The sky is blue, water is wet, and everybody loves Batman. It’s a fact of life.
With a new cinematic Batman now in the works in Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson’s The Batman, we thought there would be no better time than to reflect on the Dark Knight’s big-screen adventures.
He’s had a wide variety of theatrically-released adventures going back all the way to 1966 – some of them better than others – and during that time Batman has proved to be a Hollywood constant that can bounce back from anything, be it the breaking of his back or rubber nipples. The Dark Knight’s legacy onscreen will surely continue on long past the rest of us.
Keep in mind that this list includes only feature-film, theatrical releases in which Batman is a central figure, which means the old movie serials and direct-to-DVD animated releases don’t meet the criteria, nor do movies like Suicide Squad or The LEGO Movie. But that said, read on for IGN’s ranking of the Batman movies!
Note: This is an update to our original Ranking the Batman Movies story.
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12. Justice League
In what should’ve been Warner Bros.’ answer to Disney’s enormously popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first-ever big screen meet-up of DC’s premier superhero team mostly just fizzled out, featuring a slew of problems – on and off-screen – and just too little chemistry to really crackle. That being said, Ben Affleck’s Batman gets to have a little fun in this one, a stark contrast with his turn in Dawn of Justice (more on that in a minute), bantering with Alfred and even cracking one-liners in battle.
Unfortunately, the few moments that are memorable in Justice League don’t really involve the Caped Crusader. Still, there’s something to be said for getting to see Batman take down Parademons, arguably the most delightfully “comic booky” thing an onscreen Batman has ever done.
11. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
In many ways, Batman v Superman has a direct correlation to the movie that nearly killed big-screen Batman 20 years before it, Batman & Robin. Like B&R, Dawn of Justice is a gross miscalculation of what most viewers wanted from the Dark Knight on the big screen (it received the same audience-awarded CinemaScore as the Catwoman and Green Lantern movies). Except where Joel Schumacher went with camp and bat-nipples, Zack Snyder went grimdark with a Batman out for blood.
It’s a better movie, technically speaking, than Justice League, and it does lots of things right: Wonder Woman’s introduction is fun and there are some interesting questions raised about Superman’s place in the world. Even some of the heavy-handed Justice League cameos are a blast. But for watching Batman himself, it’s a purely joyless experience that leans into the biggest problems of its predecessor Man of Steel instead of course-correcting them.
10. Batman & Robin
Joel Schumacher’s sequel that nearly destroyed the Batman movie franchise can’t be taken seriously, we can all agree. The Bat-skates, the Bat-credit card (expiration: “Forever”), Mr. Freeze’s campy ice-related one-liners, a neon Gotham City, and even shoddy cost-saving edits were just a few of the issues that plagued this disaster, and yet… it’s oddly enjoyable to watch? It’s not good by any metric, but we’d certainly be more likely to throw on Dawn of Justice over B&R on a rainy Saturday night.
Despite George Clooney being a convincing Bruce Wayne, he was unable to bring the duality that the role requires to be Batman. To be fair, the (few) scenes between a dying Alfred and Bruce are actually quite touching and would probably be remembered fondly if they existed within a different Batman movie. At least Schumacher himself has since admitted the movie was basically just a toy commercial. Respect.
9. Batman Forever
After Tim Burton left the Batman franchise following two wildly successful movies, Joel Schumacher took over, along with a new Dark Knight and a new direction. Gotham became less gothic and more like a perpetual nightclub, Val Kilmer put on the cape and cowl, and Robin was thrown in for good measure. Batman Forever is strange; in today’s Hollywood it would be considered a reboot, but back in 1995 it was expected to be the continuation of Tim Burton’s dark exploration of Gotham City and its inhabitants. We got a little of that, but mostly it was just wacky antics, new costumes, and Tommy Lee Jones doing his best Jack Nicholson impression.
At least Batman Forever is a sincere attempt to explore Bruce Wayne as a character, even if its end result is a confounding plot that involves Bruce kind of forgetting why he became the Dark Knight to begin with.
8. The Dark Knight Rises
The ridiculously anticipated finale to Christopher Nolan’s massively popular Dark Knight Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises shot for the stars with a larger scope than any Batman movie before it. While reactions were mixed to some of the choices in the movie, on a psychological level The Dark Knight Rises shows the resolve of the Bruce Wayne character on screen like never before. We get to see him do what his father had always told him he could – learn to pick himself up – and save the city he loves.
In a lot of ways, The Dark Knight Rises is more Batman Begins than it is The Dark Knight, bringing back a lot of elements from the first movie and making loads of callbacks. The Dark Knight Rises should be considered a great feat despite its shortcomings if only for being the first wildly connective Batman tale ever told on screen, working in tandem with its two predecessors to tell the story of Bruce Wayne’s time as the Dark Knight from beginning to end, while still reinforcing Nolan’s idea of Batman in the first place – to be a symbol of Gotham City, no matter who is under the mask.
