In Brightest Day…

Green Lantern doesn’t shine half as bright as it should have. What should have been an epic Star Wars style sci-fi blockbuster, ended up being a big green joke. Compared to the competition, the 2000’s were a rather uneventful decade for DC comics movies. The only DC universe superheroes that ever got attention were Superman and Batman. Along with a few stray graphic novel adaptations. The only other well known hero to take shape was Green Lantern. Like most DC characters up to that point, I didn’t know much about the Emerald Knight. Other than knowing he was a key member of the Justice League.

Green Lantern was first created in 1940 as the more mystical Alan Scott. Similar to what was done with the Flash, Green Lantern was reintroduced in 1959 as the more popular intergalactic space hero Hal Jordan. The more I learned, the more excited I was to go see it. The idea for a movie swirled around since the late 90’s. At one point an awful sounding Jack Black comedy was nearly made, but thankfully fans killed that idea. The 2011 movie became the first DC project that eventual Arrowverse creator Greg Berlanti had a hand in. With Bond and Zorro director Martin Campbell at the helm and rising star Ryan Reynolds as the lead, what could possibly go wrong…

1. Green Lantern

Green Lantern holds Carol Ferris

Green Lantern does everything wrong and everything right. The Green Lantern mythos is one of the most original, unique, and complex in all of DC comics. So incorporating all of it into a 2 hour movie was tricky to say the least. Although it is commendable that they stay faithful to the bizarre source material, Green Lantern still fails for a number of reasons. The opening crams in every bit of complicated exposition it can about the Green Lantern Corps. Like the comics, the Corps is an intergalactic peacekeeping police force that protects 3,600 sectors throughout the universe. They were founded by a group of big headed blue aliens with white hair and red robes known as the Guardians of the Universe. Who reside on the planet Oa. We learn all that and more before ever meeting our hero.

Hal Jordan is the second Green Lantern, but the first to join the Green Lantern Corps. Hal is a cocky fearless test pilot that was always the most popular character to take on the mantle. Even though other members like Guy Gardner, John Stewart, and Kyle Rayner were notable as well. Hal Jordan/Green Lantern is Ryan Reynolds third comic book superhero in a row. Reynolds did his best, but Hal being a comedic playboy doesn’t line up well with the character. The movie also spends way too much time on Hal’s life on Earth. We see how he tragically lost his pilot father as a child, we see him visit his older brother and nephew, we see him fly planes in an extended sequence, and so much more.

Supporting characters on Earth include his engineer friend Thomas Kalmaku (I’ll bet you forgot Taika Waititi was in this) and true love Carol Ferris. Carol is a high ranking member of Ferris Aircraft who later became the far more interesting Star Sapphire in the comics. At least one positive to come out of Green Lantern was that Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds fell in love during filming. Things finally get going when purple alien Abin Sur (played by Temuera Morrison) is attacked by the primary antagonist. An evil parasitic life form called Parallax. In the comics, Parallax is a creature composed of yellow fear energy. In the movies, Parallax is a brown space fart with hints of yellow.

In a manner very accurate to the comics, Hal Jordan discovers the dying alien and is given the power ring. Which requires a green lantern to charge. Another huge reason Green Lantern failed was the over abundance of CGI. Specifically the poorly rendered Green Lantern costume. While a CGI costume wasn’t a horrible idea, it should have looked way better than this. Unlike the way the comic balances green with black & white, the movie suit is just green on green. With a mask that doesn’t translate well to live-action. The power ring uses willpower to construct whatever the user imagines. It’s an awesome superpower that looks more bland than creative. Hal’s constructs consist of a green fist, race track, swords, guns, and planes.

Then there’s the Green Lantern Corps. Every single alien member has a name and background in the comics, but in the movie they’re just glorified CGI extras. The only exceptions are instructor Tomar-Re and combat trainer Kilowog. Voiced by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan in his final role before passing away. But the only actor that’s trying is Mark Strong. He brings the pink fallen Lantern Sinestro to life. Unfortunately the film makes the terrible decision not to make Hal’s archenemy the main antagonist. Save for a mid-credits scene of Sinestro wearing the yellow ring that goes nowhere. Instead they chose the ridiculously obscure Hector Hammond. A big headed scientist played by a screeching Peter Sarsgaard. An awful villain that forces Hal to stay on Earth far too long. And let’s thrown in Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller, why not?

When Parallax is punched into the sun, Green Lantern ends with a lesson about overcoming fear. I just wish the movie could have overcome a seriously inconsistent boring tone. One of the major DC superheroes shouldn’t have a meta tone or jokes made at the characters expense. That’s why I’m still annoyed by the movie’s failure. I even memorized the oath: “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power–Green Lantern’s light!” He’s a cool character that doesn’t deserve to be the butt of so many (funny) jokes. Or overlooked in a team that he helped found (*cough* Justice League). Green Lantern was a waste of good willpower.

Green Lantern

The Green Lantern Corps

Gotham’s Reckoning

The Dark Knight Rises is the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s retroactively named Dark Knight trilogy. If only it wasn’t one of the weaker films in the series. Batman Begins had the primary goal of darkening Batman with grounded realism. While The Dark Knight peaked with a superb sequel that’s admittedly a tough act to follow. Not that The Dark Knight Rises isn’t on the same high standard as the first two. The Dark Knight trilogy was really the first consistently good superhero trilogy. By this point, I fully immersed myself in the production of a popular movie. So I was genuinely curious to see who the next DC villain would be in the third installment.

