From Keaton to Pattinson, Every Batman Film Ranked


This article contains spoilers for every Btmann film released to date, including The Batman. You’ve been warned.

I was born in 1988. Since then, not a year has gone by where there hasn’t been some type of Batman content to consume. Even during the eight-year break between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins, there were countless animated series and straight-to-video movies. Only a handful have gotten the tone, villain and story down perfectly. Below are all the theatrically released films featuring Batman – minus grim team-ups like Justice League and delightful goofs like The LEGO Batman Movie – ranked worst to best.


Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Director: Zack Snyder
Batman: Ben Affleck
Allies: Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Superman (Henry Cavill)
Villains: Doomsday, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg)

Not to beat a dead horse, but this movie doesn’t work. It’s got some interesting ideas about heroism and national security, but that third act is absolutely atrocious. It’s not Affleck’s fault, though. His Batman is wearier, less trusting and haunted by the (implied) death of Robin. But he also does CrossFit! I would have loved to have seen what Affleck could have done in a solo movie, but for the sake of his mental health, it’s probably for the best that didn’t happen. Let’s move on.


Batman & Robin

Director: Joel Schumacher
Batman: George Clooney
Allies: Robin (Chris O’Donnell), Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone)
Villains: Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), Bane (Robert Swenson)

When I went to the theater opening weekend at age 9, I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Apparently I was the target audience, as Joel Schumacher apparently told the cast “Remember, we’re shooting a toy commercial!” on the set. As a movie, it’s too long and ridiculous, buckling under its own weight. There’s plenty to be embarrassed about: Mr. Freeze’s endless puns, the Batman credit card, Alicia Silverstone’s performance, whatever they did to Bane. But there’s plenty to praise, too: Clooney’s an excellent Bruce Wayne. The color palette is dazzling, at least compared to the gray sludge we see nowadays. And the production design, in which enormous statues butt up against modern skyscrapers, makes for a Gotham City that doesn’t look anything like Chicago or London (where many other Batman movies have been shot). Your mileage may vary on Thurman’s Mae West impersonation, though.


Dark Knight Rises

Director: Christopher Nolan
Batman: Christian Bale
Allies: Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
Villains: Bane (Tom Hardy), Talia al Ghul (Marion Cotillard)

Few movies from the 2010s have had such a drop-off from the opening weekend high to the inevitable rewatch at home. Nolan’s trilogy capper has so many interesting ideas, but rarely follows through with them. Tom Hardy launched a thousand bad impressions with his take on Bane, a heartless mercenary and terrorist who also strips billionaires of their ill-gotten wealth and dismantles the police force. To misquote Homer Simpson, I don’t agree with his “slaughtering innocent civilians” policy, but I do approve of his “putting the ultra-rich out on the streets” policy. Really, the entire third act is deeply silly, including a twist that Bruce’s new squeeze (Miranda Tate) is actually the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, who tried to destroy Gotham in Batman Begins. At least Anne Hathaway is great in this.


Batman Forever

Director: Joel Schumacher
Batman: Val Kilmer
Ally: Robin (Chris O’Donnell)
Villains: Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), the Riddler (Jim Carrey)

Tim Burton was still a young director with only two minor hits under his belt when he was tapped to direct Batman. He had to acquiesce to a lot of crazy requests – including an all-Prince soundtrack that at odds with his gloomy film and shooting on Jack Nicholson’s schedule – but the film worked and was an absolutely massive hit. He got pretty much total control for Batman Returns, but it wasn’t as successful and rubbed a lot of WB’s partners – including McDonald’s – the wrong way thanks to its intense violence. He refused to return for a third film, and Michael Keaton went with him. So in came Joel Schumacher, a team player who had scored hits with the controversial Falling Down and the John Grisham adaptation The Client. To say his style was different than Burton’s would be an understatement. Batman Forever is all garish neon colors, and everything else is cranked up to 11 as well. It doesn’t really work to have both Two-Face and Riddler going over-the-top, but the movie is clearly the most fun tale of Gotham City. I saw this in theaters way too young, and Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian – who has little to do besides be horny for Batman and get abducted – probably jump-started my puberty. But the film’s weak link is surprisingly Kilmer, who’s stiff as a board as Batman and Bruce Wayne. This was right at the peak of his reputation of being “difficult” to work with, so either way it’s for the best this was his only superhero movie.


Batman Begins

Director: Christopher Nolan
Batman: Christian Bale
Villains: Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson), Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson)

Finally, a Batman movie I can recommend wholeheartedly. Christopher Nolan’s first entry did a lot of work to ground Batman. Gone were the form-fitting suits and bright colors. Instead, Gotham City looks a lot like Chicago, just with a masked vigilante running around. Christian Bale is terrific in his biggest film role to date, even if he doesn’t quite have “the voice” down. But everything that works here, Nolan would improve upon later.


