Who’s your favorite on-screen Batman? It’s not an easy question. Since just 1989, there have been no less than seven Batman movies – not to mention a few animated, a Lego incarnation, and the upcoming Batman v. Superman with Ben Affleck as Caped Crusader.
Perhaps you’re a fan of the original Michael Keaton incarnation, if only for the nostalgia factor. Or maybe you prefer the wild card Val Kilmer? Then there’s the edgier, troubled laconic Batman of Christian Bale‘s Dark Knight? Or does your taste go all the way back to the campy Adam West (yes, he made a Batman movie)?
As far as critics go, there are a couple of resounding favorite Batman movies and one or two that seem almost universally despised. Rotten Tomatoes, or the tomatometer, has tracked and consolidated all reputable reviews for each of the Batman movies, and the results may surprise you. Assuming you’re a George Clooney fan, that is.
Here are the Batman movies in order of critical acclaim. Of course, the only approval most movies are concerned with is the box office gross, so that’s also given a nod here.
8. Batman & Robin (1997)
George Clooney doesn’t like to talk about his experience wearing the rubber suit. You’d be sensitive too, if critics were calling it one of the worst movies in cinematic history. Yikes. It was known as the movie where they introduced nipples to the batsuit, and is notorious for the misguided choice of Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. There was also Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze with a host of painful puns, along with a full cast of overkill. The film killed the franchise for nearly a decade, earning decent money ($238 million) but terrible reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an approval rating of only 11 %. Ouch.
7. Batman Forever (1995)
Val Kilmer donned the rubber cowl for this third Batman sequel – this time helmed by Joel Schumacher. The film introduced circus orphan Robin (Chris O’Donnell), and featured a couple of over-the-top performances from Jim Carrey (a great Joker), and Tommy Lee Jones (as Two-Face). But while the box office was good (it improved on Batman Returns with $336 million worldwide), the critical response was bad, earning only 41% approval from critics.
6. Batman (1989)
Ever since Frank Miller rebooted the Batman franchise with his graphic novels, fans were scrambling for a movie. Though most were thrilled with the director (Tim Burton) and the villain (Jack Nicholson as The Joker), fans were initially upset with the choice of Michael Keaton as Batman.
They still showed up for the movie though – in droves. The film became the hit of the year, earning an astounding $411 million at the box office. Some quibbled about style-over-substance but few noticed. Critics gave it a 72% approval rating, leading to a number of sequels in quick succession.
5. Batman (1966)
At the height of the campy TV series’ fame came this low budget feature film. It looks cheap, though it features a bevy of villains (including all the biggies – Catwoman, The Riddler, The Joker, and The Penguin), a Batcopter, and lots of outdoor locations. It made its money back and critics – caught up in Bat Fever apparently – gave it an approval rating of 79%.
4. Batman Returns (1992)
Michael Keaton and director Tim Burton returned for this somewhat overstuffed sequel, which featured no less than two villains (The Penguin/Catwoman) not to mention Christopher Walken as the bad guy without a costume.
Heavy on mood and great characters but light on plot, the film nonetheless scored reasonably well with moviegoers (to the tune of $266 million, a marked downturn from the first movie) and critics (a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 80-per-cent). It would be Keaton and Burton’s last go-around with the character.
3. Batman Begins, 2005
Not as big a hit as you might think, this dark reboot of the Batman franchise got a relatively cool reception from fans to the tune of a ‘paltry’ $370 million at the box office. Critics liked it though, giving it an 85% approval rate. Some fans felt that Christian Bale was a bit dull as the Caped Crusader. Others thought the movie lacked a cool villain. Quibbles aside, it revitalized the franchise and led to two sequels.
2. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The most ambitious of Nolan’s trio of Batman movies, this flick found our hero battered and bruised from too much nocturnal crime fighting and not enough sleep.
The mumbling masked villain, Bane, proved more than formidable, though the film also spent a lot of time with the secondary characters – particularly Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman). Another billion dollar hit, Rises earned an 88% approval rating from critics.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
It took Batman fans a whole movie (Batman Begins) before they warmed to Christopher Nolan’s twisted vision of The Dark Knight. The 2008 movie also had the benefit of the late Heath Ledger, who proved a compulsively watchable and eccentric Joker. He certainly added life to the proceedings opposite Christian Bale’s humourless Batman.
The film was also the first to garner major Oscar attention, with eight nominations and a posthumous trophy for Ledger. On Rotten Tomatoes, critics gave it an incredible 94% approval rating. At the box office, it became the first superhero movie to clear a billion dollars worldwide.