Imagine my surprise when it was revealed to be the lesser known Bane. I was however very intrigued to see the next iteration of Catwoman. The only problem was another tragedy that plagued the film before its release. This time it was a theater shooting that made some people hesitant to see it. It’s part of the reason my brother and I ended up going alone. All we had to deal with was an idiot talking loudly on his phone before the movie started. Thankfully, it wasn’t enough to hurt our enjoyment of the Caped Crusader’s big finale…

14. The Dark Knight Rises

Bane breaks Batman

The Dark Knight Rises includes several callbacks and connections to every important character and moment in this Batman’s story. Except for anything having to do with the Joker. I understand Nolan’s wish to respect Heath Ledger, but it just seems off considering how important he was. After the crimes Harvey Dent committed as Two-Face, Batman and Commissioner Gordon chose to maintain his heroic image. It’s the reason Bruce Wayne hasn’t operated as Batman for an excessively long 8 years. That’s why it takes a whole 46 minutes for Batman to reappear.

Ironically Bruce Wayne/Batman also appears in exactly 46 minutes of the 2 hour & 45 minute movie. It turns out Bruce has been shut in all this time. Weakened by all the injuries he sustained. Christian Bale was the only actor to play the Dark Knight in three movies. This time he’s a bit thinner with another tactical, partially grey Batsuit provided by Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Who this time supplies him with a more realistic Batwing type aircraft dubbed the Bat. The brand new Batcave is rebuilt as well.

Bruce Wayne is first brought out of isolation by cat burglar Selina Kyle. Although people were skeptical at first, Anne Hathaway was purrfect casting for Catwoman. Not that Halle Berry was much competition. Her portrayal is still grounded in reality, but it’s actually very close to the original comics. Which simply depicted her as a master thief without supernatural powers. She fills out a traditional catsuit that realistically combines cat ears with high tech goggles. Hathaway’s Catwoman may lack the name and the whip, but she’s sly and sexy in a way that capture’s her essence. Although not fully explored, her all important relationship with both Bruce Wayne and Batman is far more interesting than his relationship with Rachel. They even pay homage to Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer’s dance in Batman Returns.

Another contributing factor is a young cop who somehow manages to figure out Wayne’s secret identity with only a look. Of course half of the cast is made up of Nolan’s Inception collaborators. So Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the sort of Robin Detective John Blake and Marion Cotillard plays mysterious Wayne Enterprises employee Miranda Tate. Whom Bruce starts a more sexual relationship with. At the same time, Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon is experiencing his own hardships. His wife left him, he feels guilty for praising Dent, and he’s incapacitated by a new threat. It’s enough to finally make the Dark Knight return à la The Dark Knight Returns storyline.

Tom Hardy delivers the second best villain in the trilogy as Bane. A villain that was previously butchered in Batman & Robin. In the comics, Bane is known for his strength and his intelligence. Bane’s not just some mindless brute, he’s a brilliant tactician with enhanced strength. So even though it would have been cool to see gritty versions of other members of Batman’s rogues gallery, Bane actually made a lot of sense. Although his appearance differs greatly from the comics. Instead of a luchador mask, Bane wears a unique metal mask meant to relieve pain. Giving him a sometimes incomprehensible voice that’s fun to imitate. His use of Venom enhancement is dropped as well.

Bane is a former member of the League of Shadows and his master plan is to liberate Gotham City. That means crashing a plane in an impressive practical effects sequence, targeting the wealthy, freeing prisoners of Blackgate, blowing up bridges, a stadium, and eventually all of Gotham City with a neutron bomb. But not before draining all of Bruce Wayne’s funds. Which leads to Michael Caine’s Alfred tearfully resigning after a desperate plea not to face Bane. Batman does face Bane in a brutal fight that’s all the more real without any music. This is where Bane famously “breaks the bat.” With a back breaking scene ripped straight out of the Knightfall storyline.

Bruce is left in an underground prison on the other side of the world. Where he sees visions of Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul. Leading him to believe his child was Bane. Meanwhile Gotham suffers for a really long time with martial law in affect. Cillian Murphy makes his third Scarecrow appearance in a kangaroo court. Bruce does escape and he carefully plans a way to stop Bane with Selina’s help. He gets an upper hand on Bane while she frees the trapped police force with the Batpod.

SPOILER ALERT! It turns out Miranda, who’s really Talia al Ghul, was behind everything all along. Which reduces Bane to nothing more than a glorified henchman that goes out like a punk. “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb,” so it has to be flown out with the Bat. Which means the sacrifice of the beloved Caped Crusader. Until he’s revealed to somehow be alive in Italy. One of several confusing questions The Dark Knight Rises leaves unanswered. But The Dark Knight Rises still proves to be a satisfying end to the darker Batman era.

15. The Dark Knight Rises

Batman walks with Catwoman

Preceded by: The Dark Knight

Why So Serious? ⭐

The Dark Knight is my all time favorite DC comics superhero movie. It’s also one of the greatest superhero movies ever made (or the absolute best depending on who you ask). It was a no brainer placing it number six on my “Top 10 Favorite Movies” list. I decided to limit myself to one film per comic book universe. Otherwise my list would be nothing but superhero movies. The darkness of the film is made all the more apparent with a title that for the first time drops Batman’s name in favor of his imposing nickname.

Expectations for The Dark Knight were extremely high at the time. Even the trailer that utilized the new Batman theme promised an exhilarating adventure. I remember the experience I had with my family very clearly. At 13 years old, I left the theater practically speechless. Unable to fully process the darker more complex nature of the sequel. It didn’t take me long to realize it was the Dark Knight’s finest outing to date. Sadly a lot of the added attention was attributed to the tragic and very sudden loss of Heath Ledger. Who portrayed the Joker in a way that stole the whole movie and earned the late actor an extremely rare posthumous Oscar…

11. The Dark Knight

Batman fails

The Dark Knight picks up some time after Batman established himself as Gotham’s masked protector. The newly dubbed Lieutenant James Gordon now contacts Batman using the Bat-Signal. To which he often performs his trademark vanishing act. Together Batman, Jim Gordon, and newly elected District Attorney Harvey Dent attempt to clean up organized crime in Gotham. Dent’s complex origin inspired by the storyline The Long Halloween, is finally done justice. Blowing the excessively campy Tommy Lee Jones Two-Face out of the water.

