(12/6: UPDATED WITH ANIMATED MOVIES)
I talk a lot of Marvel. The world talks a lot of Marvel. In our combative society, it’s not particularly kosher to like both sides of a competitive coin.
Coke vs. Pepsi. Target vs. Walmart. Jordan vs. Kobe vs. LeBron. Cinemark vs. AMC. Whataburger vs. In-N-Out Burger. Republican vs. Democrat. Edward vs. Jacob.
But is there one more relevant now than Marvel vs. DC? The answer is yes. The world is a mess and this comic book feud is laughably unimportant.
There is no hotter property right now than Marvel. And while DC is playing catch-up, they remain home to the three biggest, most iconic superheroes —Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman— despite their muddled efforts in recent cinema.
I’ve ranked a lot of movies —and the Marvel Cinematic Universe alone— but I’ve yet to do DC.
For me, it’s not a contest. Competition is only healthy, and while I prefer Marvel because of the depth in their hero roster, there are few superheroes of them all that I like better than Batman.
Since you asked, there are just two: Spider-Man and Captain America. Those two and Batman are my Holy Trinity.
In my ultimate “Infinity Ranking", there are four DC movies. All three entries from Christopher Nolan’s groundbreaking Dark Knight Trilogy, and then Superman II.
So, without any more prologue, here’s Batman’s origin story.
Only movies I’ve seen are ranked.
Worth mentioning: The two Injustice video games are not on this list because, well, duh, but I can’t help to mention the incredible narrative spun over the two games, as well as over a prequel comic that is absolutely outstanding.
It will always amaze me that a group of people, who are paid to produce movies, can sit in a room and actually decide to invest in a project. It takes a lot of time, money, effort and people to make a motion picture. Yet, we will always get films like Catwoman.
43. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Speaking of studios, studio interference and internal problems are definitely nothing new. Both DC and Marvel have had plenty of drama trying to make decisions when it comes to these extremely popular comic book properties.
Richard Donner barely got to make two Superman movies. By the time Christopher Reeve’s fourth outing came around, the wheels were well off. Cut funding, a rushed production and an uninspired leading man made for one of the worst superhero movies ever.
42. Batman & Robin
Speaking of terrible. Everything in Joel Schumacher’s second Batman movie is just awful. The dialogue is painful. The acting is ridiculous. The story is hollow. The script is dead. And nearly Batman with it.
The movie was a giant advertisement, which Schumacher claims was what the studio wanted. The only person who hated Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze more than the audience was Arnold Schwarzenegger.
George Clooney, in my opinion, is actually one of the bright spots of the movie. I’m sure the Bat-nips and Bat-card were not his idea. And shoutout to Michael Cough for playing Alfred to three different Batmans in four different movies over nine years.
41. Suicide Squad
I was excited for Suicide Squad. How awesome were the trailers? The Joker-Harley Quinn relationship is one of the many great things from the Batman universe. I was tepid about Jared Leto’s tattooed take on the character, as well as trying to introduce the Suicide Squad so early in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe). Oh well, maybe they could make it work.
Leto’s Joker, Enchantress’ hula hoop and nearly everything else in this movie is utter garbage. Margot Robbie’s Harley is redeeming and……..trying to think of something else positive……….SO THAT’S IT? WE SOME KIND OF SUICIDE SQUAD?
The remarkably hit-or-miss Keanu Reeves registers in the “miss” column here, as does pretty much everything involved with the John Constantine movie. Tilda Swinton and Shia LaBeouf cash a check here along with Reeves, who would play a different “John” a decade later to much greater success.
DC never built a shared universe, and I’m not even sure they wanted to. But outside of Batman, movies like Constantine were not going to push the cinematic needle.
39. Green Lantern
I think Ryan Reynolds is not only a great actor and human being, but a fantastic Deadpool. He’s a natural at comedy. But a straight arrow hero like Green Lantern? It didn’t work for me. Which is just the tip of the iceberg in this underwhelming movie.
