Batman has been around for over 80 years and he shows no signs of slowing down. He has also been around in movies longer than almost any major superhero and is still going strong years later.
Not including the two movies shot in the 1940s (Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949), there have been seven actors playing Batman on the big screen, with an eighth on the way when Robert Pattinson takes on the role in The Batman in 2022.
It all started with Adam West in 1966’s Batman: The Movie, where he reprised his role from the beloved live-action TV show.
Tim Burton and Michael Keaton brought Batman back in 1989 and they made two movies together before passing the torch to Joel Schumacher in 1995.
Schumacher also made two Batman movies, one with Val Kilmer and the second with George Clooney in the lead role.
That ended the franchise until 2005, when Christopher Nolan created his Dark Knight Trilogy with Christian Bale in the lead role.
Finally, we can’t forget about Will Arnett and his brilliant performance in both LEGO Movies as well as The LEGO Batman Movie.
With so many different versions of Batman on the big screen, here is a look at how the critics ranked them, from worst to first.
Batman & Robin (1977) – 12%
Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies have always been kitschy, but Batman & Robin took it one step too far, and the Batman franchise died when this movie was released.
George Clooney took on the role of Batman just as the actor was hitting the big-time, and he has often said he was the worst Batman of them all. Chris O’Donnell, who played Robin, said in the DVD commentary that he felt like they were making a toy commercial and not a movie.
The movie had Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a pun-making Mr. Freeze while Uma Thurman was a sexy Poison Ivy. Alicia Silverstone was also cast as Batgirl, although her character had nothing to do with the comic character.
It was colorful and full of cringe-worthy moments, such as Batman pulling out his American Express card with the name Batman on it.
Rotten Tomatoes critic consensus said, “Joel Schumacher’s tongue-in-cheek attitude hits an unbearable limit in Batman & Robin resulting in a frantic and mindless movie that’s too jokey to care much for.”
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – 29%
There is a clear line drawn for fans of Zack Snyder’s Justice League movies, from Man of Steel to Justice League itself. The disagreements hit a high point in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Snyderverse fans love the movie and just as many felt it was an over-bloated mess that ruined the characters from DC Comics.
For the Snyderverse fans, they saw a movie that brought Batman and Superman into the modern-day and the film showed what it was like to be a superhero today. Fans who hated it saw Snyder turning Batman into a murderer and Superman into someone who didn’t want to be a hero.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and the average audience score of 63-percent shows that. The movie seemed to have too much going on for a two-and-a-half-hour movie.
If Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice had been split into two movies, one with Batman fighting Superman and the second with the Doomsday storyline, it would have been much better, with more time to give the characters the development they deserved.
Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus said, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice smothers a potentially powerful story — and some of America’s most iconic superheroes — in a grim whirlwind of effects-driven action.”
Batman Forever – 38%
The third movie in the ’90s Batman franchise saw the movies that a hugely different angle, as Tim Burton left and Joel Schumacher arrived.
Looking back, both eras of Batman movies were pure kitsch, but in different ways. Burton brought his gothic sensibilities to Batman and created two movies that fans seemed to universally love at the time of their release.
Schumacher brought his colorful, vibrant style to the Batman franchise, and while that was hugely popular in movies like the vampire film Lost Boys, Batman fans were not as excited to see it after Burton’s darker take.
Val Kilmer was a much better Batman than George Clooney and Jim Carrey was fun as The Riddler. However, Tommy Lee Jones was way over the top as Two-Face and the movie wasn’t bad, but was a letdown after Batman Returns.
Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus said, “Loud, excessively busy, and often boring, Batman Forever nonetheless has the charisma of Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones to offer mild relief.”
Batman (1989) – 71%
After Superman proved to be a success, it was time to see what other comic book movies could work. Sadly the third and fourth Superman movies were disappointments and Supergirl was a flop.
Marvel tried its hand with The Punisher and Howard the Duck, neither becoming more than cult movies, while DC did have some success with Swamp Thing.
Then, in 1989, DC made Batman, and it had a monster success on its hands. The casting was controversial, as fans didn’t want Michael Keaton as Batman since he was mostly known for comedies like Mr. Mom. However, the Beetlejuice actor knocked it out of the park and is still a huge favorite.
Jack Nicholson basically played an over-the-top version of himself as Joker. Still, he was entertaining, which started the world’s renewed love affair with a darker, more exciting Batman.
Rotten Tomatoes critics said, “An eerie, haunting spectacle, Batman succeeds as dark entertainment, even if Jack Nicholson’s Joker too often overshadows the title character.”
Batman (1966) – 79%
For fans of a specific generation, there is no Batman greater than Adam West, who played Batman in the popular live-action television series.
