This article was originally published in March 2016, prior to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It has been updated to include that film as well as 2022’s The Batman.
Batman’s lived so many lives. Whether it’s on page or onscreen, Bruce Wayne and his alter ego have occupied nearly every corner of the genre-sphere. From the garish comedy of Adam West’s kaleidoscopic crusader to the gravelly tones of Christian Bale’s dark knight, this is a franchise that’s proven its longevity and ability to evolve with the times.
Batman’s modern reinvention came courtesy of Tim Burton, who in 1989 set the caped crusader against the gothic architecture and ominous strains of his aesthetic. It was an inspired pairing and one that’s seen its fair share of ups and downs as more cooks piled into the kitchen.
To celebrate Batman’s long history on the screen, we’ve decided to rank the live-action, theatrically released films focusing explicitly on the character, beginning with Burton’s reintroduction (Mr. West notwithstanding). Don’t like our picks? Too bad. Writing this has left us cold to your pleas of mercy.
— Randall Colburn
09. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
If there’s one lingering undercurrent to Zack Snyder’s DC Comics films, it’s this: The guy doesn’t really seem to like superheroes that much. Putting that guy in charge of three Superman/Batman outings did lead to a very different spin on the iconic characters, delivering a dark operatic take on the kind of world which would lead to the existence of men like these.
Unfortunately, it also led to a depiction of Batman that’s basically unrecognizable as, well, Batman. Ben Affleck has a lot of natural charisma, but it doesn’t really come through while he’s doing stuff like branding criminals and engaging in one of the least engaging superhero-on-superhero fistfights ever. All of the silly aspects of this film, with “Why did you say that name?” probably coming in at the top of that list, might be forgivable. But being boring? That’s inexcusable.
You won’t have long to wait before Batman Forever and Batman & Robin make their respective appearances on this list, and yes, they may not showcase the character at his most captivating. But we’ve ranked Batman v. Superman this low because at least those movies don’t fundamentally misunderstand why Batman lingers so prominently in the cultural imagination. And it’s actually possible to watch them in one sitting, in all their goofiness.
Meanwhile, slogging one’s way through Batman v. Superman is enough to make you agree with Snyder, by the end: Maybe superheroes are bad. At least, when they’re in stories like this. — Liz Shannon Miller