The Batman has been an indelible part of western popular culture for the better part of a century, the Caped Crusader’s adventures in comic books, on television (in both live-action and cartoon), in video games, and in movies, proving to be popular with people of all ages, the Dark Knight’s at times silly and at times dark and brooding offerings embedding Bruce Wayne into our cultural zeitgeist.
Since its debut in 1929, the Batman IP has earned $29.1billion worldwide; an indicator as to its size as a powerhouse brand but also its power at connecting to people. On the silver screen, Batman films have made a combined $6.78billion, making it the 7th highest-grossing movie franchise in history. Whether it be the 60s, the 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s, or 20s, it seems that the Batman has remained relevant, his vessel used as a means of exploring issues of our world for better or for worse. In this respect, Batman has become as timeless, as legendary, as enduring, as any great literary figure. Batman is, for all intents and purposes, the 20th century’s Dracula.
Whether made as goofy comedies for the entertainment of children or as darker allegories for the real world aimed at adults, the 10 live-action Batman movies released to date have reached many a height over their 7-decade stay in cinemas, and in this edition of Ranked we here at The Film Magazine are looking at all of them, from Batman (1966) to The Batman (2022), and comparing each in terms of artistic merit, cultural relevance, critical reception, audience perception, and overall enjoyment, to present to you the best Batman movie of all time and, first, the worst, in this: the Live-Action Batman Movies Ranked.
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10. Batman & Robin (1997)
Batman & Robin was so critically panned upon its release that star George Clooney now refuses to comment on his part in it, and director Joel Schumacher actually apologised for the film before his passing in 2020. So bad was this 1997 comic adaptation that it even derailed Warner Bros’ cornerstone franchise, leaving it absent from our screens for the better part of a decade before Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins was released in 2005.
Batman & Robin was, in total, a series of massive missteps. Thematically it was all over the place, and it was a film very much born out of its own time, Schumacher and Warner Bros completely failing to cater to the anti-authoritarian, teenager-focused, hyper-masculine attitudes of the mid-to-late 90s with their patronising, childish and uninspired offering. It was over-elaborate in parts and almost insultingly reductive in others, and is arguably one of the most corporate and heartless blockbusters of the hyper-corporate 1990s, the film crammed with ideas born of Warner Bros’ merchandising arm more than any creative or artistic intent.
This is the cheap and nasty Batman film, by far the worst live-action offering the franchise has ever offered; a film insulting to those conscious of Batman’s potential and all the ways Warner Bros crammed it full of exploitative merchandising intentions, but one considered boring even by the standards of the very young children it was clearly aimed at.
9. Batman the Movie (1966)
Batman the Movie is… ridiculous. Stupid even. For this reason it has earned the affection of many Batman franchise fans, but a good movie it is not.
Nostalgia for simpler times when superheroes were dorks running around in spandex does make this 1966 offering worthwhile, especially when there are intentional and unintentional laughs around every corner (such as Batman having special shark repellent), and Batman the Movie did establish many of the tropes associated with not only the Batman but wider superhero cinema – even penetrating popular culture with its iconic “na na na na na na na na Batman” theme. Special mention must also be made to Adam West, whose earnest presence in the costume has remained influential and important over the 50-plus years since his last tv episode and the near 60 since this film.
Batman as a character is much evolved from this era however, and the limits to the Batman universe have been vastly expanded in the decades since, this version of the Dark Knight being neither dark nor much of a knight, and the film itself failing to say much of anything about anything. This is turn-your-brain-off fun for fans of the right mindset, but were it not a Batman movie, nobody would be rewatching never mind celebrating this dated, low budget 60s cheese-fest of a film.
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