7. Batman: The Movie
In the ’60s, superheroes didn’t get bigger than Batman, thanks to the runaway success of the Adam West TV show. The movie that resulted was a Rogue’s Gallery roll call that featured the Dynamic Duo running around Gotham trying to stop a dastardly plot by the likes of The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin, and Catwoman. Stopping an evil plan in the ’60s incarnation of Batman meant Shark Repellent Bat-Spray, being unable to rid oneself of a giant bomb, illogical riddle solving, and the seduction of Bruce Wayne by a disguised Catwoman.
It was campy, sure, but it was meant to be. While some die-hard Bat-fans might scoff at the idea of a silly incarnation of Batman (done on purpose, no less), the genius of the Adam West version was that it was not only a commentary on ’60s culture, but also the nature of Batman; he’s a character that’s meant to be adaptable to any story, as silly or as serious as can be.
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6. The LEGO Batman Movie
In many ways the spiritual successor to the 1960s Batman, the LEGO Movie version of the Dark Knight proved so popular that he was spun-off into his own feature film to hilarious results. The LEGO Batman Movie is a film made for fans by fans, chockfull of deep-cut Easter eggs and callbacks to other big-screen versions of Batman (not to mention a cavalcade of other pop-culture references).
Yet despite all of the goofy fun contained within its 104-minute runtime, The LEGO Batman Movie still manages to distill the character down to the reason he’s endured for over 80 years: his absolute unwillingness to give up, even in the face of seemingly unconquerable odds.
5. Batman Returns
Tim Burton’s Batman sequel took the “bigger and better” sequel mantra to heart, delivering a darker, scarier Gotham City and not one, but two iconic Batman rogues in The Penguin and Catwoman. While Batman does some… rather un-Batman like things in Returns, ultimately it’s more about the vibe and tone of the world that Burton creates.
There’s something about Gotham City at Christmas time that’s visually exciting, and Burton’s clear interest in his villains, as opposed to the titular Caped Crusader, gave us some truly memorable performances. A generation fell in love with Michelle Pfeiffer forever and realized how truly terrifying Oswald Cobblepot can be. It succeeds at showing how Batman’s rogues are a different side to the same coin as the Dark Knight, with the obvious shortcoming being that it comes at the expense of Batman himself.
This was the one that changed everything. By the time 1989 rolled around, the Superman franchise had sputtered to a halt after the abysmal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and superhero flicks weren’t getting made. But Warner Bros. took a chance on a fresh director named Tim Burton, and his visual flair and love of villains turned Batman into a pop-culture/marketing phenomenon.
The movie was darker than any superhero movie had been before, and the grittiness of the Dark Knight revival in the ’80s with comics like The Dark Knight Returns and Year One were a clear influence, leaving Bat-fans happy and memories of the campy Adam West Batman in the rear-view mirror. Jack Nicholson added star presence to the film as Joker and created the most memorable movie villain since Darth Vader debuted over a decade earlier.
3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
The beloved Batman: The Animated Series was created in the wake of Burton’s Batman, pleasing fans of all ages. The one and only animated theatrical release based on the show, Mask of the Phantasm, remains one of the Dark Knight’s most stunning big-screen adventures and a fan-favorite.
In Mask of the Phantasm, Batman is wrongfully accused of the murders of mobsters in Gotham City as a result of a creepy new vigilante that’s running around. The entire tale gets woven into Bruce’s own history, his first love, and even the origin of the Joker (taking a cue from the Burton movie with the appearance of Jack Napier). It’s a dark and gothic tale of loss, love, and tragedy. The film was a bit edgier than The Animated Series was on TV, and is still one of the most potent tales of the Dark Knight depicted on the big screen or elsewhere.
2. Batman Begins
After the Batman & Robin debacle of 1997, Warner Bros. struggled to get the Batman franchise in motion again and suffered lots of stops and starts with various scripts and filmmakers. Finally, indie darling Christopher Nolan came along and everything fell into place. Telling the Batman origin in-depth for the first time onscreen, Nolan approached the Dark Knight with a hyper-realism that made audiences forget the buffoonery of the Schumacher era and embrace Gotham City once more.
With a grand cast, endearing performances, and just enough comic book geek-out moments (that Joker card!) to make the die-hard fans swoon, Batman Begins reinvigorated the character’s cinematic standing.
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1. The Dark Knight
Following on the heels of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight quickly became one of the most hyped movies of the decade. Helped by its amazing viral marketing campaign, the sequel quickly took on legendary status as the summer’s most anticipated movie. Remarkably, it delivered beyond expectations.
Nolan’s middle chapter introduced the ultimate foil to Batman – Heath Ledger’s Joker – and depicted how the arrival of a masked vigilante affected Gotham City and its citizens. The Dark Knight is essentially Gordon’s speech about “escalation” at the end of Begins coming to fruition. Meanwhile, Bruce himself has to deal with what being Batman has forced him to sacrifice personally. It’s a well-rounded movie that takes multiple plot threads and seamlessly weaves them towards an intensely thrilling climax, resulting in what remains the ultimate big-screen Batman story.