On the tenth anniversary of the release of ‘The Dark Knight,’ I decided to take a fresh look at my rankings of all things Batman, as it pertains to him appearing on screen, whether it’s in movies or on television.
2018 marks the 79th anniversary of Batman, who first appeared in comics back in May of 1939, a response to the popularity of Superman. Since then we’ve born witness to several different versions of the Caped Crusader, whether it’s in print, on the small screen in live action, on the small screen as a cartoon and on the big screen. The first Batman movie came out in 1943 with a plot that revolved around Batman acting as government agent, helping to stop World War II. The Batman of that movie might have been a huge proponent of patriotism, but not much of a fitness nut.
Then came the television show, with Adam West playing Bruce Wayne/Batman. The Adam West era ran from 1966-1968, included a movie and endless jokes and references to the show’s dialogue, catch phrases and the use of on screen graphics.
As far as Batman movies go, things got jacked up a notch with the release of Tim Burton’s 1989 movie, Batman. I might have seen that in theaters three, maybe four times, and remember drawing Batman logos on chalkboards when my fourth grade teacher wasn’t looking. Fast forward all these years and I certainly wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with Batman, but I’m definitely a fan, and that fandom was kick started with that movie. As for the movies that immediately followed, I’m on board with Batman Returns and decidedly off board with the next two- Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. In my mind, Batman and Robin doesn’t even exist, like that last Led Zeppelin album or dream sequences on The Sopranos.
It took seven years for the stink of Batman and Robin to wear off. That was the year Christopher Nolan took the helm of the franchise and proceeded to drop the Dark Knight Trilogy- Batman Begins, the Dark Knight and the Dark Knight Rises, all three with Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Next to the 1989 Batman, they’re the Catwoman’s pajamas of Batman movies. No doubt about it.
Two years after The Dark Knight Rises, Batman appeared in Lego form in the Lego Movie, an appearance that paved the way for The Lego Batman Movie in 2017. Sandwiched in between those two movies is Ben Affleck’s turn as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is easily one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a theater with one other person who then left with forty minutes, leaving me alone in a theater all by myself. Affleck’s Batman returned in 2017 in Justice League and I think the less said about that movie that better.
On to the rankings!
Atomic batteries to power…turnbines to speed.
1. Batman (1989)
The grand pupah of Batman movies; without it, would the Nolan movies even exist? Tim Burton re-established a new tone for Batman, one with decidedly less camp and color and significantly more doom and gloom. No dancing here. Just straight brooding.
I just remember that movie being huge and even now, I watch it and I’m all in. I love the visual style of it. It seems to take place in a mish-mash of time periods- ranging from the 1940’s to 1970’s. I didn’t have any opinions about Michael Keaton as Batman at the time, but now I can see that his casting was probably a little jarring. But in 1989 I was too young and to me he was awesome. Thumbs up perfect. I don’t think this movie will ever get old.
2. The Dark Knight
The second Christopher Nolan-directed Batman movie is by far the best of the Nolan trilogy. It feels like Heat meets your traditional Batman movie. It moves in a way most blockbusters, especially comic book blockbusters, don’t.
Heath Ledger makes this movie, though. His performance is at a Daniel Day-Lewis level. It completely dominates the movie. When he’s not on screen, you’re just waiting for him to come back. If the 1989 Batman felt huge, then this movie felt gigantic. It still feels gigantic, as if it were able to crush movies like The Green Lantern with it’s thumb. Broken into acts like a Shakespearean play, if The Dark Knight is on television, there is a damn good chance I’m watching at least thirty minutes of it. At least. Probably more. And without even thinking about it.
3. Batman Begins
The 1989 Batman didn’t bother with any kind of origin story- it just started. Batman Begins spent the first half of the movie digging into the origin of this particular Batman and it pays off- not just in this one, but the two that followed. It made you infinitely more invested in this version of Bruce Wayne/Batman. It doesn’t add a well known villain, going with Scarecrow and then Ra’s al Ghul, and is better off for it. It lays out the ground work for what’s to come and it does it flawlessly.
4. Batman Returns
A sequel to Batman felt almost too good to be true. It’s not as memorable as the first one, but it’s still good. And we’ll never look at penguins the same way again.
It hasn’t aged as well as the first one, but that’s too be expected. I think as the years have gone we’ve underrated Michelle Pheiffer’s portrayal as Catwoman. Also, don’t let clowns babysit your children.
