The Five Best Batman Movies

The Five Best Batman Movies

When Tim Burton's Batman hit movie theatres in 1989, superhero movies were a risky gamble that few movie studios would approach. Twenty-seven years later, movies based on The Dark Knight are pretty much a given. But which ones are the best?

These days, it seems like there's a new cinematic adaptation based on Batman every month. Heck, a new one just came out this week. But a steady stream of Bat-movies doesn't mean that they all stand the test of time. The five flicks below are the ones that we think stand head, shoulders and pointy ears above the rest. You should have seen these all already but, if you haven't, be warned that there are spoilers below.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

This 1993 animated movie drives home what exactly Bruce Wayne had to sacrifice to become the Dark Knight. Early in the movie, a college-age Bruce Wayne has found love with socialite Andrea Beaumont and stands in front of his parents' graves, saying it doesn't hurt so much anymore. You want to believe that he can find some sort of balance or happiness. He doesn't, of course. When Thomas and Martha Wayne's child finally does pull on that pointy-eared mask, Alfred's gasp says it all: Bruce Wayne's life effectively ends when Batman is born. For Gotham City to have any hope, its richest son must scuttle his own. Batman's heroism is the tragic kind not only because it was borne of loss but because it keeps him losing.

Little touches make Mask of the Phantasm feel more grown-up than the cartoon series that spawned it. There's a sequence that implies Bruce Wayne gets some loving and other scenes with both Batman and Joker bleeding from various scuffles. Throughout it all, Shirley Walker's score reprises familiar themes from the Batman: The Animated Series TV show but adds orchestral heft and choral colour to lift them into operatic poignancy.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

The Batman mythos has a Joker Problem. The Dark Knight's archenemy exudes a near-irresistible gravity on creators, which has resulted in over-exposure for the Clown Prince of Crime. At first, the Batman Beyond cartoon dealt with that by not using the character at all, and only referencing him with a street gang that appropriated his look. But then they brought the original Joker back in the series' sci-fi near-future setting, somehow making him even crueler and more magnetic. This film immediately became one of the definitive Joker stories, it was actually shocking because it showed Batman's no-killing rule being broken in the most transgressive way.

Batman (1966)

If such a thing as a Batman orthodoxy exists, its tenets hold that both Bruce Wayne and his alter ego must be unshakably glum and committed to crimefighting above all else. But, ah, then there's the live-action Batman TV show of the 1960s: the dad-joke Dark Knight that even grim-n-gritty purists have to respect. The movie version of the camp TV show blew out the scope of what Batman did, with a plot that saw Gotham's biggest bad guys team up to commit evil on a global scale. Batman 1966 works because, like the show, it gets mileage out of the absurdity of superhero fantasies while embracing the sincerity of the concept. This was a Batman that kids (and probably some adults) looked up to: an avuncular, cool-as-a-cucumber super-genius.

Batman Returns

Michael Keaton's portrayal of Bruce Wayne was the best thing about Tim Burton's Batman movies. Keaton gave audiences a millionaire playboy who felt so quirkily detached and preoccupied that you couldn't believe his head housed the weird psychological apparatus responsible for Batman. This sequel doubled down on the idea that childhood and adult trauma leaves people with fractured selves. Burton turned a snowy Gotham City into a bleak fairytale backdrop for the melodrama that had damaged souls coming together, soaring and crashing down short of their dreams. Almost every live-action Batman movie has been grim but Returns is genuinely sad.

Batman: The Dark Knight

Batman's at the peak of his prowess in this movie and just starting to impose his own order on Gotham's criminal underworld. That's what makes it so chilling when the Joker — played by the late Heath Ledger — shows up. He's chaos on two legs, a threat that Batman doesn't have the tools to deal with. Ledger delivers a chilling performance as the most malevolent live-action Joker yet seen. His combo of manic grumbling, twitchy explosiveness and simmering menace made the decades-old villain feel like he could exist in the real world. Batman may win the day but, as it should be, his tangles with the Joker have left him forever changed.


    I prefer Batman Begins over Dark Knight, it feels like more of a Batman movie to me, Christian Bale really gets sidelined by Heath Ledger.
    Under the Red Hood deserves a shout out too.

      I think the first half of Batman Begins is better than Dark Knight. I don't think the second half of BB is bad at all, but I find myself excited to watch BB usually never end up finishing it because the best parts are at the beginning.

      Yes Batman Begins is my favorite too (amongst that trio) and I am also one of these rare people that prefers Katie Holmes to Maggie G. Heath was on point for the 2nd but Gotham was too bright and normal (particularly the opening sequence.)