Carmine Falcone is replaced by equally realistic comic book crime boss Sal Maroni. Only he and the rest of the mob are too afraid to operate at night due to the success Batman has had fighting crime. He even manages to apprehend Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow. Although there is the unexpected detail of copybat vigilantes attempting to fight crime in his place. Something I’m positive people would be crazy enough to do. This little encounter allows the Dark Knight to finally address a concern that’s been present since the Michael Keaton days. Lack of neck movement. Something Bruce Wayne overcomes with the help of Lucius Fox. Who supplies him with a more tactical Batsuit. Meanwhile Bruce and Alfred are forced to move operations to a shiny new Batcave bunker while Wayne Manor is being rebuilt.

Bruce also deals with the personal struggle of still being in love with Rachel Dawes. Despite her love for fellow lawyer Harvey Dent. But the true struggle is with Batman’s greatest enemy. The Joker is a threat Batman will always face no matter the iteration. In keeping with Nolan’s realistic approach, this Joker is an agent of chaos with echos of a domestic terrorist. He has fun testing the people of Gotham with sadistic acts that push Batman to his limits. Leaving him questioning whether or not he should break his one rule. Now that you know the story, this is why it’s my all time favorite DC superhero movie…

12. The Dark Knight

Batman interrogates the Joker

The Dark Knight is more than just a superhero movie. It can just as easily be labeled a neo-noir crime film. Since Batman is given greater use of his World’s Greatest Detective skills. Christopher Nolan was able to craft a comic book movie the Academy could take seriously. While at the same time pleasing dedicated fans like myself. For me this is the definitive cinematic take on the DC hero. Christian Bale became only the second actor to return as Batman. He brings the same level of dedication that he brought before, but his excessively gravely Bat-Voice is very hit or miss. Really it’s one of the only things The Dark Knight is ever ridiculed for. Leading to many hilarious parodies of it.

Another minor flaw was the recasting of Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel. She’s a vast improvement in terms of acting, but she’s no Katie Holmes in terms of looks. Gary Oldman is given an even greater role as Jim Gordon. With an arc that finally grants him the rank of Commissioner Gordon. Morgan Freeman is also given greater importance in Batman’s fight. As is Michael Caine, who delivers a speech that perfectly summarizes the new take on the Clown Prince of Crime.

Heath Ledger is my (and my mom’s) favorite take on the Joker. Jack Nicholson was great as a comic accurate gag themed clown, but Ledger elevated him to something we’ve never seen before. A Joker without an origin who just does things. His appearance is grubbier with long messy green hair, self applied white makeup, dark eye shadow, a red glasgow smile, and a purple trench coat. Both the Joker’s unique voice and laugh were things Ledger had to perfect in self-imposed isolation. Which probably contributed to his death.

I was taken completely off guard when I first heard the news. All my dad said was that the Joker died. I thought he meant Nicholson, but it was the 28 year old actor with so much potential. His flawlessly immersive performance won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. A groundbreaking win for a superhero movie. Can you believe his initial casting drew criticism? Well the late Heath Ledger has gone down in history as the Joker all subsequent actors aspire to.

He’s responsible for so many iconic moments. Like the broad daylight opening with clown masked goons offing each other one by one. His darkly comedic magic trick and improvised hospital explosion. As well as several retellings of how he got his scars. Scenes I actually performed in my high school Drama class. “Why so serious?” indeed. Of course Batman’s encounters with the Joker are just as awesome. In terms of action, that’s Batman using the Tumbler (Batmobile) in pursuit of the kidnapped Dent. It leads to the creation of the Batpod (Batcycle) in a scene that mirrors 1989 Batman. In terms of drama, it’s the interrogation scene reminiscent of The Killing Joke.

The tension of the encounter leads to the creation of Two-Face. After a shocking twist of fate, half of Harvey’s face is burned to reveal a face that made everyone in the theater gasp. With the flip of a coin, Two-Face decides the fate of anyone responsible. It’s unfortunate that Aaron Eckhart’s terrific performance was so overshadowed. Nevertheless, The Dark Knight ends with Batman using white eyed sonar to locate the Joker and put an end to his never ending joke on Gotham. But this is no happy ending. Batman takes the blame for Harvey’s crimes and becomes the titular Dark Knight. With what I would easily call Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus, The Dark Knight gave us the dark gritty Caped Crusader we deserved.

13. The Dark Knight

The Joker presents his card

Preceded by: Batman Begins & Followed by: The Dark Knight Rises

Fear of Bats

Batman Begins gave the Dark Knight the fresh start he deserved. Something DC desperately needed after the horribly campy mess that was Batman & Robin. When he gets too light, they want to darken him up again. When he gets too dark, they want to lighten him up again. A cycle Batman always seems to go through. Only Batman & Robin was so bad that it set theatrical Batman films back 8 years. Leaving approximately 6 unproduced movie attempts in its wake. The intended fifth film in the original series was Batman Unchained (or Batman Triumphant). Which would have featured Scarecrow, Harley Quinn, and the return of the Joker.

Then there was Batman: DarKnight, which would have had Scarecrow and Man-Bat. As well as a Robin spin-off that was thankfully never made. When those failed, a darker possibly R-rated reboot became a priority. There was talk of a Batman Beyond movie and a Batman: Year One movie directed by Darren Aronofsky. Plus that early attempt at a Batman vs. Superman movie. The project eventually landed in the very capable hands of soon to be critically acclaimed director Christopher Nolan. Who had the brilliant idea of making a man who fights crime in a Batsuit as realistic as possible…

9. Batman Begins

Batman calls in backup

Batman Begins is a title that means this is a reboot that will show the Caped Crusader’s origin in great detail. Yet my 10 year old brain didn’t quite grasp the concept of a reboot or continuity. So I for a long time thought Batman Begins was in some way a continuation of the previous Batman series. Nevertheless, the dark brooding poster was enough to make me very excited. My dad took my brother and I to see it and we loved the darker take on Batman. The intense PG-13 rating was nothing I couldn’t handle.

