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How to watch the Batman movies in order

A chronological guide to eight decades of Caped Crusader movies

Batman movies
(Image: © Warner Bros.)

Who is the Batman? The Caped Crusader has been reinvented so many times over the years that nobody really knows for sure. 

Far from being a character flaw, however, Batman's adaptability is one of the main reasons he’s endured for more than 80 years. Few other major superheroes have the range to be portrayed as dark, moody loners, one minute, wisecracking teamplayers the next. Over his long crime-fighting career, the Dark Knight has done it all.

The many Batman movies have been as eclectic as the character himself, from the gritty realism of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, to the high-camp of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. The Bat franchise has also been rebooted on a regular basis – he's as durable as James Bond – with each take on the character giving Gotham’s most famous son a thorough makeover. The latest, The Batman, arrives in June 2021, with Robert Pattinson donning the famous cowl.

But where to start your viewing? We take a trip to the mean streets of Gotham, working our way through the Caped Crusader’s glittering cinematic career to reveal how to watch Batman movies in order.

Batman movies in release date order

  • Batman (1943)
  • Batman and Robin (1949)
  • Batman: The Movie (1966)
  • Batman (1989)
  • Batman Returns (1992)
  • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
  • Batman Forever (1995)
  • Batman & Robin (1997)
  • Batman Begins (2005)
  • The Dark Knight (2008)
  • The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
  • Suicide Squad (2016)
  • The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
  • Justice League (2017)
  • Joker (2019)
  • The Batman (2021)

Above you'll find all of the Batman movies released theatrically in the decades since the character's creation. 

Beyond the big Bat franchises, Bruce Wayne and his crime-fighting alter-ego have made numerous other big screen appearances – starting in the 1940s, when a serialized detective drama was made to cash in on the newfound popularity of a character who had made his comic book debut in 1939. Lewis Wilson played the title role in 1943’s Batman, with Robert Lowery taking over for 1949’s Batman and Robin.

The Caped Crusader’s next big-screen appearance came in 1966, when Hollywood decided to capitalize on the Biff!/Kapow! success of the tongue-in-cheek Adam West TV show. It’s a movie with plenty of villains, and also the origin of the iconic Shark Repellent Batspray – a crucial item in the bat-arsenal that would be absent from the big screen until The Lego Batman Movie in 2017.

The Caped Crusader has also been a big player in the world of animation, headlining a pair of big-screen cartoons. The excellent Mask of the Phantasm took the critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series to the cinema, while nearly a quarter of a century later, The Lego Batman Movie made life in Gotham look more fun that it had been at any time since the 1960s.

Batman was also a supporting player in The Lego Movie and The Lego Movie 2, and made a brief appearance in the critically acclaimed Joker – albeit as a pre-Caped Crusader Bruce Wayne, forced to endure the loss of his parents (yet again). Batman’s also referenced elsewhere in the DC Extended Universe in Shazam!, Harley Quinn, Birds of Prey, and – though he’s not seen on screen in Wonder Woman – it’s Bruce Wayne who sends Diana the photo that prompts her to flashback to the events of World War I. 

In other words, the Bat is everywhere…

Batman movies in chronological order

(Image credit: Warner Bros/DC Entertainment)

When it comes to cinematic reboots, no other superhero can compete with Batman – with Robert Pattinson’s 2021 debut in the cowl kicking off the Caped Crusader’s fourth big-screen continuity, even cinematic mainstays Superman and Spider-Man are languishing way behind.

Given Bats’ enduring popularity, it’s remarkable that Hollywood didn’t give him a major movie franchise before 1989, when director Tim Burton pitted Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne against Jack Nicholson’s scenery-chewing Joker. It became the second highest-grossing film of that year, so a sequel was inevitable – but nobody expected what Burton, given remarkable levels of creative freedom, would deliver. 

The darker, weirder Batman Returns is one of the most wilfully, wonderfully bizarre superhero movies ever made. Unfortunately, that meant that it made considerably less at the box office than its predecessor, and prompted Warner Bros to go much more mainstream when it went back to Gotham.

Batman Forever saw Joel Schumacher taking over behind the camera, with Val Kilmer donning the cape. Despite being a commercial success, this silly, neon-drenched threequel was rather less popular with critics – though worse was to come… 

Two years later, Batman & Robin all-but-killed the franchise with a movie that regularly features in “worst ever” lists, and made sure that George Clooney (the then-ER star tasked with taking over from Kilmer in the Batsuit) had an inauspicious start to his career as an A-lister.

An eight-year absence from the big screen followed, despite various abandoned efforts at a Bat-reboot – Darren Aronofsky worked with Frank Miller on an adaptation of the Year One comic, while Das Boot/Air Force One director Wolfgang Petersen was linked to a Batman v Superman project. 

Gotham City’s saviour came in the unlikely form of Christopher Nolan, a young director who’d made his name with backwards thriller Memento, and had a gritty, realistic vision for the Caped Crusader. Starting with Batman Begins, the Christian Bale-starring Dark Knight trilogy remains one of the high points in the history of superhero movies, with action sequences to die for and genuine moral complexity.

