The Justice League is hot right now. Wonder Woman is about to have her second theatrical release (hopefully), while there are two different Batman projects in the works. On features Robert Pattinson and gives me pause. The other would return The Batman, Michael Keaton, but it’s unclear if that’s a good idea. There’s also a new version of Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice on HBO Max, and there are plans to release the Zach Snyder cut of The Justice League. (I stan the Snyder cut, so this feels like good news.) There’s also word now that Henry Cavill is again open to returning as Superman, which has me wondering if we could end up with three different timelines of DC Comics figures going at once.
If you’re like me, then you’ve got the itch to watch a few Batman and Superman films. But which are the best? Well, this week’s Binge Watch is here for you. There are 15 films in the last 50 years that feature Batman, Superman, or a combination of both. I’ve watched them all and have them ranked in order. But before we get to the films, let’s talk about the players. In the role of Superman three men have played the part in eight different films. It’s impossible to rank them since Christopher Reeve is involved, but I enjoyed his work as I did with Cavill and Brandon Routh.
Batman has seen five different men play the part on the big screen the last 50 years, and that’s before we even get to Pattinson coming soon. Here’s the order I rank the onscreen performances, which will probably give you a little insight into the order I have the nine different films featuring Batman in this week’s Binge Watch. At the top of my list is Keaton, then Christian Bale, Ben Affleck, George Clooney, and, finally, Val Kilmer.
Now, on to this week’s binge. And, as always, remember: agree, disagree, have some thoughts? Share in the comments!
15. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
About: This was the fourth and final outing for Reeve as Superman, and it returned Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. But the plot here is, well, not great. It’s about Superman helping the world find its way to nuclear disarmament. In the history of the comics, Superman has frequently weighed in on the big fights and politics of the day, so that part makes some sense. However, this is a ponderous and poor film. It comes during the Cold War, a few years before the Berlin Wall came down, and this felt overly preachy and political. If you want to skip it, you won’t miss much.
14. Batman Forever (1995)
About: This might be a somewhat controversial take, but this is the worst of the early Batman films. This was the first one without Keaton, with Kilmer sliding into the role. It featured an incredibly high-profile cast, including Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Jim Carrey as The Riddler, plus Nicole Kidman as Batman’s love interest and Chris O’Donnell coming aboard as Robin. But the most memorable thing from this film might be the Seal song, Kiss From a Rose. The tone here felt all wrong, the performances were way over-the-top, and Kilmer never seemed comfortable in the role. In short, I think this film is something of a train wreck. It’s also a missed opportunity.
13. Batman & Robin (1997)
About: Is this a great movie? No, it isn’t. Is Clooney a great Batman? No, he isn’t. But this one felt like it had a better balance of tone and story, and I thought Clooney fit the part better than Kilmer. I know this film typically gets dumped on, and it’s not high on the list, but I think it’s better than what came before it. Not a lot better, but a little better.
12. Justice League (2017)
About: This movie had an incredibly troubled production and the weight of a lot of expectations. Warner Bros. hoped that they could create something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Justice League was the lynchpin. But director Zack Snyder had to step away during production due to a personal issue, and Joss Whedon, the man behind The Avengers film, was brought in. The result was a film that could give you tonal whiplash at times and didn’t really seem to know what it wanted to do with its characters. Will the Snyder Cut be better? I don’t know, but I’m curious. There was potential here, but this film didn’t deliver it.
11. Superman III (1983)
About: Coming off the high of Superman II, this one changed things up a bit. Luthor isn’t in it and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) is sort of pushed to the margins. Superman heads home and runs into Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole), and the plot involves a complex mathematical scheme run by Richard Pryor. Does this one work as a Superman film? Not totally. But it has endured in pop culture thanks to that wacky plot, which has appeared in various other movies and shows, including memorably in Office Space.
10. Batman v Superman: The Dawn of Justice (2016)
About: No doubt this is another controversial take but hear me out. This movie is better than you remember, especially if you watch the director’s cut. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but I do enjoy this movie in the director’s cut format, which adds back some plot points and character beats that make the rest of the action more interesting. I know that isn’t the popular take, but there it is.
9. Superman (1978)
About: This was the first film with Reeve and one of the first modern superhero films. Kidder does a nice job as Lois, and Hackman is a nice foil in Luthor. This is a fun movie and an iconic classic that also features Marlon Brando as Jor-El. This is a classic that everyone should check out, it’s just not my favorite Superman film.
8. Batman Returns (1991)
About: Keaton’s second film as Batman, and director Tim Burton’s second outing. This one works well and has some fun villains with Danny DeVito as The Penguin and Michelle Pfieffer as Catwoman. I liked the tone and plot, and this one has strong execution as well. It’s only down at this level because I like so many of these Batman and Superman films. Here we begin the films that are worth your time watching.
7. Superman II (1980)
About: The follow up to Superman is a classic. It features a deepening romance with Lois, the return of Luthor, and a classic clash with General Zod (Terence Stamp). This one is a classic that has a lot of memorable lines used in other pop culture classics. This is the best of the Reeve films and it was disappointing to see how the original series fell off after this installment.
6. Batman Begins (2005)
About: Christopher Nolan is the best filmmaker on this list, and he delivered the best set of films on this list, beginning with this origin story. Bale does a nice job as Batman, and I liked a lot of the elements of this film and its story. It was a great addition to the cannon. Some like this more than the final Nolan film but I’ve always enjoyed the final installment. This one has some great moments and is a well-made film, but it portends greatness and doesn’t yet achieve it.
5. Man of Steel (2013)
About: This was the first of Snyder’s films in this world and his best. This is two-thirds of a masterpiece. I loved the origin story and Cavill in this role. There are some beautiful shots and some beautifully emotional moments that really pulled me in. Michael Shannon is a decent Zod, too. However, the last act is a little too repetitive in its action, which knocks it down for me. Still, I enjoy this film quite a bit and it’s my second favorite Superman film.
4. Superman Returns (2006)
About: This film is meant to serve as a sequel to Superman II as if the other two films never happened. Routh takes over the lead role here, while Kate Bosworth steps in as Lois Lane. Kevin Spacey is Lex Luthor, and he does a nice job. I know in 2020 it’s a little tough to have Spacey starring in a film directed by Bryan Singer, but if you can look past that to the construction of the film, I think you’ll enjoy the story and production. This wasn’t a big hit with audiences, but it is a film that really resonated with me and is one I really love.
3. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
About: The final film from Nolan, this one features a more broken Batman that must rise up to save his city one last time. I enjoyed Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, and Tom Hardy does a great job as Bane. This is a beautiful final film, one that features some of the most beautiful ideology of this film series. The emotions of the ending sequence always get to me, too. There are some iconic shots and moments here as well.
2. Batman (1989)
About: The first film with Keaton, directed by Burton and featuring Jack Nicholson as The Joker. This is an iconic classic that is also a slice of the late 1980s, including a Prince soundtrack. I love the action and moments here, including memorable scenes and lines that have been used in several other places. Keaton is my favorite Batman, he just isn’t in the greatest Batman film.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
About: This is one of my Top 3 favorite films of all time. I love Nolan, and I love the way he builds this film. I have probably seen it 40 times, and it still always gets to me. It was my favorite film of the first decade of the new century and features an iconic performance from Heath Ledger. It should also have won Best Picture, but I guess nothing’s perfect—except this film. This was an easy choice for the top of this list. It’s hard to believe anything will ever top it.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.