It came out in 2011 and boasts 2005 CGI. Listen to this interview at the premiere with Taika Waititi (yes, of Thor: Ragnarok fame) and tell me you can’t feel the excitement.
38. Batman: The Movie
I feel like I’m dissing the extremely funny Adam West here. He deserves better than 16th and below some very mediocre movies. But I’m not really one to mix comedy and superheroes. Probably why I don’t hold movies like Thor: Ragnarok (wow, second mention in a DC article) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to the popular standard.
I like both (especially Ragnarok (third mention!)), but there’s an absence of drama and stakes to a hero movie that focuses mostly on earning laughs. Batman: The Movie came out in a way different time back in ‘66 and is trying to be exactly what it is, just not necessarily for me.
37. Superman Returns
Superman Returns is not a bad movie. But the film is not a reboot. It’s a remake. Literally each creative choice feels like an attempted replication of the original 1978 Superman. Brandon Routh as Christopher Reeve. Kevin Spacey as Gene Hackman. Lex Luthor’s goons as Lex Luthor’s goons. And then there’s James Marsden getting abruptly killed off in X-Men: The Last Stand so he could migrate over to this project along with director Bryan Singer.
Even John Williams score, as epic as it is, is brought back. I guess the title is original. There’s never been a “Batman Returns.”
36. Superman III
After the triumphant but hard-earned success of Superman II, the table was set for a third installment with the Man of Steel. This superhero movie doesn’t feel like a superhero movie. After two brilliant outings by Reeve as both Clark Kent and Supes, he doesn’t look like he’s having as much in spandex anymore.
Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is also sadly on autopilot, in lieu of introducing Clark’s childhood crush Lana Lang. (Guy likes his L.L. girls.) The gimmicky nature of Richard Pryor’s “villain” doesn’t quite land for me, either. At least the movie gave the guys from Office Space their idea.
35. Batman Forever
The first Schumacher effort, following Tim Burton’s two acclaimed Batman movies, is average. I would call it certifiably average. The dark tone is cast extremely far away for the giggles and goofs of Tommy Lee Jones’s Two-Face and Jim Carrey’s Riddler.
Chris O’Donnell is also introduced as Robin, which is unfortunate. Val Kilmer as Batman is…average. Everything here is just average at best.
34. Justice League
Originally penned to be a two-part extravaganza by Zack Snyder —a la Marvel’s Infinity War— the cold response to Snyder’s previous DC entry (coming soon) and the ensuing Suicide Squad disaster caused the studio to go home and rethink their life.
At least Wonder Woman, whose movie came out months prior and set numerous records, could try and salvage the over $300 million dollar production.
As it happened, Gal Gadot’s Amazon warrior is a non-factor in Justice League. The movie tried to do a lot, not the least introducing three of the DC Comics most popular heroes, two of them titans of the industry (sorry Cyborg, not you).
The Superman return(s?) was wasted, surely originally intended as a cliffhanger for part two after the BvS ordeal. There’s a lot broken at DC. The long-awaited big screen team-up of the League was unfortunately the opposite of Marvel’s 2012 Avengers display. But it’s not a contest.
33. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay
The third of three DC animated movies in 2018, following two outstanding films (Batman: Gotham by Gaslight and The Death of Superman), this one was about those silly rogue bad guys. The Suicide Squad, aka Task Force X, are battling against other equally unenviable folks to find a get-out-of-hell-free card. The animated movies embrace the wacky comic book world, and I love it.
32. Justice League Dark
Since Nolan’s super duper dark take on an already dark Batman changed the tone of movies, “dark” has been in high demand. Justice League Dark doesn’t mean that, however, it’s simply a different roster of Justice League players. Old chap John Constantine is their Batman, but the movie has him too!
