Ranking the Batman Films (Again, but better this time!)

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Matt Waters and Mike Thomas ranked the Batman films back in 2017. Five years later we are doing it again but bringing Jerome Cusson and Ben Phillips along for the ride this time.

We also laid some new ground rules. 1.) The film had to receive a wide theatrical release. 2.) Justice League and Suicide Squad movies do not count, but v. Superman does.

Again, here are the voters.

Matt Waters
Jerome Cusson
Ben Phillips
Mike Thomas

12) Batman & Robin

Highest: 9th | Lowest: 12th

Jerome: This movie doesn’t even have the banger song (‘Kiss from a Rose’) to accompany it. This is still one of the most cynical crash grabs of all-time as the performances across the board are so cheesy and out of place. It’s the Adam West version without any sense of fun or irony. Just about everything in this movie is an abject failure, from the production design to the cartoonish performances. 

Okay, the ending speech Batman gives Mr. Freeze is genuinely good. George Clooney wants to forget about ever being Batman, but the monologue is his highlight (unironically). There’s a version of the movie where you cast a good actor as Mr. Freeze and take the character seriously to where the speech hits even harder. You can skip the other two hours and just watch the monologue on YouTube.

Maybe check out Matt’s review of a better version of this film, Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero as part of The Matt Signal

11) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Highest: 7th | Lowest: 12th

Matt: This film is so messy. There are actually several pockets of it that I enjoy, especially in the Ultimate Edition, but there are also so many glaring issues. Batman brands and kills people. Superman is borderline mute and allows criminals to escape so he can talk trash to Batman. The final confrontation with Doomsday looks like unbelievable shit. BUT! I did like when the movie turned into one of the Arkham games for a bit, and controversially, I’m kind of into the whole Knightmare sequence (sorry, Ben). I could sit here and sort every scene into the good and bad columns, but fundamentally you could have stopped reading this review after the first sentence, because it is just SO messy. Plenty of good shots, not enough good scenes.

Check out Mike’s 5 Thoughts on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition

10) Batman Forever

Highest: 8th | Lowest: 11th

Ben: It’s hard to come up with a take on Batman Forever. It was probably the first piece of Batman media I ever saw as a child, even before the animated series. It’s funny to watch the comparative box office improvement that this movie had over Batman Returns, especially considering its predecessor fares far better critically nowadays. Like Batman Returns, Batman Forever is an insane movie, however, in a completely different way. Schumacher has different sensibilities to Burton, even if neither of them can quite get away from some of the Batman ’66 influence that bleeds through. 

The main takeaway from Forever is how compromised it feels. Jim Carrey was the biggest rising star on the planet at the time, so of course he must play The Riddler. The more mature content of Burton’s movies are gone, and instead replaced with gags that are more appropriate for children, especially with the gothic black and white colour scheme replaced with bright neon greens and purples. This isn’t a bad take for a Batman movie by any stretch of the imagination – just read some of the silver age stories for instance – but it does feel like it’s driven by an urge to have a McDonald’s tie in, rather than an artistic urge. There’s a reason why this Batman movie sticks in the minds of many 90s kids, it’s a movie that’s laser focused at appealing to that demographic and with that, it loses any structural coherence.

Interestingly, for how much people talk about the homoerotic subtext that Schumacher brings with him – the nipples on the Batsuits and close-up shots of people’s butts, it’s interesting how much less queer and sexy this movie is in comparison to its predecessor.

Check out Mike & Matt’s podcast review of the film as part of The Tape Crusaders.

9) The Lego Batman Movie

Highest: 6th | Lowest: 12th

MikeIn 2017, I wrote, “This film really demonstrated how deep of a well they have to work with in regards to Batman universe gags AND references from other properties that Warner Bros. has access to (this is the ONLY film where you can see Batman and Lord Voldemort interact).” That sentence is simply one of the most humiliating moments of my life. I have no idea what was happening in my brain at that point in time, but clearly it was a dark period of poor mental health. Anyway, Lego Batman is whatever and mostly inoffensive but god who could ever care?

Check out Mike & Matt’s podcast review of the film as part of The Tape Crusaders.

8) Batman (1989)

Highest: 6th | Lowest: 12th

Matt: I’m obviously in the minority for preferring Burton’s first outing, but that’s precisely because it’s less Burtony. He didn’t have the clout to do exactly what he wanted yet, so had to rein it in, which suited me down to the ground. You still get Keaton blowing away expectations in a twisted looking Gotham, but without that heightened goth-twee tone that Burton came to specialise in. Batman CAN be weird, and many people prefer when it is, but ’89 playing it a little more straight suits the material better for me personally. Jack Nicholson’s Joker loomed large for a very long time, and while I may have some issues with him being the one who killed Bruce’s parents, and for Batman basically killing him at the end, it’s still an all-time comic book villain performance.

