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’90s Batman films, ranked

What are the best ‘Batman’ films of the 1990s?

This is one of my favorite film franchises just due to the sheer fun campy nature of it all. The caped crusader series that took place from 1989 to 1997 was an interesting look at extreme camp vs brooding grit. Different folks have their own opinions as to which works better for a superhero film. I tend to lean towards a campier tone just because I really like the wild extravagance, especially when it comes to the villains. Of these four films, there’s one film that takes the cheesiness too far, one that doesn’t take it far enough, and two that blend a satisfying mixture of the two.

1. Batman Returns

'90s Batman films, ranked

The best out of these four Batman films is the second, if you ask me. The script, cast, characters, and effects are all very crisp and high quality. There’s an appropriate amount of emphasis on both the villains and Batman himself and the villains in this film are just more well realized than others in the series.

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Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman/Selena Kyle is extremely impressive. Her performance as Selena is grounded and interesting and her performance as Catwoman is deliciously campy and exciting. And Danny DeVito was born to play the role of The Penguin! He really is a perfect embodiment of the maniacal repulsive villain and his performance is a memorable one. I’d even go as far to say that he gives the best male villain performance of these four films.

Also, the action sequences and special effects are all done well and prove to be exciting. This sequel is more fun and campy than the first film and more serious than numbers three and four, which makes it a satisfying hybrid of the two diverging styles.

2. Batman Forever

'90s Batman films, ranked

This 1995 Joel Scheumacher Batman film is definitely a lot better liked than his 1997 film, Batman & Robin, which has of course been a big target of mockery over the years. Even though this didn’t receive as much flack as it’s successor, this is still a polarizing film in the court of public opinion.

This film went in a very different direction than the Burton films. Gotham became bright and colorful and the tone became a good bit lighter. I actually have always really enjoyed this film and I think both Schumaucher and the cast brought a lot to this. Gotham really is like a colorful imaginative comic book come to life and the cast of Kilmer, Kidman, O’Donnell, Carrey, and Jones all do their best to make this pop. The script provides us with a lot of fun sequences plus some dramatic content in the form of Chris O’Donnell’s Robin and how he comes to team up with Batman.

Side note: I have a nostalgic feeling about Chris playing Robin in this since it was really my first big celebrity crush – and I can’t be alone in that! Now it is true that the villains in this aren’t quite as good as others but they do their best and the films other positive qualities make up for most of it.

3. Batman

'90s Batman films, ranked

Most folks would probably rank this first 1989 film as the best but I take a different approach. This is undeniably a well constructed film that does satisfy on multiple levels, but to me it also stops short on several. The cast’s performances and the ending are my two favorite aspects of this.

Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, and Michael Keaton are a great threesome that lead us through this film well. Nicholson gives a forceful and wild performance as The Joker that’s fitting for the role. Basinger is a very nice fit as Batman’s one film love interest Vicki Vale. The script does a pretty good job of laying out a backstory and a mostly satisfying first outing for this franchise. And the ending has that epic feeling that a live action comic book like this should have.

My reasoning for enjoying this film less than the 1992 and 1995 films is because this one just isn’t as fun or striking to me. I think there were some missed opportunities here and there to make this a little more fun. I think this is a very solid superhero film overall but just not as enjoyable as the previous two in my view.

4. Batman & Robin

'90s Batman films, ranked

I’ve actually done a full separate review of this infamous 1997 film and the score I gave it is higher than most critics. I have eyes and ears so yes, I of course see the numerable mistakes made here and the ridiculous nature of many scenes. This is definitely flawed and a lot of the flaws are pretty easy fixes BUT with all that said, I’d be lying if I said I don’t get a certain level of enjoyment out of this way over the top camp-fest.

In my opinion, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy is the best aspect of this whole thing. Thurman is a good fit for the role and delivers a fun double entendre filled performance. There’s also a number of fun sequences that work on their own and I do appreciate some of the visuals, Ivy’s plant filled lair in particular. Some of the costumes are very creative as well.

What lands this on the bottom of the list is a script jam packed with bad lines, several poor performances, and a few notably weak action sequences. Schwarzenegger was a very bad choice for Mr. Freeze and delivers a weak performance and dear god, Alicia Silverstone is EXCEPTIONALLY bad as Batgirl. It’s true that the script really gave them nothing but hey Uma Thurman didn’t have much to work with and she still delivered a fun performance.

So yes, this is the weakest link of the four and contains a litany of mistakes – but I do still watch it for fun from time to time! This is one of my guilty pleasures I suppose!

Batman has been my favorite superhero film franchise ever since I was a kid and that has not changed. I still go back and revisit these films from time to time! Something I’ve always liked about these four caped crusader films in particular is that for the most part, a couple scenes aside, they’re fun treats for the whole family. And while they’re (mostly) family friendly, they’re also not so much so that it becomes a kids TV series, there’s a nice middle-ground.

Oh and word to the wise: if you think Batman & Robin was cheesy, don’t even attempt to watch the ORIGINAL 1966 Adam West film. Even I who loves camp can’t get through that!

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