With The Batman (finally) rolling into theatres, a spotlight shines once again on our favourite nocturnal superhero. That makes now the perfect time to revisit all the Batman movies in order by rating or release date, respectively. Before you see Robert Pattinson take on The Riddler in the new Matt Reeves blockbuster, you should take the time to watch the Batman film series in chronological order. You’ll notice it taking on a darker tone with each subsequent entry, barring the occasional foray into pure camp (cough, Batman & Robin, cough) or genuine comedy (here’s looking at you, LEGO Batman). To watch the films in order of their IMDb rating, meanwhile, is to take things in the opposite direction, starting dark and slowly veering into cheesy terrain.
13. Batman & Robin (1997)
Joel Schumacher’s famous fiasco killed the Batman franchise on arrival and drove a nail into the coffin that would take years to extract. A star-studded cast and outsized budget are no match for its prevailing atmosphere of candy-coloured campiness. This time around, Batman is joined by Batgirl and Robin as he contends with low-rung supervillains like Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy. George Clooney is so embarrassed by his performance (or lack thereof) as the Dark Knight that he’s still apologising for it over two decades later. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the annals of terrible cinema would be a little emptier without the existence of this movie.
12. Batman Forever (1995)
A drastic departure from Tim Burton’s Batman movies, this zany follow-up nevertheless scored big at the box office. To think of it nowadays is to have pukish neon green colours and Jim Carrey’s maniacal performance flash across one’s mind. Val Kilmer seems relatively lifeless as the title character and would later complain that the weight of the Batsuit made it impossible to move. Speaking of the Batsuit, director Joel Schumacher reportedly insisted on adorning it with nipples (yes, nipples). These are but a few amongst the numerous decisions that helped cement the film’s legacy as an outright mess. In addition to a disastrous IMDb rating, it holds a critic score of 39% and audience score of 32% on Rotten Tomatoes. And yet it seems like a masterpiece when compared to the movie that came directly in its wake…
11. Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Ben Affleck debuts as Batman (and performs admirably) in this sprawling superhero flick, which pits the Dark Knight against the Man of Steel. As with much of Zack Snyder’s work, the film goes big on spectacle and melodrama but arguably fails to resonate emotionally or drive home a compelling story. An extended “Ultimate Edition” was released digitally and on Blu-Ray with 31 minutes of additional footage.
10. Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
Batman’s animated adventures continue in this underwhelming instalment, which seems particularly toothless in light of its R rating. Alternating between present and past, it tells the story of Batgirl whilst exploring Joker’s origins, amongst other things. For a better take on the same subject matter, stick with Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel.
9. Batman (1966)
If you simply must watch all the Batman movies, you might as well throw this campy classic onto the list. Adapted from the live-action TV series, it imparts a glorious datedness and stars the legendary Adam West at the height of his fame. Words like “Thwapp!” and “Ooof!” burst onto the screen as Batman and Robin take down a unified front of arch-villains. We’ve come a long way, baby.
8. Batman Returns (1992)
Eager anticipation all but guaranteed the commercial success of this somewhat controversial sequel, which did indeed make a killing at the box office but also fell short of expectation. It’s been reappraised in the time since and now retains the status of a cult classic, complete with iconic characters and performances. Taking Tim Burton’s sensibilities to outlandish extremes, the story puts Gotham City in the crosshairs of the Penguin and Catwoman.
7. The LEGO Batman Movie
Does this computer-animated comedy make up part of the Batman film series or the LEGO film series or both? Rather than even ponder the question, one can simply sit back and enjoy the lighter side of the Dark Knight, who defends Gotham City whilst dealing with some personal issues. Call it the perfect counterpunch to gloomier fare like 2022’s “The Batman” or the Nolan trilogy.
6. Batman (1989)
A historical benchmark, Tim Burton’s “Batman” breathed new life into the otherwise stagnant sub-genres of superhero movies and comic book adaptations. Playing the caped crusader, Michael Keaton offers the perfect balance of seriousness and charm, punctuated by the occasional snark. Then we have Jack Nicholson’s seminal performance as the Joker, a large part of the film’s immediate draw and resounding success. Certain aspects of the work are campy in retrospect and Prince’s funky soundtrack—whilst quite listenable—doesn’t exactly scream “Dark Knight” in a contemporary milieu. Nevertheless, the movie still manages to entertain without overstaying its welcome, which is more than we can say for plenty of modern examples. And let’s not forget Danny Elfman’s iconic score, which is essentially etched into memory from the moment it first appears.
5. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Like the animated series before it, this film adaptation has endured as a cult classic. It draws story elements from the graphic novels “Batman: Year One” and “Batman: Year Two” and finds the Dark Knight being falsely accused of murder. Rendered in a signature visual style, it arrived in theatres on short notice and then floundered at the domestic box office, only to thrive on the home rental market. Two direct-to-video sequels would follow.
4. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
We promised to rank the Batman movies in order of IMDb rating and we’re sticking to that promise. But is the famous “Snyder Cut” really as good as its legacy would suggest, or is at least some of the hype powered by fanboy fervour, the kind of which enabled its release in the first place? Then again, plenty of modern viewers might level similar accusations at Tim Burton’s “Batman” so it’s all a matter of perspective. We’ll report back with hard answers as soon as we find the time to sit through four-plus hours of explosive spectacle and overwrought melodrama as only Zack Snyder can deliver it.
3. Batman Begins (2005)
This groundbreaking Batman movie resurrected the franchise by way of its committed lead actor, grim tonality, and sweeping origin story. A supervillain named Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) is using psychoactive drugs as a weapon of choice, with plans to send all of Gotham City on a deadly mind trip. Batman begins and so too does a new era of comic book movies, which incorporate the kind of themes and performances that you might find in prestige crime thrillers and high-brow action blockbusters.
2. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Audiences were still reeling from “The Dark Knight” when this epic follow-up arrived in theatres. It opens with Gotham City in a state of relative peace and Bruce Wayne living the life of a recluse. Enter the masked supervillain Bane, played to menacing perfection by Tom Hardy. With his arrival comes a new reign of terror, forcing Batman out of exile and into a partnership with Catwoman. A series of intense showdowns and narrow escapes ensue, with Gotham’s fate hanging in the balance. Personally, we’re bigger fans of “Batman Begins” and maybe even Tim Burton’s first Batman film, but the IMDb users hath spoken!
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
The second instalment of Christopher Nolan’s beloved trilogy is also the best Batman movie that pretty much everyone saw coming. Like “Iron Man” from the same year (and “Batman Begins” from a few years earlier), it upended our very notions of what a comic book movie could be. Its story centres on the dangerous game of cat-and-mouse between Batman and the Joker, with a Two-Face subplot tacked on to somewhat distracting effect. Whilst there are top-notch performances all around, Heath Ledger steals the show with his nihilistic take on Batman’s foremost nemesis. This film is essentially the metric to which every Batman movie will be measured until the franchise goes away for good.
By Jacob Osborn