The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson as the latest actor to don the cape and cowl, has landed on streaming service HBO Go to the delight of fans who missed out on the film's theatrical release.
This latest installment is, arguably, the most different from its predecessors in terms of pacing and plot, but no matter what your opinion of it, The Batman reignites the comic book and film fandom’s tendency to contrast and compare: which Batman movie is the best and greatest of them all?
Also, which one is the worst? To settle the debate, let's look back at the many cinematic Bat-films throughout the decades, and finally judge without a doubt which one deserves to be front and center of your film collection... or relegated to the bottom of a wooden crate and lost in storage like in that scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
We'll be splitting this list into two parts. Come back here tomorrow for the second and final part.
Remember, these movies are ranked based on my personal preference and twisted reasoning. In no way is it definitive and you absolutely have a right to your own opinion on whether to agree or disagree with the position of each movie in this list.
Having said that, let's get the foul stench out of the way before getting to the good part.
‘Holy bat guano, Batman!’
Not every Batman film is the pinnacle of comic-book-to-movie adaptations. Like some franchises, it learned to crawl in the mud before reaching for the sky.
Batman and Robin (1997)
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell, Alicia Silverstone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Michael Gough
Synopsis: Cryogenic scientist gone wrong, Mr. Freeze wants to turn Gotham City into a frozen wasteland. Poison Ivy has revenge on her mind after a toxic run-in with a Wayne Enterprises scientist. While she has designs on Mr. Freeze, his cold heart is consumed only by his demented plans. With the addition of Batgirl, the dynamic duo become a trio. Will Gotham survive?
Where to even start? From the butt shots, bat-nipples and codpieces, and smarmy one-liners ("This is why Superman works alone"), Batman and Robin doubles down on what director Schumacher started in Batman Forever by delivering a sequel that is a direct parody of the 1960s Batman TV show—itself already a satire of the comic books it's based on.
O'Donnell returns as Batman's sidekick, Robin, joined by Batgirl, played by Alicia Silverstone, and villains Mr. Freeze played by Schwarzenegger and Poison Ivy played by Thurman. In this fourth incarnation with Batman/Bruce Wayne played by George Clooney, the film still follows the Tim Burton Batman timeline, but has gone so far off the rails that it's barely recognizable compared to the 1989 movie it sprang out of.
Generally considered the absolute worst cinematic Batman film of all time, Batman and Robin barely holds up today. The sexism, eye-rolling dad humor, and Clooney's uninspired portrayal all combine for a disastrous end to the early ’90s franchise saga of the Dark Knight.
Batman: The Movie (1966)
Director: Leslie Martinson
Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether
Synopsis: The Dynamic Duo face four supervillains who plan to hold the world for ransom with the help of a secret invention that instantly dehydrates people.
The first full-length theatrical adaptation of the DC Comics character of Batman is considered as being both awesome and regrettable at the same time. For many kids in the ’80s such as myself who greatly anticipated the series reruns, seeing West don the cape and cowl on his weekly adventures with Robin, played by Ward, was the greatest thing ever.
It was also a sad reflection of how the Comics Code Authority—a form of self-regulation by the comic book industry established in 1954—influenced the campy tone of the film which culminated in this full-length movie after the first season of the TV show wrapped.
The four villains—the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, and Catwoman—all played out in varying degrees of deliciously cartoonish proportions, was a sight to behold. Yet, it's those same characterizations that continue to inform many performances of those same Bat-villains to this day.
Despite the obvious kids cartoon nature of the show and movie, West and Ward's contribution to the Batman legacy is respected and held in high regard amongst all Batman fans. Also, you immediately become familiar with the word "onomatopeia" after seeing an episode.
Alyas Batman en Robin (1991)
Director: Tony Y. Reyes
Cast: Joey de Leon, Rene Requiestas, Dawn Zulueta, Vina Morales, Keempee de Leon, Panchito
Synopsis: A story of two brothers, Kenneth and Kevin, who wanted to help the law in its fight against lawless men of society. They encounter bad times in their pursuit of Tio Penguin and Joker, but with the help of Angelique, they finally nail them and the rest of the gang. The moral of the film simply states that crime does not pay and justice always prevails.
Quite simply, Alyas Batman en Robin knows exactly what it is and is proud of it.
Legally threatened by Warner Bros. for releasing at nearly the same time as the Burton Batman in 1989, Alyas was finally able to screen in Filipino theaters in 1991 and immediately struck comedy gold.
