Discover more from working title: a newsletter about movies
The Batman Power Rankings
Let's talk about the Caped Crusader
Vengeance. The World’s Greatest Detective. Da Bat. DC’s signature superhero goes by many names and has appeared across many different mediums, the silver screen among them.
I have a long-standing relationship with Batman. He’s been my favorite superhero since I started reading comic books early in my childhood. Even as a young gun, I thought it was so cool that he didn’t have superpowers. He was just a guy (granted, a rich one) who decided he had seen enough. He wore all black. I wanted to not be just like him, I wanted to BE him. I gave it a whirl too.
Like a lot of people, I saw Matt Reeves’ THE BATMAN at the beginning of this month. This was a film that I had been anticipating for, quite literally, years. It got me thinking about Batman and my relationship to the character — how it’s changed as I’ve gotten older and matured(?) and how he plays into what movies are today, especially in a post-MCU/DCEU world. There are elements of Batman that I certainly don’t enjoy as much now that I understand how the world really works. In some ways, Batman is an incredibly fascist guy who does some insane shit. Sure, he has his “no killing” rule, but a guy who simply decides who’s bad and who’s not doesn’t bode well in the real world. And yet, I can’t stop myself from loving the character. He’s far and away my favorite comic book hero and whatever iteration makes its way to the screen, I’m going to buy a ticket.
So, this edition of Working Title is simple. We’re going to, uh, Heath Ledger Joker Voice rank the Batman.
To make things (somewhat) easier, I’m going to eliminate any movies before the 1989 BATMAN movie. With all respect to the late Adam West, his Batman movie just doesn’t fit the vibe of what we’re trying to do here. I’m going to eliminate the first iteration of The Suicide Squad and we’re just going to do Zack Snyder’s version of Justice League AKA The Snyder Cut. We’re also just going to do theatrical releases AKA movies that have appeared in actual movie theaters (besides the Snyder Cut which was technically only released on streaming but this is my newsletter.) I love some of the Warner Bros. animated Batman movies like The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, and Hush. But there are so many of those and I’m not in the mood to write about 100 different Batman animated features. So, below is the list of the films we will be ranking, 12 in total.
BATMAN & ROBIN
BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM
THE DARK KNIGHT
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE
Let’s get to it.
12. BATMAN AND ROBIN
It pains me to do this. This was the first Batman movie I ever saw. It gave me so much. It gave me Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze saying “Ice to meet you.” It gave me a hockey game with a big-ass diamond as a puck. It gave me lifelong sexual feelings towards Uma Thurman. That said, this movie is just so, so bad. I rewatched it the other day to see if maybe it was, like, campy fun and it was just campy and not very fun. Joel Schumaker just does not get Batman. Batman is the opposite of camp, just intrinsically.
There have been a few people trying to reclaim this movie on Twitter. More power to those people, but you will not count me among them. I want to like this movie because it was the first one I saw, but it’s not happening and it’s last and it’s not even really that close.
11. BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
Let me tell you a little secret. Something that I haven’t voiced a ton publicly but something I think is true. I think that Ben Affleck is a pretty decent Batman/Bruce Wayne. He’s definitely not the worst and back in like 2016 when there were reports of him writing his own standalone Batman movie, I was pretty intrigued by the idea. That said, this movie is also bad. Affleck is the best part of the whole thing and I guess I like Jeremy Irons as Alfred. There are notes of good superhero movies in here for both Batman and Superman, but they're dragged down by a movie that feels way too bloated and long and has a very forced 9/11 allegory in there. No thanks.
10. ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE
This is where I remind you, once again, that I think that Ben Affleck is a good Batman/Bruce Wayne. I also think that, whatever your feelings on Zach Snyder might be, this version of THE JUSTICE LEAGUE was much better than the zombie that Joss Whedon trotted out. This movie has the unfortunate positioning of being just enough of a Batman movie to qualify for this list, but also not really featuring Batman enough to leave its mark on me in a way that you’d want it to. For such a big movie and for so much discourse around it, I don’t really remember this movie and I’m certainly not going to just throw it on to watch. It took me two days on my first go-round and that’s when I WANTED to watch it. Maybe I’m being too flippant and too dismissive of this movie, but also I don’t think I am.
9. BATMAN FOREVER
Joel Schumaker and Val Kilmer’s joint ends up here at #9. There are some things to like about this movie. This is peak hot Val Kilmer and Jim Carrey is doing his thing as The Riddler. It also has Chris O’Donnel as Robin doing his laundry by swinging it around like a grappling hook. You win some you lose some.
8. THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE
I found this movie pretty enjoyable. I love most things Will Arnett does and the way this movie plays around with the mythos, ethos, and nostalgia of previous movies is very clever. I loved THE LEGO MOVIE and this movie has the same DIY charm. It’s also got some honest-to-God GREAT jokes and sight gags. That said, it gets too cute and forces in too many jokes. It’s like if they tried to make 30 Rock but for children and about a superhero whose parents were murdered. I will say if you haven’t seen this one and you like Batman movies, it’s worth your time.
7. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
This is where it starts to get challenging because I enjoy all of the films that are left on the list to some degree and definitely more than all of the films listed above. This ranking might feel a little low considering how highly regarded the Dark Knight Trilogy and Christopher Nolan are but I think THE DARK KNIGHT and BATMAN BEGINS do a lot of the heavy lifting in this trilogy.
When this movie dropped in 2012, I legitimately thought it was going to be one of the best movies ever released. Nolan was going to wrap up the trilogy, stick the landing, and leave us with a nicely packaged film to discuss for years to come. That is not really what happened here. Before I watched THE BATMAN, I went through the Nolan Trilogy one more time to get in the mood and mindset. TDKR just doesn’t hold up as well as the others. I actually like Anne Hathaway as Catwoman/Selina Kyle in this film. I think Bane is a really fun villain, but I mostly remember him as a meme now and people doing the voice. The “twist” and reveal in the last third of the movie robs it of all its energy. Maybe expectations were too high on this one, but it’s my least favorite of The Dark Knight Trilogy and only seems to get worse the farther I get away from it.
This was the second Batman movie I ever saw. My dad saw me watching BATMAN & ROBIN and then sat me down like 2 weeks later and was like “here, watch a real Batman movie.” and so I did. This was the movie that made me really, truly fall in love with Batman for some reason. It shouldn’t have. I think I was like 8 or 9 when I saw this movie. A LOT of it went over my head. But something about it stuck in my soul. I was absolutely in love with Tim Burton’s version of Gotham. To this day, it’s my favorite rendering of the city. Jack Nicholson’s version of The Joker is truly scary and Kim Bassinger going full BDSM and losing her mind as Catwoman works. Keaton is a very serviceable Batman/Bruce Wayne.
It would rank higher, but the actual action of this movie leaves a little to be desired and honestly, there are places where it feels a little repressed. Like we’re not getting the full Tim Burton vision.
5. BATMAN RETURNS
This is where I feel like we get the Tim Burton that was missing in the first BATMAN movie. That incredible vision of Gotham is back and it feels like Burton finally gets to crank the dial up to 10. Danny Devito as The Penguin is one of the most fucked up looking guys in Batman cinematic history. This movie is straight-up kind of gross and bleeds into horror territory. Nobody is going to confuse it with a horror movie by any means, but it has enough horror elements to make it fun. I think the main plot around The Penguin and Batman is way more fun than whatever is going on in the first Burton Batman film. It takes all the things about BATMAN and does them better.
4. BATMAN BEGINS
This was the movie that got me excited about the character again. I remember leaving the theater and even as a teenager thinking “oh, this guy GETS it.” As I’ve gotten some distance from this movie, some things about it have aged well and some things have aged not so well. The first 1/3 - 1/2 of this movie is some of the best stuff in the entire Dark Knight Trilogy in my opinion. Christian Bale is without a doubt an amazing Batman and, in my opinion, the best Bruce Wayne. He’s essentially just doing Patrick Bateman from AMERICAN PSYCHO but with less casual murder and (unfortunately) less Huey Lewis and The News. I also don’t think you’re going to find a better Alfred than Michael Caine
The Scarecrow is one of my favorite villains in all of Batman’s rogues’ gallery and I feel like he’s well utilized. After a rewatch, I’m not as sold on Ra’s al Ghul and The League of Shadows. I understand why because there’s a lot of story to tell, but Bruce doesn’t really struggle with becoming Batman. He’s just good at it pretty much automatically once he gets back. Maybe a little nitpicky on my part, but I need to see him struggle on the streets for a little bit.
Ultimately, this movie sets up a run of movies that not only make Batman exciting again but RELEVANT, something he hadn’t been in the aftermath of BATMAN & ROBIN.
3. THE BATMAN
Part of why I waited so long to write about Batman after seeing THE BATMAN was because I wanted to avoid recency bias, but the further I get away from it, the more I’m convinced this movie earned this spot on this list. I saw this movie 3 times in theaters. It’s 3 hours long. It never once felt like that. I was enthralled each time, for one reason or another.
