Top Ten Batman Movies
It’s Batweek! If you haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises yet, and are deathly afraid of spoilers creeping through your monitor and into your eyeholes, why not take a trip down memory lane instead (not a dark alleyway) with our seven Top Ten Batman Movies? From Adam West’s straight face to Christian Bale’s long face, there’s something for everyone in Batman’s silver screen career.
7. Batman & Robin
Bafflingly praised by The New York Times upon release (and hated by everyone else), quite how a movie with so much money invested in it could be so bad almost defies belief. Arnold Swarzenegger gives the most unintentionally hilarious performance of his career (and that’s saying something, given that his stint as governor of California, amongst other ill-suited roles, was hardly laugh-free). Moreover, Schwarzenegger was paid $20 million to play Mr Freeze and he subsequently did little other than spout numerous unfunny ice puns. Yes, we live in a world in which it is possible to receive $20 million for reciting ice puns in a heavy Austrian accent while wearing a silly outfit.
Of the other actors cast, Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone have barely been seen since (and for good reason), while George Clooney was fortunate to recover from the ignominy of being the Batman’s answer to George Lazenby. He was woefully miscast, having none of the mystique and angst required for the role, with his easy-going charm totally unconvincing in contrast to the broodiness that Bale and (to a lesser extent) Keaton brought to the table. Fortunately for Clooney, he would swiftly return to cinemas with the far superior Out of Sight, simultaneously banishing all memories of this vapid turn.
So forget Heaven’s Gate. Forget Waterworld, even. This movie is the epitome of Hollywood losing the run of itself, and is number 7 on this list, purely because there aren’t more than seven official full-length Batman films in existence. In short, it’s the type of film young fans will look back on in 50 years’ time and think: ‘God, people in the ’90s must have been utterly stupid.’
6. Batman Forever
Hardcore Batman fans presumably feared the worst when Joel Schumacher took over the directorial reins from Tim Burton, and such fears would have been well-founded, as Batman Forever was easily the worst Batman film ever made at the time of its release (albeit a masterpiece in comparison to Batman and Robin). Based on the far less sombre tone it adopted in contrast with the Tim Burton movies, Schumacher clearly thought he could successfully channel some of the camp sensibilities of the ’60s version of the franchise – he was wrong. The added playfulness also allowed it to indulge in the kind of terrible jokes that would reach their apex in Batman and Robin – ‘Caffeine’ll kill ya,’ says the Riddler, as he bashes someone with a coffee pot (cue the appearance of tumbleweed in cinema theatres everywhere). All of this is not helped by its wafer-thin plot, revolving around the Riddler’s attempts to use TV to control people’s minds.
Nevertheless, the film isn’t all bad. Jim Carrey gives the type of joyously manic performance that defined his early career, thankfully without ever threatening to reach Ace-Ventura-esque levels of annoyingness. Moreover, the relationship between Batman and Robin contains more homoeroticism than a Rocky montage, while Schumacher, to his credit, maintains the visual flair of Burton’s films, if not the tone. Ultimately though, like much of the director’s filmography, it’s a largely forgettable experience.
From the not particularly sublime to the ridiculous. Despite Batman Returns’ baby-adopting penguins, and Batman and Robin’s aforementioned inexplicable obsession with ice puns, Leslie Martinson’s adaptation is definitely the oddest Batman film there is and (probably) ever will be.
Based on the relatively similar TV series, Batman contains a madcap plot involving attempts by its four villains (the Penguin, the Joker, Catwoman and the Riddler) to take over the world using a secret invention that dehydrates people, while also encompassing a strong level of absurd, idiosyncratic humour that is still remembered fondly to this day. Featuring insane camera angles and exploding sharks aplenty, Adam West somehow manages to keep a straight face during this glorious mess of a movie and as a result, practically made a career out of aping the role on shows like Family Guy and The Simpsons. While the film’s ridiculousness and constant use of striking images that highlight made-up words (like ‘Biff!’ and ‘Kapow!’) during fight sequences may eventually become tiresome for some viewers, those with a particular love of such nonsense will wish it could go on forever.
4. Batman Returns
Although some may have hated it – especially the disturbed young kids such as yours truly who had been allowed to see it in the cinema on account of its ludicrous ‘under 12s with an adult’ certificate – Batman Returns had its charms. It had a typically excellent Danny Elfman score, the look of the film was appropriately gothic for a Tim Burton movie, and Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito both gave scene-stealing performances as the film’s respective villains.