31. The LEGO Batman Movie
An animated respite from the live action superhero scene, Lego Batman is a good time at the movies. It’s creative, cute and mostly funny. Mostly aimed at kids, fans of the comics will also have a rewarding time.
30. Batman: Bad Blood
Animated movies often share a universe, but are rarely direct prequels or sequels. Batman: Bad Blood rounded out the Damian Wayne trilogy, proceeding Son of Batman and Batman vs. Robin. Bad Blood is definitely the weakest of three, falling back on some familiar tropes and lame writing after two fantastic movies before it.
29. Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero
The second movie spawned out of Batman: The Animated Series (after Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), you can guess what villain shines here. I’m a big fan of Mr. Freeze for his humanity and burning —sorry, freezing— solo desire to save his wife’s life. Batman wants that, too. It’s a really interesting relationship to watch play out.
28. Man of Steel
The first hour and about 20 minutes of Man of Steel are really good. Once the final battle between Superman and Zod begins, it’s pretty much just that for almost three quarters of an hour. I’m all for impressive CG, and it certainly looks nice, but the climactic hero vs. villain fight here never seems to let up.
Until it does. And Superman does the controversial thing. I didn’t have a problem with it, I just wish it wasn’t done in such a violent way. (I don’t know why I’m treading lightly around spoilers discussing a 2013 movie.)
But violent is the Zack Snyder way. That was the investment DC and Warner Bros. made when they handed him the keys to their cinematic universe. They tried to make Superman Batman, and even though the final product is not bad, it’s a grim departure from most Superman material where he’s not a clone or Russian.
On the bright side, Hans Zimmer sticks around with DC after doing all three Nolan Batman movies to do the music for MoS and, as usual, the legendary composer knocks it out of the park.
27. Justice League: War
Not the strongest Justice League team-up, not that there have been too many, but Justice League: War is definitely a lot of fun. The story isn’t as much of an investment, but seeing Wonder Woman dumbfounded by ice cream, or the league uniting prior to the credits, is quality entertainment.
26. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Zimmer scored Batman v Superman, too. Unfortunately, it made him quit superheroes. (He’s since changed course and is writing the music for X-Men: Dark Phoenix.)
Arguably the most controversial movie of all time, the Marvel-DC thing became an actual division amongst humans after the backlash of Snyder’s second —and final— DC film.
Personally, as my ranking suggests, I neither liked nor disliked it. I think it’s flawed, messy and a huge missed opportunity. But where it really loses in my eyes, and where Marvel has been so careful, is casting.
Jesse Eisenberg, who I like a lot, is not a good Lex Luthor. Ben Affleck as Batman is one of those WTF castings that became a WTF reality. (Unlike say, Heath Ledger’s Joker or Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man.)
It takes from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, but removes all of the famous comic’s pretense for Batman and Superman to actually have beef. The fact that a three hour “ultimate cut” was even necessary to complete the story is damning in itself.
The final trailer for the film spoils the movie’s final act, its second big bad, and its biggest reveal.
25. Batman: Gotham Knight
Released right before the life-changing live action film in 2008, Batman: Gotham Knight is not really a film, but a collection of six different short stories about our costumed hero. It’s loosely set in between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, with subtle references and connections, but is mostly its own thing. Without Kevin Conroy voicing Batman, I wonder where it would rank.
24. Batman: The Killing Joke
DC released this one in theaters, not as a wide release but still uncommon for animated movies (quickly changing soon I presume with the anticipated success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). The comic is one of the best in all Batman lore, and DC animated movies often add into movies to expand on relatively short comic stories. But here it gets a little ambitious regarding Bat-Girl, likely to spruce up the emotional connection to her eventual fate.
23. Batman: Assault on Arkham
Set in the universe of the bodacious Arkham games, Batman: Assault on Arkham utilizes some of the stellar voice work from the video games. Conroy, Troy Baker and Nolan North (Joker and Penguin in Arkham Origins, respectively) are some of the big stars in a movie that’s really about the Suicide Squad. Some awesome twists and turns, albeit with an unnecessary, continuity-befuddling, cliffhanger ending. I must say, though, that Killer Frost shines here and also in Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay.
