The DKN Staff Ranks The Live-Action Batman Movies

Justice League is about to fly onto movie screens all over the globe, and Batman will once again be on the big screen. We here at Dark Knight News thought now would be the perfect time to look back at all of the live-action films featuring the cowled hero, and give them all a ranking. You know, because it’s fun. The films included in our ranking, in order of their release year, are:

  • Batman: The Movie
  • Batman
  • Batman Returns
  • Batman Forever
  • Batman & Robin
  • Batman Begins
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

As you can see, we didn’t include Justice League due to the fact that most of us weren’t lucky enough to score an early screening. We ranked each movie on a scale from 1-10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best. Let’s get to it!

Batman: The Movie (1966)

Rating: 7.4

Impressions:

Steven Conroy, news writer/reviewer 

“A whole bunch of stupid, campy and crazy fun. Bringing the four villains together is still more successful than when they just tried to bring in two for Batman Forever /& Robin! The whole dehydrating world leaders plot is so insane that it is awesome!”

John Hagmann, reviewer

“I say comparisons between Batman 1966 and any that follow are folly. It’s apple and oranges, friends.”

Kevin Gallagher, news writer/reviewer

“Despite being campy, the 1966 Batman movie is a quintessential Batman film. It’s the only one on this list that can be shown to a young child and offers a prefect entry to the character for a young fan. While seeming very silly compared to today’s standards, The Bright Knight shines on a separate stratosphere.”

Sharna Anrahs, news writer/reviewer

“Superheroes came at a time during American hardship. The year Batman came into comics, 1939, was a heavy year. Hitler was becoming stronger, they were still pulling out of the Great Depression, and World War II was on the verge. They pushed through many wars and dark times, and they were there to bring hope to everyone, but certainly for children. And campy Batman films always deserve this light! It’s definitely one of the best Batman films, and if you’re a fan or a pursuing fan of Batman, it’s a film to watch! It’s also fun to see a universe where your dark, brooding Batman says a lot of puns.”

Chris Foti, news writer

“Arguably the most accurate depiction of Batman in the comics, considering the comic at the time. Campy and full of fun, this is definitely a great entry point for younger fans of the character. It proves Batman doesn’t have to be dark and brooding at all times. Its biggest drawback is being so dated and not meshing with the modern take on the character, but this film is still important for the history of Batman.”

Batman

Rating: 8.4

Steve J. Ray (The Man), news writer/reviewer

“Dark, gritty, visceral. Game changing.”

Eric Lee, news writer/reviewer

“This is my personal favorite Batman film for pure nostalgia reasons. Jack Nicholson’s Joker skirts the line of hammy, but it is totally in character. Michael Keaton’s Batman is the man! He is not the most physically imposing one, but he looks crazy and haunted. Also the Danny Elfman soundtrack is my personal favorite. The plot totally falls apart near the end of the movie (like, how did the Batwing miss all of his shots at the Joker?), but the strength of the mood and tone that Tim Burton creates makes up for it.”

John Hagmann

“Burton put Batman back on the silver screen using Frank Miller’s TDKR prescription. From ‘duly deputized member of law enforcement’ to a wanted vigilante was a genius move. The Batmobile was jaw-dropping. Keaton defined Batman for a generation, spawning a cornucopia of merchandise and spin-offs, including BTAS. ”

Kevin Gallagher

“Burton’s initial Batman movie defines everything, good and bad, that has come after it. Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson are at the top of their game in this movie. While it may not be as realistic as Nolan’s movies, it’s still a great movie that holds up today and that I wouldn’t show my 5-year old son. It’s still dark.”

Ryan Lower, reviews coordinator

“This is the first movie I ever truly loved. Everything about it is wonderful. Batman’s entrance. Jack Nicholson’s Joker hand coming out of the chemicals. Danny Elfman’s soundtrack. Nothing will ever take away my love for this movie.”

Batman Returns

Rating: 7.1

Steven Conroy

“I drove 45 mins out of my way to see this on opening night with a group of friends. I assumed it was going to be the greatest film of all time… the 45 minute ride home was more fun than the movie.”

Eric Lee

“This is actually the best Batman movie of the original series. It is has the strongest plot and character development. Tim Burton goes full Tim Burton here, so people may be turned off by that. Also Batman’s screen time is eaten up in favor of the Penguin and Catwoman, which is weird for a movie with his name in the title. But Burton’s atmospheric sets and stronger direction makes the film interesting and exciting.”

Chris Foti

“Just as, if not more polarizing than Batman v Superman. In a lot of ways, this is a Tim Burton film that happens to feature Batman characters, rather than a Batman film. Danny Elfman’s score is cranked to 11, Keaton returns in another brilliant performance, and Michelle Pfeiffer steals her scenes as Catwoman, but black goo-spewing Penguin and too many Burtonisms hold this film back.”

