With the release of The Batman, I thought it would be a great time to rank every live action movie in the franchise with a few Justice League, animated, and villain stories thrown in for good measure. I’m super curious to hear what other people think and how they would swap these movies around in their own lists so feel free to let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to get back to you!
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead for every Batman movie except for The Batman.
16. Justice League (2017)
I really really didn’t like Joss Whedon’s Justice League. It feels like one of the most soulless, cobbled together messes of a comic book movie I’ve ever seen. My biggest issue with the 2017 Justice League is how boring and by-the-numbers the movie is. I’d rather have a spectacular disaster of a film (a few of those in a bit) than a bland cash grab that is seemingly made to just check boxes. It’s the only movie on this list that I’ve only seen once and have no intention to go back to especially after seeing its far superior do-over (more on that later).
15. Batman & Robin (1997)
Now we have what most people consider to be the worst Batman movie ever made. Personally, over time I’ve actually grown to enjoy this movie for its flaws. Yes, the plot is incredibly contrived and every character makes the dumbest decisions, but I can’t help but appreciate the neon soaked, Jackson Pollock painting that consumes this version of Gotham City and its inhabitants. From the looks of it, this could have been a decent movie, but massive studio meddling and corporate mandates to dumb it down and add more set pieces to sell toys ruined any chance the film itself had at success. Who knows, Warner Bros could have made a ton off of merchandise so it might have paid off. Still, the movie is garbage, but a drunk me would be down to watch this with friends in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way for the ice puns alone.
14. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
While it’s not the worst thing in the world, BvS feels like it is missing large sections to its complicated puzzle. However, while the base story is kind of terrible and makes no sense in the context of this movie, the filmmaking and camerawork on display is actually incredible at times. It often falls to prey to some of Zack Snyder’s indulgences (like slow motion visual effects shots and what appears to be some kind of god fetish), but those same indulgences sometimes make the film soar. Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck are both incredible as Superman and Batman, and Gal Gadot makes for an amazing Wonder Woman. The film asks some great moral questions, but fails to set up these questions due to a lack of believable motivations for its central cast of characters. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor in particular makes for a terrible villain and doesn’t feel like an actual threat for Superman. All in all, this theatrical release was a massive letdown, but it seems like this was another case of studio meddling and way too much left on the cutting room floor in order to have a shorter runtime.
13. Batman: The Movie (1966)
This movie harkens back to a much simpler time in comic book movies, one in which none of them existed. For that alone, I have to give Batman: The Movie credit. The shark repellant scene represents the campiest the caped crusader has ever gotten, but in the context of the movie it actually makes sense. This is a golden age kid friendly Batman that used his own type of 007-esque gadgets and had two seasons worth of comic book Zap!, Bam!, and Kapow! bubbles permeating nearly every action scene so of course the guy has special Batman themed shark repellant. Batman and Robin actually work together fairly well in the film and defeat a whole rogues gallery of villains, which is something that big budget superhero movies often fail to do today. Sure, the plot is really corny, but the movie actually accomplishes its goals.
12. Batman Forever (1995)
I personally like this movie a lot more than most purely because of Jim Carrey’s maniacal performance as The Riddler. While it’s not as good as the prior Tim Burton films, director Joel Schumacher actually does a great job creating his own Gotham City even with studio mandates saying his film should have a lighter tone than Burton’s Batman Returns (more on that later). Val Kilmer is an underrated Batman and portrays a darker, quieter Bruce Wayne. The Riddler actually forces Batman to come to terms with his own fears, something that all great stories featured the caped crusader do. While it was critically panned on launch, I think through time Batman Forever will be seen more fondly.
11. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition (2016)
While the theatrically released version of the movie was disappointing, this director’s cut of BvS shines slightly brighter by letting the film breathe for slightly longer and providing some much needed motivation and backstory for its main antagonist. It suffers from the same big plot issues as the original as the third act featuring Doomsday is entirely intact and the titular heroes still end their fighting due to their mothers having the same name, but Lex Luthor appears a little smarter in this version and Superman has a bit more of a reason to view Batman as a villain.
10. Joker (2019)
Yes, this is technically not a Batman movie, but as a later movie on this list points out, Joker and Batman are two sides of the same coin. And yeah, at that point why not add Suicide Squad into the list? Honestly, I just kind of felt like adding this would be like an extra thing just to see where it stands in the list. I don’t think Joker is particularly original even despite its positives since it practically steals from Martin Scorcesse’s The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. However, in a vacuum, the film sends a powerful message to everyone about how a lack of compassion in this world can twist someone vulnerable into becoming a monster. Joaquin Phoenix is transcendent as Arthur Fleck, and his performance is undoubtedly going to go down in history as one of the best lead performances of the 2010’s. I cannot deny his brilliant performance, but I just can’t help but be constantly reminded of far better and more influential films that clearly inspired this one.
9. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
If this was a spoken video, I’d probably just mumble the whole paragraph in my best Bane impression. Instead I’m going to tell you that I actually like this movie. I know it’s arguably the most controversial film on this list with half the people saying it’s a disaster and the other half saying it’s a misunderstood masterpiece. I’m somewhere in the middle where I absolutely love the filmmaking on display from the cinematography to the amazing set pieces, but the third act plot for me is a bit too twisty. Maybe I didn’t get it, but still my gut reaction was “Wow! Wow?”
