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There's no way around saying this: there have been a lot of Batmans. Since the year 1990, we're already onto our sixth actor playing Bruce Wayne/Batman/The Dark Knight. Ben Affleck, we think, is just about done with his run as the caped crusader after the recut and much-improved Zack Snyder's Justice League, and will likely be appearing in 2022's The Flash as something of a baton pass to...older Batman, played by previous Batman, Michael Keaton. And that's just for the DC Extended Universe conversation, which won't include the upcoming Batman trilogy from director Matt Reeves, which will star Robert Pattinson. It's a lot, yes.
But if you're an old Batman fiend, or a new convert looking to take in all the caped technology and crime-fighting you can get, or even a fan just looking for a memory refresh, you have a lot of options. That's because while there are a lot of different takes on Batman that have hit the big screen, only a few of them are connected at any given time. You could watch all of the Batman movies from the '90s and completely ignore everything else if you wanted to. You could do the same with Christopher Nolan's trilogy. You could do the same with the DCEU movies. Or, you could really go for it and just watch them all.
Look, they may not all be your cup of tea. But we like to go with a completist mentality here. So we're going to give you a reasonable, sensible order to watch every live-action Batman movie. (Yes, we're just sticking with live-action here. Because once we start bringing in animation and other mediums things will get messy. So let's just keep it to the minimum complexity, which, of course, is already plenty complex.)
So use the guide below for getting all the live-action Bruce Wayne you can. And if you're looking for a short-cut, you can use any mini-guide by itself if you so-wish. Just wanna watch the DCEU stuff? Head down to that section and skip the rest. Just Nolan? Same deal.
Sound good? Here we go:
First, the meat and potatoes. We're technically starting with 1989 here, for the first Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman movie (a reunion from their amazing go-around with Beetlejuice the year prior), and will continue through most of the decade. This version of Batman, well, the quality of the movies pretty steadily decreased as the decade progressed. And Batman was recast twice, too, which wasn't great for, uh, continuity. Still, it's Batman. And the stories are connected. And if you want it all, you've got it all.
Tim Burton's 1989 Batman introduced big screen audiences to the character in a way that they'd never seen him before in live-action. Remember, prior to this the main exposure was the campy Adam West '60s series. Anyway: Michael Keaton plays Bruce Wayne/Batman with a sly style and dry sense of humor, while only an actor as legendary as Jack Nicholson could play the Joker the way he does: as some sort of deranged clown version of an Untouchables-esque crime boss.
Batman Returns (1992)
Almost more than the superhero himself, it feels like every Batman movie is marked by its villains. That being said, Tim Burton and Michael Keaton's second go-around is marked by a couple of the most fun ones: Danny Devito as The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot and Michelle Pfieffer as Catwoman. Plus, we get Christopher Walken as Max Shreck, who isn't a supervillain on the level of those two, but a sort of scumbag villain who even today manages to feel all the more real.
Batman Forever (1995)
The first '90s recasting of Batman found the caped crusader in the hands of a new director (Joel Schumacher) and played by a new actor (Val Kilmer). Batman Forever veered this '90s run firmly toward camp, as Tommy Lee Jones (playing Two-Face in perhaps the most comedic-facing role of his career?) and Jim Carrey (as The Riddler) played the villains. It's an unquestionably zany vibe, and also manages to introduce Chris O'Donnell as Robin.
Batman & Robin (1997)
Aaaaand it all falls apart here. Batman & Robin once again recasts its titular hero (George Clooney is behind the mask and ears this time) while Joel Schumacher returns for his second go at it. At least you get to see the legendary duo on-screen for the only time in history, as no other live-action movie since has made an attempt (ok, not really) at bringing Robin into the fold. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze is....something, and Uma Thurman plays the seductive Poison Ivy with at least a bit of spice.