5. Dark Knight Rises
The summer the Dark Knight Rises came out I got married, bought a house and got a new job. Seeing this movie was easily the fourth most exciting thing I experienced that summer. It was akin to seeing a statue unveiled or taking in a sunset while swimming in the Pacific Ocean- just a truly momentous event.
Kind of unfortunately though, once the shine wore off, the cracks started to show. Because really, what was going on again? Bruce Wayne is now broke? And then physically broke, but then all better thanks to some pushups and pep talks? And he goes from a pit in the ground in the Middle East to Gotham in no time, with an empty bank account mind you?
Whatever. Questions about anything as big and highly anticipated as Dark Knight Rises will always exist. Either way, I appreciate the third Nolan Batman movie because of it’s scale and scope; similar to how I love big rock ‘n roll albums. I love when artists just effin’ go for it and with Dark Knight Rises, Nolan went for it.
6. Batman (1966)
Props where props are due. It’s not the best Batman movie out there, but it’s the granddaddy of them. That’s worth something.
7. Batman Forever
Michael Keaton bailed, so enter Val Kilmer. Val Kilmer? Yeah. Also, Tim Burton exited stage left, resulting in Joel Schumacher to enter stage right. And then Robin shows up and all the doom and gloom is replaced by enough LED lights to rival an EDM show hammered through a industrial-sized leaf blower.
In a pile of dung, Jim Carrey as the Riddler perhaps comes out the cleanest. Although that’s not saying much.
8. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Dear God this movie is bad. Like, so bad. So incredibly bad. It’s so bad that even hate-watching it is out of the question. Are there any positives that can be taken away, any at all?
(thinks for a moment)
Yeah, no. None.
9. Batman and Robin
Val Kilmer bailed. Enter George Clooney. GEORGE CLOONEY? And Bat Girl? I don’t know if I’ve ever even finished this effin’ movie.
1. Christian Bale
He narrowly edges out Keaton. Why? Well, I’m not entirely sure why. I just think he was really good and did a great job. He was also slightly more believable as Batman, even though I could barely understand a damn word he said as Batman. Enunciate damn it! How are you supposed to strike fear in the heart of the criminal element if they can’t understand what you’re saying?
2. Michael Keaton
The people’s Batman. A Batman we could all relate too. Not the strongest, just the smartest. Batman is a smart dude. Michael Keaton looks like a smart dude. I think it was an inspired choice.
3. Adam West
The O.G., so we give credit where credit is due, just like we gave the original Batman movie props where props are due.
4. Ben Affleck
The movie he was in was certainly terrible, but Affleck’s Batman wasn’t horrible. I kind of liked his older, grizzled version of Batman. I’d watch a stand alone Batfleck movie. Under one condition though. Zak Snyder is allowed no where near it.
Hey, we can’t leave out Lego Batman. And yes, he’s better than two other Batmen.
6. Val Kilmer
Awesome as Jim Morrison, not awesome as Batman. Such is life.
7. George Clooney
The fact that Clooney’s turn as Batman didn’t completely torpedo his career is most likely a testament to his greatness. Batman might not be a superhero per say, but Clooney might be for being able to not let this gig drag him down.
1. The One from Batman (1989)
Always my favorite. Not the most practical one for city-livin’ and drivin’, but if we’ve learned anything these past years, it’s that Batman doesn’t do practical. Or a sensible turning-radius.
2. The One from Batman (1966)
Seeing as how this Batmobile seemed to most likely roam the California country side, a convertible makes complete sense. But when it rains? The scenes where Batman tells Commissioner Gordon that sorry, they can’t save Gotham today due to inclement weather are notoriously absent.
3. The One from the Dark Knight Trilogy
No side mirrors seems like kind of a liability.
4. The One Batfleck Drove
It’s got the tank vibe from the Nolan movies, but the length of the Burton movies. Thankfully, it has absolutely nothing from the Schumacher movies.
5. The One from the Schumacher movies
I knew this guy in college who installed black lights and flashing LED lights inside his car. I thought that was stupid. I think this version of the Batmobile is just as stupid. Let’s just save the black lights for the stoner college kids and the LED lights for the raver college kids.
1. The Joker (The Dark Knight)
The Joker was never legitimately terrifying until this version of the Joker came along. A completely different version than the one in the 1989 Batman, Ledger’s Joker was more maniacal, more sadistic. Ledger’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor has to go down as one of the most satisfying and deserved in recent years.
