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Every Live Action Batman Theme Ranked

On January 20, 2022, Michael Giacchino's theme for "The Batman" was released in full. It is the latest (at time of writing) in a long line of musical interpretations of the character of Batman and the world he inhabits. Ever since 1943, composers have been tasked with doing their best to encapsulate the Gothic hero who terrifies criminals in an effort to keep the city he calls home safe. 

Crafting a piece of music that accurately represents a character as complex and malleable as the Batman is no easy feat. Should you focus on serving the film or the character? There have been eight live action adaptations of the character boasting their own themes. Some themes have been carried over from one film to another, while some were used for a single outing. All of them chose to accentuate a key aspect to the character, and we're taking a look at them here.

These rankings are based on two elements: The first is how well these themes evoke the dark, menacing, and theatrical character as originally depicted in the comics. The second is how closely associated the theme is with the character. If the theme could be used anywhere else and still work, it will get a lower ranking than one that could only work in a "Batman" film. Also, we are only talking about live action adaptations where Batman is the lead or co-lead — no animation or videogames. Those could make up another list.

8. Batman and Robin (1949)

Before television became the destination for long-form serialized stories, you had to make a trip to the movies to catch the latest installments of your favorite adventure stories. Flash Gordon, Captain Marvel, Superman, and many others made the jump from paper to the silver screen in the form of serialized movies full of high-adventure and cliffhangers. Batman was no different. In 1943, he and the Boy Wonder made their big screen debut. Six years later, they returned in "Batman and Robin."

The latter of the two serials ranks at the bottom of the list due to the generic nature of its theme. Blasting over footage of Batman and Robin standing behind the titles, looking back and forth for some unseen danger to fight, the music certainly captures the intrigue and excitement of an adventure story but none of the theatricality and underlying darkness inherent in the character of Batman. Composed by Mischa Bakaleinikoff, this music could work as part of a "Dick Tracy," "Green Hornet," or "Phantom" serial and have the same effect. 

7. Batman (1943)

About the first 80 seconds of the original "Batman" serial from 1943 is so striking that it must have influenced filmmakers for decades to come. It quickly turns into a silly romp, which many of the comics were at the time, but the opening theme composed by the prolific Lee Zahler is so perfectly suited to defining this character that nearly every "Batman" film to follow it owes it a debt.

As the Columbia Pictures logo shines across the screen, sinister strings rise like angry bats, and a looming sense of dread builds while the logo dissolves into the title screen. Harps burst in to remind us that we are entering a fantastical world, and the events here aren't meant to be taken too seriously. As the horns kick in, we get a feeling of adventure as well. All these elements come together to craft a theme that sets up Batman very well. 

A shot of Wayne Manor gives way to a Batcave where Batman broods over a desk while the shadows of bats dance on the wall behind him. It's certainly cheap, but it is very Batman. In some ways, this feels like the prototype for what future interpretations of the character will be. It still falls victim to the typical overly-complicated scoring of the time, making this theme less memorable, but it works well in context.

6. Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997)

Elliot Goldenthal's theme for "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin" is every bit as huge and exciting as the movies they were written for. The world Schumacher created is wild and stuffed with dazzling imagery. Whether you enjoy the films or not, it cannot be denied that they are spilling over with visual flair that would be right at home in the pages of a comic book.

As the Warner Bros. logo morphs into a bat, the theme rises and recedes like breathing before erupting in theatrics. The opening titles careen by the camera, and the theme sets the stage for a larger-than-life adventure that can only be experienced in a superhero film. While the imagery and music support each other masterfully, the theme doesn't exactly evoke the character of Batman. 

Yes, there's a dark element, and its sweeping nature harkens to Batman swinging through Gotham and the zany sensibility of his villains, but it says nothing about his brooding nature. This theme is more about the world than the character. Still, it is engaging and thrilling to revisit every few years. 

5. The Batman

Duality features heavily into Batman's DNA. He is Bruce Wayne, billionaire, the face of a huge company. On the other hand, he's The Dark Knight, an avenger driven by pain to stalk the night and strike fear in the hearts of those who would corrupt his city. Which is his true identity and which is a mask is a debate for fans and creators to argue about until the end of time, and representing that dichotomy can be difficult. Michael Giacchino's theme for 2022's "The Batman" appears to be trying to do exactly that.

Ranking this entry is tough since, at time of writing, the film hasn't been released. However, audiences have been living with those very simple notes for a while. Therefore, it has already become synonymous with the film. While those notes 100% evoke the brooding storm building within the character's heart, the track released in 2022 goes off in an entirely different direction.

