Everyone loves Batman. He is at the heart of DC Comics and remains one of the most frequently adapted superheroes on record. It’s no surprise we’ve seen the Dark Knight on the big screen (in live-action form) four times in the last eleven years. After all, when the lucky few actors and directors are selected to make a Batman movie, they are essentially handed a pot of gold. These are ingredients we’ve all come to know and love. More importantly, they are ingredients that are very, very hard to mess up (though this has been done on several occasions).
Whether it’s Tim Burton or Bruce Timm at the helm, or Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, audiences are always hungry to see Batman portrayed in fresh and exciting ways. The tales of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, the Batman, are like our favorite bedtime stories that we want to hear again and again. Today, we select the choicest cuts from the Caped Crusader’s big-screen heritage.
From 1966 to 2016, here are Batman’s Best Movie Moments, Ranked.
15. Can’t Get Rid of a Bomb – Batman 1966
Christian Bale’s Batman may growl and Ben Affleck’s might scowl, but Adam West’s is the most serious of all. Reaching his apogee in the 1966 movie, Adam West’s Batman went on a daring run to spare a coastal town from an exploding bomb. Barreling out of a seaside shack and heading towards the ocean, Batman encounters a group of nuns, a young mother and her baby, and a bizarre, three-person band that continually thwarts his efforts at safely detonating the bomb. Leaping onto a nearby dock, Batman prepares to hurl the sizzling explosive into the water below, only to see a young couple necking on a rowboat. After being interrupted by a small family of ducks, Batman has finally had enough and admits, “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
When he finally disposes of it, Robin races onto the scene exclaiming, “You risked your life to save that riffraff in the bar?” Batman, always the gentleman, acknowledges to his trusty sidekick, “they may be drinkers, Robin. But they’re also human beings.”
14. “None of You Are Safe” – Batman: Year One
Bruce Wayne may come from wealth, but outside of his contrived public persona, he resents the abuses of the rich. His father, tycoon that he was, endowed a sense of moderation amid the Waynes’ bountiful blessings. In Batman: Year One, a fledgling Batman targets the aristocrats and puts on his first truly dramatic display of fear tactics. Armed only with a smoke grenade, a back light and a pair of wire-cutters, he wages war against Gotham’s parasitic elite, declaring, “Ladies, gentlemen. You’ve eaten well, you’ve eaten Gotham’s wealth. It’s spirit. But your feast is nearly over. From this moment on, none of you are safe.”
It’s a threat of incredible power, a promise of an enduring commitment to Batman’s fight against Carmine Falcone and his criminal lackeys. Armed with Frank Miller’s biting words, Batman demonstrates the greatest strength in his weapons cache: a lethal dedication to justice fueled by “theatricality and deception.” Ra’s Al Ghul would be proud.
13. Batman vs Catwoman – Batman Returns
In Tim Burton’s avant-garde and impressively dark Batman Returns, Catwoman speaks in rhymes, kisses with licks and nearly upstages Michael Keaton’s Batman. Decked out in a tantalizing leather suit, Catwoman simultaneously roundhouse kicks Batman into submission while feigning weakness as a woman. When Batman fights back, offering a return-fire slap or a kick of his own, she cries, “How could you? I’m a woman!” Preying on the Dark Knight’s own deeply rooted insecurities, she doubles down on her combat as soon as he caves in.
While their fight was one of the better moments in Tim Burton’s two-film series, Catwoman’s highly-sexualized conversation with Batman takes the cake. Straddling him atop a roof, Catwoman disorients the Caped Crusader’s focus and drives him to talk about mistletoe. “Deadly if you eat it,” he insists. Catwoman takes things further, suggesting “a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.” She then proceeds to lick the rest of Batman’s face (or as much as his immovable cowl will allow). This remains the most patently erotic scene in Batman’s live-action history.
12. Becoming the Batman – Mask of The Phantasm
There’s a beast in Batman. More than an alter- ego, he’s the shrouded shell of an emotionally disturbed Bruce Wayne. In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, he endures an unexpected breakup after his fiancee, Andrea Beaumont, abruptly ends their engagement. Bruce spirals into self-doubt and descends into the Batcave. In becoming the Batman, he dons the cowl for the first time. Hauntingly filmed and with nearly silhouetted shots, this significant moment unites the vulnerability and rage that drove Bruce Wayne into creating Batman in the first place. Judging by Alfred’s frightened reaction, we are reminded of the horror ingrained in Batman’s existence.
Indeed, when Bruce outstretches his arm and receives the hood from Alfred, the moment plays with the dramatic weight of a funeral. The death of one man and the rebirth of another, this scene signifies the end of Bruce Wayne’s life as he and Alfred knew it. As with the DC Animated Universe Mask of the Phantasm helped create, the new era of Batman had begun.
