Batman, Top Ten

The Batman Franchise (Theatrically Released Feature Films): The Definitive Ranking

Well, that’s certainly the least cohesive set of movies that could be bundled together as a franchise I’ve gone through. Starting in the 60s as an offshoot of the popular, goofy, primetime television series and so far getting through Zack Snyder’s mythic approach to comic books including his extended cut of his team up film, Batman’s seen a lot of variations over the years. Heck, even the four movies from the late 80s to the late 90s are considered one “series”, and they go from Tim Burton’s gothic darkness to Joel Schumacher’s glorified toy commercials.

It’s interesting to see so many takes on the same character in such a short amount of time. I don’t have any particular take that I like most from a conceptual point of view. I’m happy to giggle along with Adam West or brood with Michael Keaton or feel the pain of loss with Kevin Conroy.

I am looking forward to The Batman, mostly because of Matt Reeves as director, and those trailers are pretty tight. So, it looks like Warner Bros. is convinced that they can still squeeze some money out of this franchise. I’m cool with it. Let’s get a young, angsty take in there and see what it does.

Here’s my ranking of every theatrically released Batman film (I may do the animated films as a whole at some point, but not now).

Batman Forever (1995) - IMDb

14. Batman Forever

“There was an effort to appeal more to children and sell toys that overrode everything else. However, you can still make essentially a two-hour long toy commercial that feels of a piece, and this isn’t it. I don’t know how much to lay at the feet of Schumacher, he was essentially a hired hand to fulfil the wishes of metaphorical children with loaded guns, but it still feels like a Schumacher film through and through. I don’t like it.”

Batman Forever (1995) - IMDb

13. Batman & Robin

“It’s bad, but it’s not really bad for the reasons people put forward while it’s still kind of a mess from the ground up. There’s at least one worse live-action Batman movie out there.”

The Lego Batman Movie (2017) - IMDb

12. The LEGO Batman Movie

“I see that The LEGO Batman Movie has a similar problem that Batman & Robin has. It wants to be silly, but it keeps introducing elements that it also wants to be taken seriously. There’s a clash there that hobbles the film. However, The LEGO Batman Movie, when it is being silly nonsense, is far more entertaining than Batman & Robin.”

Justice League (2017) - IMDb

11. Justice League

“Still, the movie has its charms. Its second half works pretty basically after the flagging first half. It looks good, and there are winning performances all around. It’s mildly entertaining, but nothing exactly special.”

Batman (1989) - IMDb

10. Batman

“It’s just that the script feels really cobbled together, a bunch of half-formed ideas appearing and disappearing, inelegantly pasted together in order to make studio bosses happy who didn’t really know what they want. Burton, through his efforts on the physical production side of things, made the film watchable and memorable, though.”

Batman (1966) - IMDb

9. Batman: The Movie

“This film has nothing to say. It’s not about the Cold War, or Batman’s place in the universe, or Batman’s duality of living life with a mask. It makes no effort to deepen Bruce Wayne as a character or give him something to brood about. It has Batman just standing in the middle of harshly lit sets like he’s a man in a Halloween costume instead of the Dark Knight. And yet, it works because it knows exactly what kind of movie it is supposed to be: silly and amusing.”

Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

8. Zack Snyder’s Justice League

“For all of my problems about the jagged nature of this movie’s first half, that first half becomes necessary in order to create the emotional investment for the final two hours. This is a marked improvement over the original, though it’s far from perfect.”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

7. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

“All in all, though, the Ultimate Cut of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a ride through a complex plot with some interesting stuff on its mind at the same time. There’s great spectacle along the way as well. It could have used more time as a script to hammer some stuff out and clear some stuff up, but as it is, I find it an entertaining three hours.”

6. The Batman

“As it is, though, the mystery is the kind of deeply twisting, ever-changing movie mystery that leaves the audience guessing right along with the characters. The character work, when it comes it, is well-considered, and the spectacle works. It may not be the epic masterpiece I had secretly hoped for, but it’s a solidly good film nonetheless.”

Batman Begins (2005) - IMDb

5. Batman Begins

“This movie is the kind of rich that comic book movies never were up to this point. The original Superman movie was more of a grand adventure than something with this kind of ambition. Nolan brought a level of cinematic seriousness to the genre in the exact vehicle that could use it: Batman. That doesn’t mean that this kind of seriousness or even ambition is appropriate across the whole genre, of course. There’s always room for different kinds of superhero movies just like there is always room for different kinds of samurai movies, but Nolan tapped into something that the genre had been missing up to this point. It may not be perfect, but it’s still very good.”

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) - IMDb

4. The Dark Knight Rises

“The Dark Knight Rises is not a perfect movie. Its first half ends up taking a few ideas too far, which undermines them slightly, but not the overall story. What ends up carrying it all, though, is Nolan’s sheer command of everything outside the script. Performances are very good. The spectacle is great. The use of image and sound creates a large story that carries interesting ideas about pain and the efforts to deal with it. It’s an intelligent and rousing film that could have been a bit tighter, but, by the end, I don’t really care that much.”

Batman Returns (1992) - IMDb

3. Batman Returns

“This is a combination of a smart script that understands its characters with some wrinkles left over combined with a director with a strong visual sensibility that meshes well with the material. The aesthetics are on point, the performances are good, and the script actually takes its characters seriously enough to examine them clearly. It’s very good stuff.”

The Dark Knight (2008) - IMDb

2. The Dark Knight

“This is really top flight entertainment. With wonderful, multi-faceted characters, incredibly well-filmed, and a great score, The Dark Knight is probably the pinnacle of the superhero genre. Not every superhero movie needs to be dark and brooding, but The Dark Knight does it better than the rest while functioning as a great thrill ride at the same time.”

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) - IMDb

1. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

“I love this film. It really is one of the best depictions of Batman on screen, and I’m really glad I finally revisited it.”

16 thoughts on “The Batman Franchise (Theatrically Released Feature Films): The Definitive Ranking”

  1. Hmm… mostly fair, though I would rank Lego higher.

    With these things it’s always a question of judging the movie purely as a movie vs as an adaption of a source material.

    TDK and MotP are obviously on top as they perfect both – near flawless movies and perfect realizations of the character. Zack Synder’s films are… more debatable.

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    1. I’m no Snyder-stan, super fan, but I do like him. What he brought to the DC universe was a sense of grand and mythic scale that I just eat up. It’s also super serious which is more of a problem for Superman than Batman.

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