What’s impressive (or perhaps not) is that 14 of the 15 Batman movies covered here have been released since 1989. Our efforts to rank every Batman movie from worst to best covers most of the span of my life. Some would consider that to be an obscene amount of film devoted to a guy who dresses up as a bat and slaps criminals into oblivion with his bare hands.
True, as we go through this ranking of every Batman movie, it’s hard to completely disregard the argument that we could have probably done without at least some of these. Even though several of these movies weren’t particularly successful, Warner Bros has continued to insist we need a new set of Batman movies every handful of years. Robert Pattinson currently carries the bat-mantle, although we’re getting Batman alumni like Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton, arguably the best Batman of all time, in a movie in the near future.
With only two major exceptions, the movies ranked here had to be theatrical in origin. They also had to feature Batman in the title, or in the plot so prominently and crucially that it doesn’t really matter if his name isn’t there.
Sorry, Suicide Squad or the mainline LEGO movies.
Batman Movies Ranked
15. Justice League (2017)
Directors: Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder
After the terrible reviews levied against 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC and Warner Bros collectively crapped themselves. Instead of a massively successful film to set the stage for a Justice League blowout, they were stuck with a wildly unpopular movie that was going to get a very similar follow-up the next year.
The production process behind Justice League became very complicated as a result, and the resulting film released to theaters in 2017 fared even worse than Batman v. Superman. A lot of that can be blamed on Joss Whedon, who brought dramatic tonal changes that left Zack Snyder’s original concept in shambles. There is something to be said for consistency, even if the work itself isn’t all that great.
Justice League, a rambling piece of garbage shaped by special effects, massive cuts to the story, and utterly bizarre pockets of humor, is one of the worst comic book movies of all time. There is an interesting thread of an aging Batman inspired by Superman’s death to create a team to deal with an impending cosmic threat. It’s just buried under a mountain of crap so expansive that it might make you weep.
14. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Director: Zack Snyder
Clocking in at just a shade over 4 hours long, no one can ever say again that Zack Snyder didn’t get to make a definitive version of his bleak, boring DC Universe concept. It’s true that this massive version of Justice League, which has the same basic plot as the original release, is considerably better than the film which came out in 2017.
That’s also the kind of compliment that can only carry your movie so far.
While the film does indeed have its fans and has vindicated Snyder to a meaningful degree by showcasing a movie with considerably more potential than the previous version, the Snyder Cut of Justice League just isn’t very enjoyable. Though Ben Affleck was a better Batman than some will ever give him credit for, and while he and Snyder explore the character in a generally interesting fashion, this film as a whole is just a slog.
There’s maybe an hour of genuine interest within four seemingly endless hours.
13. Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
Director: Sam Liu
It seems strange to put one of the most famous Batman stories ever told so low on this ranking of Batman movies. Unfortunately, while the core story of 2016’s The Killing Joke has maintained its comic book source material, the film itself feels surprisingly toothless.
Though The Killing Joke in any iteration is a fascinating Joker backstory, with an intense connection to events going on in the story’s present, the movie struggles on several levels, most notably in its decision to give Barbara Gordon/Batgirl more backstory than she had in the comic. While not a bad idea in of itself, the inclusion feels clunky to people who know the material. To anyone who doesn’t, a romantic subplot between Batman and Batgirl, which also drags on for a while, is still going to feel at best awkward.
Beyond stirring, faithful animation, and the opportunity to hear Mark Hamill nail some of the best-written Joker lines ever put to page, there isn’t a lot to recommend here. Other movies have used this comic to better effect than a straight adaptation ever could.
12. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Director: Zack Snyder
Batman v. Superman specifically (and if nothing else) has some good Batman stuff — it’s just another example of those bits being suffocated by a lot of other things. Understandable, as this movie and both Justice Leagues have lots of other characters and threads to contend with. The problem is that a lot of the other characters and threads are not very enjoyable or even well-executed.
