Every Batman Movie Ranked

Batman Returns

by Ben Travis, Alex Godfrey, John Nugent, James Dyer, James White |
Updated on

Whether he’s beginning, returning, or – god forbid – and Robin-ing, Hollywood can’t get enough of Batman. DC’s crime-fighting vigilante-detective has been a big-screen mainstay for over 50 years, with varying incarnations of billionaire orphan Bruce Wayne and his nocturnal alter-ego reflecting the respective eras of their creation – psychedelic ‘60s silliness, gaudy ‘90s quip-fests, and super-serious contemporary blockbusters. Everyone from Adam West, to Christian Bale, to George Clooney has donned the iconic cowl in that time – and the latest to join them is Robert Pattinson, suiting up in Matt Reeves’ reinvention of the mythology, The Batman.

As Reeves’ film dominates the box office, Empire presents an updated edition of our definitive Batman movie ranking – totting up the very best of Bruce Wayne on the big screen, as voted for by members of Team Empire. From all-out masterpieces, to flawed favourites, to so-bad-it’s-brilliant cheese-fests, read through the best of the Bat – and find out where The Batman sits on the list.


Every Batman Movie Ranked

13) Batman & Robin (1997)1 of 13

13) Batman & Robin (1997)

Today considered more of a punchline than an actual movie, Batman & Robin is widely agreed to be the worst of the cinematic Batmen by all who have seen it — most loudly and enthusiastically by the film's Bruce Wayne himself, George Clooney. "I was bad in it," Clooney told Empire bluntly in 2020. "It's a bad film." It's true that there are very few filmmaking choices here that could be considered defensible — from the misuse of great characters like Poison Ivy and Batgirl, to the shonky production values, to the baffling repeated close-ups of leather codpieces and the much-maligned Bat-nipples. Its perception as a total flop (it was a critical failure, though commercially profitable) almost killed the franchise dead; Batman would not appear on the big screen again for nearly a decade. But viewed from the current era of Very Serious Bats, it is still possible to extract some campy joy out of Joel Schumacher's lurid directorial vision, ironically or not — and revel in (top-billed) Arnold Schwarzenegger, as Mr. Freeze, delivering an endless stream of terrible ice-based one-liners. Our favourite: "What killed the dinosaurs? The ice age!"Read the Empire review.

12) Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)2 of 13

12) Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)

In his superhero smackdown sequel to Man Of Steel, Zack Snyder made a valiant attempt to bring some of the flavour of Frank Miller's iconic comic The Dark Knight Returns to the screen. With a smattering of shots directly inspired by that comic's panels, and an older, wearier Batman played with passive-aggressive grit by Ben Affleck, there are moments of Dawn Of Justice that work. But beyond the visual representation, everything else suffers – Snyder's grimdark instincts and violent excesses result in a distinctly un-Batman take on the character. From his branding of criminals, to his dismissal of the no-kill rule, this Batman isn't well-served by the material – fighting for space in a film desperately trying to establish a Justice League movie, flailing in an underwhelming and under-written beef with Superman. (Admittedly, the opening sequence of Bruce Wayne running through the rubble of Man Of Steel's controversially destructive finale is nicely done.) Ultimately, the Joker himself said it best: why so serious?Read the Empire review.

11) Batman Forever (1995)3 of 13

11) Batman Forever (1995)

Paul Dano might have opted for the incel-terrorist iteration of The Riddler, but Jim Carrey's ginger flat-top, gilded cane, and querisome Lycra onesie make for a more terrifying vision by far. Schumacher's first take on the Caped Crusader has been long sullied by its nipple-tastic follow-up, Batman And Robin, but his initial stab at bringing a little frothy fun to Gotham's mean streets is far from the disaster that sequel was. Kilmer lends the cowl a stern dignity that, while less showy than Keaton's Wayne, capably grounds the Bat in a story that energetically shrugs off Burton's gothic fairytale, re-dressing it in candy shop hues and polishing every surface with a pop culture sheen. As simultaneously messy and dazzling as Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face, the film is an untamed, unrestrained cartoonish vision, with Carrey being the unfettered high point – bouncing through every scene with maniacal, effervescent glee.Read the Empire review.

10) Batman (1966)4 of 13

10) Batman (1966)

There's been a lot of talk of how Matt Reeves finally gave us a screen Batman who does detective work. Erm, hello? The Batphone is ringing! Adam West has been there, done that, and thwarted a shark with Shark Repellent Bat Spray while he was at it. Facing off against The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler and Catwoman, West's bright knight and Burt Ward's unfeasibly enthusiastic Robin fail to prevent the kidnapping of the United World Organization's Security Council (a thinly disguised United Nations), who all get turned to dust. Thank heavens the Batcave contains a Super Molecular Dust Separator. Yes, West's technicolour incarnation became unfashionable in the 1980s as the new breed of Batman comics set the tone for a new breed of Batman film – and arguably, all of them since have been a kneejerk response to this delightful gem. No angst. No rain. Just sheer, unashamed, unadulterated Bat-fun. We'll take Batman running around a pier with a bomb on his head while a brass band, some nuns, and some ducks get in his way any day of the week.

