Now that Christopher Nolan’s time as steward of Batman’s film franchise has come to an end with last month’s release of his third and final Batman movie – The Dark Knight Rises – the time is right to rank the 9 theatrical Batman films. I’m going to start at the bottom and work my way up to what I think is the best Batman movie … and that top choice will surprise most of you. Let’s get started:
9. BATMAN & ROBIN (1997)
Not only the worst Batman film ever made, it’s the worst superhero film ever made. But it works as an hilarious spoof of the Batman mythology.
8. BATMAN (1966)
This was actually intended to be a campy spoof of the Batman mythology. The Baby Boomer generation’s perception of Batman is still warped to this day because of this movie and the short lived TV series that followed.
7. BATMAN FOREVER (1995)
A “turn your brain off and enjoy the ride” summer popcorn flick. This was my favorite movie after I saw it in the theater … when I was 11.
6. BATMAN BEGINS (2005)
Bruce Wayne as a whiny young man who needs Alfred, Lucius Fox, Rachel Dawes, and Ra’s al Ghul to tell him what to do with his life. It holds up less and less with repeated viewings.
5. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
An uneven film overall, but a powerfully emotional and satisfying end to Bruce Wayne’s journey.
4. BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
I would argue Tim Burton’s second Batman entry is the darkest in the franchise (too dark for some), but with continued viewings as an adult I’ve developed a deep admiration for the expressionist psychological examinations of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Selina Kyle/Catwoman throughout the film.
3. BATMAN (1989)
The gothic noir atmosphere of Gotham City is brilliantly brought to life by Tim Burton and the late Anton Furst, while the film is anchored by Michael Keaton’s intensely insular performance as Bruce Wayne and Batman (in my opinion Keaton’s Batman portrayal is still the best).
2. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
The second chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is a thoughtful allegory about the fears and anxieties felt by American citizens in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This film should have won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2008.
1. BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM (1993)
For my money this animated feature film is the best the Batman franchise has to offer because it’s born of the streamlined continuity of the excellent Batman: The Animated Series TV show, details Bruce Wayne’s motivations for becoming Batman in an understated manner that doesn’t reveal all of the mystery about Bruce’s training and world travels. The plot is a genuine murder mystery that allows for Batman’s detective skills to be highlighted, there are thrilling animated action sequences, and a a genuine love interest with a personality that acts as the perfect foil for Bruce’s — all this and more in an astonishing running time of 76 minutes.
There you have it, my official ranking of the 9 theatrical Batman films. Agree or disagree, I invite you to let me know what you think.