(Photo by Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection.)
All Joel Schumacher Movies, Ranked by Tomatometer
Your typical journeyman director deep in the studio system will make movies across plenty of genres, on-time and under-budget, foster some lasting professional relationships, and never make a name for themselves beyond to the most ardent, specific film buffs. Yes, Joel Schumacher worked across multiple genres without a thematic throughline, with studios and actors quick to praise his behind-the-scenes professionalism, but the director also brought enough verve and dynamic color to his films that Schumacher’s name, at his creative peak, did become a kind of brand. A calling card of big Hollywood entertainment with style to separate from the rest. This began in earnest in 1987 with the Brat Pack-adjacent The Lost Boys, the stylish horror/comedy that pulled vampires out of cliff-nested castles and into teen parties and suburbia, a popular concept still seen in the likes of True Blood and Twilight. Having made Kiefer Sutherland a star, Schumacher worked with him again on his next film, Flatliners.
Schumacher entered his most commercially viable period in the ’90s, starting with 1993’s Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas on a particularly bad Los Angeles day, in a film that has been latched onto as a manifesto of urban rage still discussed and referenced now. Schumacher took the reins for 1995’s Batman Forever after Tim Burton and Michael Keaton left the blockbuster franchise. Some inspired casting (Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne, Jim Carrey as The Riddler, and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face), plenty of wild art direction, a brash soundtrack, and just a touch of camp turned the movie into pop-culture phenomenon. A year later, Schumacher released A Time To Kill at a time when anything Grisham, Crichton, and Clancy was being adapted and making a mint at the box office. (Schumacher had previously turned Grisham’s The Client into a movie.)
Then came the disastrous Batman & Robin, which killed the franchise for nearly a decade. Schumacher took full ownership for the movie’s failure, claiming that he had steered too far towards what marketing and merchandising wanted out of a Batman joint. A public bomb of this proportion could’ve been a career-ender, but his workmanship and a steady line of stars willing to collaborate time and again meant the next Schumacher film was never far off. He worked twice with Colin Farrell, first in 2000’s Tigerland, which introduced the actor to American audiences, and then in 2003’s Phone Booth, which made Farrell a star. Sutherland, back in the saddle, played the villain. Schumacher can be credited with helping launch Gerard Butler’s career in full, when he cast him as lead in 2005’s The Phantom of the Opera. In 2007, Schumacher worked again with Carrey for psychological thriller The Number 23. His final film was 2011’s Trespass, reuniting him with 8MM‘s Nicolas Cage and Batman Forever‘s Nicole Kidman.
We celebrate his life and career with our guide to every Joel Schumacher film, by Tomatometer.
Critics Consensus:The Client may not reinvent the tenets of the legal drama, but Joel Schumacher's sturdy directorial hand and a high-caliber cast bring John Grisham's page-turner to life with engrossing suspense.
Synopsis: Fast-paced thriller, based on the John Grisham bestseller, about a boy whose life is endangered after he stumbles across vital... [More]
Critics Consensus: Flawed but eminently watchable, Joel Schumacher's teen vampire thriller blends horror, humor, and plenty of visual style with standout performances from a cast full of young 1980s stars.
Synopsis: Teenage brothers Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) move with their mother (Dianne Wiest) to a small town in... [More]
Critics Consensus: The music of the night has hit something of a sour note: Critics are calling the screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular musical histrionic, boring, and lacking in both romance and danger. Still, some have praised the film for its sheer spectacle.
Synopsis: From his hideout beneath a 19th century Paris opera house, the brooding Phantom (Gerard Butler) schemes to get closer to... [More]
Critics Consensus: Jim Carrey has been sharp in a number of non-comedic roles, but this lurid, overheated, and self-serious potboiler is not one of them. The Number 23 is clumsy, unengaging, and mostly confusing.
Synopsis: A man's (Jim Carrey) discovery of an obscure book about the number 23 leads him on a descent into darkness.... [More]
(Photo by 20th Century Fox. Thumbnail: Netflix/courtesy Everett Collection.)
The Worst Superhero Movies of All Time
Great leaping tomatoes! It’s the worst superhero movies ever, an infamous league of Rotten films that scored less than 30% on the Tomatometer!
First off, to keep this list spandex-tight, not only did we include superhero movies below 30%, but each had to have at least 20 reviews, guaranteeing enough critics witnessed of these erratic efforts, franchise non-starters, and would-be blockbusters.
After looking through the list, if you’re wondering why you didn’t see the 1990 Captain America movie, a bunch of those sequels to The Crow, or Dolph Lundgren’s The Punisher, they were cut out by not accumulating at least 20 critics reviews. But, don’t worry, still plenty of room for Frank in this castle of decrepitude, as the other two Punisher movies, the Thomas Jane one and War Zone, are represented. In fact, they both even currently have the same score at 29%, just squeezing into the list. And while most Audience Scores are in the same realm as its movie’s Tomatometer, there’s a divergence on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Dark Phoenix: Both Rotten movies according to the critics, but which settled above 60% on the Audience Score.
Nic Cage appears twice on this list because they made two Ghost Rider movies. Ryan Reynolds also shows up twice but in two separate franchises, mucking it up in both houses of Marvel and DC via Blade: Trinity and Green Lantern. And because who doesn’t like a comic book showdown, in the battle of Marvel vs DC over who’s made the most worst superhero movies, Marvel is “triumphant” with 10 listings, and DC at 9. We didn’t count The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the movie so bad it made Sean Connery quit acting, because though it was at the time produced at an imprint of an imprint of DC Comics (it’s imprint-ception, people), the comic was always wholly owned by its creator Alan Moore.
Of course, let’s not count out other labels making special appearances, like 2000 A.D. (Judge Dredd) or Image (Spawn). Then there’s the magic that happens when when Hollywood executives come together to create something that didn’t come from a comic book, with sparkling results like Tim Allen’s Zoom, an adaptation of TV cartoon Underdog, and the toy-based Max Steel.
One last thing: For movies with the same Tomatometer scores, whichever had more reviews was placed higher. Now, come take a flying leap as we rank the worst superhero movies of all time!
Critics Consensus:Suicide Squad boasts a talented cast and a little more humor than previous DCEU efforts, but they aren't enough to save the disappointing end result from a muddled plot, thinly written characters, and choppy directing.
Synopsis: Figuring they're all expendable, a U.S. intelligence officer decides to assemble a team of dangerous, incarcerated supervillains for a top-secret... [More]
Critics Consensus: Neither entertaining enough to recommend nor remarkably awful, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may bear the distinction of being the dullest movie ever made about talking bipedal reptiles.
Synopsis: Spawned from a lab experiment gone awry, teenage terrapins Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael live in the sewers beneath New... [More]
Critics Consensus: With a weak script, uneven CG work, and a Nic Cage performance so predictably loony it's no longer amusing, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance aims to be trashy fun but ends up as plain trash.
Synopsis: Now hiding out in Eastern Europe, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is still struggling with the curse of the Ghost Rider... [More]
(Photo by Fox. Thumbnail: WB/courtesy Everett Collection)
Every ’90s Blockbuster Movie Ranked
Thirty years on, the 1990s has solidified its stature as one of the magical decades in filmmaking, much like how we view the ’30s and the ’70s. Precisely, this Gen X-decade pulled together the Hollywood studio power of the ’30s and the groundbreaking creativity of the ’70s, crocheting commercialism and art into the movie behemoths we speak of in legend as the ’90s blockbuster — which we’ve now ranked all by Tomatometer!