Check out Mike & Matt’s podcast review of the film as part of The Tape Crusaders.

7) Batman (1966)

Highest: 4th | Lowest: 10th

Jerome: Just like Batman and Robin, this was also a cynical cash grab, but the expectations are a lot… lower. They are also trying to capture the vibe of a cheap television show as opposed to creating an expensive blockbuster. This is a great collection of the Rogues Gallery, and the Bruce Wayne/Catwoman scenes are some of the real highlights of any Batman movie. The actual plot is absurd, especially when it comes to turning men into dust. The ending would also probably be considered a bit problematic at this point in time. 

I would consider this a showcase for Adam West in terms of being able to play this role straight and also incorporate some physical comedy (the second article this week to reference Batman running with the bomb). I am not going to pretend this belongs in The Pantheon, but this stands out as one of the few cinematic Batmen to be on the lighter side. I genuinely hope we can see a lighter live action Batman (figuratively and literally…seriously, can someone turn the lights on in these movies) at some point again. 

Check out Mike & Matt’s podcast review of the film as part of The Tape Crusaders.

6) Batman Returns

Highest: 2nd | Lowest: 9th

Ben: Batman Returns isn’t a Batman movie. I know for a lot of people, that makes them instantly side-eye this movie. It’s a Batman that has seemingly no interest in the titular character – but neither was The Dark Knight. With all that being said, this does have the single best moment that Michael Keaton got to play as Batman – playing a bored Bruce Wayne, just waiting for the Bat Signal to turn on so that his evening could have actual meaning. The barely-holding-it-together Bruce Wayne who fights crime to prevent a breakdown is an interesting interpretation of the character, even if this movie doesn’t have room to dive into it.

I do think it’s interesting that my two favourite Bat movies are those which aren’t interested in Bruce Wayne at all, but rather the psychology of their villains (which has always been my favourite part of the Batman universe). DeVito’s Penguin and Pfeiffer’s Catwoman (an all-time great performance), whilst not being comic accurate, have become incredibly iconic and probably the first image that comes to most people’s minds when they think of these characters. Part of the fun here is pitting three incredibly traumatised people against one another. Watching Batman try and convince Catwoman to come join him in a normal superhero movie is a fun beat to play, especially when it’s obvious Tim Burton has no interest in making a ‘traditional’ superhero movie (even in the comparatively early days of the genre). Batman Returns might make traditional Batman fans recoil at its complete disregard for almost everything, but it is totally a director’s vision –  something that has become distressingly rare as of late. And because of that, it’s a kinky, queer art masterpiece, even if it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Check out Mike & Matt’s podcast review of the film as part of The Tape Crusaders.

5) The Dark Knight Rises

Highest: 3rd | Lowest: 5th

Mike: This is a film that I’ve grown to love despite its gaping and massive flaws that undermine a lot of what the film was trying to do. It’s this beautiful monstrosity of a picture that could understandably be outside someone’s Top Ten list of best Batman films. After repeatedly re-watching it though, I’ve begun to love it for being a series of great ideas and concepts even if they are often paid off in rushed and/or unsatisfying ways. That does not make for a great (or possibly even a good) film in a vacuum obviously. I’ve come to terms with that, and the film holds a special place in my heart now. I also sense a budding reclaiming of this film as Actually Good, and I am ready to lead the charge on that.

Check out Mike & Matt’s podcast review of the film as part of The Tape Crusaders.

4) Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Highest: 2nd | Lowest: 6th

Jerome: There is a part of me that feels this is still one of the best movies about Batman himself. Even though this is animated and canonically connected to the series, this adds to the mythos in a really creative and interesting way. Tim Burton was in denial about Batman movies actually being about the protagonist, but this film doubles down on his origin and has an interesting antagonist (with a genuine mystery). The Joker’s insertion in the third act does feel a bit tacked on, but Mark Hamill is so good, I can forgive it.

The moment when Batman puts on the mask and the score gets loud and epic is chilling. You also get a great Alfred reaction as part of this too. I think this is one of the best starter Batman movies ever because you get a real sense of the character and a quality mystery. This movie got into The Pantheon for good reason despite not being live action.

Check out Matt’s review of the film from The Matt Signal

3) The Batman

Highest: 1st | Lowest: 6th

Ben: In Batman’s long cinematic history, we’ve had movies influenced by Robert Weine, McDonald’s, Michael Mann, Ayn Rand and now, in 2022, it’s time for David Fincher’s turn at the plate. It’s nice to finally see a movie that is digging into Batman’s detective roots – and the director of some of the best crime movies of the past three decades is certainly a great starting point.

