You know who Batman is. Even if you’ve never seen a film in your life and only pick up comic books to swat flies with, you know who Batman is. The Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader and the world’s greatest detective has been a cornerstone of pop culture for a lifetime, his visage reappearing every handful of years to invade every medium there is. Moviemakers have been lifting DC’s joint greatest superhero off the page since 1943, resulting in 15 flicks that span at least five social generations. Ranking such an enormous filmography was no easy task but, to point you in the direction of the best Batman blockbusters, it was well worth it.
15. Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)
Assassinating the credibility of DC’s two biggest heroes and second-most iconic supervillain in less than three hours is a herculean feat, but Zack Snyder proved up to it with this Man Of Steel sequel. Lex Luthor’s scheme to get Batman and Superman at each other’s throats would have disintegrated had the pair had one conversation, and what ultimately gets them on the same page – their mums both being called Martha – could be the cheapest plot point in cinema. Meanwhile, “the world’s greatest detective” gets up close with both Superman and Clark Kent and can’t put two and two together, while journalist extraordinaire Clark has to be told who billionaire socialite Bruce Wayne is. Even with all that, it’s Jesse Eisenberg that wins the award for BVS’s most annoying element. That’s how teeth-grating his performance is.
14. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
That’s right: the Snyder Cut is worse than 'Josstice League'. Zack Snyder’s “original vision” for Justice League is a humourless vacuum of wit that sucks for four hours. It’s oppressively boring, incessant in its droll colour scheme, juvenile dialogue and atrocious effects. Jared Leto (AKA the worst Joker in history) comes back and wastes his cameo by cackling and offering to give his nemesis a reacharound. Then Batman says 'Fuck' and threatens murder in the most childish attempt at bravado. Worse than all of that, though, is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League sits on a throne of lies. Despite being marketed as the classic cut nobody saw, $70 million was spent to film all-new scenes, and there are still a plethora of outtakes. Long story short: this is a hideous con captured on celluloid.
13. Justice League (2017)
The 2017 Justice League outdoes Zack Snyder’s retry purely on virtue of more vibrant effects, a halved runtime and actually making Superman a beacon of hope for the first time in three films. That said, it’s still a clusterfuck. How could it not be? Warner Bros rushed it to rival the MCU, then clashed with Snyder’s ideas after Batman V Superman enjoyed the kind of reception usually reserved for serial killers. When the director’s daughter died suddenly, Joss Whedon came in (allegations of abusive behaviour on set would soon follow). The resulting film is a Diet Avengers hodgepodge addled with a villain as characterful as wallpaper paste and an onslaught of irritating quips. The most entertaining part is staring at the alien CGI used to mask Henry Cavill’s moustache during reshoots.
12. Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
The Killing Joke may be hailed as the greatest Batman comic of all time, but its feature-length adaptation is dead on arrival. Director Sam Liu adds a prologue to both pad the runtime and develop Batgirl into somebody more than “that woman the Joker paralyses”, but all we get is sexist characterisation depicting her as incapable and too emotional for her own good. Plus, her love scene with Batman remains massively misguided. The film also depicts the Joker’s origins and Commissioner Gordon’s torture to near-insanity, so, when it ends with Batman simply roughing up the Crown Prince Of Crime and possibly murdering him offscreen, it’s such an anticlimax. Add in animation that can’t lace the boots of the 1988 source material’s aesthetic and you have a downgrade in every sense.
11. Batman Forever (1995)
Although Batman Returns perfected Tim Burton’s brand of weird goth shit, its box office takings disappointed Warner Bros. So, the studio nudged Burton into a producer role while Joel Schumacher took the helm and plotted a more family-friendly course. It was a lucrative move. However, Batman Forever is a boring watch, even with Jim Carrey acting hammier than a sow for most of it. Director Schumacher and new star Val Kilmer sapped the darkness from the hero’s soul, leaving behind a stone-faced shell, and the threat of the Riddler using TV to suck bank details from people’s brains is Saturday morning cartoon calibre. And the less said about the lines Nicole Kidman was forced to say, the better. Batman’s endured darker nights than this, but there’s nothing worth seeing either.
