Definitive List of Best Movies featuring Batman

This started as a list, but felt I needed to justify the choices a bit more. Averted the normal “countdown” clickbait style, I’m putting the best at the top. Please note I’ve excluded all animated entries as those would require a LOT more effort to rank.

1: The Dark Knight (2008)
Almost a decade after release, the definitive comic book adaptation still looms over everything since. An argument can be made for the rise of Marvel, which launched Iron Man the same summer, but some of that cultural impact seems to be by sheer force of marketing. The Dark Knight had a consistent tone and (gravelly)voice and created a very lived in world. And unlike a lot of movies on this list, bizarre choices and winks to the camera are almost nonexistent. I barely have to mention Ledger’s award winning Joker performance, which has (for better or worse?) ruined the character for all other interpretations in the 9 years since.

2: Batman (1989)

Some might make a strong case for nostalgia and they’d be right, but that doesn’t dim the achievement made here. Tim Burton’s weird gothic style, Michael Keaton’s eccentric performance, Elfman’s playfully bombastic score, Nicholson’s manic Joker… all this AND Robert Wuhl! This was the VHS tape to have in 1990 and I could recite every line from the movie as well as the Diet Coke and Warner Bros catalog ad that preceded it. Get nuts, wonderful toys, etc. Very few movies from 3 decades ago actually age well, but the manic energy created by the sets, music, and performances make this one easy to revisit.

3: Justice League (2017)
What good is a list like this without a boiling hot take inserted? Justice League is GOOD. It is fun and action packed in exactly the way it need to be. I really enjoyed all characters they introduced as they forced some levity into the movie more naturally than Batman himself changing on his own. There are some shortcomings that are not the movie’s fault: the unbalanced first half as they assemble is more a series of events than a plot. But once the team is together and (spoiler) Superman is back, then it feels like the movie I waited my whole life to see. Since this is a Bat-centric list, I’m glad they found a new take for the character on screen: the grizzled veteran who think he knows best but really needs to listen to cooler calmer heads. I want at least 3 or 4 Justice League movies and would be fine with them cancelling all the solo movies to do it.

4: Batman Begins (2005)
The Batman origin is well worn by this point and the sort of pop culture knowledge just about everyone has. But if you wan the definitive version, the one to show people who maybe don’t know who or what Batman is about, this is it. The logical leap required to go from seeing his parents’ murder to dressing up as a Bat is a pretty big one and Nolan’s first Batman movie does an admirable job of making sense of it. It is the least “comic booky” one on the list as well, addressing none of the more fantastical elements of the Batman canon, in spite of the primary adversary being an immortal cult leader.

5: Batman Returns (1992)
If “Begins” is notable for being the one that established an definitive Batman and adhering to canon whenever possible, Batman Returns is notable for not making any attempt at all to be a Batman movie. It is a Tim Burton movie with Batman in it. Despite the joker being dispatched in the previous film, Batman spends most of the movie fighting clowns aligned with Penguin. Catwoman has some undefinied supernatural quality and Christopher Walken is there being Christoper Walken. I haven’t watched it in a while I admit, but it deserves a spot in the top 5 for being so odd.

6: Batman: The Movie (1966)
Speaking of canon, there was a time when the dark tortured gritty Batman didn’t exist. This was the Batman I grew up on, with reruns on WTTG in the early 80s. While campy and zany, it was consistent with the TV series before it. It also features more classic Batman characters than any other movie on this list. It is less essential to the modern Batman but still a fun watch so I balance that by placing it at the middle of the pack.

7: Batman Forever (1995)
While not outright bad, Forever has a lot to answer to and doesn’t have much to say. Kind of a soft reboot from the weird “Returns” It recasts Batman with Val Kilmer, gets a really slow Batmobile, and turns Gotham into a neon hellscape. Jim Carrey was well cast as Riddler, though Tommy Lee Jones trying to match his energy makes Two Face a little off brand. The 90’s Batman series really put more emphasis on the bad guys than the good and it really shows here.

