When I typed “Batman” into the search bar on redbox.com, can you guess how many titles came back?
Surely not more than forty… ?
Yes. Yes, it was.
It was fifty. FIFTY different ways to get your Batman/Bruce Wayne on at Redbox in live-action, movie, TV or animated form. That’s how you know a character’s a pop-culture OG.
Focusing solely on the film version of Batman over the last 35 years, if you list off everyone who’s played him, it reads like a who’s who of Hollywood actors: Val Kilmer. George Clooney. Michael Keaton. Ben Affleck. Christian Bale. And now, Robert Pattinson. Granted, some portrayed the caped crusader more successfully than others, but each actor left his own mark that helped to evolve the character and the mythology of Gotham City.
First we had Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). While comic fans ended up loving these films, there was initially an uproar because at that time audiences only knew Keaton from goofy comedies like Mr. Mom. His turn as the masked vigilante changed all that. And with other heavyweights like Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito and Billy Dee Williams across the two casts, the franchise was off to a strong start. Plus, um, who can forget Prince’s BATDANCE?!?
While Keaton could’ve continued in the role, he chose to move on, and Val Kilmer was next in line with director Joel Schumacher at the helm of Batman Forever in 1995. Kilmer had been a huge Batman fan his whole life, so that bought him cred with skeptical audiences. However, despite casting Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones as villains, Nicole Kidman as Bruce Wayne’s love interest and introducing Chris O’Donnell as Robin, the film couldn’t win over critics, who felt there was just too much going on.
Little did they know that in 1997, they would come to hate the fourth installment of the franchise even more. Schumacher was once again directing, but since Kilmer had scheduling conflicts, George Clooney took on the role of Batman, with O’Donnell returning as his trusty sidekick in Batman & Robin. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman and Alicia Silverstone filled out the cast, but nothing could save this movie thanks to its overall goofiness and Clooney’s lack of fit with the role. It’s the lowest-rated Batman movie at just 12% on Rotten Tomatoes.
But as Harvey Dent once said in a totally different context and with a totally different meaning, “the night is darkest before the dawn.” Thankfully, Batman & Robin didn’t end the franchise. Christopher Nolan rebooted it starting in 2005 in with his masterful trilogy of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, with Christian Bale on board as Wayne/Batman. And I of course can’t mention this trilogy without a nod to Heath Ledger’s extraordinary turn as the Joker, which won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar posthumously.
Then Batman’s journey got … a little weird. More than a decade after Bale made the role his, Ben Affleck stepped into the caped crusader’s boots in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and 2017’s Justice League. This Batman was supposed to be aging and world-weary and beaten down … and looking to pass on the world-saving reins to his fellow superhumans. But while most critics and fans actually liked Affleck’s performance, they panned the films as a whole.
Now something pretty unique has happened. The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) will continue on with dozens more movies in the works based off of DC Comics, but Batman is nowhere to be found in them, even though other members of the Justice League like Aquaman, The Flash and Wonder Woman have their own films.
Instead, DC has rebooted Batman once again, this time with Matt Reeves directing and Robert Pattinson as a more detective-leaning lead in The Batman. It’s the first in another planned trilogy that exists in a world separate from the rest of the DCEU. With Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman, Paul Dano as Riddler and Colin Farrell as Penguin—among many other stars in the cast—the movie came swinging out of the gate and is now the top-grossing film of 2022 so far. While I got a kick out of this Dr. Manhattan (The Watchmen) meme that pokes fun at the franchise’s increasingly gloomy tone and increasingly dark look (literally), I think The Batman’s been so successful because it’s meeting the mood of the moment, you know?
What’s been your favorite Batman movie so far?
The Batman is available to stream through Redbox On Demand starting April 18, and will be available to rent at the Kiosk soon.