A new take on Batman drops Friday, perhaps you’ve heard. It promises to be a film unlike any other, and a take on the Dark Knight and his adversaries unlike any other. It’s also longer than any film before it. While my official take on the new film will arrive next Wednesday, as we prepare I wanted to look back at the cinematic explorations of Batman.
There are dozens of animated adventures, only some of which I’ve seen. So, this will focus on the live action offerings, of which there have been eight since Tim Burton took the helm in 1989. For what it’s worth, I enjoy the 1966 film with Adam West for what it is, though it’s a decidedly different take on Batman. Here’s my ranking of the eight live-action films of the last 40 years in ascending order. Enjoy your re-watch!
8. Batman Forever (1995)
About: Maybe this is a hot take, but this was the weakest of the films for me. It switches the tone quite a bit as Joel Schumacher takes over for Tim Burton and Val Kilmer takes over for Michael Keaton. It boasts a strong cast but honestly it’s far too goofy and everything feels off. I don’t know what Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey are doing, I’m not sure what purpose Nicole Kidman serves and Kilmer feels out of place in the role. It’s a hot mess.
7. Batman & Robin (1997)
About: I realize many are critical of George Clooney, and I’ll admit this film suffers from some of the same issues as the previous installment. But I thought the goofy tone worked better here, perhaps because of the use of the villains played by Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s not great, but I like it nominally better than Batman Forever.
6. Batman Returns (1992)
About: There is a big gap for me from this film to the two already mentioned. Once we get here, we get decent Batman films all the way along. This was the follow up from Burton, and features Danny DeVito as Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. I love Keaton, and this one has a Christmas theme that is fun. I like the film it just isn’t as dynamic as the five I have above it.
5. Batman vs. Superman: The Dawn of Justice (2016)
About: I’m going to first off say if you haven’t seen the director’s cut, then you probably don’t understand this pick. If you have, you know why I love this film. It’s an interesting and engaging film that features a great Superman (Henry Cavil) and Batman (Ben Affleck), along with the emergence of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). It’s a lot of fun and surprisingly engaging.
4. Batman Begins (2005)
About: The first of the Christopher Nolan films. I enjoyed his trilogy and a more grounded take on Batman a lot. This is an under-rated film in some ways, but the lowest for me of the Nolan three. I like Christian Bale in the lead and this film offers a compelling origin story for our hero.
3. Batman (1989)
About: I get it, some people don’t love the Tim Burton film. I do. It was the first live-action superhero film I remember seeing, and a film that featured my favorite superhero in Batman. I will always have a soft spot for Keaton in the lead role and enjoyed Jack Nicholson as The Joker. I love this film and it remains among my favorite films of all time.
2. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
About: This was the finale of Nolan’s trilogy and a film that has grown in my esteem in the 10 years since it’s release. I enjoyed it when it was released but it’s fair to say I gain a new appreciation for it each time I watch it, which is often. There is a beauty and power in the production. Anne Hathaway is great as Selina Kyle, while Tom Hardy and Marion Cotillard are great additions. I love the way this builds to a crescendo and the final act of the film.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
About: And now we come to the film by which I measure all other Batman tales, The Dark Knight. The film is a masterpiece. It is engaging, beautifully produced and incredibly emotionally engaging for me. I have probably seen it 100 times and it never fails to move me. Heath Ledger is incredible, but it’s a combination of story, moments and the beautiful direction from Christopher Nolan. This is among my favorite films of all time.
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.