9) Zack Snyderu2019s Justice League (2021)5 of 13

9) Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

Since Bruce Wayne's superpower is mostly, in his own words, that he's rich, it would be easy for Batman to feel hilariously underpowered amid the apocalyptic carnage of Justice League. But in Zack Snyder's team-up flick (his hefty four-hour cut is undeniably superior to the limp theatrical edition), Bruce Wayne has a significant part to play – he's the one tasked with uniting the meta-humans (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg) against uber-baddie Darkseid, as well as having to bring Superman back from the dead. Snyder's more violent vision of the character carries over here from Dawn Of Justice, but this time he's at least fighting against inter-dimensional winged beasts instead of Gotham's criminal underworld – making his firearm-wielding more acceptable. Affleck remains a solid Bat (and a decent Bruce), but there's a distinct sense that we never saw this Batman in his prime or his own domain – always overshadowed by a bigger picture at play.Read the Empire review.

8) The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)6 of 13

8) The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

"Darkness! No parents!" This spin-off of The LEGO Movie propelled that film's funniest cameo to central status, delivering a hilarious breakdown of the Caped Crusader that also works as a love-letter to every era of the Bat. Poking fun at the inherent silliness of a grown man dressing up as a flying rodent (and at the self-seriousness of the previous year's Batman v Superman), it's all delivered with pure charm – and a barrage of gags, as you'd expect from the LEGO Movie team – that ensures it never feels mean-spirited. If Will Arnett is once again perfect as a preening, buffoonish Bruce Wayne whose real superpower is self-belief and a penchant for self-penned pump-up pop hits, there's impeccable casting across the rest of the Bat-canon – from Zach Galifianakis as Joker, to Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, and Michael Cera as an irrepressible Robin. Best of all? It gave us Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman five years before The Batman. Now that is awesome.Read the Empire review.

7) The Dark Knight Rises (2012)7 of 13

7) The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

If the final film in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy is the weakest of the three, those first two chapters set an almightily high bar to cross. And despite its flaws – miraculous back-healings, a bungled '99% vs the 1%' metaphor, and that indecipherable Bane-voice – there's real ambition here. Rises is a grand-sweep war epic, one that truly tears Batman and Gotham down before building them both back up again. Even if his dialogue is often hard to distinguish, Tom Hardy brings real physicality to Bane – his first act fight with Batman is ferocious – giving a very different kind of villain performance to Ledger's Joker, while Anne Hathaway gives good Catwoman as a slinky Selina Kyle. But Rises is both overstuffed and overlong, with a final-act villain reveal that misses the mark, and an ambiguous finale that isn't as satisfying as it should be. Still, Nolan – and Bale – go big before going home, capping off a landmark trilogy with a finale that only just falls shy of its predecessors.Read the Empire review.

6) Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993)8 of 13

6) Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993)

So good that it escaped its straight-to-video fate and was upscaled (deservedly) to a cinema release, Mask Of The Phantasm got Batman right – and it's never been quite so spot-on since. Spinning-off from Batman: The Animated Series – which took its cue from the Tim Burton films – this grand noir gangster drama paid homage to the comics' Year Two saga while introducing all-new elements, from the really quite terrifying Phantasm to unpredictable love interest Andrea Beaumont, as Batman finds himself embroiled in a tangled Mafia web. But what's really important is that this felt like pure, uncut Batman – a more emotional exploration of the character than we'd previously seen on screen, with a dream team coming up with goods: Kevin Conroy giving us the Batman voice we always had in our heads, and Mark Hamill's mad, merciless, cackling Joker stealing the show. This is truly classic Batman, unafraid of its operatic pretensions – or its humanity.Read the Empire review.

5) The Batman (2022)9 of 13

5) The Batman (2022)

Fair play to Matt Reeves – if his take on Batman (sorry, The Batman) is yet another dark-as-hell interpretation of the source material, his three-hour epic manages to carve its own niche in the Bat-canon. This isn't ultra-realistic in the Nolan sense, or nihilistic in the Zack Snyder sense – it's a dark, brooding detective story that leans into the Caped Crusader's crime-solving capabilities, pitting him against a serial-killing Riddler (Paul Dano, suitably unsettling). Inspired by comics like The Long Halloween and Earth One, Reeves' film delivers a festering, rain-soaked Gotham that feels genuinely dangerous – and it's beautiful to look at too, lensed in glorious half-lights by Greig Fraser. With far more time devoted to Batman than Bruce Wayne, Robert Pattinson makes a strong debut under the cowl, equalled by Zoë Kravitz who compels as Selina Kyle, while Colin Farrell steals scenes with his Fredo-inspired Penguin. The final hour doesn't totally stick the landing (and it really is very long), but this is a richly atmospheric, noirish Bat, boasting a killer Michael Giacchino score, and promising more greatness to come.Read the Empire review.