One thing that the comics make clear about Batman/Bruce Wayne in the early goings is that he is absolutely brimming with rage. He’s full of it. He doesn’t know what to do with it or where to put it, so he starts dressing up like a bat and beating the shit out of low-level street criminals. I like that I can feel that rage radiating off Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of the character. I can feel him trying to figure it out. He is, quite honestly, my favorite Batman. I have seen the arguments that there is barely any Bruce Wayne in this movie to which I reply: who cares? This is Batman in Year 2. He hasn’t figured out how to balance those two lives yet. He only cares about being Batman. He is consumed by it. As Pattinson says while gesturing to his cowl, “This is my family’s legacy.”
I also fuck HEAVILY with Matt Reeves’ version of Gotham. Besides Burton’s, it’s probably my favorite on-screen representation. Collin Farrell wrecking shit as The Penguin and Zoe Kravitz is so goddam good as Catwoman but she also might be getting canceled so we’ll see how that turns out. It’s got one of the best car chase scenes in any Batman movie. The score whips absolute nuts.
The more I think about it, the more I feel that this is the Batman movie I’ve personally always wanted. It feels the most like a comic book. It’s FUNNY. I hope they make a million more of them.
2. BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM
My favorite piece of any Batman content isn’t a movie. It’s Batman: The Animated Series. If you’re close in age to me, I imagine this is something you are intimately familiar with or at the very least have heard of.
BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM takes place in that universe. It’s a combination of stories from Batman: Year 1 and Batman: Year 2 comic arcs. It tells the story of Batman’s beginnings and struggles to fight crime (you’ll notice I love the early Batman stories) and features incredible performances from Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker. It’s just over an hour long. It’s got my favorite of any Batman scores (because it’s essentially the same as Batman: The Animated Series)
For a while, this was Twitter’s favorite Batman movie because nobody was talking about it. Then, that became a joke because EVERYBODY was saying nobody was talking about it, which really mean that everybody was talking about it. It’s become a bit of a running gag. Throughout all of that, MASK OF THE PHANTASM has just stayed what it has always been: a great Batman movie.
1. THE DARK KNIGHT
Could it be anything else? HEAT but with superheroes. One of my favorite movies ever made.
A lot of smart people have spent a lot of time writing a lot of words about THE DARK KNIGHT. I won’t take up too much time rehashing it, but man what a movie. I think I saw this movie 4 or 5 times in a theater. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how I felt the first time I watched the opening bank heist scene play out in front of me. I still will just throw that scene on from time to time just to watch it. You can put this movie on at any time and it simply does not get old. I will be excited to watch it every single time.
Incredible performances all around. This is Bale’s best as both Bruce and Batman (even with The Voice thing he’s doing). Michael Caine is back again as the best Alfred. Gary Oldman as a pitch-perfect Jim Gordon. Morgan Freeman as moral center Lucius Fox. I’m pretty whatever on Aaron Eckhart but I love him in this. Maggie Gyllenhall is a good Rachel, you cowards.
And of course, the late Heath Ledger giving one of the best performances, not only in a superhero movie but in any movie. I can’t believe that it’s real. This honestly may make me sound dumb, but it doesn’t even feel like it’s Ledger under there. It feels like they found the actual Joker and were able to just put him in front of a camera. He is so menacing and everywhere and two steps ahead for almost the entire movie.
This movie isn’t perfect. It drags a little (looking at you, boat scene) and it’s pretty obvious that Gotham is just the city of Chicago. All of that is so small though and I say again as I said above: who cares? I’ve also heard in light of THE BATMAN being released the criticism that if you took Heath Ledger out of THE DARK KNIGHT it wouldn’t be as good. That’s a very dumb argument to me. “Oh well, if you took the good parts out of the movie it wouldn’t be good.” Yeah, no shit. You can be contrarian if you want, but that just seems exhausting. I’d rather just enjoy it and be amazed that it even exists. I’m glad it does.
Well, there you have it. My very important, super-official Batman power rankings. These are all correct and good and I’m sure everybody will agree. Please let me know how much you agree with me in the comments or on Twitter: @saulmalone
As always, thank you for reading Working Title! If you enjoy this newsletter and think you know someone else who might enjoy this newsletter, please consider sharing it on social media or emailing it to said person.
We’re back next week with our most anticipated movies for the rest of 2022!