Sadly for rights-holders Warner Bros, Nolan’s story was always going to be a three-movie deal, so Batman was going to require another reboot after 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. It ultimately came as part of DC’s efforts to take on the all-conquering Marvel Cinematic Universe – though this time, Bats wouldn’t be the only headline attraction.

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

A sequel to 2013 Superman reboot Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice set out to spontaneously kickstart an MCU-style shared universe – The Avengers in an instant. Zack Snyder's dour movie missed the mark somewhat. With Ben Affleck assuming the mantle of an older, nastier Batman unafraid to break the character’s cardinal rule about killing, this incarnation was a hard one to love, so it was a mild relief when he lightened up for his appearances in Suicide Squad (essentially a glorified cameo) and Justice League. Sadly, both of those movies were dreadful. 

This Batman was all set to headline his own movie, with Affleck attached to write and direct, but after the star decided to leave the project, Gotham’s most famous son was once again in limbo. Matt Reeves, director of Cloverfield and Dawn of/War for the Planet of the Apes, took the helm of The Batman, and cast Robert Pattinson as his Bruce Wayne/Batman. The Batman will pit the Caped Crusader against a rogues’ gallery of classic Bat-foes, including Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), Riddler (Paul Dano) and Penguin (Colin Farrell) in a movie set to debut in June 2021.

And before you ask, no, frustratingly there is absolutely zero continuity between these various Bat-franchises. Instead, we've broken them down into eras for you to digest.

The Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher era

  • Batman (1989)
  • Batman Returns (1992)
  • Batman Forever (1995)
  • Batman & Robin (1997)

The Dark Knight trilogy

  • Batman Begins (2005)
  • The Dark Knight (2008)
  • The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

DC Extended Universe

  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
  • Suicide Squad (2016)
  • Justice League (2017)

Batman reboot (Robert Pattinson)

  • The Batman (2021)

Best Batman movies: ranking the film

Seeing as Batman’s cinema appearances have been spread over nearly 80 years, it’s no surprise there’s been a massive range of style and tone. But few franchises in history – even James Bond – have had such a large variation in quality. 

Ranking the Batman theatrical releases by IMDb user ratings, it’s no surprise to see Christopher Nolan’s majestic The Dark Knight at the top of the tree, closely followed by the critically adored Joker – it may not technically be a Batman movie, but it’s definitely a film spawned from Bruce Wayne’s crime-ridden world. It’s interesting to note that both of those films feature an Oscar-winning performance from an actor playing the Joker – Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight and Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, respectively.

It was also inevitable that the risible Batman & Robin should be the film propping up the table – it saw significantly more action at anti-Oscars the Razzies than it did at the Academy Awards.

Direct to video/TV animated Batman movies

As befits a billionaire playboy with money to burn, Batman was never going to be satisfied with only conquering the big screen. Subsequently, the Caped Crusader has appeared in numerous animated direct-to-video/TV movies over the course of his eventful lifetime.

His earlier feature-length animated outings were spin-offs from popular TV cartoon series – as sequels to Mask of the Phantasm, Batman and Mr Freeze: SubZero and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman were effectively spin-offs from the acclaimed Batman: The Original Series/The New Batman Adventures. Meanwhile, Return of the Joker was based in the universe of the future-set Batman Beyond, and the genre mashing The Batman vs Dracula was part of the ’00s The Batman TV show.

However, it's over the last decade that Batman has become particularly active on the animated movie front, as Warner Bros has rolled out its successful line of DC Universe Animated Original Movies. Indeed, some have been such a big deal that they’ve been given one-night-only cinematic releases to tie in with their debut on home entertainment formats.

While many of these films have been based on original stories or set in DC’s Animated Movie Universe, the line has been most notable for bringing classic standalone stories from the Batman comic books (such as Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke) to the screen.

The Caped Crusaders’s feature-length offering is rounded off with a pair of animated stories set in the universe of the ’60s TV series (these include the late Adam West’s last outing in the role, and his Batman’s first encounter with Two-Face); the Japanese-made Batman Ninja; and unlikely team-ups with Scooby-Doo and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Batman: The Animated Series/The New Batman Adventures

  • Batman and Mr Freeze: SubZero (1998)
  • Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003)

Batman Beyond

  • Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)

The Batman

  • The Batman vs Dracula (2005)

DC Universe Animated Original Movies

  • Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)
  • Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
  • Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
  • Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)
  • Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
  • Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)
  • Batman: Year One (2011)
  • Justice League: Doom (2012)
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (2012)
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 (2013)
  • Justice League: Paradox (2013)
  • Justice League: War (2014)
  • Son of Batman (2014)
  • Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)
  • Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015)
  • Batman vs Robin (2015)
  • Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015)
  • Batman: Bad Blood (2016)
  • Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)
  • Batman and Harley Quinn (2017)
  • Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018)
  • Justice League vs the Fatal Five (2019)
  • Batman: Hush (2019)

Batman 66

  • Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)
  • Batman vs Two-Face (2017)

Japanese-made movie

  • Batman Ninja (2018)

Cartoon spin-offs

  • Scooby-Doo! & Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2018)
  • Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019)