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Ranking Every Live-Action Batman Movie's Ending From Worst To Best

Ending a movie is hard. In theory, they should be the final statement in everything that has come before, wrapping up storylines and character arcs in a dramatic, exciting, and gratifying fashion. While a bad movie can't necessarily be saved by its ending, a good film can definitely collapse under the weight of an unsatisfactory ending.

Adapting a beloved pop-cultural figure to film is also very difficult. Not only do you need to honor the source material and the legions of fans who have dedicated themselves to it, but you also need to make sure the story you're telling works on its own, independent of the material it's based on.

Therefore, ending a Batman movie must seem like an insurmountable task. Since 1966, we have seen 10 live-action interpretations of the Dark Knight. Each film has taken the character in new directions, with varying degrees of success. This is, in part, due to the fact that the character of Batman is incredibly malleable.

Still, the inherent difficulty in bringing such an icon to the screen does mean that not every movie is going to stick the landing. So, we will be taking a look at all of the live-action films starring the caped crusader and ranking how each one handles the dreaded third act from worst to best. (Just to clarify, these are movies featuring Batman as either the lead or co-lead. So, "Suicide Squad" and "Justice League" will not be included.)

As a reminder, this is about endings, so this is your one and only spoiler warning.

10. Batman & Robin

There aren't a whole lot of people out there who would argue that Joel Schumacher's 1997 film "Batman & Robin" was a masterpiece. The bloated, flashy sequel to the 1995 hit "Batman Forever" dialed the silliness way up to an unprecedented degree. While the television series from 1966 starring Adam West was also very goofy, the humor was intentional. None of the jokes in "Batman & Robin" land and the rest of it is basically an amusement park stunt show.

The climax of the film is no different. With Gotham City frozen, it's up to Batman, Robin, and Batgirl to save the day. While that isn't a terrible premise for a fun and campy adventure film, it's so noisy and cluttered that you can't appreciate any of the dynamic derring-do that's supposed that we're supposed to find so exciting. On top of that, the characters are so devoid of charisma and depth that we can't even force ourselves to care what happens to them.

With a few changes in the dialogue, casting, and tone, this could have been a loving big-budget tribute to the 1966 series. Instead, it comes across as a cynical toy commercial.

9. Batman Forever

After the dark and twisted nature of Tim Burton's "Batman Returns," the franchise took a notably more family-friendly approach with its next installment "Batman Forever." The film is big, bold, and incredibly uneven. While it contains some staggering imagery, kinetic cinematography, and a fun performance from Jim Carrey as The Riddler, there isn't much of a story happening. The action set pieces are linked together by scenes that hint at interesting ideas and possibilities that never get a chance to develop. 

Bruce coming to terms with his own rage over the murder of his parents in order to help the grieving Dick Grayson cope with his own tragedy could have led to a thrilling conclusion, where the heroes finally suit up and work together. Unfortunately, the conflict between them is limited to a few arguments with no substance. So as huge and visually riveting as Batman and Robin facing off against The Riddler and Two-Face may be on a purely cinematic level, the lack of any real emotional resonance leaves this otherwise mostly entertaining film feeling hollow.

8. Batman Returns

Tim Burton's second film about the Dark Knight, "Batman Returns," has all the ingredients of a masterpiece. For one thing, it features an incredible cast playing iconic characters. Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Danny DeVito are all stellar performers. Christopher Walken, playing a character invented for the film, was also a welcome addition. Also, Burton had just come off of a major creative victory with the stunning and sentimental modern fairytale "Edward Scissorhands," suggesting his next project would be his magnum opus.

There are elements of genius here but, just like "Batman Forever," the story linking them together is paper-thin. The tragedy of Oswald Cobblepot seeking revenge on a city that rejected him could have been the perfect motivation for a truly maniacal villain. Bruce and Selina's doomed romance could have set up one of the all-time greatest love stories. But none of it lead to anything.

Most of the character motivations are as murky as sewer water, making it difficult to understand why anything happening even matters. This makes it virtually impossible to get invested in the film's climax. All the primary players are together, but we're not quite sure what brought them there. Still, Penguin's death is truly unsettling, as is Selina's even stranger murder of Max Shreck. If nothing else, you remember what happens, even if you're not sure why they happen.

7. Batman (1966)

Some people may consider this a little high for the original "Batman" feature film. After all, it's a borderline parody of the character. However, the film is closer to the style and substance of the comics of the time than many fans might like to admit, and at least the tone is consistent throughout. Also, unlike some earlier entries on this list, the humor is intentional and actually funny.

The movie is almost the greatest hits of the television series. The Penguin, Riddler, Joker, and Catwoman have joined forces for world domination. Through a series of fiendish plans, this unholy alliance gets close to accomplishing their dastardly goals, but Batman and Robin never give up. With lots of comedy, exciting plot twists, and a splash of romance, this film succeeds in delivering a crowd-pleasing experience.

The finale even features an all-out battle royale aboard a submarine, with Batman and Robin clocking henchmen left and right, sending them into the sea. At one point, Batman takes on a series of thugs while cradling a cat in one arm, before sending it off in a tiny, inflatable raft. It's bright, colorful, intentionally silly, and the ending does not disappoint.

6. The Dark Knight Rises

After the brilliant heights achieved in 2008's "The Dark Knight," there was no way Christopher Nolan was going to top himself. That being said, "The Dark Knight Rises" makes a valiant attempt at doing just that. Its scale is bigger, the tone is relentless, and Bane — though not as charismatic a character as the Joker — is a complex adversary capable of pushing Batman to the very brink.