Ben Affleck has nothing to be embarrassed about on this specific occasion. An older Batman growing weary with a routine that doesn’t seem particularly effective at eliminating crime from Gotham City is a good template for a showdown with an alien who is basically Jesus Christ. A Bruce Wayne and by extension Batman searching for hope in a hopeless world is genuinely interesting, and Affleck’s scenes with Henry Cavill’s Superman are often fun or impressively dramatic.
However, that’s just about it for things to recommend for Dawn of Justice.
11. Batman and Robin (1997)
Director: Joel Schumacher
Thanks to the ever-reliable benefit of hindsight, most of us can now at least admit that the infamous 1997 bomb Batman and Robin is at least fun. It’s a testament to the fact that you can lean into something as definitively ridiculous as this film, and still go on to do darker and meaner stories with the exact same characters.
Your mileage with this whole mess will vary. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman as Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy are fun in this particular mode of acting and filmmaking, or they at least liven up a dreadful story of Alfred’s niece (Alicia Silverstone, also Batgirl) discovering that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are in fact Batman and Robin. There’s also something about Mr. Freeze’s wife and Ivy wanting to slaughter humanity to save the planet, but this movie has an attention management problem a lot of the time.
As Batman, we get a miscast-but-serviceable George Clooney and a mildly annoying Chris O’Donnell as Dick Grayson. These are all pieces of a movie that’s not irredeemable, but also perhaps goes too far into campiness.
10. Batman Forever (1995)
Director: Joel Schumacher
Batman Forever is ultimately a better realization of 90s campiness with the essential components of the Batman character than our previous entry. That doesn’t stop the movie from lacking in several areas and getting a little tiresome by the time Batman and Robin defeat Two-Face (a very entertaining Tommy Lee Jones) and The Riddler (a memorable Jim Carrey).
While the villains are known for being more interesting than Batman himself, this movie manages to overshadow Batman to its detriment. Val Kilmer’s Batman isn’t terrible by any means, but he isn’t even remotely memorable either, and the miscast Nicole Kidman as a love interest doesn’t feel very connected to the story. The movie has lots of enjoyable pieces, but it rarely feels cohesive.
The best portions of Batman Forever are often those establishing Bruce Wayne’s relationship to Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell, who also fares better here) and the evolution of Batman and Robin as a team. They also often lose momentum due to a total lack of chemistry between O’Donnell and Kilmer.
You still can’t beat the set designs or costumes, nor can you discount how much fun Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones appeared to be having together as The Riddler and Two-Face.
9. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Director: Christopher Nolan
The Dark Knight Rises more or less wraps up Christopher Nolan’s trilogy in a satisfying way. Outside of that lens, the movie doesn’t hold up very well against many other Batman movies. Tom Hardy’s Bane is good, occasionally scary fun, and this is also Christian Bale’s best turn as Batman. Watching Bane take apart Gotham City and its heroes is satisfying, but nothing in this movie ever comes close to the scale and almost-tangible power of 2008’s The Dark Knight.
It’s a movie which exists in a limbo. It makes sense to conclude Nolan’s Batman story with a third movie to make a trilogy, but it’s also hard to justify the existence of The Dark Knight Rises in the first place.
The movie may be genuinely dull in places, but most of what’s here works. The performances range from fine to surprisingly effective (Anne Hathaway as Catwoman being the latter), the cinematography by Wally Pfister is suitably epic, and Rises actually pulls off the extraordinary of actually ending a comic book movie series. There would be future films for sure, but this was it for Nolan and company, and that’s kind of beautiful these days.
8. Batman (1966)
Director: Leslie H. Martinson
What seems wild to consider now is that this was the only full-length feature Batman film for fifty years.
While once held up as an object of ridicule among 1980s edgelords and people who didn’t think the Adam West era of Batman wasn’t in on its own joke, this particular version of Batman has aged shockingly well.
Perhaps this can be attributed to a deeper appreciation for this movie continuing the show’s tradition of being a clever satire with an earnest love for the source material. The 1997 Batman and Robin is a spiritual successor for silliness but lacks actual satire or a discernible personality.