Batman Begins tells its famous origin out of order, just the way Christopher Nolan likes it. Similar to the comic storyline “The Man Who Falls,” a young Bruce Wayne falls into a well and has a traumatic experience with bats. We get to know his parents Thomas and Martha Wayne a bit better. Giving their inevitable deaths some added weight. Only instead of Zorro, the Wayne’s are watching a performance with people dressed like bats. Which also increases Bruce’s guilt when the comic accurate Joe Chill guns them down. Leaving faithful family butler Alfred Pennyworth as his legal guardian.

The aftermath is something we almost never see. A guilty Bruce leaves Gotham City after nearly murdering Chill in court. On his journey, Bruce trains with the mysterious Henri Ducard. Who teaches him martial arts under the League of Shadows (League of Assassins in the comics). Only Bruce stops short of killing. A rule that’s gone on to define the superhero. Batman begins with Bruce Wayne’s long awaited return to Gotham.

In order to pull off a more grounded portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman, acclaimed British method actor Christian Bale was recast in the part. He proved his dedication by putting on a ton of muscle after being practically anorexic in The Machinist. Bale pulls off the often overlooked fact that Bruce Wayne is juggling three separate personas. The Bruce Wayne that only his closest allies know. The snobby billionaire playboy akin to Patrick Bateman. And the Dark Knight feared by criminals in Gotham.

Batman Begins even gives grounded explanations to every piece of Batman’s mythos. The Batcave is an abandoned underground railroad. While all of his gadgets were military prototypes given to him by Wayne Enterprises employee Lucius Fox. The Batsuit is all black like previous versions with a more armored design and a sharper Bat-Symbol. The cape is capable of gliding with an electric current. His gadgets are more military grade and his Batarang is more like a throwing star. The especially impressive Tumbler (Batmobile) is built more like a tank. It helps to finally make Batman the most interesting character in his own movie.

Not that Batman Begins isn’t filled with an impressive cast of A-listers. The very classy Michael Caine was perfect for a caring, no nonsense Alfred who brings much needed levity. Even talents as big as Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman play a part. The latter of which finally does justice to police Commissioner Gordon. The last honest cop in Gotham who starts out as a young sergeant before partnering up with Batman. Original character Rachel Dawes is both a childhood friend and lawyer who acts as Bruce’s love interest. She looks good, but Katie Holmes is perhaps the only weak link in the cast.

Gotham is a crime-ridden mafia controlled City. The first initial threat is mob boss Carmine Falcone. One of Batman’s more realistic comic book villains. In a terrifying expertly shot sequence, the Dark Knight introduces himself with the famous “I’m Batman.” One of several subtle homages to the 1989 Batman. His voice is deep, but not too much. While doing some detective work, Batman encounters one of his primary antagonists. Scarecrow only made sense due to the film’s theme of fear. Like in the comics, Dr. Jonathan Crane uses fear toxin on his enemies. Cillian Murphy intimidates by simply wearing a tattered mask. Only the Arkham Asylum doctor serves a greater villains plans.

It turns out Liam Neeson was Ra’s al Ghul all along. A more grounded take on one of Batman’s most complex adversaries. His ultimate goal is to destroy Gotham by poisoning the water supply with Scarecrow’s toxin. Batman Begins is filled with moments that define the Dark Knight. Like intimidating a corrupt cop, summoning an army of bats, or saving the city at any cost. Ending with Batman’s fateful train fight with Ra’s al Ghul. The icing on the cake is the Bat-Signal and a very exciting teaser for a certain psychotic clown. An all-star cast, attention to detail, and the right amount of fan service, helped make Batman Begins one of DC’s most influential superhero movies.

10. Batman Begins

Batman leaps

Followed by: The Dark Knight

Let’s Kick Some Ice

Batman & Robin is without a doubt the worst Batman movie ever made. It’s also one of the worst movies ever made. Whether it’s made by DC or a superhero movie, Batman & Robin fails in every category. So call me crazy when I say I still enjoy the movie today. I 100% agree it’s awful, but my childhood memories of it make it a guilty pleasure. I’m still referring to VHS only, because this isn’t something my parents took me to see when I was younger. Not that I would have known what was going on at 2 years old.

The overly campy tone can once again be blamed on Joel Schumacher. A director who let his flamboyant style go a step too far. From Bat-butt & Bat-crotch to the infamous Bat-nipples & even giant greek statues in Gotham City for some reason. Add in a bunch of cheesy puns, unnatural dialogue, way too many characters, and you’ve got Batman & Robin. At least Batman Forever kept its campiness to a minimum. This feels more like a big budget, semi-dark, neon coated, extreme 90’s episode of Adam West’s Batman

7. Batman and Robin

Batman and Robin play hockey

Batman & Robin makes the unwise decision to cram every possible character from the Caped Crusader’s history into one movie. Now we have three supervillains and two sidekicks all at once. Bruce Wayne/Batman is once again recast due to scheduling conflicts with Val Kilmer. George Clooney was an A-lister who should have been ideal casting. Yet he gives the least amount of effort imaginable. I get that he wasn’t given much to work with, but this is clearly one of his worst performances. For a long time it ruined my perception of Clooney (until I saw him in something good).

Chris O’Donnell returns as the much more whiny boy adult wonder. Complaining about not being respected and wanting his own Bat-Signal. The Batsuit is more of a solid dark blue with those distracting nipples on it. While the Robin suit doesn’t look like the comics at all. Instead it looks more like a red version of Dick Grayson’s Nightwing suit with a cape. The title means there’s a strong emphasis on their partnership. You know it’s all downhill when Batman mentions Superman working alone.

