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The Batman: 10 of the best and worst films over the years, from The Dark Knight to The Batman

Robert Pattinson as The Batman (Warner Bros)
Robert Pattinson as The Batman (Warner Bros)

Iconic superhero Batman has been thrilling readers ever since his first appearance in Detective Comics number 27 in 1939. He’s the stark opposite to Superman, stalking the gritty streets of Gotham city, but isjust as loved, if not more.

From Adam West to the film starring Robert Pattinson, there has been 10 live action adaptations and 32 animations of the gritty bat-themed hero and it’s unlikely to end there.

Especially as Battinson is coming back. The Batman - Part II, sequel to 2022 film, er, The Batman, is due for release next year, so we’ve decided to delve into some of the best and worst portrayals of the Caped Crusader.

From camp to noir, here’s pur pick of the most captivating Dark Knights and the ones that fell flat, ranked from worst to best.

10. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Zack Snyder’s awful Batman v Superman mixed murky, overblown CGI with some of the least convincing performances in the DC cinematic universe. It proved a deeply disappointing Dark Knight debut for Ben Affleck, playing a superhero for the first time since 2003’s woeful Daredevil. Jesse Eisenberg was also responsible for the most irritating portrayal of a DC villain ever, with his quirky take on Lex Luthor coming off like a pound-shop Willy Wonka. The acting talents of Amy Adams were wasted as Lois Lane too, but Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman proved to be the film’s most compelling element, paving the way for the success of her standalone movie a year later.

9. Batman & Robin (1997)

Two words: bat nipples. George Clooney’s sole outing in the cowl sticks in the memory for many reasons, none of them positive. The tight rubber suits worn by the titular heroes are ridiculous — complete with snazzy belts and the Bat Credit Card – and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr Freeze was the naffest villain the franchise has seen. His pun-filled dialogue included the gems, "let's kick some ice!" and "revenge is a dish best served cold." Alicia Silverstone’s career never really recovered after her role as Batgirl. However, there’s a silly charm to the whole thing – helping it rank just above the trudge that was Batman v Superman.

8. Batman Forever (1995)

Director Joel Schumacher’s first entry in the Batman franchise was a mixed bag. Val Kilmer’s sole outing as Bruce Wayne left a little to be desired, with the actor failing to carry the movie with any discernible charisma or grit. Tommy Lee Jones’s Two-Face was unconvincing, but Jim Carrey brought maniacal energy as the Riddler and was certainly the more successful thing about it.

7. Batman: The Movie (1966)

Adam West’s version of the DC hero pulled on the tights and dialled up the camp in 1966’s Batman: The Movie, one of the more ridiculous movies in the Bat-canon. The thrift-store Batman and Robin costumes and preposterous set pieces just add to the slapstick appeal — there’s a scene in which Batman emerges from the sea with a large shark clinging on to his leg, only to fight it off with his handy “shark-repellent Bat spray”. It’s bonkers, but utterly loveable in its own way. West's performance clearly meant a great deal to fans, and thousands of them around the world paid tribute to the actor after he died in 2017.

6. The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

There are plenty of Batman animations for fans to seek out, not least 1993's cult favourite Batman: Mask of the Phantasm – a film which explored Batman as a tragic figure, drawing on darker, thought-provoking subject matter and boasting the vocals talents of Mark Hamill. However, the LEGO Batman Movie followed on from the hugely popular LEGO Movie, further developing the pint-sized protagonist, voiced by Arrested Development’s Will Arnett. The film offers an alternate look at the hero, painting him as a solitary figure, eating lonely microwave dinners in Wayne Manor night after night. It’s funny, entertaining and more than holds its own alongside live-action efforts.

5. Batman (1989)

Michael Keaton made a strong start to his time as Batman, bringing an idiosyncratic, unhinged and casually violent version of Bruce Wayne to life in 1989’s Batman. Jack Nicholson does what he does best as one of the greatest movie villians, the Joker, mixing charm with a maniacal screen presence. The film hasn’t aged as well as some of the others on the list and the visual effects are certainly of their time. However, Tim Burton’s take on the character was full of flair and fantastic design (the Batmobile is still the coolest ever put onscreen) and proved a refreshing addition to the franchise. A definite success.

4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The final entry in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was more formulaic and less believable than the films that had come before (the logistics behind Wayne’s escape from the underground prison are pretty questionable), but it was still high on spectacle. Tom Hardy beefed up and shaved his head to play the supervillain Bane, adding a pretty indecipherable voice box into the mix too. His incredible physicality made him an intimidating villain, though, and Anne Hathaway showed off her comedy chops as cat burglar Selina Kyle. Not up there with Batman Begins and the Dark Knight, but a solid addition to the franchise all the same.

3. Batman Returns (1992)

By far the oddest movie on the list, Batman Returns took Michael Keaton’s superhero in a different direction to the family-friendly action romp of 1989’s Batman. The studio let Tim Burton’s trademark weirdness run wild, bringing a nightmarish feel to proceedings. It’s brilliantly strange from start to finish, complete with some of the most memorable performances in the Batman movies: Danny DeVito clearly had the time of his life playing the genuinely creepy criminal mastermind Penguin, while Michelle Pfeiffer provided the definitive take on Catwoman.

2. Batman Begins (2005)

Christopher Nolan brought levels of visual and thematic sophistication rarely seen in films of its kind to Batman Begins in 2005. Christian Bale proved a gritty Batman (even if the gruff voice took a little getting used to) while the likes of Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman all provided compelling support. It was also the first live-action Batman movie to do the character’s origin story justice, perfectly setting up the rest of the Nolan trilogy.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

Could it be anything else? The Dark Knight changed the game for superhero films forever when it arrived in 2008, mixing smart writing and filmmaking craft with unforgettable set-pieces and timeless performances. The highlight, of course, was the turn from Heath Ledger as the Joker. The actor, who passed away before the film was released, portrayed a character totally devoid of morality, who revels in inflicting suffering on others with scary levels of conviction. In the words of Michael Caine’s Alfred, “some men just want to watch the world burn”. The role is the twisted heart of the best Batman movie ever made – the one Gotham deserves and the one it needs right now.