Batman is arguably the superhero with the most disparity in his big-screen appearances. Zack Snyder may have given us a Superman with no red undies, but Joel Schumacher gave us a Batman with nipples on his suit, Chris McKay gave us a zany Lego version of Batman, and Christopher Nolan gave us a cinematic study of the American city disguised as a Batman movie.
The Batman movies are a curious thing, because a couple of them are considered to be among the greatest movies ever made and a couple of them are considered to be among the worst movies ever made. So, here is Every Batman Movie, Ranked By Rotten Tomatoes Score.
This movie was so bad that Joel Schumacher apologized for it. Everything in the movie looks like it was designed to be a toy, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze has far more corny one-liners than credibility, and by adding nipples and a codpiece to the iconic Batsuit, Schumacher managed to make the Dark Knight, the most serious character in comics history, laughable.
Some critics also noted the movie’s homoerotic overtones – not in a subtle Fight Club way; in a distracting, on-the-nose, closeups-of-Batman’s-butt way. Although it’s dressed up like a gloomy $160 million blockbuster, Batman & Robin feels like a bad, overlong episode of the ‘60s TV series.
Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has the components of a good movie, but it has the same problem as Iron Man 2 – focusing too much on setting up the wider cinematic universe to be a great film in its own right – and worse than that, the setup went nowhere. At least with Iron Man 2, all the Easter eggs were leading somewhere.
In BvS, it seems as though the producers were just throwing random flashbacks and flashforwards and Easter eggs at the wall to see what stuck, and sadly, none of it did. But Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight had the makings of an excellent Batman.
Sure, Batman Forever is camp, but at least Jim Carrey’s performance as the Riddler works in the unusual tone’s favor, even if Tommy Lee Jones feeds off his energy and gives us a wackadoo Two-Face. Val Kilmer did a pretty good job of playing both a suave Bruce Wayne and a cool-as-a-cucumber Caped Crusader, but problems start to arise when Chris O’Donnell’s Robin shows up.
Robin is Batman’s young mentor. He works best as a naive kid who isn’t ready to fight crime. Their on-screen relationship should be similar to Tony Stark and Peter Parker in the MCU. O’Donnell’s Robin was in his mid-twenties.
With Superman absent for most of Justice League, the burden fell on Batman to lead the team, and that felt disingenuous to the character. He’s not a leader; he’s a lone wolf. It’s a shame that Warner Bros. threw out a lot of Zack Snyder’s story ideas and instead reshaped the script to copy what worked with The Avengers (including hiring Joss Whedon to add humor, for God knows what reason), because it made the movie a total mess.
Snyder initially wanted a distant-future setting, an evil Superman in a black suit, and an expansion of the “Knightmare” concept. If Warner Bros. had been willing to take those risks, perhaps this would be a lot higher on the list.
Tim Burton was the perfect choice to direct a Batman movie, because his sumptuous gothic visuals go hand-in-hand with the world of Bruce Wayne. His Gotham City landscapes were inspired by Fritz Lang’s seminal sci-fi epic Metropolis, while Jack Nicholson’s Joker is straight out of a horror movie.
Burton’s take on Batman is far more stylized than Nolan’s, but that doesn’t mean it’s worse. Batman is one of the most groundbreaking and influential comic book movies of all time, since it told studios that audiences would turn out in droves to see a darker, gloomier, more adult-oriented superhero film if it was well-made.
The Rotten Tomatoes algorithm judges Tim Burton’s second big-screen take on the Batman comics to be superior to his first, and while Batman Returns wasn’t as revolutionary as the first one, Burton did go bigger and better with the sequel. This movie introduced the notion of two villains in the same movie – a perfectly cast Danny DeVito as the Penguin opposite an equally perfectly cast Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman – and that’s a formula that’s carried through the Batman movies ever since.
Batman Returns is a little gloomier and scarier than Batman (the rule of thumb with sequels is to go darker, but there wasn’t much darker territory for Burton to cover after his 1989 original), but the focus is still on character-building, plotting, and superhero action.
Origin stories, by their very nature, aren’t very exciting. We don’t want to watch a guy training to be a superhero – we want to watch a superhero fighting crime. However, with Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan did a fine job of making an origin story movie that wasn’t boring.
When Bruce Wayne is training with the League of Shadows, we’re not waiting for him to become Batman, because we’re intrigued. What helps is that Nolan explores the origin of Batman beyond simply showing why he hates crime and dresses like a bat. For the first time on the big screen, Nolan showed us how Batman learned to fight.
Third movies are tricky, because they have to build on the first two, conclude the trilogy, and live up to the enormous hype. In the case of The Dark Knight Rises, that hype was ridiculous. Christopher Nolan had to top The Dark Knight, which many critics consider to be one of the greatest movies ever made, and to his credit, he did a pretty good job.
He followed up the opening IMAX bank heist with an opening IMAX plane heist; he followed up Heath Ledger’s Joker with Tom Hardy’s Bane (not quite as chilling or mesmerizing, but arguably as iconic); and he followed up Batman sacrificing his reputation with Batman sacrificing himself. The Dark Knight Rises may not have bested The Dark Knight – and, to be fair, that was probably impossible – but it came pretty darn close.
This Batman-centric spin-off from The Lego Movie was far better than it had any right to be, to put it lightly. Chris McKay used the opportunities presented by the silliness of Lego animation and no need to tie the film into a wider universe to throw everything we’ve ever wanted to see in a Batman movie at the screen.
On the whole, The Lego Batman Movie is a spot-on parody of the Batman comics – showing Bruce Wayne as an immature man-child who refuses to grow up, reducing Batman and the Joker’s relationship to a romcom-esque “will they/won’t they?” dynamic etc. – but it all has a lot of heart.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight has the freshest Rotten Tomatoes score of any Batman movie, which will surely surprise no one. Heath Ledger set the gold standard for cinematic supervillains with his portrait of the Joker as an unpredictable agent of chaos, while Christian Bale added more depth to Batman’s dual nature than he did before and subtle performances from Michael Caine as Alfred and Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon built on the film’s overriding humanity.
The Dark Knight is a Michael Mann-style thriller that explores crime and corruption in Gotham in a way that feels as real as The Wire’s study of crime and corruption in Baltimore.