Together after an uncomfortable suit up in the Batcave, the Dynamic Duo takes the Batmobile and Robin Cycle to face their first villain. After exhausting the Dark Knight’s biggest rogues gallery members, the more obscure Mr. Freeze became the primary antagonist. Luckily his popularity increased with an award winning episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Giving Dr. Victor Fries a tragic origin story where his sub zero state is linked to his terminally ill wife Nora Fries.

Such a tragic villain was perfect for over-the-top one-liner machine Arnold Schwarzenegger. This Mr. Freeze speaks almost entirely in freezy ice puns. In a so bad it’s good way that only Arnie can pull off. My personal favorites are “You are not sending me to the cooler” and “Freeze in Hell Batman!” His cryosuit is overly padded without a clear helmet and goggles that he only wears once. At least his freeze gun stays the same.

Naturally a villain obsessed with freezing Gotham should be paired with a villain obsessed with plant life. Uma Thurman was actually a pretty good choice for “unattractive” botanist Dr. Pamela Isley turned sexy plant lady Poison Ivy. She gives off the right seductive charm of Poison Ivy without being too over-the-top. Like in the comics, she possesses a venomous kiss and control over plants. Her costume is more of a variety of primarily green outfits. Unfortunately she’s often paired up with a sorry excuse for Bane. Don’t let the comic book accurate mask and use of Venom fool you, Bane is not a brainless henchmen.

The three team up after an Arkham Asylum breakout and put their incompatible schemes to work. Bruce Wayne is also given his fourth love interest in a row. Only Julie Madison barely makes an impression. Which is strange considering Clooney’s ladies man status. Instead Michael Gough finally gets more focus as Alfred. Making him and Pat Hingle’s Commissioner Gordon the only actors who appear in all 4 Batman movies. Alfred is the only genuinely good part of Batman & Robin. Since he’s dying from a rare condition. So let’s just throw Batgirl in as well. Cher, I mean Alicia Silverstone plays a very inaccurate version of Barbara Gordon. Who’s renamed Barbara Wilson because she’s Alfred’s niece not James Gordon’s daughter. Along with her blonde hair, she only wears the cowl once, and her costume is just a generic Batman clone.

Batman & Robin is loaded with embarrassing moments. Batman & Robin ice skating with pop out skates, Batman & Robin surfing in the air, a certain Bat-Credit Card that should never be mentioned, and the whole ridiculous climax. After hopping on a whole toy commercials worth of Bat-Vehicles, Batman, Robin & Batgirl put an end to Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane. Not killing any of them for once. The Burton/Schumacher series finally ends with the Bat family dramatically running towards the screen. Except Batman & Robin is a serious insult that killed the Dark Knight for many years, only surviving as a hilariously bad Bat-Pun.

8. Batman and Robin

Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane

Preceded by: Batman Forever

Riddle Me This

Batman Forever was a strange sort of transitional period for the Caped Crusader. It’s the movie that made Batman marketable to children once again. After the overly mature tone of Batman Returns, the studio decided to drastically change the tone. Tim Burton was going to return to direct, but his gothic style didn’t exactly fit the tone they had in mind. After reading more about Tim Burton’s Batman Continues (yes, that was really the title), maybe it was for the better. Even though flamboyant director Joel Schumacher spelled the beginning of the end for the Dark Knight.

The more family friendly tone meant Batman Forever was definitely something I saw when I was a kid. It’s actually the first Batman movie released in my lifetime, but I only saw it on VHS since I was only 15 days old at the time of its release. Batman Forever strikes a balance between the dark aesthetic of Burton and the campy feel of the 1966 Adam West series. Maybe that’s why most people can’t agree whether it succeeds or not. Even if it does bring together more pieces of Batman’s legacy. Like his longtime sidekick Robin and DC villains like the Riddler and Two-Face…

5. Batman Forever

Batman tells a riddle

Batman Forever refers to Bruce Wayne’s struggle between choosing a normal life and remaining Batman forever. A deeply personal journey that’s pretty much the only dramatic part of the movie. From the very beginning you can tell we’re in for a campier ride. As soon as Batman suits up and tells Alfred he’ll get drive thru. This was the first (but far from the last) time Bruce Wayne/Batman was replaced by a different actor. Michael Keaton chose not to return due to the change in direction. Fellow A-lister Val Kilmer was cast instead. He has the range, but it’s really difficult to tell what his Batman is supposed to be. Apart from his occasional one-liners like “Chicks love the car” or meme worthy moments like smiling or giving a thumbs up. You could almost refer to him as the forgotten Batman.

Some people even forget that this was the movie that first put nipples on the Batsuit. As well as giving the costume the same black color scheme, but adding a few more exaggerations. Not that the visual style doesn’t at least standout. The Batmobile has more exposed lighting and Gotham City is more unique, if poorly rendered. But like most Batman movies, it’s the supporting characters that make the biggest impression. Michael Gough is one of only two carryovers from Tim Burton’s tenure (along with Commissioner Gordon).

Even with a campier tone, Alfred never fails to keep Bruce centered. His third love interest is an original creation named Dr. Chase Meridian. Who cheekily references Catwoman. Chase is a psychologist played by a sexually charged Nicole Kidman. Despite her profession, she fantasizes about Batman and even uses the Bat-Signal to seduce him. Until she realizes she loves Bruce Wayne more. That’s where the initial Batman forever question comes in. Complete with origin that includes his first encounter with a bat in a cave.

The campiest part of Batman Forever is mostly seen from the two main villains. Two-Face is an already established antagonist not played by Billy Dee Williams. Despite its complexity, District Attorney Harvey Dent’s comic book accurate origin is only briefly seen on TV. Instead Tommy Lee Jones gives a seriously over-the-top performance as the coin flipping dual obsessed Batman adversary. His appearance is a less graphic purple face with wild hair and a leopard printed half suit. His crazy habit of referring to himself as two people, living in a half layer, and having two sexy assistances goes a little overboard.