Moreover, it arguably featured Tim Burton at the peak of his powers – his last two non-Batman films had been Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, and his next two would be The Nightmare Before Christmas and Ed Wood (though he didn’t actually direct the former, it should be noted). And more impressively still, he managed to eschew his inveterate bromance with Johnny Depp for once, and refrain from casting him in the film – the pairing has grown increasing stale with each of their subsequent collaborations, and probably would have been disastrous in this instance, given that there’s no obvious role for Depp to play.
All in all, Batman Returns is no masterpiece – its uneven script and overabundance of ideas drag it down. However, it has enough memorable moments (Catwoman’s transformation, for example, from a dowdy secretary to a lascivious villain is brilliantly executed) and gorgeous cinematography to be considered a respectable entry in the series.
Forget Inception, Tim Burton’s Batman was the first example of how a film could be incredibly daring and ambitious, while still achieving enormous success at the box office. Central to the movie’s success is Jack Nicholson, who delivers a performance that makes his famously delirious turn in The Shining seem positively sober by comparison.
And while Batman was regarded as a departure from aggressively kitsch style of ’60s TV and film versions of the comic, it was not without laughs. The scene in which the Joker and his goons break into an art gallery is a prime example of its oddball sense of humour, with Nicholson wrecking several masterpieces with gleeful abandon and witty one-liners to spare.
And though Michael Keaton was castigated by some critics upon its release for portraying Bruce Wayne/Batman as an unbelievable dullard, the consensus over time is that it was an astute casting decision, with Keaton pleasingly understated and elusive-seeming rather than boring, thereby effectively adapting the role to suit his own admittedly limited acting talents.
Consequently, Batman’s influence pervades to this day. Its innovative, intensely dark look and tone (for a superhero movie at least), and persistent exploration of its lead character’s psyche, set the example that many comic book adaptations thereafter would follow, all the while managing to include one of the most iconic film scenes ever (“The mirror. THE MIRROR!”).
2. The Dark Knight
Ironically, while Tim Burton’s Batman movies were criticised for being too dark, this quality was singled out for praise in The Dark Knight (and Batman Begins to a lesser extent). And such a tone is largely set by Heath Ledger’s widely praised acting, for which he deservedly received a posthumous Oscar. Ledger arguably even overshadowed Jack Nicholson’s performance in the role, through sheer intensity alone. And most of the films best lines are also given to him (“Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you… stranger”).
Nolan’s Batman movies are also easily the most intelligent adaptations of the franchise to date, with Ledger again being the focal point of such virtues. His actions and sentiments subtly invoke some interesting philosophical debates on the nature of good v evil, among other topics that normally wouldn’t be given the time of day in a multi-million Hollywood blockbuster. And of course, Nolan adopts this innovative approach without ever sacrificing entertainment value, or coming across as pretentious (take note, George Lucas).
The movie is by no means perfect. Christian Bale gives one of the more underwhelming performances of his career as Batman and at 152 minutes, the film outstays its welcome a tad. Nonetheless, those minor quibbles aside, The Dark Knight is a fine example of how a Hollywood blockbuster should be made, but rarely is.
1. Batman Begins
Let’s get the movie’s one drawback out of the way immediately: Katie Holmes. Once you manage to ignore the unfortunate fact that she’s in it, Batman Begins is as close to perfect as a movie of its genre has ever come.
Most people believe The Dark Knight is the superior film, and while it has greater special effects, better action scenes and the performance of Heath Ledger going for it, Batman Begins has the better storytelling and is consequently the more coherent of the two movies. In addition, it is easily Bale’s most convincing performance in the role so far, perhaps owing to the fact that unlike in The Dark Knight, he’s not almost always wearing the batsuit, leading to bonus facial expressions and the like.
Another plus point is the childhood scenes, which are handled with particular aplomb, and give the movie more levels of emotional depth in one scene than Michael Bay has put on screen in his entire career. The young Bruce’s horror at his parents’ death and subsequent struggle to come to terms with it is evoked especially well – the staple, encouraging refrain of Alfred, his surrogate father, is: ‘Why do we fall? To pick ourselves back up again.’ Consequently, Batman Begins brings to mind the days of films such as ET and Jaws, when big movies had a heart.
So ultimately, Nolan and David S Goyer deliver arguably the best screenplay for a superhero movie ever written, banishing virtually all fans’ traumatic memories of Batman and Robin in the process.