Created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, few superheroes are as iconic and recognizable as Batman. In the past eighty years, Batman has had countless interpretations and reimaginings and has starred in numerous feature length films. However, not all Batman films are created equal. So here today, we're going to rank the ten best of the best in the Caped Crusader's film catalogue.
Before we get started, we're just going to lay a quick ground rule: all films on this list must have played in theaters. Sorry, but that rules out the majority of the animated films starring the character. Without any further delay, here are the Top 10 Appearances of Batman in Film.
10 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
While it's safe to say that not all films on the list are exactly winners, but to Batman V Superman's credit, it was able to beat out Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin. While Dawn of Justice suffers from numerous problems within its characterization, pacing, and dialogue, it makes its way onto this list primarily by not being as bad as any of the films not on this list.
And to the film's credit, Ben Affleck's portrayal of an older Bruce Wayne helps this incarnation stand out amongst many of the other Batmen.
9 Batman Forever
Coming off the heels of the two Burton Batman films, Batman Forever is a lighter depiction of the character, harkening back to the camp of the comics of the '50s and '60s. While comparatively, much of Batman Forever feels dated and sometimes juvenile, it's hard to hate the over the top performances of Jim Carry as The Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face.
Though not a bad Batman film by any means, the film often feels as though its so enveloped in its tone and stylization that it forgets to focus on the core of a good Batman film: Batman.
8 The Lego Batman Movie
Definitely a different change of pace from the other films on this list, The Lego Batman Movie is a self-aware and sometimes self deprecating comedy. The film is effectively a parody of Batman himself, full of snappy and legitimately hilarious dialogue, poking fun of all of the Batman cliche's that we've grown to know such as brooding and working alone.
The film is also full of gags that benefit from this incarnation of Batman being a lego, also helping to keep the tone of the film consistently light and hilarious. The film's core weakness is the same as any other parody, as it often relies on that which has come before it, which tends to stagnate the film's longterm capability to innovate.
7 The Dark Knight Rises
The third and final film of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises builds off of the continuity of the previous films while continuing to raise the stakes.
Events and actions of the two previous films build and culminate in this finale that often feels more like a disaster movie than a superhero film. Due to the payoff of seeds sown in the previous two films, the film serves as a solid ending to a trilogy better than a standalone film.
6 Batman Returns
The direct sequel to 1989's Batman, Tim Burton reprised his position as director of Batman Returns. While the previous film had made great strides in bringing the common perception of the Dark Knight out of the camp of the 1960s, Batman Returns is a film slathered in Burton trademarks.
Presenting yet and even darker tone than its predecessor, the film embraces the gothic and bizarre with the film's depictions of characters like Danny Devito's Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman.
5 Batman Begins
While the majority of Batman films focus on the Dark Knight in his war against crime, the vast majority show the character once he's already been Batman for years. The first film of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, this film details the origin of Batman, as we watch his earliest time as a vigilante.
The film takes a great deal of inspiration from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, and effectively characterizes Bruce Wayne through his struggles. Christian Bale's performance as Bruce Wayne brings life to the character, while Liam Neeson and Michael Caine are standouts as well.
4 Batman (1966)
Few names are as synonymous with Batman as Adam West. For about two decades, West was the version of Batman that anyone who didn't read comics was the most familiar with.
West's campy Batman is the antithesis of modern Batman, working entirely within the confines of the law and often incorporating a lot of gags and comedy. However, as a comedic take on Batman, the 1966 film is untouchable. From the incorporation of exploding sharks, elaborate dehydration based schemes, and the iconic "bomb scene," 1966's Batman is the pinnacle of Batman comedies.
3 Batman (1989)
Remember how in the last entry we said that for decades, Adam West was viewed as the definitive version of Batman? This is the film that changed that. While comics like Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns had been darkening the tone of Batman in the comics for years, most audiences unfamiliar with the comics still associated Batman with the camp and comedy of the 60's.
Enter 1989's Batman, directed by Tim Burton. Bringing a darker tone to the series with a hilarious yet frightening performance by Jack Nicholson as the Joker, this film changed the mainstream trajectory of Batman forever.
2 Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
While this film is based upon the much beloved Batman: The Animated Series, it was in fact played in theaters, qualifying it for its much-deserved number two spot on this list! Featuring an all-star voice cast including Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill's Joker, Mask of Phantasm is the Batman feature film that is easily the closest to the source material.
From the animation to the spot-on tone, to the mystery-based plot, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm feels as though you're watching a Batman comic come to life on screen.
1 The Dark Knight
Many of the best superhero films are those that are able to transcend the superhero genre itself. Our selection for the number one slot on this list, The Dark Knight, does this with flying colors. Coming off less as a superhero film and more like a serious drama, the film constantly subverts the viewer's expectations and keeps them on the edge of their seat.
While Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne is reminiscent of his performance as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, the film truly shines with its antagonist. The late Heath Ledger redefined the character of the Joker with a terrifying performance that would change the character forever. A being if pure chaos, The Dark Knight's Joker brought an energy, sense of anarchy, and legitimate terror to the film that has yet to be rivaled by any other depiction of the character in film.