Every Live-Action Batman Movie, Ranked from Worst to Best

Warner Bros Pictures

Batman is one of the most important characters in comic book history. He’s been around for nearly a century, and everyone with a passing knowledge of comic books or pop culture can tell you the basic beats of the character’s backstory: orphaned billionaire Bruce Wayne saw his parents slain in a tragic mugging in a back alley after seeing a movie together. Grieving from the event, Wayne went on to become the vengeful vigilante Batman, a crime fighter who could strike fear in the hearts of evildoers.

The Batman 2022
Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

That basic framework is compelling enough to have driven a comic book series for over eight decades, and fans still can’t get enough of the Caped Crusader. He’s appeared on the big screen numerous times, and each portrayal has explored different facets of the long-running detective’s psyche and background. Some of them are also much stronger films than others.

Today, we’re counting down the ten best live-action Batman films to get to the bottom of which is the very best. If you’re a diehard Batman fan, you’ve likely got a strong opinion on where each entry should fall–read on to see if we share your opinion!

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman V Superman isn’t just a bad Batman movie, it’s one of the worst blockbuster movies ever made. The visuals are dull, gray, and muted throughout the runtime. The characters either have no motivation to undertake the actions the plot compels them to, or, worse, act completely nonsensically in ways that seem to run counter to the information they’re presented with. 

Director Zack Snyder held the reigns to the live-action DC film universe for years before his swan song, Justice League, which went through its own tortured development cycle. And while Snyder’s cut of that film remains one of the best comic book movies ever put to film, somehow its predecessor is a nearly incomprehensible mishmash of clashing styles and nonsense plot points. 

It’s almost impossible to overstate how contrived Ben Affleck’s take on Batman is in this movie. The towering, brooding Batfleck bears almost no resemblance to the comic book character he’s supposedly based on, going so far as to use lethal force in ways that Batman has repeatedly, emphatically, insisted he would never use in other media. This, coupled with the character’s extremely short-sighted fury at Superman that evaporates in an instant in the third act make it the most uneven and unwatchable Batman film of them all.

Batman Forever (1995)

Director Joel Schumacher deserves praise for one thing with his pair of Batman films from the 1990s: they’re extremely stylish, eye-catching movies. In Batman Forever, the director uses garish colors and over-the-top performances from his A-list cast to create a heightened version of Gotham that acts as a parody of the Tim Burton-helmed films that came before.

Batman Forever and its direct sequel are inarguably bad films, though. Val Kilmer is far and away the strangest Batman to take to the big screen, barring perhaps Adam West’s madcap take on the character in the 1960s. Jim Carry and Tommy Lee Jones chew the scenery whenever they pop up on the screen as the Riddler and Two-Face, respectively, but neither actor’s impressive commitment can help sell this goofy exercise as anything other than a flashy imitator of better films.

Batman and Robin (1997)

Every problem seen in Batman Forever is also present in Batman and Robin but now with Val Kilmer swapped out for George Clooney. If Kilmer’s Bruce Wayne was a weirdo, Clooney’s is an unlikeable and inconsistent jerk. It’s hard to root for the character as Clooney somehow endows him with equal parts exaggerated bravado and underwhelmingly wooden reactions to outlandish scenarios.

This film also reserves further boos for its terrible characterization of the classic Batman villain Bane. Bane, the super-strong criminal who managed to break Bruce Wayne’s back in an iconic storyline, is relegated to henchman status as a mindless brute in this film. It’s not quite as unforgivable of a deviation from the source material as the nonsense in Batman V Superman, but it’s close.

Batman: The Movie (1966)

The 1966 Batman film is extremely strange, but in a significantly more endearing way than the Schumacher efforts from the 1990s. It’s a campy, surreal film that ups the ante from Adam West’s take on the character in the 60’s TV show. Interestingly, it’s a comics-accurate rendition of the character, albeit more in line with the frenetic and fevered tone of the 1950s comics than the more grisly, noir-inspired feel of the 1940s era of the character.

Iconic villains like the Joker and the Penguin look great on-screen, especially for the era. And West’s take on Bruce Wayne is endearing as he uses Bat-Shark Repellent to keep those pesky sharks from nipping at his heels. The tone might be cartoony, but the result is a fun and wacky film that captures a very different kind of Batman.  

Batman Returns (1992)

Tim Burton’s 1992 follow-up to the iconic 1989 Batman remains one of the darkest takes on the character yet. Batman Returns features Danny Devito as a grotesque version of The Penguin, who in this outing is a malformed sewer-dweller who wants to overthrow the wealthy elites of Gotham and instate a new order.

These class-struggle overtones are undercut by Penguin’s own moral ugliness, his cruelty, and the raw ambition that overrides his ostensibly noble claims of wanting to create a more equitable society. 