First off, in putting together this list, we didn’t want no scrubs: We defined the ’90s blockbuster as any film that made over $100 million at the box office — movies that had people literally lining up around the block to spend their easy-earned cash. (The economy was booming after all.) This, of course, ushers in all those films synonymous with ’90s blockbusterism, including Jurassic Park, Speed, Twister, Independence Day, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Phantom Menace, Armageddon, Wild wild West, and Batmans with three different guys.
But the ’90s blockbuster was more than just fast buses, exploding White Houses, and bat nipples. Audiences opened up wallets and handbags (they’re European!) on brazen independent films (Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, The Blair Witch Project), big comedies (Sister Act, The Nutty Professor, The Waterboy, Dumb & Dumber, The Birdcage), and romances both funny and dramatic (Pretty Woman, Shakespeare in Love, Jerry Maguire, Ghost).
It was the era of the Disney renaissance (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King), special-effects breakthroughs (Toy Story, Total Recall, The Matrix), and where the most popular movies of the year could reasonably expect a Best Picture statue come next February (Unforgiven, Titanic, Dances With Wolves). A scintillating ’90s blockbuster can transport us to that moment before cinematic universes, before CGI overload, and before ubiquitous cell phones and Internet; today, Lloyd Christmas can just DM Mary Samsonite and say “Hey, I have your briefcase :)” if he weren’t still illiterate.
Now, relive the rush of the decade without the searing sting of slap bracelets, or shotgunning Fruitopia, with our guide to every ’90s blockbuster ranked by Tomatometer!
Critics Consensus: Lovely to look at but about as intelligent as the asteroid that serves as the movie's antagonist, Armageddon slickly sums up the cinematic legacies of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay.
Synopsis: When an asteroid threatens to collide with Earth, NASA honcho Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) determines the only way to... [More]
Critics Consensus:Doctor Dolittle finds some mirth in the novelty of wisecracking critters, but this family feature's treacly tone is made queasy by a reliance on scatological gags that undercut the intended warmth.
Synopsis: After a fender bender, Dr. John Dolittle (Eddie Murphy) gets back his childhood ability to converse with animals. But the... [More]
Critics Consensus:The Lost World demonstrates how far CG effects have come in the four years since Jurassic Park; unfortunately, it also proves how difficult it can be to put together a truly compelling sequel.
Synopsis: John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) summons chaos theorist Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to his home with some startling information -- while... [More]
Critics Consensus: Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington are a compelling team in the overlong Pelican Brief, a pulpy thriller that doesn't quite justify the intellectual remove of Alan J. Pakula's direction.
Synopsis: Taut thriller about a young law student whose legal brief about the assassination of two Supreme Court justices causes her... [More]
Critics Consensus:Die Hard with a Vengeance benefits from Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson's barbed interplay, but clatters to a bombastic finish in a vain effort to cover for an overall lack of fresh ideas.
Synopsis: Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is now divorced, alcoholic and jobless after getting fired for his reckless behavior and bad... [More]
Critics Consensus: Despite lacking some of the book's subtler shadings, and suffering from some clumsy casting, Interview with a Vampire benefits from Neil Jordan's atmospheric direction and a surfeit of gothic thrills.
Synopsis: Born as an 18th-century lord, Louis is now a bicentennial vampire, telling his story to an eager biographer. Suicidal after... [More]
Critics Consensus:Contact elucidates stirring scientific concepts and theological inquiry at the expense of satisfying storytelling, making for a brainy blockbuster that engages with its ideas, if not its characters.
Synopsis: In this Zemeckis-directed adaptation of the Carl Sagan novel, Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) races to interpret a possible message... [More]
Critics Consensus: It lacks the fresh thrills of its predecessor, but Die Hard 2 still works as an over-the-top -- and reasonably taut -- big-budget sequel, with plenty of set pieces to paper over the plot deficiencies.
Synopsis: A year after his heroics in L.A, detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is mixed up in another terrorist plot, this... [More]
Critics Consensus: Disney's take on the Victor Hugo classic is dramatically uneven, but its strong visuals, dark themes, and message of tolerance make for a more-sophisticated-than-average children's film.
Synopsis: An animated Disney adventure follows disfigured Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), the bell-ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral, who bides his time locked... [More]
Critics Consensus: If it doesn't reach the heights of director James Cameron's and star Arnold Schwarzenegger's previous collaborations, True Lies still packs enough action and humor into its sometimes absurd plot to entertain.
Synopsis: Secretly a spy but thought by his family to be a dull salesman, Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is tracking down... [More]
Critics Consensus: Director Tim Burton's dark, brooding atmosphere, Michael Keaton's work as the tormented hero, and the flawless casting of Danny DeVito as The Penguin and Christopher Walken as, well, Christopher Walken make the sequel better than the first.
Synopsis: The monstrous Penguin (Danny DeVito), who lives in the sewers beneath Gotham, joins up with wicked shock-headed businessman Max Shreck... [More]
Critics Consensus: Anchored by dazzling performances from Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Renée Zellweger, as well as Cameron Crowe's tender direction, Jerry Maguire meshes romance and sports with panache.
Synopsis: When slick sports agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) has a crisis of conscience, he pens a heartfelt company-wide memo that... [More]
Critics Consensus: An old-fashioned courtroom drama with a contemporary edge, A Few Good Men succeeds on the strength of its stars, with Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, and especially Jack Nicholson delivering powerful performances that more than compensate for the predictable plot.
Synopsis: Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is a military lawyer defending two U.S. Marines charged with killing a fellow Marine at... [More]
Critics Consensus:Dances with Wolves suffers from a simplistic view of the culture it attempts to honor, but the end result remains a stirring western whose noble intentions are often matched by its epic grandeur.
Synopsis: A Civil War soldier develops a relationship with a band of Lakota Indians. Attracted by the simplicity of their lifestyle,... [More]
Critics Consensus: Full of creepy campfire scares, mock-doc The Blair Witch Project keeps audiences in the dark about its titular villain, proving once more that imagination can be as scary as anything onscreen.
Synopsis: Found video footage tells the tale of three film students (Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael C. Williams) who've traveled to... [More]
Critics Consensus: T2 features thrilling action sequences and eye-popping visual effects, but what takes this sci-fi/ action landmark to the next level is the depth of the human (and cyborg) characters.
Synopsis: In this sequel set eleven years after "The Terminator," young John Connor (Edward Furlong), the key to civilization's victory over... [More]
Critics Consensus: A funny, tender, and thought-provoking film, The Truman Show is all the more noteworthy for its remarkably prescient vision of runaway celebrity culture and a nation with an insatiable thirst for the private details of ordinary lives.
Synopsis: He doesn't know it, but everything in Truman Burbank's (Jim Carrey) life is part of a massive TV set. Executive... [More]
Critics Consensus: A straightforward thriller of the highest order, In the Line of Fire benefits from Wolfgang Peterson's taut direction and charismatic performances from Clint Eastwood and John Malkovich.
Synopsis: A Secret Service agent is taunted by calls from a would-be killer who has detailed information about the agent -... [More]
Critics Consensus: Director Jonathan Demme's smart, taut thriller teeters on the edge between psychological study and all-out horror, and benefits greatly from stellar performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster.