11. “Swear to Me!” – Batman Begins
Batman Begins delivered some of the best one liners in the character’s live-action history. Most memorable of all was the rain-soaked scene that saw one of Falcone’s thugs nearly lose his lunch. After pilfering a street vendor’s falafel sandwich, Flass is strung up by the leg and hoisted up a good ten stories high. While upside down, the heavyset minion meets the biggest nightmare of all: an angry, seething Batman. Flass pleads the fifth about the mysterious drug shipment, promising the Caped Crusader, “I swear to God!” Without missing a beat, Christian Bale unleashes his now-famous Batman growl and bellows, “Swear to me!”
Wherever you stand on the Bat-voice debate, this moment ranks among Bale’s best scenes in The Dark Knight trilogy. Not only does it show the criminal underbelly of Gotham, but it gives us a glimpse of the rage within Batman and the intimidation tactics he employs to advance his cause.
10. The Batpod – The Dark Knight
The death of the Tumbler led to the resurrection of the Batpod. In one of the most thrilling moments in The Dark Knight, Batman emerges from his self-destructing tank with the most lethal motorcycle of all time. And boy is it a stylish introduction. Equipped with grappling hooks and grenade launchers, the bike blasts out of the Tumbler like a bat out of hell. Fueled by an unholy rage, Batman fires upon countless parked cars to clear a path to the Joker. Driving through alley ways, side-streets and winding malls, he displays his reckless desire to catch his archenemy.
When he finally does, the stage is set: the Joker has commandeered a semi-truck in a vacant street. Using the Batpod’s state of the art tools, Batman flips the eighteen-wheeler and leaves his nemesis dazed and confused. As he crawls out of the wreckage with his automatic rifle, Joker summons his foe: “Hit me. C’mon, c’mon, I want you to do it, I want you to do it.” Batman accelerates towards the Clown until the last possible moment, when his sense of justice overrides his anger and drives him to spare the Joker’s life.
9. One Rule – Batman: Under the Red Hood
The Joker is the greatest meddler in the world of comics. He relishes causing chaos and watching his victims struggle in the aftermath. This reality plays out in the fullest form towards the end of Batman: Under the Red Hood. When the titular villain reveals his identity, and Jason Todd emerges from beneath the crimson cowl, the Joker’s wildest dreams come true. Having assaulted Robin (a young Jason) with a crowbar and allowing his final breaths to be snuffed out via bomb detonation, the Clown Prince of Crime is highly deserving of just punishment.
Though Batman has long regretted not being able to save Jason, and even longer wished to end the Joker’s life, he cannot be persuaded to execute the villain despite his former sidekick’s threats. At the end of rationality, Jason throws Batman a handgun and says, “If you won’t kill this psychotic piece of filth, I will! If you want to stop me, you’re going to have to kill me!” Grinning ear to ear, Joker murmurs, “This is turning out better than I’d hoped!” And in the most disarming gesture of all, Batman drops the weapon and turns away from his former friend and perennial foe. He will not break his one rule.
8. Introduction – Batman 1989
Tim Burton returned Batman to its gothic roots. The 1989 Michael Keaton-led film banished the campy tone of Adam West and embraced the noir-filled world that Batman creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane first imagined. Gone are the vibrant hippie colors and Shark-Repellent Bat Spray, now replaced with a palette of darkness to match its seedy tone. This is a Tim Burton fantasy world, after all; the perfect place to reintroduce the man who dresses up as a bat.
Indeed, when Michael Keaton’s Dark Knight first appears onscreen, his introduction declares a new era in Gotham City. With an updated Batsuit and a fantastically-restrictive cowl, Batman 1989 spreads his wings and flies onto the scene. Dangling a desperate thief over the edge of the roof, Batman is asked the age-old question, “Who are you?!” He answers with gusto, states his name, and proves in an instant that Michael Keaton, Beetlejuice and Mr. Mom alum that he is, this man was always capable of handling the role (despite what outraged fans may have once believed).
7. Bane Cage Match – The Dark Knight Rises
The breaking of the Batman was telegraphed in the trailers for The Dark Knight Rises. While many fans anticipated this most ill-fated of fights against Bane, however, the scene itself was hard to stomach. Tricked by Selina Kyle and exposed before Bane at the base of his own armory, Batman entered a cage fight he was destined to lose. With a soundtrack consisting only of rushing water and Bane’s histrionic voice, the scene amplifies every hit and punch to maximum effect. There’s nothing triumphant about it — not even the slightest opportunity for Batman to prevail exists in this sequence. This well-planned ambush by Bane and the League of Shadows leaves the Dark Knight nearly paralyzed and Gotham without its watchful protector.