The Christopher Nolan Era
Batman Begins (2005)
Part of the reason we recommend watching the '90s Batman movies to completion are so you can see what a stark contrast it was when Christopher Nolan rebooted the franchise with his take on things in the dark and gritty Batman Begins. A "dark and gritty" take on something isn't exactly a novel idea for a reimagining in 2021, but when the Batman world was coming off a run that got more and more cartoonish—and not exactly in a good way—over the course of a decade, the re-route with Begins was certainly a welcomed one. Christian Bale remains the best Batman, and Begins marks the beginning of a trilogy that will certainly stand the test of time. Batman's origin story here is one that really makes sense, and it sets up what we see come over the course of Nolan's next two films.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Most people would consider The Dark Knight rises either the best or one of the best superhero films of all time, and it's hard to argue against them. The story hardly needs repeating: Heath Ledger early in 2008, about six months before The Dark Knight was released and his performance as The Joker was instantly immortalized. Bale continued his suave performance as Bruce Wayne and more brutish take on Batman, but it was Ledger's role as the iconic villain that won him a posthumous Academy Award. But the movie also is beautifully shot and paced perfectly; there's not a dull spot here. Christopher Nolan has made a lot of good movies, but The Dark Knight is the one that truly made him into the event director we know and love today.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Christopher Nolan really had a knack for Batman villains. Christian Bale once again did his thing as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but when Tom Hardy put on his mask and started doing that Bane voice...well, movie history was never the same. Obviously exaggerating a bit, but Hardy's Bane is one of the most fun villains in modern history, and the movie works to feature it. Not quite as good as The Dark Knight, but Rises provides plenty of action thrills and provides a more-than-satisfying conclusion to Nolan's trilogy.
A Quick Blast From the Past
Batman: The Movie (1966)
The 1989 Batman wasn't really the first live-action Batman movie; there was the movie-event version of the old Adam West Batman! TV show, which was basically a sitcom and had a wildly different tone from anything else on this list. With lots of physical humor and WHAM! and POW! blaring across the screen, we figure giving it a shot between two pretty dark takes on the character would serve as a nice little palette cleanser and detox.
The DCEU Era
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
DC Fans had been waiting for decades for a film pitting their two most famous heroes against one another, and in 2016 (only 9 years after I Am Legend predicted it would happen) it really did happen with Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Snyder had already introduced his Superman (Henry Cavill) in 2013's Man of Steel, but this movie marked the beginning of Ben Affleck's take on Bruce Wayne/Batman, which would carry him through a few more movies in DC's big screen version of an expanded universe. Affleck's Batman isn't bad; he's a bigger and more imposing presence than any before him. He also wears a kind of robotic suit at times—notice the lit up eyes—and for some reason wears a duster jacket during one dream sequence. Anyway! It's worth noting that if you're interested, there is also an extended director's cut version of this movie with 30 additional minutes of footage.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Batman (Affleck) only appears briefly in 2016's Suicide Squad, flying on top of a car being driven by The Joker (Jared Leto) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and having a tenuous face-off with Deadshot (Will Smith). It's for the best—Suicide Squad is an abhorrent movie and if you want to get all your Batman in you really don't need to watch the whole thing.
Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
If you want to really be a completist, you can watch the 2017 theatrical cut version of Justice League, which was started by Zack Snyder but completed and cut up by Joss Whedon; that version of the movie is quite disjointed and pretty forgettable. If you've got four hours to spare, though—and with the movie cut into chapters its made significantly more palatable than it sounds—we'd highly recommend watching Zack Snyder's Justice League instead. Look, I personally did not expect to be saying this, but the much-hyped "Snyder Cut" really does make everything about Justice League a whole lot better. The characters are more fully-developed, the motivations make more sense, the action makes more sense; everything just works better than it did in what we now know was a Frankenstein cut completed by Whedon in 2017. There are some odd musical choices, and almost everything is in slow motion, but Zack Snyder's Justice League gives the story the attention and focus it deserved.
And now, the future: Whatever Robert Pattinson, Ben Affleck, and Michael Keaton (?) have for us, we're ready.
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