      Last edited 16/02/16 10:29 am

      Yep Batman Begins is the best of that trilogy - not sure why they recast Katie Holmes' character but it was a misstep, the first movie was just about flawless though

    We're getting an animated Killing Joke soon so this list may need to re-evaluated once its released.

      Yeah but its being added onto/changed/whatever, so who knows.

    No under the red hood list is wrong.

    I personally don't rate Batman Returns that highly honestly. I think Batman Begins craps all over it.

      Well you would be wrong, good sir!

      Returns may have a stiff neck, but it has the best catwoman ever, the best penguin ever, Christopher walken in a friggen Cape, and actual art direction.

      All of the bad guys aren't that bad, everyone has real motivations, and all of the self destructive behaviour reflects directly on bats.

      I think Keaton was a little overshadowed by the supporting cast, but that's sort of the point. He's just one of many nutcases.

        yeah cant go past the origin for cat woman in that movie or the fact that devito was so fucking scary as the penguin that the movie toy looked nothing like him and more like the animated series version

          After seeing how they're treating The Penguin's origins in Gotham - I can't look at the Burton version as anything more than a ridiculous joke

    "Batman of the Future: Return of the Joker" as its called here is so so good! I cant even remember how many times I have seen it.

    The 1966 Batman film is the best because in the first ten minutes of the film, we see a shark hanging from Batman's legs while he hangs from a helicopter, who gets rid of it with "shark repellent".

    You can't make this shit up. Well, they did, but whatever.

      Except in a twist of star trek proportions, what was once science fiction is now just science!

      Last edited 16/02/16 11:25 am

    As a young child in the 80s I completely bought into the 60s Batman. I was too young to process its camp nature, instead I found it thrilling and intriguing and every second episode when the Dynamic Duo found themselves trapped in some deadly, slow moving death device I was certain they'd never escape and I couldn't wait to come home from school the next day to find out what awe inspiring gadget Batman would fish out of his utility belt and use to escape. My 7 year old brain knew Batman was my hero and I despised each of those horrible villains.

    As an adult, it's pretty fun to watch with my kids and appreciate it on a whole different, tongue in cheek level. When Batman says stuff like "commissioner, have there been any new umbrella factories opened revently" and "lucky I'm wearing my extra protective thermal underwear" it's just plain hilarious.

      There are exactly 2 Batman films you can sit young kids in front of: The 1966 one and it's spiritual successor Batman & Robin!

    My personal favourite is Batman Mask of the Phantasm. It does the origin story, love story and Batman story better than any of the others.

    For years people would laugh at me when I spoke of Mask of the Phantasm, but in the last 10 years or so, more and more have begun to come around to it.

    Also missing from the list is Under the Red Hood. A highly enjoyable Batman story which gives us a disturbing glimpse into the death and return of Jason Todd. Highly recommend that and even Batman Bad Blood. If you haven't managed to see it yet, and you're a fan of Nightwing, it does wonders for the character. Shows him as his own hero and not simply a poor copy of Batman, which is funny because he spends so much time in the Bat suit.

    God, you could have just kept this to animated features since DC's animation studio can't do no wrong when it comes to their movies.

    Under The Red Hood, The Damien Trilogy (Son of Batman, Batman vs Robin & Bad Blood), Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm & Batman: Dark Night Parts 1 & 2 are some of the best animated DC films ever made and are miles ahead of the live action movies.

    I can understand the nostalgia factor playing a huge part in why the 1966 Batman movie and Batman Returns made this list, but looking back on them and taking all media into account, they both don't hold up to any of the stories mentioned in my previous paragraph. As for The Dark Knight Returns, as it's already been pointed out, Ledger's Joker is the only reason people remember this movie. Without him, TDKR wouldn't even make the list.

    Batman: The Dark Knight Returns gets my vote for best animated movie. It was pretty true to the TPB.

    Mask of the phantasm is easily my favorite batman movie as well.
    I also prefer the Burton/Keaton batman movies over the newer Nolan ones.

    Ummm... where is "Under The Red Hood"? Where is "The Dark Knight Returns"? Your list is confusing.

    First of all, this isn't a dig at anybody or anything to do with other companies that have other IP under their control (let's say it rhymes with "shovel").

    A central tenet of adaptations to film is the way the essence of the character is taken and either embellished upon or given a breath of fresh air. We have seen this approach taken with Batman and other DC characters since the advent of commercial radio. Sometimes it doesn't entirely work.

    But I still want to see the character in other mediums, and we are very lucky in this way.

    I'm just plain thankful for a new Batman movie!

    Oh, and Return of the Joker for my pick.

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