Whatever name you prefer to call him by—Batman, the Batman, Batsy, the Caped Crusader, the World’s Greatest Detective, the Dark Knight, the Dork Knight, Beloved—Bruce Wayne’s alter ego has taken many forms over the years in his efforts to protect Gotham from clowns, plant ladies, and that one guy who just likes to shoot ketchup and mustard at people. Sometimes he growls incomprehensibly. Sometimes he ice skates. Sometimes he’s actually just LEGO bricks. But he always stands for justice and absolutely never kills anyone (most of the time).
For over 50 years, Batman has graced the big screen, portrayed through visionaries as diverse as Joel Schumacher and Christopher Nolan. In 2022, director Matt Reeves delivers the 11th solo theatrical Batman feature with Robert Pattinson under the cowl and Zoë Kravitz, Colin Farrell, and Paul Dano playing three of the Dark Knight’s most famous villains: Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler.
To celebrate this newest take on the Bat, here is every solo theatrical Batman film ranked—minus, for now, the latest entry.
Quick, to the Bat-ranking!
10. Batman & Robin (1997)
I wouldn’t go so far as to call Batman & Robin a misunderstood masterpiece of superhero cinema, but I will say it just might be the best trashy midnight movie the world has not yet learned to take proper advantage of. When viewed through the right lens (and with expectations and intellects checked fully at the door), Batman & Robin is an absolute blast.
Here are the first 10 pages of Akiva Goldsman’s script condensed:
Batman and Robin suit up to respond to mayhem in the city. Through lens-shattering zoom-ins we discover their chest armor now comes with nipples. Robin complains about not having a Robinmobile (tell the execs not to worry, we’ll see a Robincycle in just a bit). George Clooney deadpans, “This is why Superman works alone.” Hot minute later, Batman and Robin are skating on ice and playing hockey with a diamond against Arnold Schwarzenegger’s glow-in- the-dark goons. After exhausting what may just be every ice pun in existence (spoiler: there are more to come—so many more), Arnie escapes in a spaceship, which he’ll soon abandon by sprouting mechanical wings so B&R can surf after him through the clouds above Gotham in free-fall. Robin gets to say, “Cowabunga.”
And that’s just the first 10 minutes.
But here’s the thing: as bonkers as that sounds (and it is even more bonkers to watch), everybody involved knows just what kind of film they’re making, and they all dial the ham to 11. Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze would fit right in with the exaggerated performances and manic energy of the villains on the ’60s Batman TV show. And while no Adam West, Clooney plays his deadpan Dark Knight just right and flashes that Bat-credit card like nobody’s business.
So the whole thing was a big cash grab built completely around the idea of having as many flashy vehicles and costume changes as possible so they could fill the retail shelves with B&R toys.
Batman & Robin isn’t the last film on this list to just be one really long commercial in disguise. Saddled with the demand to go bigger and splashier, Schumacher at least made it all as goofy and entertaining as possible.
Except for that pretty grim subplot about Alfred dying ... yeah, this film’s a mess.
9. Batman: The Movie (1966)
Speaking of the ’60s Batman TV show ... it came with a movie!
Apparently, this theatrical feature came about as a way of bringing wider audiences to the show. But the show became so successful on its own it ended up not needing the movie’s help. Regardless, Batman: The Movie is a delightful slice of ‘60s camp that sees four of Batman’s most nefarious villains (Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler) teaming up to take on not Gotham but the world.
The plot, which has something to do with pirates and a ray-gun that can handily remove and return every drop of moisture in the human body, is as outlandish as they come. But that’s precisely the kind of world Adam West’s and Burt Ward’s Batman and Robin inhabit. It’s a world where the Batcopter comes fully stocked with Oceanic Repellent Bat-sprays in four varieties (barracuda, whale, manta ray, and shark) and where Penguin can be casually sold a pre-atomic submarine by the US Navy by using the alias P. N. Guin.
The deadpan delivery of Adam West and Burt Ward plays in wonderful contrast to the quartet of Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, Lee Meriwether, and Frank Gorshin repeatedly out-crazying one another with Olympic breath control.
Despite being a theatrical release, the film does still very much have a TV-budget feel. It also starts to run out of steam a bit by the final act, suggesting this brand of comedy might play better in the 30-minute format after all. But the colorful BLUURP!s and KER-PLOP!s accompanying the punch-out with the pirates helps pick things up toward the end and Burgess Meredith’s wah-wah-wahhhs simply never get old.
Most enduring moment: Batman racing around a dock with a lit bomb held over his head, running into a lady pushing a baby carriage, a marching band, a couple of nuns, or adorable little duckies every which way he turns. We know how you feel, Batman. We’ve all been there.