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.

Movie Diary

Pitch Perfect
I recently cancelled my netflix by mail. I had no problem waiting 2 days for any movie, but I had pulled myself down to only 2 movies a month and at that point it is really just a lot cheaper to rent from Redbox, so that is why I rented Pitch Perfect, since I’m limited to new releases. It did come with a reccomendation from Will West earlier that week who praised the accuracy of college acapella groups depicted. I can’t speak to that, but I did enjoy the music for what it was worth and also the performance from Adam Devine (Workaholics) in a less mentally unstable role. Anna Kendrick is an actress I really like in everything I’ve seen her in and playing a mashup DJ was a recipe for a huge crush. It reminds me of the Josie & The Pussycats movie in the way that it should have been very lame and by the numbers, but has enough bizarre humor and clever moments to elevate the material to a point where it can be safely enjoyed by someone not a teenage girl. There is puke, a physchotic whispering girl, and big nerd who I can’t help feel is making fun of Glee by his inclusion. Can’t say I’d watch it again and again, but it is worth a rent. I might watch the “Cups” video a few more times though.
Iron Man 3 
The runaway success of this movie is not something we should praise but expect. It is better than Iron Man 2. It is also better than the original Iron Man in a lot of ways. I’d even say it tops Avengers as far as telling a story with character development (Avengers was a series of amazing events and jokes, but no real development). The female parts of this movie stand out against the titular Iron Man very well. Tony’s girlfriend isn’t a Bond girl, she’s the CEO of his company and his most trusted ally. The female AIM agent that stands in his way wasn’t easily dispatched. The scientist Tony met with 13 years ago doesn’t pop up to rekindle an old flame or get revenge, she just wants to get the rest of the formula Tony wrote on a cocktail napkin. And with little exception NONE of these women are sexualized nor do that dress in a way meant to seduce him. Yeah, this movie passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. And we’re rewarded with an amazing climax and a ride off into the sunset. Please, no Iron Man 4. Do not try to top this. Bring Tony back for Avengers and cameos, but let Iron Man 3 be the movie that closes his solo adventures.
Superman Unbound
These DC movies can be hit or miss. Red Hood, New Frontier, Apocalypse, Wonder Woman, Elite… These were great stories with the characters and it helps that most were adapted from great stories with the characters. I mentioned before that Avengers was just a series of events with those characters, and that is kind of how I feel with Unbound. The movie is bookended with scenes featuring Lois Lane and Clark’s relationship with her. In the middle there is some good Supergirl stuff showing Kara being homesick. But the bulk of the movie is Superman fighting Brainiac on multiple fronts. That fighting is fun, good action dialog, and superb WB animation to bring it together. But the movie never once shows why it is called “Unbound” aside from the one time he is bound by Brainiac and breaks free like 12 seconds later. There are lots of reasons for Kal El to lose it as part of this story, from being worried about Lois or Kara or pining to live inside Kandor with his fellow Kryptonians. All those are touched on but never dug in to. I guess that is a lot to ask for a 72 minute animated feature, but I’ve see these movies characterize Superman and family well and the fact they only half assed it bothers me more than if they went full on Justice League mode and made the entire story about the action and never talk about secret identities and relationships. The movie’s opening shot is also the weakest most unrealistic thing I’ve ever seen animated. Thankfully the movie picks up and is fun from there, but I could not suspend my disbelief that a swat team would pour on to a rooftop with armed kidnappers firing with NO COVER AT ALL and then only a few are slightly injured. I’d have junked that gun battle entirely in storyboarding and have the bad guys get away as soon as swat arrives since that is what happens anyway. Spent that recovered 45 seconds telling me why they kidnapped Lois in the first place. All told, it is still a fun movie and worth watching, just doesn’t elevate to the same level as Superman VS The Elite or Under The Red Hood.