The movie parodies and satirizes even further the 1960s Batman TV show (as if that wasn't even more possible already, but this film and Schumacher's Batman and Robin years later proved otherwise) and doesn't shy away from all the corny jokes and musical dance numbers it can throw at the audience within its one hour, 42-minute runtime.
De Leon and real-life son Kempee, who plays Batman and Robin, respectively, are hilarious as the Dynamic Duo. In short, do not take this film seriously and just have fun with it—and if you've never heard of the late Rene Requiestas, watch this film for free and bask in the glory of one of the greatest comedic actors in Philippine cinema.
Sometimes, the sequel to a really good film doesn't necessarily eclipse the original in terms of the quality of the storytelling. Not necessarily bad, but not quite good enough either. Let's call it a plateau. A level field you can take a breather and not have to sweat the small stuff.
Batman Forever (1995)
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O'Donnell, Michael Gough
Synopsis: Batman must battle Two-Face and The Riddler with help of an amourous psychologist and a young circus acrobat who becomes his sidekick, Robin.
The sequel to Batman Returns, 1995's Batman Forever was a huge departure from the Tim Burton films and turned a spotlight on Bruce Wayne/Batman's psychological side. This was also the movie where O'Donnell's Robin make his first appearance.
With small hints of the 1960s campiness peeking through here and there, this movie still merits a second look for its stylish visuals and absolutely beautiful soundtrack. This is the film that brought hits such as Seal's Kiss from a Rose, and U2's Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me into the pop culture zeitgeist.
Kilmer takes over the role of Batman and doesn't actually stray far from the portrayal that made Micheal Keaton a household name. There is relatively more of Bruce Wayne in this movie, though, compared to the performances in Batman and Batman Returns which featured the Dark Knight heavily as opposed to his alter ego.
Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg
Synopsis: Fearing the actions of a god-like super hero left unchecked, Gotham City's own formidable, forceful vigilante takes on Metropolis' most revered, modern-day savior, while the world wrestles with what sort of hero it really needs. And with Batman and Superman at war with one another, a new threat quickly arises, putting mankind in greater danger than it's ever known before.
Technically, this is a sequel to director Snyder's Man of Steel who stars Cavill in the titular role. However, this is the introduction to Affleck's portrayal of the Dark Knight which was supposed to bounce off into a new series of Batman films. Sadly, his time with the cape and cowl lasted for only a hot minute before turning into a clusterf*ck of personal issues and insider chaos.
What is certain is that Affleck's Batman is (or was, at the time) the most violent—and murdery—amongst all those who've portrayed the character before him. The influence of Batman: Year One from comic book master Frank Miller can be seen throughout, and Snyder's unique style leaning towards high contrast and dark, saturated color tones gives this Batman a pretty stark visual presentation.
Batman v Superman split the fanbase right down the middle when it first came out—awkward lines such as "Save Martha!" didn't help—but some have come to appreciate the vision of the film. Those who were able to get their hands on the Ultimate Edition Blu-ray were treated to a slightly better presentation with some extended and altered scenes.
Whichever version you favor, Gadot's Wonder Woman remains the one true high point of the film.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cottilard
Synopsis: Eight years after the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman has disappeared. Organized crime has been eradicated in Gotham City thanks to the Dent Act giving expanded powers to the police. Commissioner James Gordon has kept the criminal acts of Dent after his disfigurement a secret and allowed the blame for his crimes to fall on Batman. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, and Wayne Enterprises is losing money.
Of all the Batman films up to this point, this is the one that may have generated the most conflict among fans. On the one hand, you have the adrenaline-pumping action set pieces that are the norm with Nolan Bat-movies, and on the other, you have a story that has problems in pacing and in conflict with most of what people know of The Batman's character.
Right off the bat (no pun intended), we open with Bruce Wayne who has basically given up on the world, and more noteworthy, has given up on being Batman. That, by itself, already goes against the tenet that Batman never gives up; he is an unrelenting force to be reckoned with. Dive into the comics and you'll see that this particular superhero has gone through so much worse than the death of a loved one, and quitting isn't even in his vocabulary.
Other quibbles include plot progression, technical issues (no one can understand Bane), and an overall impression that this could have been a completely different movie if the death of actor Heath Ledger had not happened—or if the production people were not heavily affected by his passing.
Still, you have a "just OK" end to the Nolan Bat-trilogy, and it still manages to squeeze out what you've come to expect from the director: great action, plot twists, and a story that contains a reward at the end for all the loyal Bat-fans out there.
You've reached the end of part one of this list. Which Bat-movie do you think we will have as our "Best in Bat-film"? Tune in tomorrow, Bat-fans, as we reveal our number one pick for greatest Batman film of all time!