It also doesn’t hurt this movie that it features several of the best Batman villain actors of this period. Seeing Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, and Burgess Meredith play their respective bad guys with gleeful scenery-chewing suited to a big-screen version of their TV performances is just a blast.
The movie has a plot involving Batman and Robin trying to stop them from taking over the world, but who cares? Adam West’s Batman is one of the best. Burt Ward’s Robin remains enthusiastic as hell. Watching them play off some of the best actors of the era is all this movie needs.
7. Batman Begins (2005)
Director: Christopher Nolan
This is really the only movie on this list to spend a lot of time on Batman’s backstory. Batman Begins takes us back to the beginning, as the title implies. We’re going to be watching a (perhaps too) steely Christian Bale as Bruce-not-yet-Batman-Wayne for a while.
That’s fine, if not a little boring at times. Batman Begins also falters on its main villain, although no one can deny Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow isn’t perhaps the highlight of this entire film. His tone is elevated but grounded in the relative reality Nolan aspired to, and his performance better sets the pace for how this trilogy was going to play out better than anything.
Batman Begins was essential for dialing back the “damage” done by 1997’s Batman and Robin. While a little too dry and high-minded at times, Batman Begins resets this universe nicely with good performances and an exciting technical marvel of a third act.
6. The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
Director: Chris McKay
Wait, you’re screaming, why The LEGO Batman Movie and not the other LEGO movies featuring Will Arnett’s pitch-perfect Batman? Because while Batman is prominent in other LEGO movies, it’s hard to argue that most of what his character brings to those films couldn’t be filled by pretty much any other superhero.
The LEGO Batman Movie, on the other hand, is much more than just a follow-up to 2014’s The LEGO Movie. It’s a genuinely funny tribute to all things Batman, filled with references, easter eggs, and some genuinely interesting thoughts on Batman as a character. His relationships to Alfred, Robin, Barbara Gordon, and even The Joker (an interesting approach from Zach Galifianakis) are satirized nicely. This pairs well with the idea that Batman only works as a grim loner.
Of course, The LEGO Batman Movie is a whirlwind of these elements, and the actual full plot of the film is sometimes a little threadbare. These factors probably won’t ruin your fun, but it’s probably best that we’re never going to get a sequel.
5. Batman (1989)
Director: Tim Burton
We’ve arrived at the gold tier of Batman movies. Every film on this list is for one reason or another a masterpiece.
The best Batman actor of all-time will probably come down to whichever one made the biggest impression on you as a kid. Michael Keaton remains a favorite as both Bruce Wayne and Batman for many who came of age with 1989’s Batman. You don’t have to travel very far to find someone who doesn’t believe anyone has topped Tim Burton finding massive success with only his third feature.
To be clear, Burton’s success received considerable help from Danny Elfman, Prince, Michael Keaton’s perfect combination of Batman and Bruce Wayne, and Jack Nicholson as The Joker, among other things. What Burton did was bring the drive and unique energy of a weird guy who liked spooky stuff and didn’t read a lot of comic books. It shouldn’t have worked as well as it did — many, many people thought it wouldn’t.
Yet it was a hit on every imaginable front. The story is less substance than some might want to admit, but the movie remains for the most part a perfect blend of performances, editing, music, design, casting, and just enough plot and character to roll things along.
4. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Directors: Bruce Timm and Radomski
No other film on this list has grown in measure as Batman: Mask of the Phantasm has. There are even articles declaring it to be the best Batman movie to date.
The degree of perfection in which this 75-minute film covers Batman’s haunted past, his relationships with other people, the early days of The Joker, and the decline of Gotham City itself and idealism as a whole is staggering. It isn’t hard to make an argument that this film is a masterwork of Batman storytelling, with flawless performances by Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as The Joker, and Dana Delany as a woman from Bruce Wayne’s past named Andrea Beaumont.
The ambition of expansive storytelling in Phantasm is formidable, even with just 75-minutes to relay the film’s larger premise of Batman being accused of murdering aging Gotham mobsters. Furthermore, Mask of the Phantasm commits deeply to not only giving Bruce Wayne a degree of depth rarely seen in a feature-length film, but also to telling a grim story with no satisfying conclusion.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is an immaculate Batman film, as well as one of the best animated movies ever made.