Synopsis: Jodie Foster stars as Clarice Starling, a top student at the FBI's training academy. Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) wants Clarice... [More]
Critics Consensus: As both director and star, Clint Eastwood strips away decades of Hollywood varnish applied to the Wild West, and emerges with a series of harshly eloquent statements about the nature of violence.
Synopsis: When prostitute Delilah Fitzgerald (Anna Thomson) is disfigured by a pair of cowboys in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, her fellow brothel... [More]
Critics Consensus: It follows a predictable narrative arc, but Good Will Hunting adds enough quirks to the journey -- and is loaded with enough powerful performances -- that it remains an entertaining, emotionally rich drama.
Synopsis: Will Hunting (Matt Damon) has a genius-level IQ but chooses to work as a janitor at MIT. When he solves... [More]
Critics Consensus: The rare sequel that arguably improves on its predecessor, Toy Story 2 uses inventive storytelling, gorgeous animation, and a talented cast to deliver another rich moviegoing experience for all ages.
Synopsis: Woody (Tom Hanks) is stolen from his home by toy dealer Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight), leaving Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen)... [More]
(Photo by DreamWorks Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)
All George Clooney Movies Ranked
Having the #1 TV show to fall back on when starting a movie career was a good thing for George Clooney, especially when he was alternately starring in groovy, off-beat genre flicks (From Dusk till Dawn, Out of Sight) and helping destroy a comic book franchise (Batman & Robin). But by 1999, Clooney was ready to cut the cord on ER, paving the way for immediate movie breakthroughs in comedy (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), blockbusters (Ocean’s Eleven), and even as a director himself, with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which we’re including on this list because he also stars.
As seen beginning with Confessions, the cross-section of politics and media would be a driving concern for Clooney’s acting choices, such as Syriana, Michael Clayton, The Ides of March, Money Monster, and Good Night, and Good Luck. Yet he also switches to the broad buffoon with ease, especially with the Coen brothers, as in O Brother, Burn After Reading, and Hail, Caesar!. Somewhere in between this Bawdy George and Serious George, you’ll find material that has drawn Clooney some of his highest marks: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up In the Air, and The Descendants, the latter two for which he was Best Actor Oscar-nominated.
Up until directing himself in 2020’s The Midnight Sky, Clooney hadn’t appeared in a narrative feature since 2016. Meanwhile, he got top billing in Grizzly II: Revenge, a film shot in 1983 that wasn’t completed and released until 2021. Will the movie finally restore Clooney’s rightful original career path as horror movie maven? We’ll just have to wait an see — until then, we’re looking back on all George Clooney movies, ranked by Tomatometer!
Critics Consensus: Though Steven Soderbergh succeeds in emulating the glossy look of 1940s noirs, The Good German ultimately ends up as a self-conscious exercise in style that forgets to develop compelling characters.
Synopsis: Jake Geismar (George Clooney), an Army correspondent, helps his former lover, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), comb post-World War II Berlin... [More]
Critics Consensus: While the special effects are well done and quite impressive, this film suffers from any actual drama or characterization. The end result is a film that offers nifty eye-candy and nothing else.
Synopsis: Based on a true story, the film tells of the courageous men and women who risk their lives every working... [More]
Critics Consensus:The Midnight Sky lacks the dramatic heft to match its narrative scale, but its flaws are often balanced by thoughtful themes and a poignant performance from director-star George Clooney.
Synopsis: A lone scientist in the Arctic races to contact a crew of astronauts returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.... [More]
Critics Consensus:Money Monster's strong cast and solidly written story ride a timely wave of socioeconomic anger that's powerful enough to overcome an occasionally muddled approach to its worthy themes.
Synopsis: Lee Gates is a Wall Street guru who picks hot stocks as host of the television show "Money Monster." Suddenly,... [More]
Critics Consensus: As beautifully shot as it is emotionally restrained, The American is an unusually divisive spy thriller -- and one that rests on an unusually subdued performance from George Clooney.
Synopsis: When an assignment in Sweden ends badly, master assassin Jack (George Clooney) retreats to the Italian countryside with the intention... [More]
Critics Consensus:Michael Clayton is one of the most sharply scripted films of 2007, with an engrossing premise and faultless acting. Director Tony Gilroy succeeds not only in capturing the audience's attention, but holding it until the credits roll.
Synopsis: Former prosecutor Michael Clayton (George Clooney) works as a "fixer" at the corporate law firm of Kenner, Bach and Ledeen,... [More]
A Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader, ol’ Boogaloo Bats. There is a Batman for all seasons. But whatever you call him, he’s known far and wide as a comic book hero who’s managed to keep relevant in entertainment for decades, re-invented time and time again to answer a nation’s distress Bat-signal all. It was camp colors and biff–bang–pow for the 1960s (the Batman TV show). The ’80s found a taste for blockbuster art deco madness (Tim Burton’s Batman). The ’90s got the best of it (Mask of the Phantasm) and the worst (Batman & Robin). The world of the 2000s demanded realism and it got Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. These days he’s playing nice with the Justice League, while awaiting transformation as Robert Pattinson slips on the cowl for 2021’s The Batman.
Holy review aggregates! Now we’ve gathered all the theatrical Batman movies in one list (including the one night stand of The Killing Joke), ranked by Tomatometer! (And see all things Batsy on film and television with our Batman franchise page.)
Critics Consensus: This stilted retelling of the Joker's origin adds little to its iconic source material, further diminished by some questionable story additions that will have fans demanding justice for Barbara Gordon.
Synopsis: Batman (Kevin Conroy) must save Commissioner Gordon (Ray Wise) from the Joker's (Mark Hamill) twisted quest to drive him insane.... [More]
Critics Consensus:Justice League leaps over a number of DC movies, but its single bound isn't enough to shed the murky aesthetic, thin characters, and chaotic action that continue to dog the franchise.
Synopsis: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman's selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists newfound ally Diana Prince... [More]
Critics Consensus: Director Tim Burton's dark, brooding atmosphere, Michael Keaton's work as the tormented hero, and the flawless casting of Danny DeVito as The Penguin and Christopher Walken as, well, Christopher Walken make the sequel better than the first.
Synopsis: The monstrous Penguin (Danny DeVito), who lives in the sewers beneath Gotham, joins up with wicked shock-headed businessman Max Shreck... [More]
Who is superhero cinema’s ultimate genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist? The wise-cracking tech head who took down Thanos? Or the reclusive, brooding, vengeful detective who looks as good in a tux as he does zipping between the buildings of Gotham? In our latest episode of Vs., Rotten Tomatoes Contributing Editor Mark Ellis is pitting the MCU’s Iron Man against DC’s Dark Knight, comparing their box office pull, Tomatometer and Audience Scores, and the quality and inventiveness of their gadgets, all to declare who is the superior super-powered scion.
As always, if you don’t agree with our choice of winner, let us have it in the comments.
(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, and Netflix)
“Know Your Critic” is a column in which we interview Tomatometer-approved critics about their screening and reviewing habits, pet peeves, and personal favorites.
Amélie is the film Carlos Aguilar has seen more than any other – and he never would’ve seen it, if not for a critic who endorsed the film on television when he was a kid.