While detractors of Christopher Nolan’s brilliant trilogy may find room for criticism in the smoke and mirrors action scenes, this remains one of the most visceral moments in the trilogy, and certainly one of the most devastating in The Dark Knight Rises.
6. Batman Quits The Justice League – Justice League: Doom
Who watches the watchmen? It’s the timeless question asked of those in positions of power. For Batman, designated commander of the Justice League, this query demands an honest answer. Knowing the darkness within himself, Batman worries that he and his superhero allies could one day turn rogue and abuse their almighty powers. It’s a prophetic and honest concern that leaves the Dark Knight ostracized from his colleagues. While Superman seeks a vote to remove him from the League, Batman walks away on his own volition. “If you people can’t see the potential danger of an out of control Justice League, I don’t need to wait for a vote. I don’t belong here.” He wants a fail-safe strategy, a system of checks and balances to safely wield their power, and even though his plans were used against him, he’s not apologizing to anyone.
By turning his back on the League, Batman tacitly affirms his place at the head of the table. Before long, Superman confronts Batman and offers him a tiny box of Kryptonite, arming his ally with the one substance that can defeat him. In accepting Batman’s proposition, Superman strengthens the duo’s relationship and renews the covenant of the Justice League.
5. The Tumbler in Gotham – Batman Begins
For a guy who cares so much about Gotham, you’d think Batman would take better care of the cityscape. Or, perhaps his opposition to the crooked local government includes the destruction of public property. Either way, the Tumbler of Batman Begins is truly the ultimate driving machine. While previous Batmobiles were just ultra-modern vehicles that proved more flashy than functional, this product of Lucius Fox’s research is essentially a versatile tank. It powers through objects of all sizes like a wrecking ball. Not long after Bruce Wayne gets his color of choice does he start using the Tumbler to save the city.
Blasting from parking lots to rooftops, and rooftops to freeways, Batman exerts his dominance over the police with his virtually indestructible and impossibly fast whip. From the canon-firing weapons mode to a lights-out stealth mode, the Tumbler of Gotham makes for the best live-action scene of any Batmobile thus far.
4. Defeating Darkseid – Batman/Superman: Apocalypse
Batman is a superhero without natural-born physical gifts. His mind, however, is perhaps his greatest tool of all. Eschewing his ego and thinking only of saving Kara Zor-El, Batman knows any battle against the overpowered Darkseid will result in his immediate death. Entering the villain’s palace in full armor, Batman is prepared to take a bruising as he pitches a vicious ultimatum. Having activated the Hell Spores on Darkseid’s planet, Apokolips, Batman challenges the supervillain to a test: either leave Kara alone, or face the consequences (read: the fiery destruction of his kingdom and planet).
Darkseid is enraged at the proposition and hurls Batman across his lair. With a firm grip around the Caped Crusader’s neck, Darkseid threatens Batman’s life but clearly knows he has lost the game of wits. Amused by the Dark Knight’s chutzpah, Darkseid agrees to Batman’s terms and waves the white flag of retreat. This is Batman at his most brilliant.
3. Chinese Extraction – The Dark Knight
Apprehending the cowardly Lau required Bruce Wayne to leverage all of his resources. He first employed Alfred Pennyworth to keep up appearances aboard a massive yacht with Russian ballerinas. Wayne then needed Lucius Fox to not only design his extravagant escape from the Hong Kong high rise, but to join him in the far east and plant the seeds for Batman’s eventual extraction. The results were unforgettable. After Bruce effectively cases the joint and Fox penetrates Lau’s building security, Batman takes aim at the skyscraper from an even taller vantage point.
Firing timed explosives from above, Batman then flies around the building, barrel rolls through the glass, and takes down an entire squadron of security. Before Lau realizes what’s happening, the igniting sticky grenades are the last thing he sees before getting pulled away by a massive, military-grade airbus. This is a hallmark moment for the World’s Greatest Detective.
2. Warehouse Fight – Batman V Superman
Before Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, no live-action Batman had ever hurt to kill. While there have undoubtedly been casualties in many iterations of Batman, BvS crossed the line once and for all. In Zack Snyder’s legendarily divisive film, fans finally got the Batman that Frank Miller dreamed of and the kind Arkham Asylum glorified. When we first meet Ben Affleck’s Batman, he is a ceiling-crawling vigilante who brands victims with searing symbols of justice. In his Knightmares, he is a neck-snapping berserker, and in the warehouse sequence where he saves Martha Kent, Batman fights with abandon.