3. The Dark Knight (2008)
Director: Christopher Nolan
As a summer blockbuster, massive crime drama, and breathtaking action movie, The Dark Knight can rightly be considered one of the greatest of all time, but there are some components to Christopher Nolan’s towering The Dark Knight that keep it from the top spot. This mostly concerns a flat, sometimes uninteresting Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but also extends to a bland Gotham City and a film that occasionally feels like it’s embarrassed to be about superheroes.
These are minor complaints. The Dark Knight is still an immense spectacle of good, evil, and the chaos which exists in the middle of adhering to either set of principles.
It boasts Heath Ledger as a Joker who pairs beautifully with Bale’s Batman and did more to flesh out its large cast of characters than any Batman movie before it. Performances by Gary Oldman as (soon-to-be) Commissioner Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel (played previously by Katie Holmes) go a long way towards making characters a few steps up from props in a Batman story.
Stunning practical effects, effective stakes for the body and soul of Gotham and what it stands for, and that legendary Hans Zimmer score all collectively make one of the most satisfying comic book films of the decade. The Dark Knight became a vision other filmmakers would try and fail to emulate (although Skyfall was good).
2. Batman Returns (1992)
Director: Tim Burton
One of Tim Burton’s best films, Batman Returns takes Batman as a character to the more extreme corners of Burton’s imagination. The film remains a good argument that you don’t have to be a fan of comic books or even particularly Batman to make a compelling story in this universe. Batman Returns creates its own universe altogether, yet feels more like a true Batman film than almost anything else on this list.
Returning Michael Keaton to a role he would improve upon even further for this sequel, the film is barely an action movie at times. It’s, in many ways, a gothic horror love story where everyone wears a lot of leather and even the most basic buildings look a little frightening. There’s plenty of action movie energy to be found, but those devoted wholesale to the Batman of the comic books may find this movie to be lacking in ways they find crucial.
With Michelle Phifer as Catwoman, Danny DeVito as Penguin, and Christopher Walken as a sort of wildcard in one of his most sublime villain performances, Batman Returns is incredible simply for the fact that it exists at all. The atmosphere, music, and pacing all contribute to its overall strangeness and the beauty within that. You can also highlight the supporting cast (including Paul Reubens, Vincent Schiavelli and Michael Gough as the best cinematic Alfred of them all) and general creative choices.
Everything throughout this film can still stun for repeatedly and successfully going against expectation. Yet it never fails to be something that could only exist within the framework of the Batman universe.
1. The Batman (2022)
Director: Matt Reeves
The shine of being the new Batman movie on the block notwithstanding, the critical and commercial success of The Batman is largely justified. It starts with casting Robert Pattinson as a nuanced Batman who also fits the bill of a tormented young man who needs to become a costumed vigilante to work through that stuff. The Batman also does well with Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman, Paul Dano as a decidedly different sort of Riddler, and Geoffrey Wright as the best cinematic Commissioner Gordon we’ve ever seen.
The Batman has a number of riveting action scenes, while making time for not only the evolution of Bruce Wayne as Batman in a way no other film has tackled quite this well, but also in the development of many of the personalities most closely associated with these stories. For example, we get Colin Farrell as a Penguin different from anything we’ve seen before. He’s a meaner gangster and businessman than in the comics, and he’s certainly not going to be mistaken for Danny DeVito in Batman Returns.
The movie surprises your expectations frequently, not just with its cast (Andy Serkis as Alfred stands out), but in its deconstruction of the lone figure of vengeance, and even in its surprisingly robust sense of humor. The movie never fails to be fun as it gives attention and singular style to all of these vibrant, moving parts.
None of this prevents the film from being at its heart a Batman story. To that end, it deserves to be ranked best just for the fact that it makes Batman feel fresh as a character yet again. It’s also already one of the best comic book movies of the decade.
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