“When it first was released, I was still living in Mexico City and I was very young, maybe 11 or 12,” he told Rotten Tomatoes in an interview. Horacio Villalobos was a film critic on TV at the time, and Aguilar watched his program “religiously.”
“He talked about this French movie that he really loved and that was only playing in a few theaters in Mexico City. It was because he recommended it very passionately that my mom took me to see Amélie,” Aguilar said. “It wouldn’t have been on my radar if that critic hadn’t recommended it.”
Now, Aguilar is a film critic and writer himself, with work published in the Los Angeles Times, TheWrap, and Remezcla. His reviews appear on Rotten Tomatoes alongside those of critics he admires – such as Justin Chang of the LA Times, Eric Kohn of IndieWire, and Claudia Puig, President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. He admires both their writing and their commitment to supporting up-and-coming critics.
“That’s usually what connects great writers – they tend to be also great people outside of the writing,” Aguilar said.” They want more diverse voices to be part of the conversation. It’s not only about them, but about bringing in others and growing the field.”
Carlos Aguilar is a freelance critic and film writer based in Los Angeles, CA.
What’s your favorite childhood film?
I was always very much an animation, Disney kid. I remember loving The Little Mermaidand Beauty and the Beast and those classic Disney films. Those were the ones that I watched as a kid. Now, I know that they’re considered bad, but the Batman movies from the ’90s – I think it was Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. I was big on those movies. Re-watching them now, it’s cringe-y – but back when I was a kid, I loved those movies.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about critics?
That we like to antagonize the general public. I feel like audiences sometimes feel like there are movies “for” critics and movies “for” audiences, which is completely a lie because critics are themselves part of the audience.
Sometimes the figure of the critic has been seen as an intellectual, unapproachable and pretentious person that only likes a certain type of movie. That’s what some people in the audience see as a critic. They feel like if a critic likes a certain type of movie, that that’s not what the audience would like – that divide between the audience and the critic is the big misconception.
There’s critics that like all types of film and not all critics like the same type of thing or agree on the same thing or disagree on the same things. The misconception is that people believe that the critics are looking for the films that audiences are not going to like and that we want to go against the grain or against popular taste.
What’s your favorite classic film?
There’s a Mexican film called Macario from 1960. It’s black and white and it was the first movie from Mexico that was nominated for the Oscar for best foreign language film. We have this beautiful cinematographer, Gabriel Figueroa, who’s one of Mexico’s most beloved, admired cinematographers from that era. It’s like if I can describe it in simple terms, it’s like A Christmas Carol that’s set in Mexican colonial times on the eve of Day of the Dead.
(Photo by Sony Pictures Classics)
What’s Rotten thing you love?
Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited – in Spanish it’s Los Amantes Pasajeros. It’s generally considered one of his worst, at least in recent years. But I remember watching it and finding it hilarious and engaging.
I don’t want to say that the reason is entirely because there’s things that get lost in translation, but… There’s a lot of phrases there that are just hilarious and I also admire that it’s a movie that takes place entirely on a plane… it’s over the top and it’s raunchy. The things that you love in an Almodóvar, but in a more absurd way.
It doesn’t always work, and perhaps there’s many reasons why people don’t find it an artistic accomplishment, but I always have fun quoting lines from it or re-watching it.
What do you consider required viewing?
I think I’m going to say Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Decalogue, which is this 10-part series of 1-hour films or episodes that were made for Polish television in the late 1980s. Each of them deals in a very abstract way with one of the 10 Commandments…
Just the fact that he was able to create 10 stand-alone pieces of cinema that somehow relate to each other in ways that are not obvious and that have this moral ambiguity… All of them are very subdued and written in a way that doesn’t have easy answers. It’s not black and white.
You saw 40 films at Sundance this year. What is your personal record for the most movies you’ve watched in a day?
I definitely don’t recommend it, but at Sundance I saw five films in a row one day this year. To me, that’s a test of endurance. But also, for you to watch that many films consecutively at a festival, the stars have to align. The times have to be right – you have to be at the right place, the shuttles have to be on time.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
Honestly, that I’m still doing it. It’s not a flashy, glamorous profession as some may think, especially if you’re a freelancer like myself. It’s always a constant battle to get work, to get access, to make a living writing.
In my particular case, being an immigrant, being a DACA recipient, oftentimes people in my circumstances or from my background don’t see themselves in careers like film criticism – which is so far-fetched, so unreachable to work in a field that is often seen to be reserved for a certain type of person with a certain type of education. For me to be here, to have a voice in this industry, I feel like I’m very proud that somehow… if someone can feel that if I’m doing it, they can also be doing it. I feel like that’s always a victory.
Do you have any advice for critics who are still finding their voice?
I think that opening up yourself to watching movies that you assume you’re not going to like is a good way to see what your taste is, see what it is that you really react to. What are the things that you find yourself not liking or liking about a certain movie? I feel like that really opens up your cinematic taste buds. It just gives you a wider palette of the things you’ve seen.
Is there an up-and-coming critic that you want people to check out?
Yeah, there is a young Latina critic. Her name is Kristen Huizar. She won the LAFCA Ruth Batchelor Scholarship, which is a scholarship that the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) gives to young critics from underrepresented backgrounds. She’s in LA and she’s an artist and a writer and reviews films and talks about films from a unique perspective as a Latina woman in LA… I think she mentions often that she uses public transportation, and doesn’t have the LA experience that often gets represented on screen or in the writing.
(Photo by Netflix)
How has the digital landscape influenced your criticism?
It’s definitely the only way that many of us can write today. Most outlets only exist digitally today and because of that, when we get to write something for print, it’s become a big event or a landmark to get something in print because that’s so rare. I do feel that without the digital publishing and digital outlets, most of us wouldn’t be writing today – especially people from underrepresented backgrounds.
It was my own memories and seeing the city that my mom left, seeing when she was young. Also, thinking about the fact that I haven’t been there in so long that it’s probably a different city today. It was a strange exercise in seeing the same city where I grew up in from a different perspective and being reminded of the people that you leave behind, the memories that you carry with you. That was challenging to write, to relate those emotions to the film and to express that through that lens.
Is there someone in your life who isn’t a critic whose opinion you admire?
My mom’s opinion when it comes to movies or art in general really matters to me. I remember when I was a kid, she would be very interested in watching Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman and a lot of international cinema. My mother has a grade-school education. She didn’t go to college. She didn’t even finish high school, but she was always very interested in culture and the arts.
To me, she’s always been an example of the fact that just because you’re not an intellectual or someone that went to a private school or has a degree, doesn’t mean that you cannot be inspired or moved by all types of films.
Along with the numerous and various incarnations of Batman in film and television, comes an Alfred. Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler keeps both Wayne Manor and the Batcave in order and generally has Batman’s back. This summer, however, Alfred Pennyworth becomes the star of the show in upcoming Epix drama Pennyworth.
A new teaser just dropped Friday for the 10-episode, hour-long series, in which Jack Bannon plays Alfred Pennyworth in his 20s, as he returns to London after serving in the SAS. Alfred wants to start his own security business, but then young billionaire Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge) hires him to be his private bodyguard. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Gotham creators Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon created Pennyworth, which also stars Emma Corrin as Esme, Paloma Faith as Bet Sykes, Hainsley Lloyd Bennet as Bazza, Ryan Fletcher as Dave Boy, Jason Flemyng as Lord Harwood, and Polly Walker as Peggy Sykes.