Batman: The Movie (1966)

Director: Leslie H. Martinson
Batman: Adam West
Ally: Robin (Burt Ward)
Villains: Catwoman (Lee Meriwether), the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (Frank Gorshin)

You might think this big screen adaptation of the ABC series is too high, but you’d be wrong. Intentionally or not, this is one of the funniest movies ever made. Released in between the first and second seasons of the show, it has by far the smallest budget of any Batman movie, but it’s an absolute hoot. Between a shark attack, a bomb, and a device that disintegrates people, it’s only slightly more ridiculous than your typical Dynamic Duo adventure. Lee Meriweather – replacing Julie Newmar – nearly overpowers the film as a seductive Catwoman, but the puns and gentle satire actually work here.


Batman Returns (1992)

Director: Tim Burton
Batman: Michael Keaton
Ally: Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer)
Villains: The Penguin (Danny DeVito), Max Schreck (Christopher Walken)

I respect people who rank this as No. 1, even if I disagree with them. This is absolutely the twisted vision Tim Burton wanted to produce, and something this grotesque could only come from his head, not a boardroom of executives focused on toy sales and tie-ins. Michelle Pfeiffer is pitch-perfect as the put-upon Selina Kyle, who becomes Catwoman, enacting her revenge against the boss who tried to kill her and the city that let him thrive. Danny DeVito is appropriately disgusting as this version of the Penguin, discarded by everyone and raised in the sewers. It’s a strong contender for the best film in the franchise, at least until a deeply absurd third act that hinges on actual penguins with bombs strapped to their backs.


The Batman (2022)

Director: Matt Reeves
Batman: Robert Pattinson
Ally: Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz)
Villains: The Riddler (Paul Dano), the Penguin (Colin Farrell), Carmine Falcone (John Turturro)

The newest version of Batman gets pretty much everything right. Nearly three hours long, it’s more of a police procedural than a comic book movie, emphasizing Batman’s reputation as the “World’s Greatest Detective.” All the characters are fully fleshed out, even minor roles like a corrupt D.A. (Peter Sargaard). What’s different this time is Batman: a self-destructive force reckoning with the fact that in his two years as the Dark Knight, the city’s gotten worse. Once again, it’s the actress playing Catwoman who steals the show, though all the actors are doing terrific work.


The Dark Knight (2008)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Batman: Christian Bale
Allies: Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart)
Villains: Joker (Heath Ledger), Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart), Salvatore Moroni (Eric Roberts), Lau (Chin Han)

“There’s no going back. You’ve changed things.” – Joker

This ominous quote could apply to Hollywood as well as Gotham. At the time, it earned the biggest opening weekend domestically, and became one of the few movies to ever cross $1 billion worldwide. But in the 14 years since, studios have taken many of the wrong lessons. DC wasted a decade making nearly all its films dark and brooding. Even non-comic book movies tried to make its villains as clever as Heath Ledger’s wily, chaotic Joker. But only this film pulled it off. Rewatching it recently for this piece, that finale on the ferries really makes thematic sense, but no logistical sense (I guess in the midst of a rash of bombings, no one bothered to sweep the only escape route out of Gotham before letting thousands of people board?). But that’s about the only flaw in this otherwise tremendous piece of pop filmmaking.


Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

Directors: Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm
Batman: Kevin Conroy
Villains: The Joker (Mark Hamill), The Phantasm (Stacy Keach)

A marvel of storytelling economy, this big screen adaptation of Batman: The Animated Series tells an entire crime saga in less than 80 minutes, with the most believable romance Bruce Wayne has ever had. And despite being animated, it’s arguably more messed up than any of its live-action counterparts. The Joker kills his bosses, leaving them with a permanent grin. The Phantasm drops a gravestone on a mob lieutenant! It was the only Batman movie to make less than its budget at the box office, but it’s gone on to be a cult hit. Real fans know.


Batman (1989)

Director: Tim Burton
Batman: Michael Keaton
Villains: Joker (Jack Nicholson)

Whether it’s my repeated exposure to it or the fact that I was the perfect age to become obsessed with Batman as a kid, I still don’t think any Batman film has topped this one. Its Oscar-winning production design and greedy inhabitants set the template for all iterations of Gotham City to follow. Keaton and Nicholson both bring exactly the tone needed for each of their characters. And while Kim Basinger has little to do except scream, the film takes its time developing her relationship with Bruce Wayne and Batman. It may have been a troubled production, but it doesn’t show in the final product.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.