2. Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan made himself a household name with Batman Begins in 2005, the now famous director bringing a more adult, more flawed Batman into view, returning the character to the darkness that had made Tim Burton’s version such a success whilst still fusing his picture with all the Nolanisms we’ve each become accustomed to across the likes of Inception and Dunkirk in the years since.
Perhaps most impressive about this particular Batman offering is the period in which it was released. 2005 was a year in which superhero films were still finding their feet, the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises being standouts in a sub-genre very much defined by the likes of the less interesting, deep or good Daredevil, Elektra and Fantastic Four movies. Batman Begins didn’t seem like it was fantasy aimed at children, it was a character study of a man at the end of his tether and departed from the world, and one that was told by actors with real critical acclaim, such as Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.
There are elements of Batman Begins that remain very of their time – not least some of the more fantastical elements and a series of cringey pieces of dialogue – but this Christopher Nolan franchise debut proved to be faithful to the films that came before it whilst forging its own path as the start of the franchise’s defining trilogy. Here, Batman was born of Bruce Wayne, and Batman had never been as good. Until the sequel.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
The greatest Batman movie of all time is The Dark Knight. This 2008 Christopher Nolan film featured some of the visual elements of Michael Mann’s classic thrillers like Heat, and its narrative was squarely focused on two iconic characters battling physically and ideologically for the minds of the people during a moment in real-world history when ideological warfare was all over the news and the world was still processing 9/11.
Presenting a timeless character and his perennial foe in the glory of state of the art visual technology – it was shot in IMAX when only 4 cameras existed in the world at the time – with a revolutionary score from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard created by (among other things) forks being scratched down metal surfaces, The Dark Knight was an unmatched superhero offering behind-the-camera, while in front of the camera Heath Ledger elevated an already outstanding, genre-defining, franchise-leading film into one of the most iconic movies ever made.
From the moment Joker removed his mask at the conclusion of The Dark Knight’s opening heist scene, it was clear that something special was afoot, and by the conclusion of the film a new bar for performance in fantasy-action superhero movies had been set; a bar that earned Ledger a posthumous Oscar and has arguably never been topped. It is probably the greatest superhero movie performance of all time, Ledger not only excelling in bringing to life every small inclination in every line of dialogue, but his physicality offering a new dynamic to the character that came to dominate every scene and sequence in which he appeared.
The Dark Knight was one of those magical moments in cinema when so many phenomenally talented artists come together at precisely the right moment, creating something that has grown beyond the limits of its genre to impact the core of 21st century popular culture and redefine the template for blockbuster success. The Dark Knight is not only the greatest of Nolan’s Batman trilogy but one of the most influential films of the century; undoubtedly the very best live-action Batman movie ever put to the silver screen.
Recommended for you: Christopher Nolan Films Ranked
Which Batman movie do you like the most? Would you rank Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy in the same order? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates on more insightful movie lists.
Updated 6th April 2022 to include The Batman. Originally published 21st May 2019.