8/9 TIE: The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Batman v Superman (2016)
With a cinematic history as varied as Batman, it can be hard to determine what is best, but I have equal trouble deciding what doesn’t work. The final act of the Christian Bale Batman trilogy is a natural progression story wise from the first part. There are many callbacks to that first chapter linking the stories. The problem is there is almost nothing learned going into the final act. It falls into the old sequel trope of raising the stakes and raising the threat level to a laughable level. Bane should be intimidating but that voice. But it is truly the act of a blank check director. WB does not reign in Nolan at all, they let him do what he wants to do, and so I’ll give him credit for making a bold movie and sticking to it even if a lot of us were not along for the ride.
Zack Snyder also took us for a ride in BvS. I liked Man of Steel quite a bit. It was a different, and while I don’t think Snyder is as good a director as Nolan, he has a style and method and voice and that is important. I’ve joked that the Marvel movies with few exceptions could have all been directed by the same person and I’d never know because they all look and feel the same. There is no mistaking this is a Snyder movie. And it is peppered with lots of really weird choices. If you just had Luthor, or just had murder Batman, or just had the nightmare, or just had Doomsday, or just MARTHA, it might have been easier to swallow. But by the time we get to the end I’m still reeling from the the beginning and it all feels like a blur. Its why the “ulitmate edition” that clocks in at over 3 hours is better, it actually gives you a chance to breathe.
Thats why this is a tie. Because Dark Knight Rises gets worse the longer you linger on it, BvS gets better the more you watch it. But I can’t say that either is an outright good movie.

10: Batman & Robin (1997)
Apology time. I’ve never actually sat down and watched this movie start to finish. But nothing I’ve seen has lead me to believe I’ve missed anything. To date this is the only major Batman movie released in my lifetime I didn’t see in a theater. It is amazing that George Clooney managed to go on to be one of the biggest stars in the world after this.

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Movie Diary

Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them
I’m a real latecomer to the Harry Potter thing. I was aware of the series for most of the 2000s of course, but didn’t see any of the movies (still haven’t read the books) until 2010 right before the last one came out. Dawn and I marathoned the series on Netflix (Discs by mail!)and then saw the final installment of Deathly Hallows when it reached theaters. I have afoundation of the series without being a super fan. I didn’t know what to expect from Fantastic Beasts. It is a very interesting film with more than a few strange choices. Firstly, the lead role played by Eddie Redmayne is really strange. He’s so socially awkwards, mumbles most lines and rarely looks other characters in the eye while speaking directly to them. Dan Fogler is unrecognizable but is also putting on a great character performance. I’ll admit to not being very familiar with most of the other actors but they were all similar shades of awkward. Kinda neat for a movie that is supposed to be a huge studio action film with kid appeal.

Held on the DVR for about 3 or 4 months. Finally watched it and wasn’t disappointed. A fitting tribute to George Michael.

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Ok so when Indy is running from the natives in the opening scene, he’s left behind a small crew dead in the expedition. Then he gets in a single engine plane with one seat. What the hell was going to happen to all those other guys? Was he counting on them getting killed? Otherwise, this movie holds up.

Lego Batman
I’ve seen The Lego Movie a hundred times. Kids love it. I was hot to see this one before it came out then the reviews were great too, so we finally made it out a couple weeks ago. It almost plays like an official parody of Batman movies. The weird Tom Hardy Bane voice coming out of the comic looking Bane was pretty great.

Batman v Superman
OK so Superman arrives at congress to face questions and Bruce Wayne is watching on TV and asks whats the deal with the former employee who is also appearing. He sees the returned checks, he sees the bomb go off and while I can appreciate it might be hard to directly connect this entire thing to Lex Luthor is should be clear to HIM that there is a conspiracy to frame Superman. One so great it will put him in the US Capitol building with a bomb and kill hundreds. Why the hell does he continue to pursue his insane plan to stab Superman to death? Shouldn’t the world’s greatest detective go deeper at this point?

Great Wall
My dad had a brush with death 2 months ago. Trapped in a hospital bed watching network TV as he recovered, we saw a lot of ads for this Matt Damon bomb. We decided this movie had to be either so great or so stupid. As he got better, we went out for a weeknight screening at the nearest IMAX screen. I know it was an off peak time to see a movie in its 2nd or 3rd week of release but we were the ONLY people in an IMAX theater. The weird mix of fake history, science fiction, fantasy, and Matt Damon’s accent conspired to make a movie that defied rationality. Monsters from space that attack on an Earth clock! One Chinese warrior speaks perfect English! Bungee jumping with spears! Willem Dafoe! Emperor of China is played by some kid from a boy band! Fuckin’ magnets, how do they work? Never mind the white washing, the movie was shot and paid for by the Chinese and there is so much nationalism for a culture, society, and events that do exist it was difficult to comprehend. I’m not sure who this movie was for! It is barely on the edge of Mystery Science Theater 3000 level bad.

