Batman has a superhuman ability to reinvent himself, especially given that he’s famously underpowered. It’s a quality that has helped Gotham City’s protector survive more than 80 years of rounding up one of the best rogue galleries in comic book history. With his latest movie launching a new trilogy and a raft of spin-off television series and merchandise, the Dark Knight is looking stronger than ever.
Batman relies on intellect, detective skills, and willpower to beat superior physical foes in the powered-up multiverse of DC Comics. He’s needed to be just as durable and inventive in movie theaters, too, as his big-screen journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing despite some incredible highs.
The Batman steps away from exploring the hero’s tragic origins to concentrate on his early days as a crime fighter. In the second year of his Gotham Project, he’s still earning the city’s trust while introducing himself to villains he’ll get to know very well. But how does the new Dark Knight compare to the others that have swung into movie theaters?
Here’s our definitive ranking of every Batman movie released thus far.
14. Justice League (2017)
You would have to be as sadistic as Ben Affleck’s grizzled Batman to watch Justice League when Zack Snyder’s vastly superior cut is calling. If you ever feel tempted, just remember Batman rolling on the ground after being thrown away by a newly resurrected Superman. “Yeah, something is definitely bleeding.”
13. Batman Forever (1995)
Forever is an ironic title for a movie that aged quickly and badly. Val Kilmer may be one of the better Bruce Waynes, but the film learned all the wrong casting lessons from Burton’s brace of Batflicks. It’s so overstuffed it almost sags under the weight. Jim Carrey’s Riddler just about steals the show, even if he’s nowhere near as manic as Frank Gorshin’s ’60s turn. It’s Tommy Lee Jones’ bored take on quiet-and-shouty Two Face that sums up the film’s problems.
12. Batman and Robin (1997)
Here’s a notorious film that arguably knocked back the emergence of comic book movies by a decade. Still, there’s something admirably consistent about the most gratuitous Batman film to date. You just need to have the stomach for its gravity-defying, candy-neon antics. It did a real disservice to Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, and only Bane has found live-action redemption since. Possibly the greatest loser was Boy Wonder Robin, who was banished from the mainstream for years.
11. The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
Will Arnett was never going to win a Best Batman award, but it’s no surprise that his character won a spin-off from The Lego Movie. He was lucky to escape the traps before The Lego Movie 2 showed how quickly franchise fatigue can set in. Batman’s no stranger to that, but this big glorious in-joke can only go so far.
10. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Creating an authentic and watchable Gotham is a big ask, but what about putting the world’s greatest detective at the heart of DC’s fabled superteam? Whether you took to Zack Snyder’s reading of DC or not, he was fully committed to the idea of gods walking amongst us. The movie’s heart is Cyborg, but every League member is enhanced in this supercut. This Batman’s surprise coda will be followed by 2022’s The Flash.
9. Batman (1966)
Batman triggers nostalgia like few other characters. Over 50 years later, his flamboyant ’60s persona is enjoying new merchandise, a comic book continuation, and spin-off animated films. It shows that the Caped Crusader can successfully move between camp, noir, and Lego versions, as long as each world is consistent. Adam West trying to get rid of a bomb remains a classic comedy sketch, and Batman holds on to that tone like a can of shark repellent bat spray.
8. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Dawn of Justice earned a reprieve with its extended cut and the release of Zack Snyder’s epic trilogy closer on HBO Max. It’s worth a rewatch, if only for one of the greatest Batman action set-pieces ever committed to film. The incredible sequence where Ben Affleck’s Crusader brutally takes down a warehouse of bad guys is what we all wanted. It’s not just a film about the two Marthas.
7. Batman Begins (2005)
Batman’s origin is so ubiquitous that it’s surprising how often the story skips over the next two decades or so. Begins has come the closest, showing the lengths Bruce Wayne went to hone his mind, body, and criminal-quaking Bat voice. Despite the bruising Tumbler Batmobile, it was a quiet beginning. Nolan’s more realistic take concentrated on the lower shelf of top-tier Gotham rogues to take Batman back to the top of Hollywood.
6. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Batman: The Animated Series stands as one of Batman’s finest hours, and this spin-off feature beats many of the Dark Knight’s live-action films. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s vision of Gotham deserves to be seen on the big screen if you can. Like the series, Mask of the Phantasm balanced humor, romance, action, and danger with a spectacular score. There’s also Mark Hamill’s chilling Joker.
5. Batman (1989)
Batman was the greatest comic book blockbuster since stablemate Superman convinced the world that a man could fly a decade earlier. Unlike Christopher Reeve, Michael Keaton didn’t seem like perfect casting. 30 years on, he could be the savior of the DCEU. Jack Nicholson’s hugely quotable Joker stole every scene he was in, but Batman’s success wasn’t guaranteed.
It had to beat memories of Adam West in swim shorts and navigate the new seriousness of comic storylines like The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke. Tim Burton’s unique vision and Anton Furst’s incredible production design fused them together. The greatest of all Batmobiles was at its center, sleek, stunning, and over 6.5 meters long. In late 2022, The Flash will show us what we’ve been missing.
4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Completing the trilogy after the peerless The Dark Knight was a tough ask. Christopher Nolan brought his story full circle, resulting in a surprisingly short career for Christian Bale’s crime fighter, whether its ambiguous ending is taken at face value or not. Rises ended the story with an epic final film. It’s a broad war movie that ambitiously drew on two of the biggest comic book storylines, Knightfall and No Man’s Land.
It’s tough to see Gotham and its protector broken. Despite its scope, it can’t keep its tone as consistent as The Dark Knight. Tom Hardy’s Bane soared, while Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman got lost in the collateral damage.
3. The Batman (2022)
The Batman rose from the missteps of the DCEU, returning Gotham to Nolan-style realism. But director Matt Reeves made some crucial changes. Robert Pattinson’s emo-Batman may be young, but he’s lining up a long career in a far more populated ⏤ and beautifully rain-soaked ⏤ Gotham. It’s a world where Arkham State Hospital’s cells are filling up and Batman is both a constant shadow and a beacon of hope.
There can never be a comic book-accurate Batman. From tumbling through time to leading zombie attacks on evil doppelgangers from the Dark Multiverse, Batman varies wildly on the page. But The Batman is the most successful attempt to place him in the fabric of Modern Age comics. The proposed trilogy may not be big enough.
2. Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Returns is a rare Tim Burton sequel, but the director had unfinished business in Gotham. The city was relocated to the vast sound stages and back lots of Hollywood studios. The result is an unsettling self-contained and theatrical city. Or perhaps more appropriately, it’s both a circus and a zoo. Burton wrung neurosis from a Biblical storyline as he concentrated on the grotesques of Gotham. He did it so well that it sent live-action Batman into a downward spiral for more than a decade.
The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin make a compelling triangle, although the Dark Knight has little to do. Returns is the most successful study in the futility of Batman’s mission, but don’t despair — this anti-blockbuster is also a superb Christmas movie.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight isn’t just a great comic book movie ⏤ it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. It’s an extraordinary exploration of the contradictions in Batman’s story, and the hand holding up a mirror up to Bruce Wayne had to be in a purple glove. At the heart of a film that’s very hard to beat is the opposition of the Dark Knight’s painful sacrifice and the Joker’s inexplicable anarchy. It’s a struggle that burned through reputations and lives as the old Gotham of gangsters was swept away.
This was when the Clown Prince of Crime transcended Batman. It’s hard to imagine any actor winning an Oscar for playing Bruce Wayne. Heath Ledger was the first Joker to pick up the prize, his astonishing turn building on Jack Nicholson’s performance two decades before to make it one of the most desirable parts in Hollywood.