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Ranking Big Budget Batman Movies from Horrible to Cinema Classic

6 Minute Read
Dec 21 2022
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Batman movies run from neon colors and goofy plots to modern stories in a Gotham so dark you can barely see. Let’s rank them – it’ll be fun. I promise.

10. Batman & Robin (1997)

So bad it killed the character on the big screen for nearly a decade, and George Clooney won’t let his wife watch it. It has the lowest RT scores of all of the Batman movies. Batman & Robin isn’t just a terrible Batman movie; it’s a flat-out horrible movie.

Batman & Robin takes the camp aesthetic of the 1960s TV show to new, terrible heights, and it has none of the substance-fueled fun. The movie pumps up the color and lights, the cheese ball one-liners, the cartoony, and toyetic production design. The Batmobile has 5-foot-long fins. It has bad-guy overload and an overly-stuffed story to match. It also has the worst costumes in the franchise. Look at these… they tell you all you need to know about this movie.

Note: to escape his two bonkers Batman movies, Joel Schumacher’s next project was 8mm. 

via Warner Bros.

9. Batman Forever (1995)

When Burton stepped back, Joel Schumacher (known at that point for The Lost Boys and Flatliners) stepped in. After Batman Returns, the director brought a lighter tone and look to the caped crusader. Many more bad decisions were made.

The direction and creative vision were all over the place, thanks to the massive egos of the actors involved. Val Kilmer’s Batman isn’t the worst, nor is it the best. Jim Carrey (at the height of his fame) and Tommy Lee Jones (why was he cast in a comedic role?) hated one another, which shows in all the scenes they share. Nicole Kidman’s obsessive Dr. Chase Meridian was supposed to be an accomplished psychiatrist and femme fatale but ended up being a horny sorority girl. It’s disappointing.

Mash all of this together with the bad, overstuffed story (thanks, Akiva Goldsman), and you get the second-to-worst Batman movie.

8. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

I’m not including Justice League because it’s a team-up, but Batman’s introduction to the Snyderverse counts. That’s not to say I think it’s a good movie, however. The movie has gaping plot holes, a glut of plot twists, and many moments that flat-out don’t make sense in relation to the characters. It’s too long. It’s poorly edited, and the score is mixed too loud. Also: Batman indiscriminately kills people, which I have a problem with.

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It’s not all bad. Cavill is a great Superman, and Affleck is an acceptable über moody Batman. BvS has some good moments, too – and one of the most ridiculous final fight-ending bonding moments in movies. Martha. Martha!

6. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The worst of the Nolan Batman movies, which is sad for several reasons – mainly Heath Ledger’s untimely death. With the Joker unavailable, the finale of the Dark Knight trilogy had to be changed. It’s a bit of a mess of a movie with elements that don’t quite mesh and a plot that makes less sense the more you look at it. Christian Bale’s Batman gets a really wonky arc that has him hiding from the limelight for most of the movie.

Tom Hardy’s take on Bane becomes the center of the movie with his anarchic philosophy and physical dominance. The role helped him rise out of the supporting character ranks to leading movies.

The Dark Knight Rises isn’t bad, but it should have been so much better, given what came before. It was a slow letdown after its fantastic opening sequence.

via Warner Bros.

6. Batman (1966)

Like the TV show, it’s based on Batman ’66 and is a product of its time. It’s corny, brightly colored, and has all the dumb gadgets. All of them. Adam West and Burt Ward stop a plot by villains from the show – Lee Meriwether is Catwoman, Burgess Meredith is the Penguin, Frank Gorshin is the Riddler, and Cesar Romero is the Joker. The plot makes little sense, but the performances, pop art production design, and kitsch make it a fun watch.

Most of the Batman movies on this list take at least a little from the original, and you can find its influence outside of the superhero genre.

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via 20th Century Fox

5. Batman Begins (2005)

The return of Batman to the screen after the disastrous Batman & Robin ditched the cartoony elements and aimed for realism (as much as you can with a billionaire hero that dresses like a bat). Batman Begins provides an origin story for the mythos that goes beyond Bruce’s parents’ death and introduces a new, lesser-known villain.

The movie provides a new solid beginning with a great actor under the cowl – Christian Bale is the perfect Batman for this trilogy. It looks back to the comics and creates something new for the screen that isn’t a joke.

via Warner Bros.

4. Batman Returns (1992)

The more gothic and grotesque of Tim Burton’s two Batman movies, Batman Returns has amazing production design that sits right between comics and the real world. Michael Keaton returns as Batman and is up against Danny De Vito as Penguin, Michelle Pfieffer as Catwoman, and Christopher Walken as an industrialist out to ruin Gotham.

The villains really make this movie, and the three are balanced well. Instead of a short-statured mob boss with a weird laugh, the Penguin is a mutant (complete with webbed fingers), followed by a gaggle of penguins wearing rocket launchers. Catwoman mixes funny quips with gymnastics, feline habits, and sex appeal. Everyone is weird here. Everyone.

It’s darker than 1989’s Batman but also more mischievous, daring, and adult.

via Warner Bros.

3. The Dark Knight (2008)

There’s a lot in the middle of the Dark Knight trilogy – Batman is fighting corruption in the GPD and dealing with the mob, and that’s before the Joker’s lawless actions start and Harvey Dent’s fall. Christopher Nolan manages to make most of it work. The Dark Knight has much of what the other Batman movies don’t – and an Oscar-caliber creative team. Richard King’s sound design and Wally Pfister’s cinematography are just as much a part of this as the actors.

This movie wouldn’t be nearly as good without Heath Ledger’s Joker. He created one of the all-time best villains in film. Period. Without him and that incredible car chase (I’d argue the truck chase is the best in the last fifteen years and hasn’t been topped), it would be farther back on the list, especially with its anti-climatic ending.

2. The Batman (2022)

Matt Reeves returns the character to his roots in this year’s The Batman. It’s the most grounded on this list and has the most solid connection to the comics (and Batman’s humanity). This movie remembers the long-lost word in Batman’s movie lexicon: detective. It’s not just one tech-filled action scene to the next, there’s a crime to be solved and criminals to be caught.

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Our The Batman review has more detail.

via Warner Bros.

1. The Best of the Batman Movies: Batman (1989)

Batman returned to the screen after a twenty-three-year hiatus in Tim Burton’s Batman. It was unlike any superhero movie before it – it wasn’t afraid to go dark, scary, and gothic. While it didn’t carry an R rating, it definitely wasn’t made for kids.

It’s been over 30 years since its release, and it still stands up as a classic that all other Batman movies are in the shadow of. Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top Joker was the perfect foe for Michael Keaton’s first time out in the cowl (his subtle change from Bruce and Bats is excellent). The set design, Danny Elfman’s music (that theme!), and Stan Winston’s groundbreaking creative make-up and creature effects made it stand out.

I saw Batman for the first time in the theater in ’89 and fell for it. It will always be my favorite of the live-action movies.

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