Ryan Lower

“This movie is misunderstood, but I can’t fault anyone for not liking it. I even went back and forth throughout the years. I’ve come to embrace it and adore it for what it is. Catwoman is a scene stealer. Her scene with Bruce at the dance is perfection. Oh, and again that soundtrack. Especially, ‘Selina Transforms’. Wait, I’m starting to see a trend here…”

Steve J. Ray

“Gothic gorgeousness.”

Batman Forever

Rating: 5.6

Steve J Ray 

“I thought Carrey was turned up too loud, while poor old Tommy Lee Jones gave an understated and underrated performance. I really like Kilmer as both Batman and as Bruce Wayne and O’Donnell was pretty cool.”

Steven Conroy

“One thing I don’t get…. seriously someone explain it to me. We see Batman leap over the barrier to try and save Harvey from the acid attack. Up until this point……Was Batman just sitting in the court every day of the trial in his full Batman outfit? WTF???

Think about this….. he just sat in court. All day. In his Batman outfit.

I could just talk about this part of the movie all day…. seriously though, was the guy next to him doing Sudoku and the two made small talk??????”

John Hagmann

“Actually a cool concept but its over-the-top execution and dependence upon one-liners fell flat. Killer soundtrack!”

Eric Lee

“People always crap on this movie unfairly. Yeah, it features Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones with ham-o-meter cranked up to 11, but it also has one of the better character arcs for Bruce Wayne. It is unfortunate that it is truncated in the theatrical release. Still, it is one of the few times Batman is having an existential crisis in a movie, so it makes it intriguing.”

Kevin Gallagher

“And the beginning of the fall. Once Burton and Keaton left the franchise, the tone of the films (as well as just the overall quality) change drastically, and for the worse. While there are some positives to pull away from Batman Forever, between this and Batman & Robin, Batman was put in movie jail for a few years.”

Chris Foti

“One of WB’s biggest missed opportunities. They tried to appease fans and partners by making it more kid friendly after Burton’s dark Batman Returns. However, you could tell there was a serious story Schumacher was trying to tell with the red diary deleted scenes. The result is a mostly fine film, and a love him or hate him Jim Carrey’s Riddler. Val Kilmer is okay as Batman, but doesn’t do anything to raise the bar, and Tommy Lee Jones is one of the biggest wastes of talent in his film, trying to do a knockoff Joker as Two-Face. Special shoutout to the slick Batwing.”

Ryan Lower

“I was obsessed with this movie when it came out. Granted I was 9, so I was their target audience. Plus, Jim Carrey was great. I’ve grown to be able to enjoy it, but now it’s meh.”

Batman & Robin

Rating: 3

Steve J Ray

“Eveything went wrong. To me this film is best watched and digested as a sequel to Batman ’66, NOT as a sequel to Tim Burton’s Hammer House Of Batman.”

Steven Conroy

“It starts with an almost beat-for-beat Flintstones opening as Batman skids down a dinosaur…. it then gets dumber. So bad, it’s not good.”

John Hagmann

“Ugh. This one was so cringe-worthy, the franchise had to wait years before being rebooted. ”

Eric Lee

“I will fully admit that this movie is a total guilty pleasure of mine. It is so bad that it goes from being bad to being good again if that makes any sense. I love how stupidly over-the-top with the nipples, the neon, the cartoon slipping sound effects. And Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze…. Those ice puns are so ridiculous, yet fun. The movie is nonsensical, loud, and dumb. Regardless, I do have fun watching it.”

Sharna Anrahs, an abashedly resilient lover of this movie

“I will defend this through tooth and nail, Ryan! ”

Chris Foti

“This is what a zero film looks like and the dangers of the studio taking too much control and making the film for the wrong reasons. Instead of trying to tell a story, they tried to sell toys and use star names.”

Ryan Lower

“Sharna, I applaud your passion but I DON’T GET IT!”

Batman Begins

Rating: 8.4

Steve J Ray

“It’s like someone tore panels and pages out of Batman: Year One and stuck them on the screen. Gary Oldman IS Jim Gordon. Bale (apart from the growl) IS Batman.”

Steven Conroy

“Thank you Chris Nolan! I love Batman Begins. It has a few flaws here and there, it’s obvious Liam Nesson is the villain from the start. I am never gonna jump on the Bale voice bandwagon. I love what he did with the character, voice and all.”

John Hagmann

“Batman returned to his dark, brooding roots. It’s gritty and made the character feel more believable. Bale is incredible.”

