8. Batman Forever (1995)
The behind-the-scenes story of Joel Schumacher’s first Batman movie Batman Forever (1995) is perhaps even more interesting than the flashy light show of randomness and ego that makes up the actual film, studio Warner Bros foregoing their option of a third Tim Burton movie (following his success with Batman and Batman Returns) to go in a different, more merchandise-ready, crossover-happy family film direction, building Batman Forever in the mould of 60s Batman rather than any modern version of the Caped Crusader, including that of the famous (but significantly darker, and much better) early 90s cartoon.
Tommy Lee Jones hated Jim Carrey, and their constant battles behind the scenes can be seen on screen as the leading pair of antagonists attempt to outdo each other in shot after shot, chewing the scenery in some of the most over-the-top performances in the franchise’s history. Val Kilmer, this film’s Batman, is by comparison relatively plain, his dour tones seemingly at odds with the lofty atmosphere of everything going on around him. Kilmer’s jaw is arguably the best and most appropriate of all the Batman jaws on the big screen to date, but his is a performance at odds with the intentions of everyone else in the film, the rest of this production intent on offering precisely the opposite of Tim Burton’s darker and more existential offerings.
To this day, Batman Forever can be seen as a marker in blockbuster history of a time when a major franchise took a significant downturn because a studio got eyes too big for its belly and began to pursue profits at the cost of just about everything else. Joel Schumacher was, believe it or not, a good filmmaker… usually.
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7. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Pre-The Batman (2022), Batman v Superman was the first Batman movie to offer a glimpse of the World’s Greatest Detective aspect of the Batman character that Warner Bros had been hesitant to offer in the franchise’s big screen history, and it was no doubt satisfying to see Ben Affleck bring a genuine sense of battle-worn tiredness to his more intelligent and aware version of the character – there seemed enough here to warrant investment in this Batman, and to want to see more from a prospective universe-building series of films (Ben Affleck’s own Batman film never got off the ground and it took years for BvS director Zack Snyder to complete his vision of the Justice League movie).
Of course, a film in which Batman shares the title with Superman means that the focus has to be shifted away from the Dark Knight for large periods, and the introductions of other major franchise characters only diluted the story’s focus further, making it much less of a Batman story than the rest of the films on this list. There were issues with Batman shooting guns as freely as any supervillain too, and how so much of the story was anchored by a number of weak narrative beats that were more cheesy and awful than profound or interesting.
Director Zack Snyder’s first take on Batman offered a mixed bag, and unfortunately for him came right after Christopher Nolan’s much-respected Dark Knight Trilogy, meaning the writing was always on the wall regarding this critical misfire. But, beneath some weak decisions and divisive moments, there are elements of this film worth lauding, the pacing of its Batman scenes spectacular and its ability to forge a genuine rivalry between heroes (by no means on equal footing from the perspective of their powers) being impressive too. This wasn’t as sure-footed as the films to come on this list, nor as memorable, and to many it paled in comparison to the rival Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings of the time, but there have certainly been worse Batman movies.
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6. Batman Returns (1992)
Tim Burton’s highly-anticipated follow-up to his 1989 reboot of the Batman movie franchise, Batman Returns, is a film with a rich mix of villainous characters each as quotable as the next, with iconic turns from Danny DeVito as Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman taking centre stage.
A more traditional blockbuster in almost every sense of the word than Burton’s more Burton-esque earlier offering, Batman Returns features a lot more moments to hook into and characters to latch onto, and this was all precisely by design, Warner Bros yet again piling pressure on their filmmaker to include new faces and marketable commodities in an attempt to maximise the profitability of one of their biggest tentpoles.
Suffering from a lesser case of the Schumachers as regards his creative freedom and merchandising pressures, Tim Burton didn’t quite hit his stride with Batman Returns as he did with his 1989 Batman, nor did he layer his ever-present themes quite as deeply into the fabric of the picture, but it still features some of the best work of Burton’s early career and is by no means a blotch on the iconic filmmaker’s record. Batman Returns is a good movie, 2 hours to be enjoyed by the whole family, a movie that hosts enough depth to keep hardened viewers interested time and time again, but it doesn’t strike a chord either socially or in terms of the filmmaking landscape quite like what is to come on this list.
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