Batman ranked: Keaton, Bale, Affleck and Clooney

With Ben Affleck's debut as Batman this year, he became the fifth actor to don the cape and cowl in modern cinema history. (We're not counting the Adam West era or before.)

But who wore it best? We've ranked the eight films in order of greatness, from batshit to bat-tastic, using a special algorithm devised by Lucius Fox:

8. Batman and Robin

Two words: bat nipples. Director Joel Schumacher managed the clever trick of alienating both diehard fans with his take on the classic villains AND everyone else with his toe-curling puns and the infamous Bat-credit card.

George Clooney has been openly and repeatedly scathing about his turn as Bruce Wayne – but (against all odds) it did nothing to hamper his career.

7. Batman Forever

Schumacher's two Batman films are universally considered to be the absolute nadir of the franchise, but it's important to remember this: Batman Forever –for all its faults – is nothing compared to the car-crash of Batman and Robin.

It was a significant step down from Tim Burton's films, but Val Kilmer still makes a creditable Dark Knight. Opinions vary depending on how deeply annoying you find Jim Carrey's shtick at the height of his '90s powers – dressed up in a green onesie as the demented Riddler.

Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman in Batman Begins
6. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

To be honest, it's hard to gauge how good or bad Ben Affleck really is as his grumpy old Batman against the backdrop of Zack Snyder's dreary blockbuster.

The incomprehensible dialogue (“if we believe there's even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty”, etc), the wild disregard for human life, the guns mounted everywhere – this is not the Dark Knight of our childhoods. Still, we get the vague impression that Affleck might do better under another director.

5. The Dark Knight Rises

While still a solidly entertaining film, Christopher Nolan's third and final Batman outing turned out to be the weakest of the trilogy.

It nicely wraps up the story of Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne, but we had to wade through some weird flights of fancy to get there – nuclear bombs, a Gotham cut off from the outside world, Bruce's ability to teleport back from that strange desert prison, and Tom Hardy's Stephen-Fry-talking-into-a-yoghurt-pot accent.

4. Batman

Fans were famously unimpressed when Michael Keaton was announced as their new Batman. With the benefit of hindsight, we can sit back and gently mock their lack of vision, knowing that Tim Burton's darkly psychedelic Gotham would kick off a craze for the Caped Crusader on film.

The 1989 classic has to be the most quotable Batman movie of all, and Jack Nicholson was an inspired choice for the creepy, grinning Joker.

3. The Dark Knight

What? No top two spot for Nolan's much-loved middle-of-the-trilogy movie?

Heath Ledger was undeniably an inspired choice for the film as the Joker, but he had to fight against Aaron Eckhart's much weaker Two-Face, a messy third act and Bale's increasingly comedic growl. It was great, but it couldn't quite measure up to…

2. Batman Begins

The Nolan/Bale debut. It lacked the power of Ledger's terrifying performance, but ends up a much more balanced film, combining a new serious tone with a hint of Burton aesthetic (before Nolan started pretending that his films weren't superhero comic book adaptations).

Drawing heavily from Frank Miller's classic Batman: Year One, Begins is the most satisfying (and least lengthy) entry in the Dark Knight trilogy – and the best Batman origin film we could ask for.

1. Batman Returns

One of Burton's greatest films full-stop, Batman Begins builds on everything he did in the first film and hits the perfect balance between colourful comic book action and genuine darkness.

What can we do but list everything we love? Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman. Keaton truly coming into his own as Batman. Danny DeVito's brilliantly bizarre Penguin. Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman. It's just magic.​