Eric Lee

“A great character movie. If you come in expecting Batman immediately and bombastic action, then you are in the wrong place. If you come in looking for an introspective look at how a man goes from being emotionally lost to finding a purpose to protect his people, then you will thoroughly enjoy this. The movie is docked a little for having a strange third act finale. A water dehydration machine seems oddly out-of-place in Christopher Nolan’s hyper realistic world. Also, this movie features the worst Batman voice ever. Christian Bale goes from gruff to growly to laryngitis. At least The Dark Knight had a more consistent Batman voice.”

Kevin Gallagher

Batman Begins is the dawn of the gritty superhero movie. While I enjoyed the ‘realism’ that Nolan’s trilogy is grounded in, his initial entry is an OK story. On its own, it’s actually kind of forgettable; but The Dark Knight actually improves the first one. Bale’s take on Batman is OK, but I have a feeling will be forgotten when compared to past and future incarnations. Except for that voice… that will live on forever.”

Sharna Anrahs

The Dark Knight Trilogy is what gave him another rebirth back onto the big screen! Of course, it’s fantastic, but I felt Christian Bale didn’t hit Bruce Wayne on the nose. He looked too…murder-suicidey.”

Chris Foti

“The film that got me back into Batman after somewhat of a hiatus between 1997 and 2005. Told the definitive origin of Batman, brought the character into a hyper-realistic world. I had never been so excited to see a film’s sequel than when this film’s credits started to roll. We, as a comic book loving crowd, have Batman Begins to thank for so much.”

The Dark Knight

Rating: 9.8

Steve J Ray

“Really shows how having more than one villain in a movie CAN be done well. Are you listening, Mr. Schumacher?”

Steven Conroy

“I’m not smart enough to add anything to what has been said about this movie. I just know that I was the guy who said ‘I’m gonna give him a shot, he could pull this off’ when the rest of the world freaked out about Heath Ledger being cast as The Joker (you know you did) …. and I was right :)”

Eric Lee

“The best Batman movie period. This takes characters and concepts that Batman fans are familiar with and elevates them. It is deep, it is layered, and it tells a cohesive, logical narrative that arcs across multiple movies. Parts of the Joker’s plans are ridiculous in the level of details and contingencies and that makes the film less than perfect. But the use of Batman characters to discuss heavy topics, such as systemic corruption, underworld power vacuums, heroic sacrifices, and law and order makes it the top Batman movie yet.”

Kevin Gallagher

The Dark Knight is a near perfect movie. However, not because of the titular character. It’s Heath Ledger as the Joker AND, someone who I don’t believe gets enough credit, Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent / Two-Face that make this movie. I can’t say anything about Ledger as the Joker that hasn’t already been said, but Eckhart’s perfomance in this film is the best by far. He essentially played three different takes on one character.

Sharna Anrahs

“I could watch this movie on repeat. Brilliant and entertaining, and each time you see it, you notice way more! Lucius Fox, Jim Gordon, Two-Face, and of course Joker made that film blindingly awesome! ”

Chris Foti

“This is what a master class in film making looks like. A great story and a director getting the most out of their actors. Dark, thrilling, with humor sprinkled in there, this is not just a great comic book film, but a great film period. ”

Ryan Lower

“Let me tell you about the time I saw the trailer above. I went to the movies the Friday it was playing, with my girlfriend at the time. We went to see a kid’s movie. I left her in the theater, hopped over to I Am Legend for 10 minutes just to see The Dark Knight trailer. I returned to the theater, looked at her, and said ‘that was awesome’. The movie exceeded the hype. This movie delivers in every way. It is my favorite movie of all time, and I don’t see how anything will ever top it. Bring it on, Matt Reeves!”

The Dark Knight Rises

Rating: 7.6

Steve J Ray

“People moan about Bane… I loved him. What I didn’t like is the whole nonsense of Batman quitting his war on crime FOR YEARS, after the end of the previous movie. Nope, nope, NOPE.”

Steven Conroy

“Seriously? The Joker kills Batman’s girlfriend so he retires…. nope, nope, nope!!! He killed Robin in the comics and Batman worked himself to the brink of death!!!! This means The Joker actually won, he beat Batman the one and only time they faced each other. I have grown to like this film since my first disappointing viewing…. but there is no way he escaped that bomb blast at the end…. no way, we see the counter on the bomb, we see him in the cockpit, we see the blast radius… he is toast. I think in years to come Nolan is gonna tell us the end scene where Alfred sees Bruce is a dream. This Batman is dead.”

John Hagmann

“Ugh. Again, the franchise buckled under its own weight while trying too hard to duplicate success. Bane’s voice became a cultural joke (see The LEGO Batman Movie), and Talia fell flat as a villain.”