4) Batman Returns (1992)10 of 13

4) Batman Returns (1992)

Given the success of 1989's Batman, Warner Bros let Burton do what he wanted with the sequel. They'd soon regret it. For this was Burton Unleashed: a darkly comedic gallery of grotesques, an absurdist, fetishistic Gotham, with Christopher Walken's most magnificent hair, a deliciously disgusting, drooling Penguin via Danny DeVito, a genuinely iconic, purring, whip-cracking Catwoman from Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Keaton's no-shit-taking Batman, and an army of weaponised penguins. It's so fantastical, so uniquely in its own world, it hasn't dated a jot, remaining a timeless, gorgeous, freaky fairground ride that embraces and enhances the perversity of the source material. Eschewing today's prized reality, this one leans into its exquisite sets, revelling in its artificiality, in its insanity, and certainly not pandering to younger audiences. McDonald's were all set to do a Happy Meal tie-in, until they saw the film – they then changed their mind. All hail Tim Burton – we didn't deserve such magic.Read the Empire review.

3) Batman Begins (2005)11 of 13

3) Batman Begins (2005)

After the DayGlo explosion of Batman & Robin, the Bat-saga needed to go back to the beginning – literally, in the case of Christopher Nolan's hard-reboot. The filmmaker, then best known for the mind-bending Memento, took a psychological scalpel to Bruce Wayne and his nocturnal alter-ego in a way that no other screen Bat had, all delivered in a Year One-inspired origin story. If his later Bat-flicks would go bigger, Batman Begins had all the serious sweep that would define Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, blending traditional blockbuster thrills (Bat-beatings, car chases, ninja brawls) with an arthouse sensibility – spending significant amounts of screentime away from the action in an exploration of fear, grief, and institutional corruption. From its grimy Gotham to its bulked-up Batmobile, Nolan's vision of an ultra-realistic Bat-verse remains thrilling to behold – all anchored by a smartly-cast Christian Bale in the cape and cowl. The final act doesn't quite soar like everything that precedes it, but Begins is a Batman film that truly, deeply understands Batman himself.Read the Empire review.

2) Batman (1989)12 of 13

2) Batman (1989)

Nowadays, Michael Keaton ranks highly among the list of best actors to have filled Batman's cowl, but before he even uttered a word or flexed a rubber-clad fist in Tim Burton's film, skepticism around his suitability was rife. In fact, everything about Burton's Bat-outing had a lot to prove – a dynamic return to some of the darker, more operatic stylings of the character than the Adam West-starring series and movie, it offered grand, art deco production design and an enthusiastic star turn from Jack Nicholson, slathered in make-up to play a cackling, henchman-shooting Joker. Plot-wise, Batman is relatively straightforward, playing the hits including origin stories for both the hero (at a time when that wasn't so overused) and villain, all driving towards a thrilling final confrontation that involves giant balloons, toxic gas, a church and Kim Basinger's Vicki Vale. Oh, and in case you need more evidence that it's a classic, the Batmobile here is probably the coolest it's ever been.Read the Empire review.

1) The Dark Knight (2008)13 of 13

1) The Dark Knight (2008)

And here… we… go! From its opening bank heist to its closing monologue ("He's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now…"), Nolan's Batman Begins sequel delivers non-stop cinematic comic book excellence. Everything about The Dark Knight sings – its grand-scale crime saga story, its monolithic, philosophically-driven setpieces, its post-9/11 explorations of terror, all lensed in Wally Pfister's crisp cinematography. And at the centre of it all is Heath Ledger's Joker, gleefully setting fires just to watch the world burn – an agent of chaos who threatens not just Batman's inner circle, but the supposed civility of Gotham itself. It's a towering, terrifying performance, still the most iconic screen incarnation of the Bat's most notorious foe. If the Joker runs away with the whole film, everyone else comes close to his level – Bale is in full flow as Batman, Aaron Eckhart sells the operatic tragedy of the Harvey Dent arc, and Hans Zimmer's score is spine-tingling. Nolan saw a world that deserved a better class of Caped Crusader – and he gave it to us.Read the Empire review.

READ MORE: Why Mask Of The Phantasm Is The Best Batman Movie

READ MORE: The Best Batman Actors, Ranked

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