22. Wonder Woman
For all the disappointments of BvS, Hans Zimmer did introduce the theme that would stick around for Wonder Woman. Rupert Gregson-Williams (who is returning for DC’s next movie Aquaman) turned the one-off theme into a complete album and it is, without a doubt, the best part about Wonder Woman.
The movie is good, don’t get me wrong. However, I didn’t think it was the historical achievement that it was made out to be. A female director and a female lead helped create buzz, but it was also boosted as the first positively reviewed DCEU movie.
People want to watch superhero movies. They’ll even watch crap —Suicide Squad made almost $750 million— but fans finally got a worthy superhero film from DC with Wonder Woman.
21. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman: The Animated series was way too good not to end up producing a movie. First came a wholly original story —not common in comic book media— that strives off using the same animation and stars from the TV series. Specifically, Conroy and Mark Hamill as the Joker are the lynchpins of the movie.
20. Beware the Batman (TV series, 2013-2014)
This short-lived, Cartoon Network show is basically my Batman version of the MTV Spider-Man show. One season, barely anything to its name, but really resonated with me. Turning Katana into Bruce’s protege, rather than using another Robin, was a clever move and the CGI animation was cool.
The one that started it all. The first Hollywood superhero movie. No subtitle or number necessary. It’s only right the most powerful hero of all went first.
Superman is fantastic. It’s a remarkable achievement and struck gold with Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman. A year after helping birth Star Wars, John Williams took on Superman and orchestrated another memorable motif.
Personally, the movie drags a bit in comparison to the well-paced sequel. There’s a sizable amount of 1970's “action,” which hasn’t aged extremely well. But more than anything else, you have to appreciate what happened here, and what it started.
18. Batman: Gotham by Gaslight
Bruce Wayne meets Jack the Ripper in one of the cooler Batman comics brought to the small screen. Taking place way back when things were fancy for the sake of being fancy, the Gotham by Gaslight arc is really a neat one. Very different, very unique, and I’m glad it got a movie. (Can’t wait for Hush, though!!)
After four Superman films hit the silver screen, Batman would be next. The eccentric stylings of Tim Burton were on full display as he was given full creative control of the project. He certainly put the “Goth” in Gotham.
Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson star as Batman and the Joker, Keaton breathing intimidating, memorable life to the caped crusader. I didn’t care for the Joker-killing-the-Waynes retcon, but one change doth not make a movie.
16. Son of Batman
The first in the Damian Wayne trilogy, and more inspired than based on the Batman and Son comic, I love the story behind Damian. Bruce and Talia’s bastard child, raised in awe of his grandpappy Ra’s al Guhl, tries to become the new Robin. On paper, it’s $$$. In execution, Damian comes off a little too bratty, but the other players here —Batman, Nightwing, Talia, Ra’s and Deathstroke— are all great.
15. Batman Beyond (TV series, 1999-2001)
Batman: The Animated Series deserved better than turning into The New Batman Adventures. But a different follow-up to the groundbreaking series, Batman Beyond, was a huge success. In the future, Batman has retired but the need for a caped vigilante still plagues Gotham. Enter Terry McGinnis, a red bat logo and retractable wings. (And voiced by Eric Matthews from Boy Meets World!)
14. Batman Returns
Burton doubled down on his approach in the sequel, with a demented Danny DeVito and Michelle Pah-fe-ifer’s Catwoman taking actual licks. They both do good work, but I was actually most interested in Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck of the non-Batman faces.
In a comic book movie where the director has a million existing characters to work with, I appreciate the bold choice to create a brand new one and have them play an integral role (Nolan would do it with Rachel Dawes). Obviously it helps to have Walken.
13. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
Based on the Flashpoint comic, it puts the Flash center stage and makes him the most important member of the Justice League. I simply haven’t seen a lot of that, and certainly didn’t get an reward out of Ezra Miller’s portrayal in the live action version of the League.
A lot goes on in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. Sound waves, time waves and science waves end up making a(n even bigger) mess of the world. It’s fun to see alternate versions of our heroes murder one another. I guess. Sometimes.
12. Batman vs. Robin
The middle entry in the Damian Wayne trilogy, it incorporates elements from the Court of Owls comic. Damian loses audience members once again with his boyish temper, but it’s important to remember the context of his brief existence. I mean, it helps me deal with him. There are some heavy-hitting father-son moments between our beloved Bat and his recently discovered son.
11. Batman: Year One
The reason Batman and Spider-Man are my two favorite superheroes may very well be because of the numerous non-main characters that are worthy of their own stories. In this case, Batman: Year One is all about James Gordon going from cop to lieutenant to eventually commissioner in the future.
Batman is there, a rookie doing his darndest to scare the hell out of the mob, but this one belongs to Gordon, Gordon’s mustache, and his love-hate affair with Gotham.
10. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
Batman Beyond got a movie, as well. A bleak future gets bleaker when the Joker (voiced again by Hamill) makes a comeback. He’s got a cult following that rivals Boba Fett, an endless supply of fanatics who idolize his legacy. On the other end are Terry and Bruce, Batman and Batman, battling the Clown Prince of Crime. The movie goes for the throat, supplying a twist ending that is one of the best of any movie on this list. Sucks to be Robin.
9. Batman: The Animated Series (TV series, 1992-1995)
Just like it’s brother series over at Marvel —Spider-:Man The Animated Series— the Batman “cartoon” was game-changing. Animated TV shows are often dismissed as a kid product, but while there are some filler moments here and there for younger viewers, Batman: The Animated Series is almost always risky, bold and historic.
The series arrived at the same time as Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, using the feature film to bump interest, but quickly established itself as a superior entity on its own.
The series cemented Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill we then undisputed animated voices of Batman and Joker. Additionally, the episode “Joker’s Favor” saw the debut of Harley Quinn.
8. Superman II
It’s hard to believe the drama behind the scenes given our fabulous final product. But Donner really had to fight to get the sequel made, and had to eventually release a version that wasn’t completely his.
But when he did…that movie is my favorite Superman movie.
Gene Hackman is back to make Superman’s life miserable. Our hero accidentally makes things worse when saving the planet (we’ve all been there) and frees Krypton’s OG nemesis, Zod.
It’s not a superhero movie model often practiced, but one I wish would be. Bringing back a previous villain and pairing him with a new one. Obviously multiple baddies can be easily fumbled, but the dynamic here is extremely well done.
The movie also contains one of my favorite scenes ever, in any movie. Now THAT’S how to do the secret identity bit!
7. The Death of Superman
It doesn’t take a Kryptonian rocket science to figure out what this story is about. The Death of Superman is a monumental comic and gets an animated feature worthy of its name. The focus is obviously on the Man of Steel, but this is very much a Justice League tale. The 2018 film is the first of a two-parter, with The Return of Superman due next year.
Speaking of two-parters…
6. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1
Like The Death of Superman, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is one of the most impactful comics of all time. 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice tried and unfortunately failed to adapt the comic, changing a whole lot and even mixing in the previous entry on this list.
As for the animated movie, it’s pretty much panel for panel of the comic and that’s okay for animated movies. They are acceptable as adaptations, where live action requires more creative purpose.
5. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2
Both parts of The Dark Knight Returns are just stellar. The aesthetic and tone of Miller’s made-up future are brought to life in exquisite precision. The mutant gang, the created quips like “spud” or “slice and dice” and the clever utilization of television broadcasts paint the pictures that Miller’s unique comic delivered in 1986.