At least that’s what you’ll think before you realize he’s trying to match Jim Carrey’s energy. Jim Carrey was at his comedic peak playing mad inventor Edward Nygma turned Riddler. An already goofy comic book villain that Carrey makes even sillier. With a flamboyant green one piece covered in question marks. As well as his question mark cane and pensionet for leaving riddles. The Riddler and Two-Face team up with a plot to mind control Gotham using television.

In order to stop the two rogues, the Caped Crusader must learn to work with Robin the Boy Wonder. Of course played by 24 year old grown man Chris O’Donnell! He has Dick Grayson’s name & Flying Grayson’s circus origin, Jason Todd’s rebellious streak, and Tim Drake’s red, green, & yellow costume. Also unfortunately containing nipples. Dick is desperate to avenge his family’s death, but spends most of the movie acting out. Until he’s given the chance to form the Dynamic Duo.

They each hop into their toy friendly Batwing and Batboat and pursue the Riddler and Two-Face together. After a cringy “Holy Batman” joke, the Dark Knight must choose between Chase and Robin. He chooses both and once again causes the death of his enemy. As Two-Face dies, the Riddler is taken to an Arkham Asylum that we finally see. Although it can be seriously over acted with barely any darkness, Batman Forever does at least manage to generate genuinely funny and epic moments. Plus it gave us the song “Kiss from a Rose.”

6. Batman Forever

The Riddler and Two-Face steal jewels

Preceded by: Batman Returns & Followed by: Batman & Robin

A Very Gotham Christmas

Batman Returns brought the Dark Knight to his darkest extreme imaginable. To the point where the sequel wasn’t even marketable to children anymore. McDonald’s had quite the controversy making happy meal toys for the dark, violent, innuendo filled Batman flick. It wasn’t the only reason, but it’s partly why I didn’t see Batman Returns when I was a kid. My parents were mostly turned off by the darkness and we just never bought the movie on VHS. All my brother and I ever saw was enough scenes to understand what made it so edgy. However, despite the almost adult content, Batman Returns was integral in the creation of the critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series.

Batman Returns is the only sequel Tim Burton ever directed. He only agreed to return if he had greater creative control. So that’s why it features way more Burton trademarks. Like creepily designed DC characters that he drew up himself, a more unique Gotham City, setting things on Christmas, and a greater emphasis on social outcasts. After the Joker, it only made sense for the Caped Crusader to face villains that were just as iconic in his rogues gallery. Gentlemen of Crime the Penguin and Feline Fatale Catwoman…

4. Batman Returns

Catwoman seduces Batman

Batman Returns is a very direct sequel to the original 1989 Batman. It retains Burton’s gothic visuals, the iconic Danny Elfman score, the exact same Batsuit, and Michael Keaton as what many believe to be the definitive Bruce Wayne/Batman. Only this time everything inexplicably centers around Christmas. So you better believe Batman Returns is a Christmas movie. It’s one of the more memorable parts of the movie. Batman may be the title superhero, but this is actually the least amount of screentime he’s ever had. The Dark Knight only appears in 31 minutes & 15 seconds of the 2 hour & 6 minute movie. Which might have been a problem if the villains didn’t once again steal the show.

Bruce Wayne is first seen brooding before answering the call of the Bat-Signal. After suiting up in the Batcave, Batman sets out to murder a gang of evil circus performers. Yeah this is probably the most kill crazy Batman has been up to this point. I mean he literally uses the Batmobile to set someone on fire. Luckily Michael Gough’s Alfred is still around to keep up the snarky banter. Apart from Commissioner Gordon, they’re the only returning characters. Vicki Vale is explained away by an offscreen breakup.

Batman Returns is a rare superhero sequel that does well in balancing multiple villains. The most prominent villain is arguably his second greatest villain. In the comics, Penguin is best described as a Gentlemen of Crime. Who simply has a short pudgy build, hooked nose, and fancy suit that gave him the appearance of a penguin. Burton takes things far more literally. Turning the Penguin into a tormented social outcast more akin to Edward Scissorhands.

Danny DeVito couldn’t be more perfect for the role. Even if this Penguin is a disgusting, perverted, unhinged freak. His appearance is closer to a macaroni penguin with stringy hair and a deformed penguin-like body. His new origin consists of his parents abandoning him and a family of sewer penguins raising him as their own. The only comic accurate similarities are his top hat, monocle, suit, and a variety of deadly umbrellas.

But it’s really Catwoman who leaves the biggest impression. Michelle Pfeiffer delivers a purrfectly memorable performance as the “unattractive” secretary turned sexy cat burglar. Selina Kyle was practically an invisible cat lady before being literally thrown out a building. When cats revive her, she destroys her old life and becomes the far more unhinged Catwoman.

Her stitched together black latex catsuit is one of the hottest costumes Catwoman ever wore. While her acrobatics, sharp claws, and use of a whip are ripped straight out of the comics. As is her relationship with both Bruce Wayne and Batman. The Bat and the Cat are one of the most famous couples in all of DC comics. The sexual tension between Batman and Catwoman is best seen when she leans down to lick him and when Bruce and Selina dance in a ballroom.

The third villain is an original creation meant to stand in for Harvey Dent. Christopher Walken brings his trademark cookiness to evil businessman Max Shreck. He brings everyone together with a plan to build a chemical plant. He helps the Penguin run for mayor of Gotham City under his birth name Oswald Cobblepot. He’s the one who threw Selina out a window. And he’s the one who wants Batman out of the way. So the three team up with multiple agendas in mind. All of which end in betrayal.