8. Batman (1989)
I know most people reading this article probably grew up on the Tim Burton Batman duology, and many view him as the best version of the character. I think Michael Keaton is an incredible actor and does an amazing job in the role, diving into the crazier and unpredictable side of Bruce Wayne. However, it’s Jack Nicholson’s Joker who soars as a maniacal gangster who is responsible for Batman’s existence in a way. The film is a little dated by today’s standards (kind of like the first 1978 Richard Donner Superman is) just because we get so many of these comic book movies these days that it’s hard to see something new. However, for the time I imagine this film was a revelation and sparked a whole new generation of superhero enthusiasts. Also, Danny Elfman’s score is just iconic to the point where I think anyone would recognize it today.
7. The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
I have a real soft spot for this movie because of how unapologetically fun it is. It pokes holes in every other iteration of Batman and is a great inclusion in a movie series marathon especially after Batman v Superman. Will Arnett’s Batman was the best aspect of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s The Lego Movie, and he doesn’t overstay his welcome in this solo film because every other character gets their own spotlight. I especially love the dynamic between Batman and Joker in this film as well as Batman’s relationship to Robin in this. No one ever gets Robin right in live action or they’re too scared to try because it seems so silly, but The Lego Batman Movie revels in silliness.
6. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
This is director Zack Snyder’s magnum opus. You can tell every decision in this movie was a director’s singular vision, and whether or not I liked it, I have to acknowledge the importance of artistic freedom. The film feels like a culmination of everything Snyder worked, uncompromised by studio interference and you can tell. It’s four hours of comic book goodness, and I loved about three hours of it. While film is sort of a mixed bag, it’s such a massive bag that the highs are some of the best superhero moments in the entire genre. Just from a filmmaking standpoint, if you want to see what editing too much can do your film, check this out and compare it with the original 2017 Justice League. After years of build-up from some pretty loud fans on Twitter, I think Zack Snyder’s Justice League actually lived up to the hype.
5. Batman Returns (1992)
This movie genuinely haunted my nightmares for years when I was a kid. I watched this before seeing the 1989 Batman because I think it was on TV one day, and I was instantly captivated by Danny Devito’s Penguin. This was one of the movies that actually got me into comics. I never thought much about the film apart from The Penguin at the time, but rewatching this one, I was absolutely captivated by Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance as Catwoman. I honestly think that if that came out today, there would be a significant push for her to get nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. Sadly, many considered this film way too violent to sell toys, and we didn’t get a continuation of Tim Burton’s story. A much darker, much more gothic, and scarier film than its predecessor, Batman Returns represented a significant departure from comic book films at the time and opened the floodgates for different and more adult oriented films of the genre.
4. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
This was one I hadn’t seen until a little before watching The Batman and I was so surprised by how good it was. This is a deeply personal tale about what Bruce Wayne had to give up to be Batman, and the entire film feels like a four issue comic series. This Bruce Wayne has been fine with his sacrifices for years until a flame from his past returns to Gotham, and he realizes the life he could have had. This is way more somber than I expected, but Batman still has to solve a sprawling mystery with a new villain, The Phantasm. This is also the type of movie that studios won’t financially back in live action, but Bruce Timm (coming off the heels of Batman: The Animated Series) utilizes his iconic style of animation to its fullest, delivering one of the best Batman stories to date.
3. Batman Begins (2005)
Many Batman movies focus on the villains because they tend to be super flashy, but this film focuses on Bruce Wayne instead. As origin stories go, this is about as good as they come since we go from witnessing the origin of Bruce’s fears to seeing him utilize those fears as a symbol. Throughout the film, Bruce has his morals tested, and I especially love this one scene where Bruce talks to Carmine Falcone, who breaks Bruce’s ego in a few sentences despite being a horrible villain who preys on Gotham’s citizens and perpetuates the cycle of violence that killed Bruce’s parents. Christian Bale is fantastic as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, and his relationship with mentor Ra’s Al Ghul (played by Liam Neeson no less) is a standout in the film. As time went on, I think more and more people are starting to view this as the best in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. It did so much right, but I just loved these next two a bit more.
2. The Batman (2022)
I was pretty skeptical of this new take on Batman, but after finally watching it, I believe it to be one of the best superhero movies I’ve ever seen. Robert Pattinson just is Batman, and Paul Dano’s Riddler is one of the scariest comic book villains we’ve seen. The film is a masterclass in visual storytelling. Every shot was like a painting, and I loved so much how they portray Batman as this silent creature of the night. Where Batman Begins focused on Bruce Wayne, The Batman focuses squarely on, well, the Batman. His piercing eyes and the way his footsteps sound make him feel much more mythical than he is. The drenched streets of Gotham paint this beautiful nightmare filled with countless stories beyond what we see in the film. Within these streets, Batman earns the title of The World’s Greatest Detective as he solves a sprawling mystery regarding the history of a city he loves. More importantly, Bruce Wayne has an incredible arc in the film, turning from a monster hellbent on vengeance to a guardian who can work with the people and become a beacon of hope to inspire good. For a good bit I was considering putting this at #1, but I just had to go with my gut feeling and place…
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
… as the best Batman movie to ever release. I recently rewatched this in preparation of the new movie and was still after all this time blown away by how many delicate plot threads the film expertly handles. Christian Bale was at the time the best Bruce Wayne and Batman (only to be outdone by Pattinson a decade later in my opinion), and Heath Ledger redefined The Joker for the modern era and is still regarded by many to have given one of the greatest performances of all time. Throughout the film, every character is pushed to their moral limits and almost all fail, even Batman, but he ultimately endures and overcomes his obstacles. There are two scenes specially and Everything crescendos into one of the best final acts of the superhero genre where all of director Christopher Nolan’s moving chess pieces are in completely different spots from where they began, and all of them are compromised in some way. The Dark Knight is widely regarded as Nolan’s masterpiece and changed not only superhero films, but also cinema forever.
So what did you think about this list? What’s your favorite Batman movie? Please feel free to let me know in the comments 🙂