Peter Weller is golden as the older, grizzled Batman and Ariel Winter is charming as Carrie Kelley. Kelley is this edition of Robin and acts as a catalyst to getting the formerly retired Batman back into the world, as bad as its gotten.
4. Batman: Under the Red Hood
I wouldn’t peg Bruce Greenwood as Batman off the bat (bat-crickets..), but he dominates the role of the caped crusader. He also played him in Gotham by Gaslight and clearly has the goods to voice both Bruce Wayne and the secret alter ego.
The Red Hood moniker has been used by several, including the Joker in The Killing Joke, but here it is used for far, far more personal reasons. The similarities to another one of my favorite comic book stories, the Winter Soldier, are definitely present. This is a must-watch Batman movie, so I’ll say no more.
3. The Dark Knight Rises
Enter the Christopher Nolan Dark Night Trilogy. Though Superman II is a gem, the three Batman movies from Nolan are, at least to me, in a distinguished league of their own amongst DC movies.
Rises somehow manages to be extraordinary despite some serious plot holes. How did Bruce get back and into Gotham? How did he have time to light the bat signal? How did he show it off to Gordon without breaking the ice? How did John “Don’t call me Robin” Blake deduce Batman’s secret identity? Bane sucks at breaking backs and also wastes a lot of time executing his grand plan. Bruce Wayne and his alter ego go from the great detective to the ultimate patsy. Did Bane really expect the pit to serve as a prison? There’s a rope! Gotham PD really sent everyone into the tunnels? Did Batman actually say, “No, I came back to stop you!”
I promise you. I love this movie. The story has its many shortcomings, but perhaps it’s what Nolan managed to do with the trilogy, especially given most of the trash we’ve been given from DC, that makes me just respect the hell out of it.
The positives in it are just as many to count. Tom Hardy, Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and pretty much the entire cast save Matthew Modine’s Deputy Commish are terrific.
I promise. I really do. I love this movie.
2. Batman Begins
Should have been “Batman Returns” since it’s not taken.
After the catastrophic damage of Batman & Robin, Christopher Nolan embraced Batman only if he could do it with his own people. He’d take Warner Bros. money and resources, but the entire creative process goes through his people.
As far as origin stories go (and I’m a big fan), this might be the very best one of any superhero movie. It takes its time, spending a big chunk of the movie without Batman and only Bruce Wayne.
A studio may not have green-lit extended time for the human half of the hero, but Nolan had his way and truly began the rise of one of the greatest heroes ever.
Have to also mention two other players: Liam Neeson’s modernized Ra's al Ghul and the re-dubbed League of Shadows (as opposed to Assassins in the comics), as well as Hans Zimmer once again creating one of cinema’s most memorable themes in the history of ever.
1. The Dark Knight
My top DC movie is also my fourth movie of all time.
Nolan’s Batman movies, especially the second and third in his trilogy, are villain-centric. It’s a risky move, taking the spotlight off your titular hero. However, when you hit a home run like he did with Heath Ledger’s Joker, you don’t have a choice but to make it about him.
Ledger’s tragic passing before the movie’s release turned his stunning performance into something of mythical lore. It is indeed that good.
The Joker was originally invented as a trickster, a goofy prankster. It worked. But over time, the Clown Prince of Crime, like any comic book character, took on other iterations. A joy buzzer or squirt flower obviously would have been out of place in The Dark Knight.
Nolan’s middle movie is incredibly dark. It’s also incredibly gripping, smart, exciting and, well, incredible. Lost in all of the Joker chaos (see what I did there) is the well-executed Harvey Dent arc.
Another of Batman’s famous rogue gallery, he’s introduced properly and given his own complete story in a film that doesn’t at all feel crowded. Nolan did the two villain thing!
Christian Bale and his growl are once again dominant as Batman. Like Keaton, Bale is also a fantastic Bruce Wayne.
Zimmer’s impeccable work might reach its pinnacle here.
The movie changed things, forever, and has been immortalized as perhaps the crown jewel of the superhero genre.