This Saturday, September 16th, is Batman Day 2023. That means it’s time for fans worldwide to celebrate their favorite Caped Crusader, and to rank every Batman movie from best to worst.
Batman has a long history in cinema, from the early (and bad) serials to the popular 1960s Batman television series that resulted in Batmania, turning the superhero into a pop culture icon whose merchandise generates tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue every year.
But the camp and early enthusiasm for the show faded after a couple of seasons, and by the late-1960s and early 1970s, Batman was a joke to the mainstream public and untouchable to Hollywood. If not for Michael Uslan, who bought the rights to make Batman feature films and fought hard for years to get studios to take the character seriously, we might never have seen Batman return to his former pop culture glory.
But Uslan succeeded, spawning one of the most successful franchises in history. Since 1989, Batman has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, most of them blockbusters. Combined, they’ve generated more than $5.6 billion in global box office, and billions more in overall merchandising. Some are among the most acclaimed films of the entire superhero cinematic genre, and others are considered some of the worst superhero movies of all time. Usually, however, audiences and critics tend to respond positively to Batman.
We’ve seen more than half a dozen actors take on the role in feature films — Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck, and Robert Pattinson — while yet another face will don the Batman cowl sometime in the next couple of years, when DC Studios launches its upcoming rebooted DCU featuring a new Batman and Robin team in the film The Brave and the Bold.
As always, there are rules about what qualifies for the list, Luckily, the rules are simple: to qualify, a film has to be either a solo Batman movie or, if it features other characters, it must at least center Batman as the main character or as a co-lead (as long as he has a lot of screen-time and his arc is either the main one or co-equal). This means cameos or ensembles — such as Batman’s appearance in Suicide Squad, The Flash, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, all of which are primarily about other characters or involve a large ensemble team-up — don’t qualify for this list.
So without further ado, here is my countdown of every theatrically released Batman movie, including live-action and animated feature films…
13. Batman: The Killing Joke — There’s no redeeming the first half, even though the voice cast does a marvelous job.
12. Batman & Robin — Widely considered the worst of the live-action bunch, because it is. Watch the “De-Assified” fan edit instead, it redeems the good parts.
11. Batman Returns — My appreciation for this film has grown in many regards, but it’s still problematic in too many ways to rank higher.
10. Batman (1966) — It would only take a few technical improvements for this one to rank several spots higher. It’s among the most faithful and entertaining.
9. Batman (1989) — The most important Batman film and the first of the modern era, it’s age is showing but it’s still a wonderful and impressive adaptation.
8. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm — Audiences slept on Batman’s animated big-screen debut, but make no mistake, it delivers as much dramatic punch as live-action.
7. Batman Forever: Red Book Edition — I’m cheating by ranking the fan-edit version, but it restores the filmmaker’s vision into the best of the original four films.
6. The Lego Batman Movie — Comedy and self-satire don’t diminish (and in fact enhance) a deep dive into Batman’s PTSD and his bat-family’s devotion to each other.
5. The Dark Knight Rises — The rare example of a superhero franchise giving its hero a completion of their journey and arc, told in grand operatic style.
4. Batman v Superman: The Ultimate Edition — The DC Trinity finally meet on film in this underappreciated but glorious epic tale.
3. The Dark Knight — Among the most acclaimed superhero films in history, with one of the greatest (and Oscar-winning) screen villain performances of all time.
2. Batman Begins — Batman’s origin is also his best story, and here it receives the ultimate big-screen treatment. This one just gets better with age.
1. The Batman — Everything I’ve ever wanted in a Batman movie converged with everything Batman needed on film, for a mindblowing noir detective thriller.
And there you have it, dear readers, my new ranking of all theatrically released Batman movies.
Some films tend to rise or fall on the list as time goes by, and the distance between a few of the entries is razor thing — #1 and #2 are a photo-finish, with #3 right on their heels — so it will be fun to revisit the list after The Batman – Part II and The Brave and the Bold hit theaters in the next several years.
Happy Batman Day, dear readers!