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Ranking the Batman Films of the Past Thirty Years

With Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice well into production and images of Ben Affleck's Batman now publicized, I thought I'd take a moment to review all of the Batman films since Tim Burton's Batman, ranking them from worst to best.

Batman and Robin (1997)

Arguably the worst film of the franchise, this monkey turd of a film marked the sad end to Batman's cinematic heyday and a low point in Joel Schumacher's career. A study in storytelling gone wrong, this movie tarnished Batman's onscreen reputation with its cheesy lines, poor script, and George Clooney's infamous Bat-nipples.
I think we'd all just like to forget this ever happened.

Batman Forever (1995)

This may have been rated the worst film of the franchise until Batman and Robin came out in 1997. Joel Schumacher directed a cheesy, more comedic outing of the Dark Knight. It featured a well-known cast that included Jim Carrey as the Riddler (one of the film's better performances) and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, who did the best he could with what he had to work with. This was meant to be a psychological evaluation of the dysfunctional relationship between Bruce Wayne and Batman, but gaudy set pieces, an average script and poor direction made this one of the more forgettable adventures of the Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

It was difficult to decide if this film should be in the top three, ahead of Batman Returns. The ending of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy attempted to blend elements of Batman stories Knightfall and No Man's Land. The result was a mixed bag.
By no means a bad movie, The Dark Knight Rises was such a radical departure from any canon that a great many fans felt alienated even from the first two films. Still, it featured Christopher Nolan's trademark, real-world storytelling, putting the spotlight not only on the main character but the supporting cast and the world itself. It was harrowing to watch Bane completely overtake Gotham City and featured a plausible real-world scenario should a major city come under siege.
The Dark Knight Rises was a satisfactory conclusion to Christopher Nolan's take on Batman. Not spectacular, not great, but good.

Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan's re-imagining of Batman catapulted the Dark Knight to commercial and critical success. After an eight-year hiatus, Batman Begins told an origin story loosely based on canon and set in a very modern world.
This was the first Batman story ever presented that made us ask; "What if this actually happened?" We are given a glimpse into the lives of the Wayne family before they are abruptly snuffed out, we see a bright and beautiful Gotham go dark as its most prominent citizens are murdered. We see the actual trial of the killer. We even see a vengeful Bruce Wayne who was ready to murder the killer himself, so lost is he in his quest for revenge. The road to becoming Batman was far from focused and we get to see his every pitfall and mistake as he becomes the Dark Knight. Easily the best origin story of any superhero on film and one of the best Batman films ever produced.

Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns is a perfect example of a sequel done right; reunite the cast, add the right people for the right roles (this film introduced me to Christopher Walken), and let the director do his thing.
I'm hard-pressed to find another sequel outside of the Star Wars universe that lives up to its predecessor. Tim Burton is at his gothic best returning to the Dark Knight as we know him today. Michael Keaton's performance cemented him as the Batman for an entire generation. I loved Michelle Pfeiffer's tortured, haunting turn as a timid secretary turned vigilante seductress. Danny Devito as the Penguin was awesome, watching him balance Cobblepot's aristocratic attitude with malice and humor.
As far as I'm concerned, the Batman films of the nineties could've ended here.

Batman (1989)

About how many films can we say are responsible for a generation of entertainment? Tim Burton's masterful take on the Dark Knight gave rise to the film adaptation of the comic book. It made the dark, moody Dark Knight mainstream. It paved the way for Batman: The Animated Series and Kevin Conroy's twenty-year run of vocalizing Batman.
Michael Keaton is arguably the only actor to ever successfully pull off the airheaded, nonchalant Bruce Wayne as well as the master detective and martial artist that was Batman. Jack Nicholson's Joker was incredible; a gentleman, a comedian, a homicidal clown, and so perfectly played by Jack Nicholson. Until the number one choice came down the pipeline, this was the perfect Batman film and certainly the superhero film that defined a generation of storytellers. 

The Dark Knight (2008)

Arguably the greatest Batman film of all time, this film works on so many levels it's difficult to enumerate them all. The world of Gotham City is incredibly and vividly fleshed out, so much so that it could be used in other films that don't include Batman. Christopher Nolan's masterful take on the Dark Knight is a psychological examination of the universe's key characters, set in a disturbingly plausible world.

Thanks for reading.


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