 1980s – and it shows. Gotham in this movie is essentially a direct stand-in for the Big Apple at the time, something reflected in the city’s soaring crime rate, widespread wealth inequality, and badly underfunded social care programmes. Yet for all these problems, Joker’s Gotham is, like its real-life inspiration, essentially a city plagued by mundane problems. Sure, living there sucks – but at least there are no supervillains to worry about, right?
Wrong. By the time Joker’s third act arrives, mentally ill would-be comedian Arthur Fleck has completed his metamorphosis into Gotham’s first-ever themed criminal, sending the entire city into a downward spiral soon after. We’re talking violent citywide riots by this reality’s militant version of the Occupy movement, which escalate to the point that prominent citizens like Thomas and Martha Wayne are gunned down in the street. So, we wouldn’t recommend going apartment hunting in this version of Gotham city.
6. The DC Extended Universe’s Gotham
Although Gotham appears in six of the DC Extended Universe movies, most of what we know about the city comes from only one of these DCEU entries, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). That film doesn’t exactly sell the DCEU’s Gotham as a place to settle down, with its depiction of ongoing gangland warfare between the likes of Black Mask and the Bertinelli Crime Family. This Gotham is also (you guessed it) rife with institutional corruption, and Suicide Squad establishes it as home to supervillains such as Joker, Killer Croc, Deadshot, with its antiheroes like Harley Quinn and Huntress who aren’t much better.
So why does this version of Gotham rank so highly on this list? Two words: city break. Unlike other Gotham variants, the one in the DCEU is located just across the bay from its far more respectable sister city Metropolis. The upshot of this is that whenever you get fed up with Gotham, you’re only an hour or so away from a relaxing weekend vacation in the so-called City of Tomorrow. That’s provided Metropolis’ resident superhero Superman isn’t engaged in a skyscraper-toppling superpowered slugfest at the time, of course.
5. The Dark Knight Trilogy’s Gotham
The Gotham City patrolled by Christian Bale’s Batman is a city of extremes. Despite suffering from the level of crime and institutional corruption you’d expect, it’s essentially a high-functioning capital on par with the likes of New York City or Chicago – on its good days, that is. Because when things go wrong in the Gotham of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Rises, they really go wrong. Think mass breakouts from the local institution for the criminally insane, hallucinogen-fuelled riots, firefights between copycat vigilante groups and the underworld, and killing sprees organised by a murderous clown.
Heck, even after Jim Gordon manages to break up organised crime in the city using his new – and frankly draconian – law enforcement powers, this version of Gotham only prospers for a meagre eight years. After that, beefy terrorist Bane and his League of Shadows goons show up looking to revenge themselves on Batman, swiftly taking control of the city. Before you know it, Gotham is ruled by Bane’s twisted martial law, with unlucky residents routinely sentenced to death marches across the not-quite-frozen Gotham River.
Oh, and there’s also a makeshift thermonuclear bomb hidden somewhere in the city limits that’s steadily counting down to zero – so, yeah, try not to be in town when that happens.
4. The Lego Batman Movie’s Gotham
Let’s address the elephant in the room here: The Lego Batman Movie’s Gotham is made entirely from colourful plastic bricks and designed for tiny plastic people. As such, it’s technically the least inhabitable city on this list, simply because no human could ever live there. Assuming for a moment that this wasn’t actually an issue – and if there are any Lego people reading this, we apologise for any offense caused – then this micro-metropolis would be a great place to buy a home.
Not only is it squeaky clean and vibrant, but its police department is so upstanding that new commissioner Barbara Gordon briefly considers phasing out Batman’s vigilante shenanigans. Yet what really sets The Lego Batman Movie’s version of Gotham apart from its full-sized counterparts is how it functions as a gateway to the wider Lego multiverse. This city’s citizens have easy access to places like fantasy realm Middle Zealand or the American frontier-inspired Old West – and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’s Gotham
The plus side of the Gotham showcased in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is that it’s an art deco wonderland that blends the best of retro architecture and couture with contemporary technology. Those who live beneath the city’s blimp-strewn skies also thrive under the protection of arguably the most psychologically well-adjusted Batman in any adaptation, as well as a (mostly) competent and corruption-free police force.
Now, let’s look at the downside: if you set up shop in Mask of the Phantasm’s Gotham, chances are you will die. A wide array of very motivated and very capable supervillains lives here, not to mention a seemingly endless supply of mobsters with an equally endless supply of Tommy gun ammunition at their disposal. Despite it all, this animated Gotham variant boasts a killer social scene (literally), so thrill-seekers looking for nightlife with a bit of edge should call their estate agent today.
2. Batman Forever and Batman & Robin’s Gotham
In theory, the Gotham City that appears in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin is the same place where Batman and Batman Returns is set. Let’s be real, though: aside from a few superficial similarities – and the continued presence of Michael Gough’s Alfred – these are clearly two very different cities.
It’s a good thing, too, because the Gotham that appears in these much-maligned late 90s Bat-flicks happens to be the second-most liveable city on this list. The neon-drenched, campy vibe that permeates the whole urban environment may have irritated audiences weaned on the earlier Burton films, but this same fever dream quality makes for a more attractive city. Even the architecture is nicer, with its outrageous elements – skyscraper-sized human sculptures, for instance – integrated in a markedly less overbearing fashion.
Then there’s this Gotham’s crime and corruption, which Batman and Robin seem to have largely under control, outside of the occasional flare-up in supervillain activity. Indeed, other than when the likes of Two-Face or Mister Freeze come a-calling, all residents have to worry about is easily spotted (and even more easily spooked) glow-in-the-dark street gangs and illegal drag racing. That aside, this Gotham is a place where lavish charity fundraisers, high-flying circus acts, and world-class observatories are the norm. When can we move in?
1. Batman (1966)’s Gotham
Forget New York – the Gotham seen in the 1966 Batman movie is clearly an alternate universe version of Los Angeles (a practicality of the film’s shooting locations). So immediately, we’ve got a big screen Gotham which boasts sunny weather all year round, and – as the Batman/Joker surfing competition in the associated TV series illustrates – even offers beachfront real estate.
But what really sets this Gotham above the rest is how crime manifests in the city. While the Bat-villains in the movie and TV series aren’t above the odd spot of murder, a lot of their wrongdoing essentially amounts to large-scale nuisance crimes (like planting a gigantic umbrella on the sidewalk) or elaborately-themed capers (like hatching a dinosaur egg).
This leaves the average Gothamite in the clear since they’re simply too mundane to register on the radar of Catwoman, Egghead or one of Batman’s other flamboyant rogues. The upshot? They can sit back and enjoy the free street art installations and wacky news headlines. If we then toss in the occasional run-in with the city’s cheerful Dynamic Duo – who aren’t above a bit of polite banter while scaling the sides of buildings – this Gotham quickly becomes worth living in for the free entertainment value alone.
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