In 1966, the television Batman got his own movie and everyone from the TV show was there for the ride, including Burt Ward, who played Robin.
The movie had to be bigger than the TV shows, which mostly had two-part episodes with a new villain each time. The movie brought several of these villains together, with Cesar Romero’s Joker, Burgess Meredith’s The Penguin, Frank Gorshin’s The Riddler. Lee Meriwether replaced Julie Newmar as Catwoman in the film.
For those unfamiliar, this Batman was pure camp and bears no similarity to the Dark Knight that arrived starting in 1989.
Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus said, “Batman: The Movie elevates camp to an art form — and has a blast doing it, every gloriously tongue-in-cheek inch of the way.”
Batman Returns – 80%
The second Tim Burton movie was the best of the ’90s Batman films, with Michael Keaton returning for his second stint as Batman to battle three villains.
The stars here were the villains, with Danny DeVito great as Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as the best Catwoman ever presented on screen.
The movie was still dark and gothic, and there were many more adult situations this time around. The story was better, the acting was solid all the way around, and everyone brought the characters from the comics to life in a very respectful way.
Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus said, “Director Tim Burton’s dark, brooding atmosphere, Michael Keaton’s work as the tormented hero, and the flawless casting of Danny DeVito as The Penguin and Christopher Walken as, well, Christopher Walken make the sequel better than the first.”
Batman Begins – 84%
Christopher Nolan was a director on the rise when he took on the job as Batman director. He had already made some amazing movies, with his breakout coming with Memento.
From the first movie, Nolan made Batman his own, creating an origin story for Bruce Wayne, unlike anything put on screen before. The entire first half of the movie showed Bruce’s rise to become Batman and was a masterful retelling of his origin.
It was also great seeing Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, years after fans began calling for it after his performance in American Psycho.
The second half turned into a typical superhero movie, with Liam Neeson great as the evil Ra’s al Ghul. Nolan was still learning here, though, and his fight scenes showed they could use improvement, which they did in the later movies.
Overall, it was a masterful reinvention and reintroduction of Batman.
Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus said, “Brooding and dark, but also exciting and smart, Batman Begins is a film that understands the essence of one of the definitive superheroes.”
The Dark Knight Rises – 87%
The third and final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was the worst movie for some fans, but ranks higher than the first for critics.
The movie told a version of the comic book story No Man’s Land, where Gotham City was shut off from the world, and the villains took over the city. All that remained was Batman to stop them.
This movie also brought in the best version of Bane, a muscled-up powerhouse that would do anything to help Talia al Ghul in her mission to destroy Batman and take over Gotham City once and for all.
There was a lot going on in the movie, and it seemed bloated at times, but it was a fitting end to Nolan and Bale’s Batman collaboration.
Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus said, “The Dark Knight Rises is an ambitious, thoughtful, and potent action film that concludes Christopher Nolan’s franchise in spectacular fashion.
The LEGO Batman Movie – 90%
The only Batman animated movie on this list is The LEGO Batman Movie because the others were DVD releases, and we are sticking with theatrical movies here. The two LEGO Movies are also not here because Batman was just a supporting character in those.
Will Arnett voices Batman in all the LEGO movies and he is on target here, with a perfectly ridiculous version of Batman. The movie pokes fun at Batman, but remains entertaining, thoughtful, smart, and hilarious, all at the same time.
The movie shows a Batman that is the extreme of every trait he has in the comics and movies, but is done in a way that never insults the character and is something both fans and non-fans can love equally.
Will Arnett is perfect as Batman.
Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus said,
The Dark Knight – 94%
The best Batman movie ever made arrived the same year that Iron Man debuted to kickstart the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 2008 was an amazing year for superhero movie fans.
The Dark Knight saw Christian Bale return as Batman in Christopher Nolan’s second movie in his Dark Knight Trilogy. However, the highlight of the movie was the villains.
Fans hated the idea of pretty boy Heath Ledger taking on Joker’s role, but he ended up as the best Joker ever put on screen and won a posthumous Oscar for her performance. He electrified every scene in which he appeared and is one of the best supervillains in any comic book movie.
Up next was Aaron Eckhart, who had the best character arc of anyone in the Dark Knight Trilogy as Harvey Dent. He started as the white knight, someone that Batman believed could save Gotham City, and then became Two-Face after a tragedy killed the woman he loved and scarred half his face.
This is the movie that proved superhero movies could match any film in any genre, sitting as one of the best crime films of the new century.
Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus said, “Dark, complex, and unforgettable, The Dark Knight succeeds not just as an entertaining comic book film, but as a richly thrilling crime saga.”