The news that Ben Affleck would portray everyone’s favorite caped crusader certainly stirred up more controversy than Bane’s whirlwind destruction of Gotham. Admittedly Affleck might not hold the greatest record with superhero films, but “Argo” was pretty damn good. Let’s just hope this trend continues. In the aftermath of this new page in Batman history, with the end of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, it’s worth strolling Gotham’s Memory Lane with a look at the top 10 best Batman films:
10. “Subzero” (1998)
Growing up in the 90’s it was impossible to avoid this straight to DVD film and the memorabilia it spawned. While “Subzero” is a cartoon related to the “Batman the Animated Series” universe, don’t write this one off so easily. The Art Deco animation, mild violence, and subtle mature themes lend this film appeal to audiences of all ages. As the name suggests, “Subzero” features an icy showdown between Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara). And a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes definitely helps it stand out.
Tim Burton strikes again with another 90’s classic complete with McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. The sequel to his 1989 “Batman” featured some spectacular casting with Danny DeVito as the Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. In true Burton form, expect a surreal, goofy yet dark atmosphere.
Any Batman film starring the Joker and Ra’s al Ghul is instantly appealing. Don’t mistake the cartoon for a kid’s flick however. The movie is dark, gritty and violent. Thematically it blurs moral distinctions. Overall, “Batman: Under the Red Hood is a fantastic dive into the graphic novel universe, and one of the best adult-oriented cartoons of any genre. If you thought “Subzero’s” 90% fresh rating was good, keep in mind “Batman: Under the Red Hood” holds a 100% fresh rating. This is fairly impressive for a cartoon or live action flick.
Following the “Batman the Animated Series” universe came “Batman Beyond.” Stylistically the graphics were more modern with a hint of anime. Luckily Mark Hamill of “Star Wars” acclaim reprised his role as the Joker for the movie. An appropriate update, this film fits in a surprising number of Batman heroes and villians including Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin), Batgirl (Tara Strong), and of course the Joker (Hamill). After the admirable run of “Batman the Animated Series,” “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” feels like a breath of fresh air giving a classic superhero a facelift.
Tim Burton’s “Batman” feature film is chock full of amazing actors, notably Jack Nicholson who continues his trend of creepy characters. Throw in beautiful set pieces, a decidedly graphic novel feel, and Michael Keaton’s Batman/Bruce Wayne charisma, and you’ve got a recipe for a solid entry in the Batman canon.
As the name suggests, this animated film is based on the graphic novel. Remarkable storytelling makes this an instant classic, and Bryan Cranston’s Lieutenant Gordon is reason enough to watch, no matter how ironic that might seem now. Whether or not you’ve read the graphic novel, this is a great way to revisit or acquaint yourself with the narrative. You’ll likely see familiar storylines if you’ve seen any other Batman movie iterations.
Although the titular character is of course Batman, the Joker pulled one over on the hero in Christopher Nolan’s second big-screen Batman flick. Heath Ledger’s performance is chillingly brilliant, and arguably the greatest Joker interpretation to date (sorry Jack). “The Dark Night” served to further solidify the darker themes in Nolan’s original hit “Batman Begins.” Ledger’s acting created an increasingly philosophical movie, and certainly set the bar very high for any brave soul wishing to step into the Joker’s shoes.
A spinoff from the 60’s “Batman” TV series, this campy film is truly a worthy bearer of the Batman name. Additionally, as the first Batman theatrical release, it is the forefather of the Batman adaptations. The cheesy fighting complete with cartoon sound effects (“Pow!” “Bam!” “Zap!”) is laughable, albeit intentionally so unlike George Clooney’s abysmal appearance under the cape. Throughout the movie there are some truly hilarious moments such as when Batman, trying to dispose of a bomb, runs into a group of nuns and a woman pushing a baby carriage. Exasperatedly he exclaims “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.” This alone is reason enough to watch the film. Adam West’s Bruce/Batman persona definitely set a high standard for those who swung in his Batarang wake.
Back in the “Batman the Animated Series” universe, “Mask of the Phantasm” set a precedent for animated superhero flicks. Providing a surprising amount of depth for a cartoon, an incredible twist (spoiler free zone here), and Mark Hamill’s commendable Joker, you won’t want to miss out on this oft overlooked film. “Mask of the Phantasm” also serves up a good chunk of Batman lore, always a plus.
Sure, its sequel “The Dark Knight” was one of the greatest films ever made, but “Batman Begins” ushered in a new legacy in Batman lore. While kicking off the Christian Bale era, the inaugural movie also managed to accomplish a difficult feat: capture a graphic novel spirit in a live-action film without sacrificing maturity. The star-studded cast including Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon), Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), and Liam Neeson (Ra’s al Ghul) really only serves to strengthen an already phenomenal film. “Batman Begins” has limitless replay value and makes you want to throw the remote out the window and bring down a crime syndicate.
Your turn: which Batman movies are your favorite picks?