The Penguin schemes to kill all the first born children of Gotham, then simply blow up Gotham with an army of penguins strapped with explosives. His failure ends in an overly disturbing death. Meanwhile Catwoman rejects the unmasked Batman (somehow missing eyeliner), and graphically electrocutes Shreck. All the violent deaths and a lot of sexually suggestive moments are primarily why Batman Returns was so controversial. Yet despite all the maturity, I now understand that it’s the dedicated performances and willingness to embrace the Dark Knight’s darkness that make Batman Returns a worthy follow up.

3. Batman Returns

Batman and Penguin watch Catwoman

Preceded by: Batman & Followed by: Batman Forever

The Caped Crusader

Batman revolutionized superhero blockbusters. Without it, superhero movies may never have been the serious money makers they are today. You don’t even have to be as big of a comic book fan as I am to know who Batman is. DC comics or otherwise, Batman has always been an iconic figure in pop culture. Ever since he was first created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Making his debut in Detective Comics #27 as far back as 1939. Strangely enough, I feel like I’ve always known about Batman. My parents might have introduced me to the character, but it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how young I was. I just know I owned the 1989 film on VHS.

Batman was made with the intention of bringing the Dark Knight back to his dark roots. Since most people only associated the Caped Crusader with the campy Adam West show. Which was really the only live-action Batman made at the time (apart from a few serials). So the movie drew heavily from darker comic storylines like The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke. With Superman as a template, Warner Bros. crafted a definitive take on Batman. The poster didn’t even need to show more than the iconic Bat-Symbol. Tim Burton was a perfect choice to direct due to his fascination with gothic characters. However, his choice of Michael Keaton to play Bruce Wayne/Batman was one of many controversial choices made for the movie…

1. Batman

Batman broods

Batman seems to start just like the Dark Knight’s instantly recognizable origin story, but it’s all just a clever fakeout. The mother, father, and son getting mugged are just ordinary citizens of Gotham City. It becomes apparent when the two criminals discuss a mythical bat vigilante striking fear in Gotham. Which is exactly how Batman should be described. Made even better with a Danny Elfman theme that fits. A dark figure looms in the background and makes short work of the criminals.

The batsuit deviates a bit from the comics with an all black design, gold utility belt, and rounded black & yellow symbol. His white eyes are for the first time replaced with dark eye makeup. Making for a striking image with a serious lack of neck movement. In the most badass way possible, all that needs to be said is “I’m Batman.” That’s all Michael Keaton needed to do to sell his take on the Caped Crusader. Although many A-listers were considered, Burton mainly chose Keaton for his work on Beetlejuice.

It became one of the earliest instances of superhero fan backlash. Since Keaton was known mostly for comedy at the time. Yet despite his size, Michael Keaton is an intimidating low speaking Batman that works. Equally good is his just as important take on billionaire Bruce Wayne. Who’s more reclusive and a little off. Luckily his faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth keeps him on the right path. Michael Gough was made for the role.

Batman centers around a Gotham that hasn’t yet embraced its mysterious protector. Commissioner Gordon and district attorney Harvey Dent (played by the very different Billy Dee Williams), fight to make Gotham a safer place. Meanwhile journalist Vicki Vale and original character Alexander Knox attempt to discover who Batman is. Kim Basinger may not be a redhead like in the comics, but she’s perfectly suitable as one of Batman’s many love interests. Bruce and Vicki attempt to have a relationship without his alter ego getting in the way. Of course Batman would be incomplete without his greatest foe stealing the show.

Jack Nicholson was pitch perfect casting as the Joker. A DC comics villain just as iconic as the hero he fights. Nicholson’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime is a bit closer to the “Red Hood” storyline. Only he’s first seen as a crime boss named Jack Napier. Batman inadvertently creates the Joker when he fails to save him from falling into a vat of chemicals. Which turns his skin pale white, his hair green, and leaves a permanent red smile on his face. From the laugh filled mirror scene to his shadowy entrance complete with purple hat and suit (“Wait’ll they get a load of me”), Nicholson proved he was a Joker to be feared. Even if he sometimes covers up his clown makeup.

Batman pulls out all his wonderful toys in his fight with the Joker and his goons. There’s the Batarang, Grappling Gun, Batmobile, and Batwing. The Batmobile is an awesome sleek design filled with gadgets. The Batwing is an equally awesome aircraft shaped just like his Bat-Symbol. The Batcave is just as dark and precarious as it should be. With the aid of the Batcomputer, Batman proves why he’s the World’s Greatest Detective. The Joker accurately uses a variety of gag weapons, but his biggest joke is Smylex. A disturbing toxic chemical that makes you die laughing. One of the many reasons this is the first PG-13 superhero movie.

After many confrontations, we finally discover another controversial decision. The fact that Jack Napier killed Bruce’s parents instead of Joe Chill. Since he repeats the phrase “You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.” I get why Burton did it, but I just don’t feel like Batman and the Joker need any more reason to be lifelong enemies. At least until Batman goes so far as to cause the death of the Joker. Something he’d never do today. Unlikely character decisions and Prince music aside, Batman ushered in a new wave of Batmania that kept the dark brooding Caped Crusader alive as long as his Bat-Signal shined in the night sky.

2. Batman

Batman threatens the Joker

Followed by: Batman Returns

The Island of Kryptonite

Superman Returns is aptly named. For this was truly a return for the Man of Steel on the big screen. The awful Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was enough to end the original franchise on a bad note. Leaving TV series Lois & Clark as the only live-action Superman in the 90’s. While Smallville kept Superman relevant in the early 2000’s. Yet a new Superman movie was always in the works. In fact, there were a record 5 different Superman movies we could have ended up with.