In honor of Alfred getting his own series, we looked at all the movie and TV Alfreds from the classic ’60s Batman series to the films with Michael Caine and Jeremy Irons and even recent animated-movie incarnations. Heller, Cannon, and Bannon spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about Pennyworth to help us compare their vision of Alfred Pennyworth to the greats.
DC Universe, the DC Entertainment streaming service, launches this week with a good deal of material. Its first original television show, Titans, does not debut until next month, but there is plenty to enjoy in the meantime as the service brings together movies, television shows, and animated series based on DC Comics characters — most notably the original Batman feature film cycle, Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight in honor of Batman Day on Saturday.
The platform also features a surprising amount of the source material — you can download the comics and read them as you please. But just how lost in DC lore can one get on DC Universe? Let’s take a look at the initial offerings and just how deep into the comics multiverse DC Universe goes.
1. Batman: The Animated Series Is Gloriously Remastered
If you were a child in the early 1990s – or a teenager for that matter – the debut episode of Batman: The Animated Series was something of a revelation. Titled “On Leather Wings,” it set a new darker tone for Batman cartoons. Though initial publicity mentioned Robin would appear, he was nowhere to be seen here. Instead, an almost solitary Batman faces down his first opponent, Manbat, and the Gotham City Police Department in a moody episode that’s painted in darkness. The minute-long intro sequence lacked text or lyrics to explain the premise; instead, Shirley Walker’s reworking of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme plays over one the best title sequences in American animation. During a time when afternoon cartoons featured the pop-culture anarchy of The Animaniacs and the later seasons of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the difference was striking.
On DC Universe, the series is organized by airdate – Robin makes an early appearance in episode two and disappears again for a time – which gives the show, which we recently dubbed the best superhero series ever, added context on the platform. As an example, “On Leather Wings,” aired as a special on Sept. 6, 1992, and the next episode would not debut until November, indicating Fox saw it as something different, if only for a moment. But from November 1992 on, episodes kept redefining characters like Poison Ivy and Catwoman. The first Mr. Freeze episode, “Heart of Ice,” was a revelation thanks to a completely serious treatment of the character and the definitive Freeze performance from actor Michael Ansara. Other great episodes from the early part of the run include the two-part “Two-Face,” in which District Attorney Harvey Dent becomes the notorious Batman foe, “Beware the Gray Ghost,” in which Batman ’66 actor Adam West lends his voice to Batman’s childhood hero, and “The Man Who Killed Batman.”
“On Leather Wings” and the rest of the initial Animated Series arrives in a remastered edition highlighting the rich visual darkness and serious tone of the early episodes. Though it would eventually become a brighter show both in subject matter and technique, the impact of “On Leather Wings” has not dulled.
2. The Wide Breadth of DC animated series
(Photo by Courtesy the Everett Collection)
Beyond Batman: TAS, DC Universe features a great number of animated series based on DC Comics characters (though Beware the Batman!, Green Lantern: The Animated Series, and the current Teen Titans GO! are notably absent). From the Max Fleischer Superman theatrical shorts of the 1940s to 2013’s Young Justice Season 2 finale, much of the wide and wild world of DC animation rests in one convenient place. Here are some highlights:
Super Friends: “ A History of Doom.” Three aliens from another universe come to a destroyed Earth and learn the origins of the Legion of Doom and their part in the planet’s destruction. While the series featured episodes with wilder visuals and better endings, this episode’s opening moments of apocalyptic landscapes and a dying Superman presage DC Comic’s eventual affair with Crisis events and killing off characters by 15 years.
Justice League Unlimited: “For The Man Who Has Everything.” This adaptation of a classic comic book story by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons features the added bonus of voice talents like Kevin Conroy as Batman, George Newbern as Superman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, and Eric Roberts as the villainous Mongul. As in the original comic-book story, Mongul’s darkly ironic birthday present for the Man of Steel gives him the thing he wants most – a life on Krypton – even as his friends face impossible odds fighting the villain.
Batman: The Brave and The Bold: “Evil Under The Sea!” While Jason Momoa will redefine Aquaman in his upcoming feature film, The Brave and The Bold offered one of the most thrilling takes on the character ever presented on screen: an underwater adventurer modeled on the 1960s Hercules films whose larger-than-life tales grate against Batman’s (Diedrich Bader) sensibilities. As voiced by John DiMaggio, this Arthur Curry’s boisterous love of life just might see him deposed by his jealous brother if the King of the Seas and Batman can’t work together.
As promised in early announcements for the service, DC Universe features a large collection of DC Comics titles from its earliest days to its most recent relaunch. The first appearances of the Trinity – Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman – are available for all to enjoy. Deeper cuts like the earliest Hawk and Dove series from the 1960s and Prez – the company’s strange attempt to appeal to the late ’60s counterculture – share equal footing with well-known event comics like Flashpoint. Some of the titles, like Hawk and Dove, DoomPatrol, and The New Teen Titans, are there to give subscribers background on the upcoming Titans series. Others, like the Legion of Superheroes early run in Adventures Comics, are just there to delight newcomers to the characters and long-time fans alike.
Some 81 issues of Batman represent various eras from the first issue to its 650th. Classic stories by Bill Finger & Bob Kane and Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams, and more modern tales like “A Death in the Family” and “Knightfall,” represent the breadth of Batman as a comic-book character. If you want a better idea of the Silver Age Justice League, the first 76 issues of Justice League of America are available, too. Also, the first appearances of Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Flash Barry Allen are available in a handful of issues from DC’s 1960s Showcase series.
If you’ve never read a Golden Age comic book, try one of the first 10 issues of Action Comics – you’ll learn that Superman only appeared on three of those covers. Batman’s early appearances in Detective Comics are also available, as are the first appearances of Aquaman and Green Arrow in More Fun Comics and the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics.
While history may have dulled the impact of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, DC Universe allows subscribers to re-examine and re-appraise the series. The show was developed by producer Deborah Joy Levine, whose initial intent was to recast the famous pair as a bickering couple in the vein of ABC’s Moonlighting. That direction is crystal clear in the pilot episode, which establishes the dynamic and a winning Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher) as quickly as it undermines some of its goals by having Lois’s sister tell her she’s “too smart” for most guys.
Backing up Hatcher is Dean Cain. As in the comics of the day, an emphasis was placed on Cain’s performance as Clark Kent, who ends up being far wittier and more subversive than his famous alter ego. In fact, while Cain may play Superman a little too straight, his Clark is a pleasure to watch as he spars with Hatcher’s Lois.
Of course, the frisson between the two was inspired in part by the original Adventures of Superman, the 1950s television series starring George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman and Phyllis Coates (later Noel Neil) as Lois Lane. Though the verbal barbs between the two were less frequent – and, indeed, Reeves’ Clark rarely gave back what he got – his knowing wink said all he needed to say. It was every bit as important as the actor’s ability to convince viewers he could fly. Six seasons of the series are available on DC Universe, spanning TV’s black-and-white era and its slow adoption of color. For many, this series represents their first real extended look at Superman, though it avoided the character’s most famous antagonist in favor of miscellaneous gangsters and mad scientists, an inadvertent throwback to the hero’s earliest Golden Age adventure. The series also featured, arguably, the best TV Jimmy Olsen in the form of actor Jack Larson.