Those infectious notes begin and end the piece, but the rest is something more reminiscent of historical epics like "Braveheart" and "Titanic" rather than a Batman film. While we'll still need to see how it works in context with the rest of the film, it's hard to say the entire track represents the character — unless the intention is to capture Batman's duality. Perhaps this is an attempt to capture the darkness driving Batman and the hope that he will overcome it.

4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

For the first big-screen meeting of Superman and Batman, Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL were called on to provide a massive score to the epic event. Zimmer, who also composed the score to Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy, was hesitant about composing a new theme for Batman as he wanted to honor the work he did with Nolan. After some thinking, however, the two collaborated on a piece that suits the more brutal and relentless side of Batman.

Perhaps best represented in the warehouse scene of "Batman v Superman" in which Batman takes out a group of thugs while rescuing Clark's mother, Zimmer and Junkie XL's Batman theme is big, loud, angry, and relentless. This is a Batman who doesn't have time to make sure everyone's okay. His sole mission is to find crime and punish it with the full force of his years of expertise, training, and fury. 

The theme complements this interpretation of Batman exceedingly well. However, it could be used in any film where a terrifying force of nature has its eye on you. One could plug this into an apocalyptic film, a war film, or anything where destruction is a certainty, and it would work equally well. Of course, in this case, the fun is that Batman is not the apocalypse and he isn't a war, but he is a relentless force of nature. Therefore, it elevates his character more than earlier entries.

3. Batman Begins/The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises

"Batman Begins" brought Batman back to cinemas in a very big way. This wasn't a fun comic book movie full of colors and wacky villains. Christopher Nolan's first entry in what would become known as his "Dark Knight" trilogy was a stripped-down superhero epic. "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises" further whittled to character down to his basic components to make a series of films that showed us what it might look like if someone like Batman existed in the real world.

With art-designed spectacle replaced with real-world scope, there was no need for a theatrical theme similar to those utilized in the past. Instead, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard created a moody, driving theme that never lightens up. This is a Batman who can't settle. His city is infected with corruption, and he sees himself as the only cure. The theme reflects that while also including hints of the operatic elements in his character as well.

This theme, more than Zimmer's "Batman v Superman" collaboration, represents the world of the film and the character's origins very well. It not only complements this film's interpretation of Batman but also adds many little nods to the past that link it with Batman's comic roots and cinematic legacy up to that point. In some ways, it could be seen as an evolution of the theme used way back in 1943.

2. Batman (1966)

When looking at all the themes used in live-action Batman adaptations, the song composed by Neal Hefti used in the campy 1966 television series seems very out of place. While the others are dark and foreboding, this is an earworm of a track that you can't help but get stuck in your head. Like the show it introduces, it is poppy, colorful, and groovy. 

Does it represent the character as depicted in the comics? That depends on the era. Go back far enough into Batman's adventures and this '60s series doesn't actually seem that far off the mark, even though the show's creator William Dozier was intentionally spoofing the character. However, it does not adequately capture the character as originally developed by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. While their Batman could certainly smile and crack jokes, he wasn't totally silly. 

Still, we did say one of the considerations in this ranking was how closely identified with the character each piece of music is. In this case, it would be impossible to use this music anywhere else unless it was being done as a direct reference. The name "Batman" is sung 11 times. This song belongs to Batman, and Adam West's Batman belongs to this song. Therefore, it comes in at No. 2.

1. Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)

No other theme on this list conjures images of 1930s comics, adventure, and mythology nearly as well as Danny Elfman's brilliant composition to Tim Burton's 1989 and 1992 films "Batman" and "Batman Returns.

All anyone needs to see in order to understand how well this theme suits the character is the opening credits. It slowly eases you into this operatic netherworld where the architecture and certain fashion choices recall the age in which Batman was created while also opening the door to the foreboding darkness within Batman. It builds like an inevitable storm rolling in on a sunny day. Once the title card is revealed, we're into the march — an audio representation of Batman's mission to save his city.

Put this music over a montage of any era of Batman, and it works. Use it in any other film or television adaptation, and it works. Slap this theme on something that doesn't involve Batman, and the magic is gone. This theme and character are synonymous. It even worked when used, however briefly, in the theatrical cut of "Justice League." 

It works because, as a whole, it represents everything the character is. According to Tim Burton, this is no easy task, "That's hard to do, you know," Burton says, "to come up with what the Batman character is: kind of dark but adventure and moving and operatic. All those things at once."