2. The Joker (Batman – 1989)
This version of the Joker is slightly more traditional, more on par with what we had thought the Joker was. Which Joker is better in your opinion, Nicholson’s or Ledger’s, comes down to personal preference I think. There’s really no right or wrong answer.
Just kidding. There is a wrong answer. It’s Nicholson’s.
For me, while I like the 1989 movie better, I like the tone and message of The Dark Knight and that’s due in large part to that version of the Joker. But I still love Nicholson’s Joker. Nicholson’s Joker is like the Red Sox 2007 World Series title. A great achievement, but in the long run, completely overshadowed by the 2013 Championship.
3. Penguin (Batman Returns)
Creepy, scary, unpredictable. Even the backstory they show for him is amazing. Probably the most underrated Batman movie villain.
4. Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)
Who cares if you could only understand half of what he said, he was a beast. Literally. Big shoes to fill, following in Heath Ledger’s clown shoes foot prints, but Bane gets the job done. Just a totally menacing dude.
5. Ra’s al Ghul (Batman Begins)
Who? Oh yeah, Liam Neeson’s angry kung fu master from the Himalayas. First place for facial hair.
6. Catwoman (Batman Returns)
Is she really a villain? Kind of, but tough to say. We’ll give it a maybe. But we’ll also give her a thumbs up.
7. Scarecrow (Batman Begins)
Definitely not the main villain in Batman Begins, but still an important one. Plays the fringe role well, but would not be welcome at your next hippie festival.
8. Riddler (Batman Forever)
Uh…he wasn’t terrible.
9. Two-Face (Batman Forever)
Uh…he wasn’t half bad? (cue: rimshot)
10. Poison Ivy (Batman and Robin)
Uh…better than Mr. Freeze.
11. Mr. Freeze (Batman and Robin)
Uh…I don’t want to sound cold here but…
1. Bob the Goon (Batman – 1989)
Didn’t say much, didn’t have to. Gunslinger, sidekick, amateur photographer, eventual fall guy. There wasn’t much this guy couldn’t do.
2. The First Five Minutes of The Dark Knight
How do you make a massively eagerly anticipated movie that much more exciting? By ditching the formalities and getting right into it. To hell with table-setting and the like, Nolan starts his movies as soon as the lights in the theater dim.
I love the beginning of The Dark Knight every single time I see it. Nolan tried a similar thing in The Dark Knight Rises, but it wasn’t nearly as cool. But that’s no dig on Nolan. There was no way he was going to have a better opening than he put together for The Dark Knight.
3. Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale (Batman – 1989)
One of the big differences between the first run of Batman movies and the Nolan movies is a Bruce Wayne love interest. The 1989 Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman and Robin– they all had one. Vicki Vale was the trail blazer though and rocked the shit out of a beret.
4. The Two-Face make up (The Dark Knight)
He doesn’t come into play until the movie’s third act and by then, Two-Face was a role player, ultimately a pawn in the Joker’s incredibly elaborate plan. But that’s not the story. The make up job is the story. It’s effin’ the real deal, man. Puts the hatchet job they gave Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever to shame.
5. The Roof Top Scene (Batman – 1989)
There’s a right way and a wrong way to introduce Batman and this is the right way. Nice kicks, too.
6. Anne Hathaway as Catwoman (The Dark Knight Rises)
Catwoman always seems to straddle the line between good and bad, whether it’s the comics or on screen. Hathaway’s Catwoman is no exception. Overall I’m neither a Hathaway fan or a hater, but I thought she did a great job. I think that gal might have a future in cinema.
7. The Batwing (Batman – 1989)
Limited screen time, didn’t matter, the Batwing looked cool as hell in Batman. But here’s the thing, did Bruce Wayne build that himself? I mean, I’m not going to tell you how to keep your identity a secret Bruce, but a contractor is going to remember building a plane shaped like a bat- especially when said plane is being piloted by an increasingly famous Batman. Christopher Nolan definitely gets points for providing a back story for all of Batman’s toys.
Also, the Batwing gets dropped by one shot from the Joker’s gun. Looks are great and all, but you can’t sleep on functionality.
8. Batman’s First Appearance in The Dark Knight Rises
Again, right way/wrong way when introducing Batman. This is once again a right way.
9. The Joker’s Gun (Batman – 1989)
Never mind trying to figure out what kind of gun manufacture would even make such a thing. It took down the Batwing with one shot. Regardless of your thoughts on guns, that’s pretty impressive.
10. The Gotham City of Batman (1989)
My favorite Gotham City- dark, dirty, depressing.
Photos: Warner Bros