Besides the two Adventures of Superman series, DC Universe also offers a number of shorter-lived series like CBS’s The Flash, Fox’s Human Target from 2010, The WB’s Birds of Prey, and the single season of Constantine. In terms of more successful series, it also has the three seasons of Wonder Woman and all four seasons of The Adventures of Superboy.
One element of the service not getting much attention is its array of short features from Cartoon Network’s DC Nation block, a handful of specials culled from home-video releases, and a few curios from DC television lore. The highlight of the specials collection has to be Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics. While always putting the company in its best light, the feature-length documentary written and directed by Mac Carter is, in some ways, a prelude to DC Universe itself. Thanks to interviews from comic-book creators like Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Bob Kane, and even some rare archival material from Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, it paints the media dominance of Superman and Batman as an inevitability.
Other specials include Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of Batman, Look, Up In The Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman, and the absolutely strange 1970s television special, Legends of the Superheroes. Though it features Batman ’66’s Adam West and Burt Ward back in their iconic roles, the attempt to camp up heroes like Hawkman and Black Canary fails in a way that must be seen to be believed.
The DC Nation shorts represent an earlier attempt to diversify the brand by taking characters like Shazam and Shade the Changing Man and presenting them in quick, but highly stylized, cartoon form. Teen Titans GO! emerged from the concept, but the Shazam short “Stamina” may be the best of the bunch. The Sailor Moon-inspired Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld is also worth the quick watch.
(Photo by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
Though DC Universe opens with no new television content, the archival material available will keep any fan of DC’s rich media history busy until Titans debuts in October.
Visit DCUniverse.com to learn more and sign up for a subscription ($7.99 per month or $74.99 annually). The service will be available in the U.S. on Saturday, September 14, on iOS, Android, Apple TV, Android TV, and Roku, as well as the web and mobile web.
While there would’ve been a certain amusement in watching a surly, 75-year-old Harrison Ford pretending to meet Lando for the first time and winning the Millennium Falcon, Disney went with the age-correct Alden Ehrenreich for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Though a few were up-in-blasters over casting someone besides Ford in the Han Solo role, that fervor has died down now that the reviews are out claiming the movie to be moderately neat-o. And that makes it the right time to look at 24 more movie characters replaced and recast with new actors, and how that turned out on the Tomatometer.
With Justice League hitting theaters this Friday, we explore DC’s long history at the movies by ranking their 29 theatrical superhero films best to worst by Tomatometer!
As Wonder Woman gets added to the heap of superhero movies from DC and Warner Bros. throughout the years, here’s your chance to rank them as you see fit from the list below, which featuring each theatrical movie’s Tomatometer score, audience rating, and critics consensus!
The Masked Manhunter. The Caped Crusader. Bats. You know who we’re talking about, film fans, and chances are you were anticipating The LEGO Batman Movie ever since Warner Bros. announced Will Arnett’s version of the character would be getting his own spinoff. In honor of this momentous occasion, we decided to take a (mostly) fond look back at the Bat in all of his cinematic guises, from the worst to the best, and now that The LEGO Batman Movie has premiered, you can find out where it ranks with the others. With the Bat-signal blazing, it’s time for Total Recall!
One of the least-loved blockbusters of recent years, Batman & Robin brought the Batman 1.0 franchise to a screeching halt. Unlike the earlier installments, which returned the Caped Crusader to his brooding noir roots, Batman & Robin was a veritable camp-o-rama, closer in spirit to the 1960s TV series. Utilizing punny dialogue to a jaw-dropping degree were villains Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze (“Ice to see you!”) and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy (“My garden needs tending”). Even George Clooney made little impression as Batman, and his sidekicks (Chris O’Donnell as Robin, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl) failed to drum up much audience or critical enthusiasm. As a result, a planned fifth sequel, Batman Triumphant, which would have pitted our heroes against the Scarecrow, never materialized, so it was left to Christopher Nolan to resurrect the series. “Fans of the movie series will be shocked at the shortage of original thought put into this project,” wrote John Paul Powell of Jam! Movies.
The established rules of superhero films require at least one blockbuster battle by the final act — the catastrophic damage from which is typically largely forgotten by the time the curtain rises on the inevitable sequel. Credit Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, then, for trying to take a more thoughtful approach, and using the aftershocks from Man of Steel‘s climactic orgy of violence to establish the titular conflict between two iconic superheroes. Unfortunately, director Zack Snyder was also tasked with setting up a slew of future films in the burgeoning DC Extended Universe, and the result was a sequel that juggles an unwieldy array of characters and storylines while trying to grapple with serious questions — and in spite of Batman v Superman‘s super-sized running time, many critics felt the whole thing was even more of a muddled mess than the much-maligned Man of Steel. Still, the CG-enhanced action was enough for some scribes, including Andrew O’Hehir of Salon, who admitted the movie was “kind of dopey” but shrugged, “It largely kept me entertained for two and a half hours, which is not nothing.”
One can draw a fairly direct line from the 1966 Batman to Joel Schumacher’s mid-series reboot: Garish colors. Some tongue-in-cheek dialogue. The presence of Robin to draw in the young’uns. This may not be a great Batman movie, but it is a successful one — drawing in a legion of new viewers while shifting the series away from the twisted mindscape of Tim Burton (whose movies weren’t totally representative of the comics anyway). And if you were at the right age, there was nothing more fun in 1995 than this (except perhaps getting a PlayStation). It’s “a free-form playground for its various masquerading stars,” wrote Janet Maslin for The New York Times.
Batman’s film history is fairly distinguished in its own right at this point, but he’ll always have his roots in the comics — and one of his most widely acclaimed stories, the 1988 Alan Moore graphic novel The Killing Joke, got its big-screen due with this 2016 animated effort. Aside from the acclaimed source material, in which the Joker puts Commissioner Gordon and his family through a particularly grueling ordeal, Killing had a lot going for it, including years of pent-up fan demand and the return of Mark Hamill as the Joker’s voice. Unfortunately, it didn’t add up to one of the better entries in the Batman filmography; critics were split more or less evenly over whether it did its inspiration justice — or whether its story was ultimately too misogynistic to deserve the treatment. “Alan Moore probably wouldn’t appreciate us saying it, but The Killing Joke story itself feels made for the screen,” observed SciFiNow’s Steve Wright. “It’s hard to truly critique something when it takes its cues from a truly excellent comic-book storyline.”
One of the most hyped movies in Hollywood history, and one of the finest examples of movie tie-ins and cross-promotion (so successful it made t-shirt bootleggers filthy rich), Batman is also one of the weirdest event pictures of all time. Director Tim Burton jettisoned the plots (if not the dark tone) of Bob Kane’s original comics, and came up with set designs reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and freakish, brooding characters similar to… well, a Tim Burton movie. Particularly compelling is Jack Nicholson as the Joker, who gleefully relishes his plan to kill the citizens of Gotham City with lethal gas. Michael Keaton makes for a subdued Dark Knight, a hero who dispenses vigilante justice while living a morose existence in Wayne Manor. A precursor to more complex comic book adaptations, Batman made piles of money, and the bat-logo was ubiquitous in the summer of 1989. “Burton brings back film noir elements to the new Batman, elevating it to a dark, demented opera,” wrote Jeffrey Anderson of Combustible Celluloid.
