The Best Batman


image courtesy of Warner Brothers

Jacob Lambert

First introduced in Detective Comics issue 27 in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman has become one of the biggest pop culture icons in the past century. Although he was created solely to be a comic book character, it only took four years for the Batman to leap off the pages of comic books and onto the silver screen. In 1943 Batman made his first live action appearance in the 15 part serial, Batman. Despite being the same character the series takes some heavy creative liberties. In the serial, Batman is portrayed as a secret agent of the U.S. government attempting to foil the Japanese during World War Two. The serial did not include a batmobile, instead they drove a 1939 Cadillac convertible. Interestingly, this series included the first ever appearance of the batcave, which would later be brought into the comics. The serial was popular enough to spawn its own sequel in 1949’s Batman and Robin.


In 1965 the original Batman serial was re-released in theaters and proved to be very popular. Its success inspired the release of 1966’s Batman, A live action series starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. The show was a more comic accurate and campy take on the character. The show was intentionally over the top and humorous, with scenes like Batman correcting Robin’s grammar while in a death trap and Batman paying for parking for the Batmobile. The TV show’s success spawned the first ever Batman movie, Batman in 1966. The movie features The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, and Catwoman as the films main villains. The movie is iconic and contains scenes of batman removing an obviously fake shark from his lake with Bat-Shark repellent, and Batman telling the audience that there is no good place to get rid of a bomb. According to IMDb, the film had a budget of around 1.3 million and made close to four million. 


The next Batman movie came out in 1989. Directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton, Batman is a complete tonal shift from its 60’s counterpart. Tim Burton’s take on Batman is a darker, more serious take on the character. The movie was divisive before it came out, especially the casting of Micheal Keaton as Batman which concerned fans who didn’t believe that an actor known for comedies like Beetlejuice could pull off a serious take on Batman. Upon its release, however, the movie was almost universally praised, and Keaton’s Batman and Jack Nicholson’s Joker instantly became classics. The movie took the world by storm with some people calling the craze “Batmania,” with tons of merchandise and marketing tie-ins with brands like Mcdonalds and MTV. The film had a total box office revenue of 411.6 million dollars off of a 48 million dollar budget and had three sequels, Batman Returns in 1991, Batman Forever in 1995, and Batman and Robin in 1997. Today Batman has an IMDB user rating of 7.5 out of 10, and each of its sequels has a subsequently lower rating, ending with Batman and Robin with a score of 3.7 out of ten.


After Batman and Robin’s release in 1997 the studio took an eight year hiatus from Batman movies. 2005 saw the release of Batman Begins but instead of being a sequel to Batman and Robin, Batman Begins was the first movie in what would become director Christopher Nolan’s new standalone Batman trilogy. Starring Christian Bale as Batman, Batman Begins was a more realistic take on the character. The movie tells the origin story of Batman and the start of his crusade against crime. The movie was extremely well received, according to IMDb the movie made around 373 million dollars at the box office, and the movie currently has a user score of 8.2 out of 10. Three years later Christopher Nolan followed up Batman Begins with its sequel The Dark Knight. With Christian Bale returning as Batman, the movie introduces Heath Ledger as The Joker. Although his casting was initially controversial, upon release Heath Ledger’s performance as the joker was universally praised and is now regarded as one of the greatest villains in cinema and the best performance of The Joker.


 Unfortunately Heath passed away from a drug overdose six months before the movie and didn’t live to see any of that praise. The movie made one billion dollars at the box office on a budget of 185 million dollars, and received two oscars, with one going posthumously to Heath Ledger for best supporting actor. The film has an IMDB user score of 9 out of 10 with over two million votes, putting it as IMDb’s third highest rated movie of all time behind The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather.  Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a score of 94%, and its critics consensus states “Dark, complex, and unforgettable, The Dark Knight succeeds not just as an entertaining comic book film, but as a richly thrilling crime saga.” The trilogy was concluded with 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. The Dark Knight Rises made 1.081 billion dollars at the box office, and although it was received very well the movie failed at surpassing the critical reception that The Dark Knight received. Today the movie sits at a rating of 8.4 out of 10 with 1.6 million votes on IMDB.


The most recent Batman movie to be released was 2022’s The Batman. Directed by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson as Batman, it is an even darker, more realistic take on the character. The movie is the first in a new Batman franchise and has opened to a very positive response from audiences and critics alike. The Movie tells the story of Batman facing off against the Riddler during his second year as Batman. The movie has made 738.4 million dollars at the box office and has a user score of 8.3 out of 10 on IMDB. The movie has a score of 85% on rotten tomatoes and its critics consensus is “A grim, gritty, and gripping super-noir, The Batman ranks among the Dark Knight’s bleakest — and most thrillingly ambitious — live-action outings.”


With so many Batman movies one is inclined to ask the question of which one is the best. Despite the success of The Batman the clear winner to me is still 2008’s The Dark Knight. The movie helped reinvigorate the entire genre and led to a rise in grittier takes on comic book characters. The movie is excellently written and directed and remains one of the most unique films in the superhero genre. This is in part due to the film taking more influence from crime dramas like Heat than other superhero movie’s that preceeded it. Part of the movie’s genius is that the movies conflic is largely psychological, with a large part of the Joker’s plans being designed more as a way to show how impure and cowardly the people of gotham are. The movie’s unique and layered take on Batman, along with it’s near perfect casting, leaves it in my mind, as well as the minds of many others, as not only the best Batman movie, but one of the best superhero movies ever made.