Michael Keaton’s reprisal of his role as Bruce Wayne is great–he knows how to imbue the title character with the kind of righteous fury that makes a vigilante feel compelling while still giving the villains room to breathe. Michelle Pfeiffer, meanwhile, turns in an iconic performance as Catwoman in the film, defining the role for future live-action outings.

Read More: All the Actresses Who Have Played Catwoman

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises was Chris Nolan’s final crack at the Batman mythos. While it never quite rises to the same heights as its predecessors, it’s still a fantastic Bat-flick and completely corrects the Bane-related mistakes seen in Batman and Robin

Tom Hardy steals the show as the hulking, masked Bane, the iconic anarchist criminal who wants to break Batman in front of the world. Bane’s pseudo-populist rhetoric infuses Rises with apocalyptic energy, spurred to greater heights by Nolan’s genius direction. 

While the film’s conclusion continues to divide fans a decade later, it’s hard to overlook how awesome it is as a whole. Let’s all just try to forget that awful, forced “Robin” easter egg from the end of the movie. Yuck.

Batman Begins (2005)

Batman has needed a lot of “dark and gritty” reboots that “get back to the character’s roots”. In the late 80s, Frank Miller’s iconic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns pulled the character out of decades of campy silliness spurred on by the 1960s show. In 1989, Tim Burton’s take on the character introduced the darker version of Batman to mass audiences.

In 2005, Christopher Nolan pulled off a similar tone reset with Batman Begins, a more grounded take on the character that banished the specter of the brightly-colored, cartoonish Schumacher films from the late 90s. Christian Bale comes alive as the haunted Bruce Wayne, a man so broken by his past that he channels his pain into a nightmarish vigilante persona to torment criminals the way they tormented him in his youth.

Begins is a perfect introduction to the character and reframes the Batman mythos around a more grounded, believable version of Gotham. The movie also gave us one of the coolest versions of Scarecrow yet thanks to Cillian Murphy’s memorable turn as the fear-inducing villain. 

Batman (1989)

There’s no getting around how awesome Tim Burton’s Batman is. The film helped redefine the visual language of Gotham and treated the fictional city as a character in its own right. Michael Keaton is right at home in the dual role of Batman and Bruce Wayne, completely selling the idea that this orphaned loner could fool the world into believing that he’s just a vapid playboy while secretly operating as the Dark Knight.

Jack Nicholson’s take on the Joker is also equal parts comic and frightening, imbuing the Clown Prince of Crime with some of the unhinged malice that defined him in the early 1940s comics. The duality of the film, centered on Batman’s quest to instill order and Joker’s need to sow chaos, makes the movie an almost mythic struggle for the soul of a city that feels like a dream. 

The 1989 movie deserves special praise for establishing Batman as a cool character while retaining Burton’s trademark gothic stylings. No one can mistake the visual flourishes of Burton’s Gotham for any other interpretation of the city.

Read More: Ranking Tim Burton’s Movies from Worst to Best

The Batman (2022)

Matt Reeves’ recent take on the character quickly established itself as a fan favorite for a variety of reasons. Robert Pattinson brings a neurotic, almost awkward version of Bruce Wayne to the big screen, giving audiences a rare look at a flawed, vulnerable Batman who is still learning the ropes. While this is partly the case in Nolan’s excellent Batman Begins, things seemed to come more easily to Bale’s Batman than Pattinson’s.

That humanizing factor makes the movie all the more compelling in its slow-burn, procedural-style mystery plotline. Batman and his new ally, Jim Gordon, are hunting down a serial killer who leaves cryptic riddles at the crime scenes. The film’s focus on detective work finally makes good on a comic book element that is often missing from live-action Batman portrayals: the Caped Crusader is more than just a bruiser. He’s also “The World’s Greatest Detective,” a spiritual successor to Sherlock Holmes.

The Batman is also a visually stunning film, easily one of the most gorgeous superhero movies since Burton’s excellent 1989 outing with the same character. It would be the best big-screen take on the character were it not for one unforgettable performance…

The Dark Knight (2008)

Heath Ledger inhabits the role of the Joker so completely that he steals the show in The Dark Knight. The beloved actor poured his heart and soul into his turn as the iconic villain, injecting so much of his own unique spin on the anarchic clown that he essentially rewrote aspects of the character’s mythology by sheer force of will.

Whenever Bale and Ledger share the screen together in The Dark Knight, the energy is electric. What can Batman do to a man as dangerous and unfettered as the Joker? The Caped Crusader has vowed to never take a life, and the Joker has vowed to claim as many lives as possible in the name of chaos. 

The Dark Knight fundamentally understands these characters in a way few other comic book movies manage to do. It’s also just a phenomenal film, easy to watch and rewatch due to the fantastic performances from the main cast.