For a Batman interpretation frequently derided for its campiness, Batman: The Movie has a surprisingly high number of quotable lines and memorable scenes. Remember how the dynamic duo deduce that all their archenemies — Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler, and the Joker — are working together to take over the world? Or the insane logic Robin consistently applies to Riddler’s questions, only to be right every time? But the best bit has to be the one involving bat ladders, shark repellent Bat-spray, and a high seas encounter with an exploding Megalodon. “Holy Cornball Camp, Batman!” exclaims Scott Weinberg of eFilmCritic.com, “This movie’s a hoot!”
Tim Burton has said he always sympathized with monsters, and so, for his sequel to Batman, he gave audiences not one, but two empathetic, pitiable villains. The Penguin (Danny DeVito) is a deformed orphan who leads an army of aquatic, flightless birds from the bowels of Gotham City. The Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a frumpy secretary who is killed by her boss (Christopher Walken) after she learns of his evil schemes but is brought back to life by a group of cats. Teaming up against Batman, the pair plan an assault on the city above. Batman Returns is so cold and dark it makes the first installment look like Amelie by comparison, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it still made a killing at the box office, and was Burton’s favorite of the two Batman movies he helmed. “Of all the Batman pictures, this is the most striking, atmospheric and effective,” wrote David Keyes of Cinemaphile.org.
Before the Nolan Batman movies, Mask of the Phantasm offered the most articulate exploration of the Bruce Wayne character. While the movie takes the action that made The Animated Series such great afternoon fun and expands it (but avoiding cheap, empty thrills that having a big budget can afford you), it also showers loving detail on a pivotal romance in Bruce’s life and an affecting scene of Bruce begging for release at his parents’ gravestone. It’s the rare movie that shows its protagonist for what he is: essentially insane. “[Mask of the Phantasm] managed to soar above the theatrical Batman adaptation,” states Kevin Carr of 7M Pictures, “And would remain the best Bat Movie to hit the big screens until Batman Begins shook things up in 2005.”
With his lack of superpowers and a vast fortune at his disposal, Batman was always the most plausible of heroes. With Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan shucked off the direction of the previous big-screen incarnations and boiled the Batman mythos down to its essence, resulting in one of the most realistic superhero movies ever. Thankfully, Nolan didn’t skimp on action-packed pyrotechnics, and as the suitably suave and tortured Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale added a greater emotional heft to the Caped Crusader (he was also ably abetted by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, and Gary Oldman). Batman Begins signaled a bold new beginning for the franchise, and was a huge hit with audiences and pundits alike. “It’s a wake-up call to the people who keep giving us cute capers about men in tights,” wrote Kyle Smith of the New York Post. “It wipes the smirk off the face of the superhero movie.”
After two critically acclaimed and commercially successful Batman films, it was up to Christopher Nolan to deliver the final chapter in similarly rousing fashion. And while it would have been difficult for anyone to replicate the phenomenal success of 2008’s The Dark Knight, Nolan came pretty close, picking up eight years after TDK and focusing on a half-broken Bruce Wayne who sees a chance for redemption when a new enemy disrupts the economy and takes the entire city hostage. Reliable supporting players Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman reprised their roles, while Nolan filled out the rest of the cast with similarly high profile talent like Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anne Hathaway, who slipped into Catwoman’s black leather as Selina Kyle. Thoughtful, explosive, and grounded in Nolan’s dark Gotham reality, the resulting film served as a satisfying conclusion to one of the most successful blockbuster franchises in recent memory. As the Boston Globe’s Ty Burr enthused, “This is what a superhero movie is supposed to look like.”
We’ve grown accustomed in recent years to the idea of Batman as a perpetually dour figure whose good works are only accomplished through his inability to shed a crippling survivor’s guilt and thirst for vengeance, but during his long decades as a cornerstone of the DC media empire, he’s been through a lot of incarnations, some goofier than others — all of which is why Will Arnett’s doofus Dark Knight in The LEGO Movie was a nod to the character’s colorfully complex history as well as a refreshing surprise. Spinoffs are obviously far from a sure bet on the big screen, but Arnett’s scene-stealing LEGO Movie turn laid a solid foundation for a standalone adventure — and it paid deliriously entertaining dividends with The LEGO Batman Movie, which delivered on that promise and then some. “Basically,” argued the Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz, “it’s a standard-issue Batman narrative — arguably better than 50 percent of history’s other Batman films — that just happens to take place in a Lego-fied world.”
Having already brought an end to the candy-colored, Schumacher-wrought nightmare that gripped the Batman franchise in the late 1990s, Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale had fans primed for a successful second act — but even after the smashing success of Batman Begins, few could have guessed just how popular The Dark Knight would be in the summer of 2008. A sprawling superhero epic that somehow managed to make room for jaw-dropping visuals, a compelling storyline, and stellar performances, Knight climbed out from under months of intense speculation — not to mention the shadow cast by Heath Ledger’s shocking death — with a worldwide gross in excess of $1 billion, a towering stack of positive reviews, and a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Ledger. Richard Roeper joined the chorus of near-universal critical praise, calling it “a rich, complex, visually thrilling piece of pop entertainment, as strong as any superhero epic we’ve ever seen.”
Lastly, vote for your favorite movie Batman in the poll below!
Holy online polls, Batman! Will Arnett voices a snarkier, slightly more self-obsessed version of the Caped Crusader in this week’s Lego Batman Movie, which got us thinking: Who played the Dark Knight the best? Whether you’re into the campy hijinks of Adam West, the unhinged antics of Michael Keaton, the super-serious pathos of Ben Affleck, or one of the other memorable actors to play — or voice — the role, see if your favorite is the same as everyone else’s by voting below!
DC’s Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad weren’t received as disappointments so much as they were greeted as unforgivable insults to the general public. They inspired a lot of wailing, complaining, rending of garments, and insane over-reactions.
A moviegoing audience pathologically obsessed with superheroes responded to these movies with a world-wide gasp of shock and disappointment. It was as if they imagined that if they just tried hard enough, they could will different, better versions of Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad into existence, and then they wouldn’t have to feel silly about being so emotionally invested in the box office and critical consensus of movies about weirdos in crazy costumes.
One segment of the public began weeping uncontrollably while screeching, “No! A silly superhero/super-villain team-up movie I was looking forward to wasn’t as good as I thought it could/should/would be! We can’t let such an abomination stand. We demand justice! We demand revenge!” Another antithetical yet curiously similar group, meanwhile, hollered, “No! A silly superhero/super-villain team up movie isn’t being treated by critics with the hushed reverence it’s due! That’s not fair! We demand justice! We demand revenge!”
Yes, the strange, overheated overreaction to Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Suicide Squad’s negative reviews is silly and ridiculous. But unlike the 1966 film version of Batman, it’s not silly and ridiculous in a fun, self-aware, campy fashion. No, the hallmark of these online complainers is that they take themselves way too seriously, whereas the defining feature of Adam West’s 1960s Batman is that it does not take itself seriously at all.
In its 1960s incarnation, Batman never stopped winking at audiences to let them know that it was in on the joke. The show and its spin-off movie reveled in artificiality. They set out to make a live-action superhero extravaganza that was more cartoonish than actual cartoons and more of a comic book than actual comic books.
