With the stunning announcement that Ben Affleck will be stepping down from the role of Batman in the so-called DC Extended Universe or Worlds of DC, it might be time to look back on the Caped Crusader’s past adventures on the silver screen. He’s gone through variations incarnations over the years, approached by different directors and different actors in all kinds of different ways – some have been Oscar winners, some have been horrifyingly bad.
Now that Matt Reeves’ upcoming noir-influenced Batman movie, The Batman, has no lead, it could face delays. So, for the time being, these are the only Batman movies we’ll have. Here is Every Batman Movie Ever, Ranked. Note: we're only considering theatrically-released live-action Batman films in the Modern Era (since 1989). And no, Suicide Squad doesn't count.
9 BATMAN & ROBIN
This is a no-brainer. Batman & Robin is not just the prime candidate for the worst Batman movie ever made – it might just be the worst movie ever made, ever. Everything in it is terrible: the corny jokes in the script, the overuse of Dutch tilts, the cartoonish depiction of Bane, Mr. Freeze’s dumb one-liners, the reliance on creating merchandising opportunities, and of course, most egregiously, the nipples on the Batsuit.
The movie was so bad that Joel Schumacher apologized to the world for making it.
8 BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
As much as this movie is let down by being overstuffed, overlong, and focusing too heavily on setting up a wider universe and not enough on telling its own story, its saving grace is Ben Affleck’s Batman. His aggression, murky moral compass, surreal dream sequences, and new technologies made this Caped Crusader a breath of fresh air.
Still, Jesse Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor as a terrible imitation of Heath Ledger’s Joker and the third act twist where Batman and Superman put their differences aside when they realize their mothers are both called Martha is just plain dumb.
7 BATMAN FOREVER
This was the movie where things started to go downhill. Joel Schumacher took over from Tim Burton, tasked by Warner Bros. with making the previously dark franchise more family-friendly. This involved the whole movie being designed to have toys based on it and the script being rammed with cheesy humor. Jim Carrey was an inspired choice for the role of the Riddler, but his wackiness that suits that character seems to have rubbed off on Tommy Lee Jones, since he plays Two-Face with the same level of absurdity.
But the thing is, Two-Face is a totally different character from the Riddler – and Jim Carrey is much better at absurd comedic acting than Tommy Lee Jones, whose performance comes off as kind of embarrassing. Still, Val Kilmer makes a pretty good Batman and Chris O’Donnell doesn’t show up until halfway through. Batman Forever is the better of Schumacher’s two Batman movies, but that isn’t saying much.
6 JUSTICE LEAGUE
Justice League might have seemed very disjointed as it went through two directors and acted as a mediator between various other movies that didn’t exist yet. It also shows evidence of meddling by the studio in response to the criticisms levied against Batman v Superman, meaning it’s a tonal mess. However, the attempts to improve on BvS at least work. Gotham City is beautifully realized, almost as a cinematic adaptation of the sumptuously noir-ish, high-contrast visuals of the Arkham video games.
In what would turn out to be his final appearance as Bruce Wayne, Ben Affleck grits his teeth through heavy-handed exposition and cringes through the so-called ‘humor,’ which falls flat. If this movie succeeds at anything, it’s rounding out Henry Cavill’s Superman trilogy: from his origin story in Man of Steel to his death in Batman v Superman to his rebirth and redemption in this movie. That’s not enough to redeem it, but it makes it passable.
5 BATMAN BEGINS
Christopher Nolan invented the gritty reboot with this movie. It’s the movie we have to thank for the dark turns taken by James Bond, Spider-Man, Star Trek, the Fantastic Four, Wolverine, the Hulk, Planet of the Apes, and even Sherlock Holmes in the past ten years or so. However, the impact Batman Begins had on the film industry is more significant than the movie itself. Gotham City is brilliantly rendered and Nolan shrouds the Bat in a suitable amount of mystery.
Christian Bale did a great job of playing Bruce Wayne and Batman as separate, distinguishable characters. But it’s pretty much a straightforward origin story, with too much time dedicated to Bruce’s training and not enough to his dressing up as a bat and fighting crime.
4 THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
It’s sort of unfair to judge The Dark Knight Rises, because it had to follow The Dark Knight, which was too tall an order for it to ever satisfy everybody. Plus, it’s always difficult to round out a trilogy. There’s only ever been about seven third movies in trilogies that were any good. There’s a lot that The Dark Knight Rises succeeds at.
Its action scenes are incredible and it ends the story of Christian Bale’s Batman in a satisfactory way. However, due to its epic scope and convoluted narrative, there are a bunch of plot holes, and Tom Hardy’s Bane is basically incomprehensible under that mask – and when you can hear him, you’re distracted by his silly voice.
Tim Burton practically invented the superhero blockbuster with this suitably dark origin story that oozes style. His gloomy Gotham City landscapes were brought vibrantly to life by influences from German expressionist cinema, while the casting of then-comic actor Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne was an inspired choice.
Burton focused on giving us a movie that looked like a cinematic translation of a Batman comic book, imbuing it with slick, moody, Killing Joke-era visuals, while Keaton humanized Wayne with improvised, character-driven one-liners (“To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’ve ever been in this room before” et al). It was arguably an even stronger pairing of director and actor than Nolan and Bale.
2 BATMAN RETURNS
Tim Burton’s second Batman movie was a fair bit zanier and darker than his first. The first movie’s success had allowed him free rein to go totally bats (sorry) with the sequel. Michael Keaton digs deeper with his second performance as Bruce Wayne, playing him as more of a tortured soul than before, which gives the movie more substance than the original.
Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer are perfectly cast as the Penguin and Catwoman, respectively, while their characterizations are still the best we’ve ever seen on-screen. Despite some behind-the-scenes drama with the writers, the plot is taut and engaging, and although the movie has multiple villains, it never feels as though there’s too many.
1 THE DARK KNIGHT
Just like Batman & Robin was a shoe-in for the bottom spot on this list, The Dark Knight was a shoe-in for the top spot. It’s not just one of the greatest superhero movies ever made – it’s one of the greatest movies of all-time. It genuinely holds up against the likes of The Godfather and Pulp Fiction. It transcends the trappings of a comic book movie to become a slick crime thriller in the vein of Heat, with Christopher Nolan using the fictional Gotham as a prism to explore the concept of the corrupt American city.
The IMAX cinematography is breathtaking, the editing is sharp, and the acting is sensational. No one could play the Joker after Heath Ledger’s chilling, Oscar-winning performance. In fact, he ruined the role of the supervillain forever. Every actor who plays a supervillain nowadays either copies Ledger forthrightly (looking at you, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor) or pales in comparison.