Game Diary

Game Diary: Forza Horizon, Crysis, LEGO Batman

With the Xbox summer sale in effect, I downloaded a few games I had been wanting to play for a while like Borderlands 2 and Tomb Raider.  I’ll get to those later, I started with a game I bought for three measley dollars…

I’ve heard a lot about this game over the years, mostly  noting that the PC game was too graphically intense to run on any current hardware.  An Xbox 360 version obviously isn’t running those max settings, but looks clean and as good as any other notable game from this generation.  I’ve never purchased a game based on graphical reputation, and I actually did here since I knew nothing about that game aside from that reputation and tv commercials for the sequels.  This is a mistake I will never repeat.

Crysis isn’t bad, but it is hard.  I’m not a great shooter player, even if I enjoy playing them.  Halo is the only one I feel I’m good at, and that is only through practice and knowing my weaknesses as well as my strengths.  I selected the “normal” difficulty which is most games would allow me a little forgiveness, especially in early levels as I get used to game’s enemies and controls.  NOPE.  I got killed on the first encounter.  THE FIRST ONE.  Didn’t even see the guy up on a ridge.

And it escalated from there.  Enemies hiding in brush, enemies hiding in buildings, enemies with better aim than mine constantly calling me out and spotting me even when I’m ‘cloaked’ and should be invisible when motionless.

I resorted to an old Halo trick of running past groups of enemies in order to avoid a fight. I wasn’t even past the first level.  Checkpoints reload really quickly to deescalate frustration, but having to rerun the same spot 6 times isn’t fun no matter what.  I turned the game off after an hour.  Maybe I’ll restart on easy, but not any time soon.

Lego Batman 2
I have played my share of LEGO games and I really find it hard to understand what makes one different from the other.  The first LEGO Batman game I played for a little bit and enjoyed the Danny Elfman music that accompanied, but since it wasn’t based on a movie directly like Star Wars, the original story didn’t seem to grab me since there was no dialog.

LEGO Batman 2 has voices.  Plenty of talking.  Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor seems to be the only role that is reprised from a previous outing, the rest of the voices I’ve encountered so far seem well cast for the more light hearted game.

But it is still a LEGO game.  Lots of item hunting, lots of build puzzles, lots of button mash fights.  I played Co-Op with my wife, and we were occasionally frustrated by the odd split screen effects.  It made some of the platforming a little hard when you needed to go up, but the screen split horizontally.

We will definitely go back and play some more later.  Haven’t even gotten to play as Superman or other characters yet, but was elated to hear John Williams’ theme when he showed up.

Forza Horizon
I almost didn’t pick up this game, I last played Forza III and while it is a technically amazing game and really amazing to look at, I don’t tend to favor more realistic racers.  I prefer Burnout.  But I remembered Horizon is supposed to be a little more casual so I gave it a try.  Wow, so glad I did.  Easily the best game I picked up this week. 

It is set in an open world surrounding a festival and driving around to events I was immediately reminded of Burnout Paradise.  No explosions or crazy stunts, but there are speed cameras everywhere to clock your top speed and ghost challenges from friends all over.  I like the combination of night and day time events, as well as the exploration, finding old cars abandoned in barns.  There is a fast travel option that I never use, not because I don’t want to spend money, but because I’d rather play to get somewhere.  On the road aside from regular traffic are 249 other drivers you can challenge to races for more cash.  Like a role playing game, I’m grinding that cash now so when I get to higher levels buying a new car or parts is no big deal.

I don’t know if I’ll pick up a Forza 5, but if the Horizon series continues I’ll probably stick with it.  I still really hope Criterion makes another Burnout game, but the street racing sign busting from Paradise made it into Horizon, so I’m scratching that itch anyway.

And now a moment of silence for my white wired Xbox 360 controller, which now sticks on the X button and has spotty success on the Y button.  I’ve had it for 6 years and it is finally done.  I haven’t decided if I’ll buy another wired or wireless one.