The 1960s Batman was as much a parody of its source material as a straight adaptation.
Like the recent film versions of 21 Jump Street, the 1960s Batman was as much a parody of its source material as a straight adaptation. Unlike the Batman reboots that followed, the show and movies did not aim for realism or grit. The show didn’t just acknowledge the absurdity of a rich middle-aged man dressing up in a silly costume to fight evildoers in equally silly costumes, it ratcheted up that absurdity to delirious satirical levels.
I suspect the makers of the 1966 Batman film would have found the notion that subsequent filmmakers would treat the character as a tormented figure of infinite darkness who inhabits a gloomy world full of moral ambiguity both preposterous and a huge joke. As played by Adam West in the role that made him a trash-culture icon, Batman is less the living personification of the psychological costs of vengeance and humanity’s dark side than a clean-cut, wholesome do-gooder beloved by everybody other than the cartoonish criminals.
The 1966 Batman pits West’s Bruce Wayne/Batman and Burt Ward’s Dick Grayson/Robin against a felonious foursome of the TV show’s most popular and prolific villains. There’s Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, who is great but will never be able to compete with Eartha Kitt’s even greater interpretation of the role), a conniving super-villain who attempts to seduce Bruce Wayne in her alter-ego as a beautiful Russian. Batman may be the world’s greatest detective, but he’s somehow not sharp enough to figure out that his new Russian crush bears a distinct resemblance to one of his greatest (and certainly sexiest) foes.
Then there’s the gloriously redundant twosome of the Joker (Cesar Romero) and the Riddler (Frank Gorshin). True, jokes and riddles are different, but by including both of these gentlemen in the same story, it becomes clear that the show returned to the “mirthful supervillain” well at least once too often. The film clumsily and amusingly acknowledges this weird redundancy by having characters state repeatedly that Batman and Robin must wrestle with crazy hybrids like “a riddle in the form of a joke” as well as “joking riddles.” Finally, we have Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, who is old, short, and weak but smart enough to rent a submarine — where part of the film takes place — under the clever pseudonym P.N. Guin.
This not-so-fabulous foursome has joined forces to steal a miraculous invention able to “dehydrate” and then “re-hydrate” human beings. They plan to blackmail the nations of the world with this ridiculous contraption, which is really nothing more than a MacGuffin. But four villains means four times the frenzied over-acting. The Riddler, Penguin, and Joker all have a tendency to shout their comic book banter while mugging deliriously in ways that make them seem more hyper than scary. The four “super” villains here don’t seem capable of hurting Batman’s feelings, let alone cause him physical harm. By contrast, Nolan’s Batman films had terrifying villains: Scarecrow, the Joker, and Bane all seemed capable of killing Batman.
The four “super” villains here don’t seem capable of hurting Batman’s feelings, let alone cause him physical harm.
On television, Batman defined camp better than anyone this side of Susan Sontag. That extends to this faithful adaptation, but in addition to the film’s refreshing acknowledgment of its inherent ridiculousness, there are some sharp, memorable gags that score big laughs. Early in the film, for example, Batman and Robin are out in their Bat-Copter when Batman rappels down via rope ladder and spends what feels like a solid fifteen minutes engaged in a one-sided boxing match with a rubber shark so hilariously phony it suggests that “punching the shark” should join “jumping the shark” as a pop-culture cliche. One of the film’s other signature set-pieces finds Batman/Bruce Wayne desperate to get rid of a wonderfully fake-looking bomb but unable to find a place to toss it where it won’t cause major harm. An overwhelmed Batman then issues one of the film’s signature pieces of dialogue: “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
Batman is also full of inspired running jokes, and one of my favorites is its obsession with sticking a “Bat” into the name of everything, even if it just makes things confusing. When preparing to battle the aforementioned pesky shark, for example, Batman makes sure to specifically request “shark-repellent bat-spray” from Robin. This is, of course, a shark repellent spray used by the Batman, but it’s confusingly worded enough that it sounds like it might be a shark repellent that also repels bats, or possibly Batman, or Batmen in general. Regardless, it’s all very silly.
In another standout scene that similarly belongs in an old Looney Tunes cartoon, Batman and Robin are scaling a wall — something they did all the time in the TV show, which frequently felt incredibly, deliberately fake — and Robin expresses shock and horror that some ne’er-do-wells drink so excessively they see things that aren’t there. Batman explains that they’re in a tough neighborhood full of “rumpots” and, as if on cue, one such rumpot pokes his head out his window just long enough to see what he naturally assumes is an alcohol-induced hallucination of a pair of men in outrageous tights scaling his building.
Batman is a product of the go-go mid-1960s. It’s got an unmistakable groovy bachelor pad vibe. West’s Batman is the only one who seems to prefer the millionaire bachelor side of his persona to the one who dresses up like an angel of vengeance to beat up bad guys. Christian Bale acted as if Bruce Wayne was in physical pain every time he was in a tuxedo at a fancy party, but West’s Batman seems like he could probably let go of the whole “crime fighting” thing without much concern. There are no stakes here, no real danger, just a bunch of silly heroes in Halloween costumes battling equally silly villains in Halloween costumes.
West’s Batman is the only one who seems to prefer the millionaire bachelor side of his persona to the one who dresses up like an angel of vengeance.
When Batman squares off against the film’s quartet of All-Star Super-Villains in an amusingly amateurish battle royale late in the film, it becomes apparent just how hilariously unthreatening his foes really are. The Joker, Riddler and Penguin all come off as frail men in their fifties who would probably lose a physical altercation with a toddler. They’re almost impressively unimpressive in their old, sad, weak physicality.
In an attempt to make it more of a fair fight, Catwoman tosses a cat to Batman, who then must physically battle his geriatric foes without dropping the cat. It’s a brilliant sight gag, and it’s also far more impressive than anything in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Let’s see Christian Bale’s Batman spend five fighting minutes fighting Bane without dropping an enormous tabby.
I loved the Batman TV show as a kid, and I responded just as strongly to it as an adult. That’s because the show operates on multiple levels. The black and white morality, goofy banter, crazy sound effects rendered both visually and sonically, outsized villains, and cool gadgets all appeal to kids and emotionally stunted adults. But the film’s winking, ironic tone, self-reflectiveness, meta elements, and breezy, campy humor make it just as appealing to grown-ups.
While there’s no reason a trifle like this needs to be any longer than 85 minutes (it could stand to trim 20 minutes or so), Batman holds up surprisingly well as an entertaining, hilarious lark. It’s also a much different film than the Batman movies that would follow. True, Joel Schumacher tried to channel some of the show’s campy spirit with Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, but there’s a difference between being in on the joke, as West’s Batman clearly is, and being the joke itself, like Batman & Robin. The 1960s Batman was a smart, hip show playing at being silly and dumb, but Schumacher’s films are genuinely stupid.
Obviously, no one wants a return to the Schumacher era of Batman, but I think the gloomy Guses behind the new DC Universe films would be smart to take another look at this particular incarnation. There are elements of it DC might want to consider employing in subsequent films involving Bruce Wayne and his costumed alter-ego, such as being “fun” and “enjoyable” rather than a dreary, mournful slog.
Original Certification: N/A Tomatometer: 80 percent Re-Certification: Fresh
Nathan Rabin if a freelance writer, columnist, the first head writer of The A.V. Club and the author of four books, most recently Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.