It’s obvious that director Matt Reeves is pulling from a lot of the same playbook as Christopher Nolan did, with the stated influence of ‘Batman: The Long Halloween’ over both of their takes (admittedly borrowing from different halves of that book). But both are skewing towards a darker, more realistic angle, all whilst stacking their casts with big name performers. If anything, Reeves is skewing even darker than Nolan with a relative lack of humour and a focus on the very worst aspects of a Gotham City that’s rife with murder, addiction, and corruption. The politics are certainly better here than they were in Nolan’s Bush-era inspired tale, even if there is some clumsy pro-police rhetoric at times.

This is a movie where everything clicks. Pattinson is fantastic, Farrell, Kravtiz, Dano and Wright give fantastic supporting performances and Giacchino’s score and Fraser’s cinematography are perfect tone setters. They even manage to pull off a final act that is positively subdued in comparison to DC’s recent CGI-ridden climaxes. However, this still feels like a Batman movie that is setting the groundwork. It’s obvious that Warner Bros. want this to be big, with two HBO Max spin-offs and an inevitable sequel on the way, but even with the 3-hour run time, we’re just getting started. The length doesn’t feel too oppressive and everything seems to work, but it does feel like we’re only doing a fraction better than the MCU, when it comes to allowing a movie to tell a satisfying standalone tale.

The Batman is as good as a new take could be for this mythos in 2022, especially one that doubles down on the detective trappings and isn’t as interested in delving into Bruce Wayne as a character. In a few years, once we’ve had a few sequels, we might be praising this as the start of the next all-time great Batman-cycle, but for now it’s a remarkably solid start – and I can’t wait to see where it goes next!

Check out Ben, Matt & Mike’s 9 Questions After Watching The Batman

2) Batman Begins

Highest: 2nd | Lowest: 4th

Mike: With time and space away from this trilogy and this film specifically, I think it’s safe to say we need to evolve how we talk about what was done in the Nolan/Bale films. While dumb, mostly meaningless words like “dark” and “gritty” have been used ad nauseum to describe these movies (and its pale imitators), those are wholly inadequate words to describe this trilogy. The films were much more about myth-making, both in a storytelling sense and in what Bruce tried to do with Batman. The story Nolan is effectively telling is how a man could emotionally and practically reach a point where he could decide he is going to create a God-like vigilante to theoretically help a city – and then eventually the futility and stupidity of such a plan. The stage for all this is rather masterfully set out in this film that is arguably the best Batman film ever and the best non-Tenet film of Nolan’s career.

Check out Jerome’s review of the film as part of his 100 Favourite Movies.

1) The Dark Knight

Highest: 1st | Lowest: 4th

Matt: If you’re looking at the above high/low and wondering who the hell placed what many consider to be far and away the best comic book movie ever in fourth place, look no further than the guy assigned to write about it (because I’ve written about the rest of the top four extensively on the site). So why 4th? Because I’m personally looking for a Batman story first, and a feat of technical filmmaking excellence second. But everybody’s priorities are different, and I cannot for a moment deny that this is a towering powerhouse of a movie that puts Batman on a larger scale than ever before. As sick as we all are of hearing about ‘The Themes of the Nolan Trilogy’, it IS the part he has done better than any of the other Bat-Directors, going all-in on grandiose melodrama. The action sequences are stellar, supported by a frankly anxiety-inducing score that ratchets up the tension to the point you have a physiological response. For me this movie’s greatest achievement is the delicate balancing act between Batman, Joker and Harvey Dent; What appears to be a straight forward battle of wills between the first two ultimately ends up being a side-skirmish in the war for Gotham, that ends up being decided by the flip of Two-Face’s coin. Incredibly powerful stuff. Oh, and Heath Ledger is mesmerising, and Aaron Eckhart is criminally underrated.

Check out Jerome’s review of the film as part of his 100 Favourite Movies.

Plugs

Mike & Matt reviewed every Batman movie (and some that ‘don’t count’) for their podcast, The Tape Crusaders. A new episode on The Batman should either have just been released or will be coming soon!

Matt presents a weekly column on Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond called The Matt Signal Beyond. This weekend it’s The Return of the Joker and the secret series finale which drops some MAJOR bombshells about Terry McGinnis.

Jerome presents The Superhero Pantheon, a podcast aiming to review every single superhero movie ever and determine if it’s worthy of the Hall of Fame or Pile of Shame. He also presented his 100 favourite movies last year, which included some of the above.

Finally, Ben & Matt’s Marvellous Journey, an MCU podcast, returns soon to cover Marvel’s 2021 slate.

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