There was the more direct sequel Superman V. The bizarre sounding Superman Reborn. The infamous Tim Burton directed, Kevin Smith written, Nicolas Cage starring Superman Lives. An early 2000’s Batman vs. Superman. And finally a much more straightforward reboot titled Superman: Flyby. Each project morphed into the next, until we finally ended up with Superman Returns. The most unoriginal project of the bunch, but I finally realize that was the intention. DC had already successfully rebooted Batman the year before, so it was Superman’s turn. Even if it meant director Bryan Singer leaving his already successful superhero franchise in the dust (more on that later)…

8. Superman Returns

Superman lifts a car

Superman Returns nevertheless managed to spark excitement in me. I was 10 at the time and luckily I already saw the only Superman movies that count. The teaser had me the second I heard the iconic John Williams theme. At my age, I was hopelessly confused by this. My child brain thought that made Superman Returns a direct sequel to Superman: The Movie and Superman II. Then again, I think a lot of people were confused. Superman Returns is actually meant to be an homage to the original films. A tribute to Richard Donner and the late Christopher Reeve. Which is all well and good, but it’s just not what we wanted. Not that I didn’t enjoy Superman Returns when I first saw it.

As is tradition, another unknown actor was cast as Clark Kent/Superman. Brandon Routh fit the look of Christopher Reeve and wore the costume well. The costume is mostly the same, only with darker colors and a smaller symbol. Unfortunately, he’s not really given a lot to work with. Which is a shame considering how big Routh’s personality is (especially as another DC superhero on TV). Routh’s Superman is a bit more quiet, while his Clark Kent is more geeky than comical. Which is probably why Superman Returns dedicates a lot less time to Superman than you might think. This is the thinking man’s Superman movie. With the question of whether or not the world needs a savior like Superman.

It picks up after Superman has been gone for over 5 years. Just to make sure Krypton was actually destroyed. Followed by Kal-El crash landing in Smallville where he’s reunited with Ma Kent. Then Clark is brought back to Metropolis where his old job at the Daily Planet is waiting for him. Sam Huntington is a fine Jimmy Olsen and Frank Langella is an okay Perry White. Really the only unusual choice was Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. Especially if she’s meant to be the same as Margot Kidder. Although she has great chemistry with Routh, she was just too young to convincingly play the fearless reporter. Not to mention the fact that she’s also a mother. With a son that may or may not be Superman’s. Yet another original character was created in the form of Richard White. Perry White’s nephew and Lois’ fiancé who was approximately the third romantic other guy that James Marsden played.

On the villainous side, we have Lex Luthor for the 4th time. I know he’s Superman’s greatest enemy, but there are so many other villains to choose from. Regardless, Kevin Spacey is actually one of the better Lex Luthor’s. Along with actually being bald, he manages to be ruthless while at the same time tapping into Gene Hackman’s enthusiasm. Best shown when he screams “Wrong!” But Luthor is once again after real estate. His new diabolical plan is to create his own island using crystals from the Fortress of Solitude mixed with Kryptonite. Parker Posey acts as a replacement for Miss Tessmacher.

Actually most of Superman Returns plays out in a similar way to the original movies. With plenty of reused dialogue that’s fine for nostalgia, but feels a bit hollow the second time around. Except for Jor-El, who’s literally a CGI recreation of Marlon Brando. Seeing the movie years later, I finally realized Superman Returns feels more like a disaster movie than a superhero movie. Superman doesn’t throw a punch in the entire nearly 3 hour movie. Instead Superman rescues a plane in an epic (scientifically accurate) sequence. As well as saves a lot of people, takes a bullet in the eye, recreates the iconic Action comics #1 cover, stops multiple disasters in Metropolis, and lifts a boat out of the ocean.

Ending in a climax that’s both devastating and ridiculous. Devastating because they finally utilize the “Death of Superman” storyline. Ridiculous because Superman actually lifts a gigantic island made out of very toxic Kryptonite into space. Something that would never happen in the comics. If you just want to see Superman fight an enemy of equal or greater power, then this isn’t the movie for you. However, if you’re fine with a love letter to the old fashioned days of the Man of Tomorrow, then Superman Returns just might be worth a second chance.

9. Superman Returns

Superman leans in to kiss Lois Lane

The Quest for a Better Movie

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is one of the worst DC superhero movies ever made. Which is an unfortunate end to Christopher Reeve’s series of Superman movies. Every problem made with Superman III is somehow even worse. So I also avoided seeing Superman IV growing up. The Quest for Peace refers to Superman randomly deciding to remove all of Earth’s nuclear weapons. Everything else is either an overly 80’s exercise commercial or a cheesy metaphor for nuclear war. Maybe because the director Sidney J. Furie never directed anything notable. The film had half the budget of the originals and it shows. From the awful green screens to the constantly reused flying shots.

Despite the entire original cast being present, none of them look like they want to be there. Reeve is sadly phoning it in and Margot Kidder looks like she’s struggling in every scene. Their storyline recycles the romantic flight and Superman once again wipes Lois Lane’s mind with a kiss. Jimmy Olsen and Perry White are still there, but Mariel Hemingway steal’s Lois’ spotlight as White’s daughter Lacy. Not in the comics! Just like the equally terrible completely made up central supervillain. Gene Hackman returns as Lex Luthor, but he’s overshadowed by his also made up son Duckie (I mean Lenny). Ironically Jon Cryer would later become one of the best iterations of Lex Luthor.

Anyway, Luthor’s new plan is to steal Superman’s hair, attach it to a rocket, and somehow create a clone of the Man of Steel. Only this golden monstrosity is named Nuclear Man. He’s got a glorious mullet, scratchy claws, and the voice of Lex for some reason. Their fight is one of the worst superhero fights ever put to screen. Where Superman once again has random ridiculous superpowers that were never in the comics. Like rebuilding the Great Wall of China with his eyes or lowering people with his mind. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace did a great disservice to Superman’s legacy. But even confined to a wheelchair, Christopher Reeve remained the best actor ever to play Superman.

7. Superman IV The Quest for Peace

Superman vs. Nuclear Man

Preceded by: Superman III