Eric Lee

“As much as I love this movie, there are just too many silly plot holes to ignore. Christopher Nolan creates a thematically-layered film, but at the expense of logical plot progression. Why does Bruce Wayne rebuild the Bat Cave when he has been retired all this time? Why does Bane take strides to create a revolution in Gotham City if he was planning on blowing it up? Did Batman really take time to create a gas-lit Bat-signal when he knew that there is a bomb about to go off? Why did the Gotham PD and Bane’s army punch not use guns to kill each other in the climax? Clearly, the thematic motifs dictate the plot, even if it doesn’t make much sense. Still, it has a great, fully realized character arc for Bruce Wayne, something that has never been done before. It is a good, but heavily flawed movie.”

Chris Foti

“While the weakest in Nolan’s Trilogy, this is still a great film. Nolan reinvented the character of Bane, with a brilliant performance by Tom Hardy. Anne Hathaway takes the iconic character of Catwoman and makes it her own. And Nolan closes the chapter on the Bruce Wayne story he started in 2005 with Batman Begins. TDKR closes the greatest film trilogy of all time.”

Ryan Lower

“Great moments in this movie. Bane’s intro, Batman’s return, his fight with Bane, the blowing up of the football field, and of course that ending. I love this movie.”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Rating: 7.3

Steve J Ray

“This would’ve been a 10, if not for Joker Eisenberg and a Batman who’s a little too killy. Other than that Ben Affleck is a picture perfect Dark Knight.

Oh… and Wonder Woman stole the show.”

Steven Conroy

“I saw this opening night and watched as Batman committed vehicular homicide on multiple people. I was then told to see the ‘real version’ of the movie, I need to watch the extended home release.

What? I paid full price for a movie ticket on opening night but that wasn’t the correct version? I also needed to pay an extra $20 to watch it at home?

It was like I had already paid to be kicked in the balls, then someone offered to kick me in the balls a second time, for longer, and then charge me extra,

I own Superman III and IV. I own Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.

I do not own Batman v Superman.”

John Hagmann

“Cool visual effects, Affleck is brilliant as Bruce Wayne. Lots going on though and the story is a bit convoluted, but a weathered and broken Batman took a central role.”

Eric Lee

“I will go on record to say that this movie contains some of the worst depictions of both Batman and Superman. Nothing about this Batman seems heroic. At best, he comes off as highly gullible, angry guy and at worst, he is a sadist who may be secretly jealous of Superman. Seriously, if you watch the teaser trailer for this movie, everything about this Batman screams “Villain”. Equally bad is how cynical about the nature of heroism is in this movie. There are multiple allusions or instances where the protagonists are being punished for doing the right thing. That is not the message for a Superman movie. Despite questionable plot points and characterization, Wonder Woman is a treasure in this. Also, say what you will about Zack Snyder, but he knows how to make an exciting action scene, particularly the warehouse fight.”

Kevin Gallagher

“While the movie was just a big ol’ mess, two big positives came from the film: Batman and Wonder Woman. Affleck and Gadot were great in this film, despite what they had to work with. And while Affleck was great as The Dark Knight, it’s his performance as Bruce Wayne that stands out; has any other actor ever been more Bruce Wayne than Affleck?”

Sharna Anrahs

“I think the Trinity interaction is what compels me to watch this on repeat as well. The way Wonder Woman entered took the whole theater’s breathe away.”

Chris Foti

“This film is unquestionably bloated. The things it gets wrong, it gets wrong hard. But the things it gets right it knocks out of the park. Despite some of the questionable actions Batman takes in the film, this is arguably the best Batman on film to date, looking like he walked of a Jim Lee splash page. It was also amazing to see DC’s holy Trinity on screen together for the first time. While it does deserve some of the criticism it gets, I feel like it gets too much hate and is a fine addition to the DC Films Universe. DC just needs to focus on director driven films and let the universe take care of itself rather than try to force it like with BvS.”

Well, there you have it. Here is the list in order from best to worst:

  • The Dark Knight (9.8)
  • Batman and Batman Begins (8.4)
  • The Dark Knight Rises (7.6)
  • Batman: The Movie (7.4)
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (7.3)
  • Batman Returns (7.1)
  • Batman Forever (5.6)
  • Batman & Robin (3, don’t tell Sharna)

Did the list turn out as you’d predicted? A bit all over the place if you ask me (Sharna really does love Batman & Robin). What’s your ranking? Feel free to let us know!

 

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Ryan Lower

A lifelong fan of the Dark Knight, Ryan Lower grew up far from Gotham in Indiana but has planted roots in Chicago. A writer for a T.V. station, he also enjoys brooding at home in his own batcave, devouring Batman comics, shows and movies.