Hurling crates that split skulls and whipping jagged-edged Batarangs at his enemies, this is the Dark Knight unleashed. Out of the smoke and mirrors of the Nolan films emerges a fully-realized mercenary who snaps arms and kicks his enemies when they’re down. Say what you will about the movie, but this warehouse sequence is the most brutal Batman we’ve seen yet.
1. Interrogating Joker – The Dark Knight
We all remember our first viewing of The Dark Knight. When Commissioner Gordon exits the soiled interrogation room, he leaves behind the darker version of himself: Batman in full rage mode. Lit only by a solitary light, the Joker watches as Gordon heads to the door, sniveling, “ah, the good cop, bad cop routine?” Not exactly. Batman immediately smashes the clown’s deranged head into the table, commencing a cross-examination of the most violent order. With Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes’ lives on the line, Batman is an unrestrained second away from snapping Joker’s neck, a reality that makes the lunatic clown rave with laughter.
This is Batman at the height of desperation and Joker at the peak of his power. However pugilistic the scene becomes, it is ultimately a moral struggle. The Joker craves Batman’s existence (“you complete me”), while the Dark Knight suppresses his embedded desire to kill him (“you’re garbage who kills for money”). From beyond those interrogation walls, the pair must look truly insane: a man dressed as a Bat disciplining a Glasgow-smile-wearing clown. It’s a battle of the freaks that embraces the ridiculousness of Batman and his arch nemesis while affirming Gotham’s need for such a protector. This may be the most enduring of Batman’s movie scenes, and is certainly the ultimate depiction of his longstanding rivalry with the Joker.
– A Watchful Protector – The Dark Knight: After a harrowing final hour, The Dark Knight needed a satisfying conclusion. The Joker had been apprehended, Harvey Dent died, and Gotham narrowly survived self-destruction. The final minutes of the movie are as epic as they come, with Batman sacrificing his reputation so Gotham might not lose its spirit. He orders Gordon to “call it in,” the death knell of Batman’s name. As the Commissioner declares, however, “we’ll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a Dark Knight.” It’s the kind of ending that left viewers glued to their seats until the credits rolled out.
– Death of Ra’s Al Ghul – Batman Begins: However misguided his aims at reform may have been, Ra’s Al Ghul was a formative and likable figure in Bruce Wayne’s life. It helped that Liam Neeson portrayed the ninja anarchist, bringing humanity to a distinctly Darwinian soul. In their final fight aboard the Wayne Train, Ra’s fights his protege and learns that he is the weaker of the two. Aided by Gordon’s precise command of the Tumbler, Batman escapes the train and allows his former mentor to perish in the wreckage of the crash. It is a fitting and thrilling conclusion to the carefully-crafted story of Batman’s time in the League of Shadows.
– Demon Batman – Batman Begins: Dr. Crane had it coming to him. His psychotropic drugs wreaked enough havoc on Gotham to warrant his thirty second interview with the Batman vampire. Whatever special effects were used to create this demon Bat should be revisited with caution, as the results were truly terrifying. Higher than a kite, a mask-free Scarecrow gets a taste of his own medicine and hallucinates so badly that an all-black Batman seems to drool tar from his mouth while sounding like Satan. However intimidating certain sequences may have been in Batman v Superman, this moment in Batman Begins is hard to top.
– Ice Fight – Batman Begins: This scene admittedly predates the full arrival of Batman, but it is still crucial to his development. Batman Begins had a plethora of great moments, but few surpassed the beauty of Bruce Wayne’s training. Inter-cut between a young Bruce mourning with Alfred, and a maturing Bruce training with Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Shadows, this magnificent sequence teaches the future Dark Knight that “the training is nothing, the will is everything.” Culminating in a masterfully choreographed sword fight on ice, the scene displays Bruce’s physical prowess and desire for greatness. This may not yet be Batman, but these are the moments that defined him.
Since 1943, Batman has enjoyed a rich and layered cinematic life. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the reason for Batman’s enduring place in our culture, his existence in Gotham seems to echo our need for such figures in our modern world. Had cynics determined his legacy, that he was fashioned after a flying creature and wore a billowing cape, he would not have become the icon that he is today. To the great benefit of our imaginations and the safety of Gotham, Batman has long been nurtured by a variety of creative talents that saw potential for such a legendary character. Some saw him best suited to campy humor while others have committed him to far more dramatic scenarios. But across all cinematic adaptations, Batman has remained one of the most reliable box-office draws, the most coveted of roles to inhabit, and perhaps the most beloved superhero of all time.
What’s your favorite Batman movie moment? Sound off in the comments.