Over the course of the past three decades, the Batman movie franchise has become an indelible part of our cultural landscape, Hollywood’s big-budget live-action takes becoming every bit as big as the comic books in which the Caped Crusader originated.
Across five different individual franchises, Batman has been taken in a number of directions by a plethora of respected names behind the camera as well as in front of it, producing some all-time great superhero movies as well as a number of stinkers.
In this edition of Ranked, we’re counting down the 9 live-action Batman movies from worst to best.
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9. Batman & Robin (1997)
Widely acknowledged as being by far the biggest miss-hit in the history of the live-action Batman franchise, this Joel Schumacher directed venture (his second following Batman Forever in 1995) featured a series of massive missteps, the total sum of its parts being an over-elaborate and almost heartless 90s blockbuster more concerned with cramming the picture full with products and IP for Warner Bros’ massive merchandise chain than achieving anything in the range of a good movie. Even the director has since apologised for this one…
8. Batman Forever (1995)
A flashy light show from start to finish, Batman Forever was filled with the kinds of set dressing and performances that wouldn’t have been out of place in Batman (1966) or any of the early Batman comic books, only with less heart. It was a critical failure (albeit a huge financial success) that was simply not of the world the 90s had come to associate with Batman through the darker comics of the 80s or the more Gothic Burton-directed films, and has subsequently been rubbished by fans of the film franchise as one of the very worst Batman entries. Even with a cast that probably didn’t deserve such a disservice (Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones and career-prime Jim Carrey to name but a few) Batman Forever not only made for a poor Batman movie but a recognisable milestone of ill-informed blockbuster cinema that remains noteworthy and even memeworthy to this day.
7. Batman the Movie (1966)
Despite the long-term love and affection many feel towards the 1966 Batman picture Batman the Movie, there’s no denying that much of that love has been born from the incredibly low expectations of its viewers and a hint of nostalgia towards a simpler time in which Batman didn’t have to be so grumpy.
In reality, Batman the Movie is ridiculous. Stupid even. And sure, that is kind of the point, but the reality is that ridiculous and stupid don’t make for anything even remotely comparable to the majority of modern day Batman entries. A useful comparison would be the James Bond franchise in which a number of early entries remain great even to this day, their importance and the permanence of their quality making them not only untouchable franchise entries but important cinematic landmarks and some of the very best of their genre. Batman (1966) is not this, and despite Adam West being an all-time great Batman in the pantheon of Batmen, there’s no place higher than number 7 at which the great man can sit.
6. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was divisive to say the least (name a Zack Snyder release that isn’t…) with it either being the bleak vision of Batman that many had wished for over the years or the epitome of how to ruin the mystique of one of cinema’s greatest heroes, depending on your point of view of course.
It sits at number 6 on this list for precisely this reason.
Batman v Superman isn’t good at everything it does, nor is it necessarily bad. The 2016 film featured some memorable Batman moments and truly emphasised the less-explored “World’s Greatest Detective” aspect of the character, Ben Affleck being one of the best parts of a movie filled with high profile actors in culturally significant roles. It also shouldn’t be overlooked how monumental it was to see Batman and Superman finally share the screen, nor how great it was to get them to do so with Wonder Woman for the first time.
Sure, this was pushed by Snyder and his team of ideas people as a sequel to Superman movie Man of Steel, but given Batman’s position in the narrative and the overall journey of the character throughout the film’s bloated run-time, this is definitely a Batman movie, though one that is far from perfect and sits way behind the top 5 of this list in terms of its overall quality.