There's something about the Batman franchise that always gets it right. There was The Animated Series in the early 1990s, which redefined what a cartoon could be. The show was dark and gritty without being excessively violent, sexual, or even PG-13. The Arkham series of video games broke the mold as far as what fans want in a superhero video game; no other related title has even come close to matching the magnetism, immersive storyline, stealth gameplay, voice acting talent, and graphics of Rocksteady's trio of Batman games.
The movies too have upped the ante, solidifying Batman as a cinematic marvel and earning him his rightful place in the world of film. While yes, the campy enthusiasm from director Joel Schumacher threatened to kill the Batman film franchise dead, it's since recovered in the 2000s with the trilogy of films directed by Christopher Nolan. However, with so many great Bat-films by so many talented directors and actors, just which is the best? Just what makes a Batman movie so great? Obviously the actor who wears the cape and cowl matters quite a lot, but he's nothing without good direction and plot.
We'll all always have our opinions, and that's entirely what this piece is: an opinion. You may not agree with every ranking, and that's perfectly fine. What matters is that every one of these movies, in one way or another, is fantastic. Some are certainly better than others, but each made us love the Batman universe that much more.
10 Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero
If you remember Batman: The Animated Series, then you recall that Mr. Freeze was a bit player, only featured in a smattering of random episodes. However, around 1997, Batman and Robin, that franchise-murdering title by Joel Schumacher, had come out, and Mr. Freeze was supposed to become the villain. That didn't happen, but by then, Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was already in the works. In this film, Batman (Kevin Conroy) must stop Freeze (Michael Ansara) from turning Gotham into a block of ice.
9 Batman Forever
The first of the two Joel Schumacher films, Batman Forever, released in 1995, sees Batman (played by Val Kilmer) open up his crime-fighting world to Dick Grayson (Chris O'Donnell). Grayson's parents die during a circus performance at the hands of Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), and Bruce Wayne takes him in; eventually Grayson becomes Robin. Edward Nygma (Jim Carrey) is pushed over the deep end when Wayne rejects his project to suck people's brainwaves and glean personal information from them. As the Riddler, he and Two-Face join up to do battle against Batman and Robin.
8 Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
A 2000 animated film, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker takes place in the Batman Beyond universe. Terry McGinnis, the new Batman, is still doing battle with Bruce Wayne's (voiced by Kevin Conroy, the same voice of Batman as in The Animated Series) nemesis the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill, also of The Animated Series). Mistah J has been gone for nearly 40 years, and to make up for it, he has a group of younger henchmen called Jokerz. Terry, who doesn't really know much of the hell that the original Joker wrought, speaks to GCPD Commissioner Barbara Gordon to get the scoop. That's how we learned that Joker and Harley Quinn turned former Robin Tim Drake into a mini Joker.
7 Batman Begins
The 2005 movie that reset the Batman franchise and essentially saved it from going down in history as a cheesy nightmare, this film introduced Christian Bale as Batman and Liam Neeson as Ra's al Ghul. The film tells the long story of how Batman grew up and trained to become the masked vigilante hero that he is today while he also takes down Scarecrow, who wants to terrorize Gotham.
6 Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
If you couldn't get enough of Batman: The Animated Series, then there was no way you could miss Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. This 1993 delight featured Kevin Conroy's voice work as Batman and was directed by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski of The Animated Series. Bruce gets back together with ex-girlfriend Andrea Beaumont, but around the same time that she returns to Gotham, a series of murders start occurring. The finger is pointed at Batman, who has to prove that he's innocent and prevent any more needless deaths while learning an interesting secret about his new girlfriend.
5 The Dark Knight Rises
3 Batman: Year One
If you've ever read the comic Batman: Year One, then you should certainly see the film made in its honor. It too focuses on Bruce Wayne's (Ben McKenzie; yes, the same actor who plays James Gordon on Gotham) first year fighting crime in Gotham City as Batman. At that point he's an unwanted vigilante and Commissioner Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston) is seen as the city's hero. Batman tangles with crime boss Carmine Falcone (Alex Rocco) as he and Gordon slowly learn what it takes to keep Gotham's streets mostly free of crime.
2 Batman Returns
1 The Dark Knight
Raking in more than $1 billion in 2008 all over the world, The Dark Night ranks number 23 in the list of movies that made the most money in history. Christian Bale is back as Batman, and this time he chases the Joker (Heath Ledger) through Gotham City before the Clown Prince of Crime attempts to blow the place to shreds. Bats must also contend with his friend Harvey Dent who turns into the villainous Two-Face.
While Jack Nicholson and Jared Leto are two insanely talented actors, Heath Ledger's Joker will always be the most memorable. No one has ever portrayed the character so convincingly. While Ledger died shortly after the film was made, his legacy lives on forever. The numbers for this movie speak for itself. There is no other Batman film as engrossing, action-packed, dramatic, and visually stunning as this one.
Sources: DC Comics
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