10. Batman: The Movie (1966)
Batman’s first big-screen adventure (not counting those 1940s serials) couldn’t be further from the bleak noir comics from which he emerged. Batman: The Movie is a feature-length spinoff of the ’60s TV show starring Adam West and Burt Ward, and aims to lampoon contemporary pop culture, as well as the Cold War. Unfortunately, in the 2020s, its jibes are out-of-date and its action sequences drag. At least the scene depicting Batman trying to lob a bomb only to be stopped by cavalcades of nuns, ducks and schoolchildren remains hilarious, while Cesar Romero is clearly relishing the role of a lifetime as The Joker. But beyond that, despite seemingly being a candidate for a cheesy laugh, this will bore your tights off. For a ride so camp it’s side-splitting, try Batman & Robin instead.
9. Batman & Robin (1997)
After Batman Forever plucked the grit out of Warner Bros’ initial series but still made bank, director Joel Schumacher decided to double down for its follow-up. Batman & Robin embraces the kind of camp the franchise hadn’t seen since the 1960s, reintegrating puns and neon colours. It also makes other, even loonier choices, like giving Batman’s suit nipples. As a result, it’s frequently and rightfully lambasted as among the worst films ever made. Watch this as a comedy, though, and it’s a 10/10. The overacting (courtesy especially of Arnold Schwarzenegger), wince-inducing writing and cardboard effects all make this prime “so bad it’s good” material. Is it well made? Fuck no. In fact, everything done here represents the opposite of what the Dark Knight should be. But – holy box office bomb, Batman! – is it entertaining from start to finish.
8. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The finale of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy makes a plethora of ludicrous choices. Unable to bring The Joker back, the director instead created Batman Begins 2, resurrecting the League Of Shadows with Bane as its leader. Tom Hardy gives the burly mercenary an intimidating and charismatic presence, yet the film’s opening 90 minutes sideline him – as well as Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon and Michael Caine’s Alfred – in favour of countless side characters discussing stocks and shares. Once the action starts proper, the plotholes are the most aggressive thing in the film (how did Batman escape a Middle Eastern desert with zero equipment?). Mercifully, the best Catwoman to date, majestic cinematography and a desperately deserved happy ending prevent this saga from finishing on a completely bum note. And that plane scene at the beginning…wow!
7. The Batman (2022)
Everything was stacked against The Batman. It languished in development hell after writer/director/producer/star Ben Affleck pulled out, then post-production delays caused by the pandemic escalated anticipation to monolithic levels. Plus it marked the second Batman recasting in a decade. However, the blockbuster excelled with cinema’s most complete-feeling Gotham to date (the Penguin, Catwoman and Carmine Falcone all form its underworld), an enigmatic turn from Robert Pattinson and an emo aesthetic that indulged Gen Z nostalgia. The only con of My Chemical Batmance is its bloated runtime, which side-steps the core plot for an hour to dissect the Waynes’ grubby past. Nevertheless, this proved a much-needed reinvention after the Snyderverse’s sacrilege, and reaped the kind of box office and goodwill the Caped Crusader hadn’t seen in years.
6. Batman Returns (1992)
After Batman smashed the box office and shifted more toys than Father Christmas, Returns forayed into a direction nobody anticipated – nor necessarily wanted. Tim Burton’s followup is unendingly bleak, depicting the abandonment of a baby and exacerbated violence in the first ten minutes alone. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is a living-dead seductress and Danny Devito’s Penguin is as odious as he is physically repulsive. However, if you can stomach the nihilism, you’ll be spoiled by flawless performances – ranging from Michael Keaton’s quiet intensity to the reliably off-kilter Christopher Walken – and the actualisation of Tim Burton’s twisted, German Expressionist-esque imagery. Returns unsurprisingly alienated family filmgoers, and even got McDonalds and their child-friendly tie-in gifts in hot water, so Warner Bros terminated the Burton/Keaton Batman era almost immediately after.
5. Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993)
Thanks to Batman Returns coming out just 18 months prior and its 2D animation making many dismiss it as kids’ stuff, Mask Of The Phantasm bombed upon release on Christmas Day 1993. However, it’s among Batman’s best cinematic forays. The Defender Of Gotham must this time stop the Phantasm: a rival vigilante killing off crime bosses one by one. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne’s ex-girlfriend returns and the two rekindle their relationship. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and The Joker respectively from the critically acclaimed 90s animated series, continuing their compelling chemistry. The animation’s gorgeous, and Bruce Wayne’s guilt over falling in love and actually liking life for a change is masterful drama. The “mystery” of the murderer’s identity is stupidly obvious but, bar that, this is a hidden gem begging to become a classic.
4. The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
2014’s Lego Movie has no right being as good as it is. It takes what could have easily been a cash-in and makes it a heartwarming testament to creativity, not to mention a sly parody of Lego’s own corporate structure. After the acclaim, financial success and Will Arnett exceeding all expectations as a brick-built Batman, it only made sense to give the cowl-donning minifigure his own picture. The Lego Batman Movie inherits the same spirit as its predecessor, reusing the lightspeed, quasi-stop-motion animation technique and witty writing. For grown-ups, likening Batman and Joker’s dynamic to a relationship is a masterstroke, while children can heed the moral of trusting your friends and accepting help from them when it’s offered.
3. Batman (1989)
What do you get when you cross the director and star of Beetlejuice with a hero last adapted 23 years ago as a camp buffoon? You get Batman: a blockbuster that stunned the world when it actually turned out to be good. Tim Burton’s gothic vision proved perfect for the crime-drenched city of Gotham, while the normally comedic Michael Keaton is superbly cast as Bruce Wayne – because no one could actually imagine him being Batman. However, it’s Jack Nicholson’s Joker that gets the lion’s share of screen time here, transforming from a petty gangster to DC’s most unpredictable baddie. Some incoherent dialogue (see Bruce’s “Let’s get nuts!” monologue) is the only aspect that dampens what was otherwise a long-craved dose of cinematic credibility for the world’s greatest detective.
2. Batman Begins (2005)
Despite the pantheon of Batman films released before the 2000s, none dared to fully portray Bruce Wayne’s metamorphosis into his alter ego. Christopher Nolan sought to change that when Warner Bros hired him in 2003 to direct a reboot. What resulted was far more than a return to the character’s black roots: it’s now considered his quintessential origin story. That gruff voice may have launched a thousand memes, but Christian Bale masterfully portrays both playboy Bruce Wayne and the vengeful vigilante. Liam Neeson, Michael Caine and an against-type Gary Oldman accentuate the A-list gravitas, with Nolan’s philosophical writing treating the Dark Knight more seriously than any adaptation had before. A worldwide gross of $371 million led to the rapid green-lighting of a sequel, which would somehow outdo its revolutionary predecessor…
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight isn’t just the best Batman film. Countless list it as one of the best movies ever made. Director Christopher Nolan and his all-star cast return for this Batman Begins sequel, but it’s newcomer Heath Ledger that this time steals the show as The Joker. The unhinged portrayal and incalculable scheme – crafted solely to test the limits of the incorruptible protagonist – are so addictive that they could fill a five-film franchise and still compel. Tragically, Ledger’s death robbed us of more, leaving behind one perfect performance to immortalise him. More underrated in his role is Aaron Eckhart, whose Harvey Dent breaks heart as he tumbles from idealistic DA to the vindictive Two-Face. A combination of the best directing, writing, Batman and Joker that the franchise has ever seen in live action, The Dark Knight is the apex of superhero filmmaking.