The problem lies in the decision to make this a concluding chapter of a trilogy, rather than the Batman's next adventure. After setting up this fascinating universe in the previous installments, we were denied the chance to see new interpretations of other fan-favorite characters. This Batman story was ending just as it began. This led to an overly complex and confusing plot that had to both establish new characters and tie into Batman's origin, instead of standing on their own.

While the film is still epic in scope and packed with phenomenal action sequences, story inconsistencies and sudden revelations weigh the whole thing down. Still, the image of Batman possibly flying off to his death to save the city is powerful, and the suggestion that John Blake (aka Robin) is going to take up his mantle allows the world to live on in the imaginations of fans everywhere.

5. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

The first cinematic pairing of Batman and Superman may not have been what everyone expected, but it did result in some pretty great moments that almost outshine the film's weaknesses. The ending is a prime example of all the things that do and do not work in the film. For instance, the confusing plot orchestrated by Lex Luthor to have Batman and Superman fight to the death is conveniently resolved when Superman inadvertently informs Batman that their mothers share the same name.

Also, Superman's sacrifice is both overblown and unnecessary. We just met this Superman in the previous film, and we're already being asked to mourn his death when we've had very little time to get to know him. It's treated like an enormously tragic moment but it comes practically out of nowhere. Conversely, the inclusion of Wonder Woman gives us the chill-inducing moment where we finally get to see DC's trinity stand together.

Just like the rest of the film, many of the climax's details are muddled and strange, but the simple excitement of having three classic heroes joining forces to defeat a common enemy is absolutely thrilling.

4. The Batman (2022)

Matt Reeves' attempt to re-connect Batman to his noir detective roots has, appropriately enough, a dark ending that feels like something out of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. It's also reminiscent of something like "The Empire Strikes Back" — although most franchises wait until at least the second film before painting its heroes into a corner from which it feels like there's no escape.

Gotham has been largely destroyed, the result of Riddler's plan to detonate bombs near the seawalls surrounding the city, sending rushing waters through the streets and nearly killing hundreds of citizens gathered at a local arena. Thankfully, Batman and Catwoman were there to help out, battling Riddler-wannabes attempting to anonymously amplify the supervillain's destructive efforts. Although they save characters like Bella Real and the late Mayor Mitchell's son — both of whom feel like rare rays of light who could illuminate a Gotham renaissance — anybody you can reasonably call a "good guy" in this film limps into the shadows at the end, licking their wounds.

Catwoman, realizing Batman is forever linked with Gotham, leaves the city. Bruce Wayne, newly burdened by realizations about his beloved parents that make his mission of vengeance far more muddled, says in voiceover: "The city is angry, scared ... like me." With many of Gotham's most powerful men (on both sides) now dead, opportunities seem to be opening up for folks like the Penguin (Colin Farrell). Riddler, now in prison, has a next-door neighbor at Arkham who speaks of clowns and a "comeback story." 

If nothing else, the end of "The Batman" seems to be setting up one heckuva sequel. Not even Alfred, it seems, could clean up this mess.

3. The Dark Knight

"The Dark Knight" is probably considered the best film on this list. It picked up the reins of "Batman Begins" and built an even bigger and menacing world than before. Of course, Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker instantly became legendary and remains a major contributing factor to the film's success, but it is still an epic by any and every measure.

Which is why the end is such a letdown. Not to say that it's bad by any means, it's just that the rest of the film to this point had been so dynamic and spectacular that the idea of waiting to see if criminals on a boat will choose to destroy another boat doesn't measure up. Also, we've seen Batman and the Joker face off on top of a building before, and it was much more emotionally gratifying in 1989.

Yes, Harvey Dent's turn to evil following the murder of Rachel Dawes is tragic, and the decision to let Batman take the rap for his crimes perfectly demonstrates what makes him a great hero, but his defeat of the Joker falls a little flat. This is an oversimplification of the ending, of course, but one can't help and wonder what happened to the amazing momentum built up in the first two acts. 

2. Batman (1989)

The 1989 release of Tim Burton's "Batman" was the introduction to the concept of a dark Batman for many audiences. While comic book readers had been well aware of the character's many gothic exploits, your average moviegoer probably just knew the Adam West Batman up to that point. So it must've been a real shock to encounter this moody and angry creature of the night, as opposed to West's Bright Knight.

The film itself is tonally inconsistent, with a serviceable — if underwhelming — plot. This, however, is one of the only entries on this list of a "Batman" film that is elevated by its ending. While the rest of the film is certainly entertaining and still worth a re-watch today, it's the emotional impact of the ending that allows the movie to stand tall as still being one of the very best cinematic outings for the caped crusader.

When it's revealed that the Joker was the man who gunned down his parents, Batman pursues the mad clown through Gotham City and to the top of a church. From here on out, Batman's mission isn't just about protecting his city — he's out for revenge. Against the shadowy backdrop of the church, Joker tries everything to prevent Batman from seeking justice, but it is ultimately futile.

Despite the fact that this confrontation, and the motivations behind it, doesn't exactly honor the comics, it is forgiven, because the final moments are so emotionally and narratively satisfying.

1. Batman Begins

"Batman Begins" is so different than any of the films that came before that it's hard to imagine it was released a mere eight years after "Batman & Robin." If Tim Burton's "Batman" introduced mainstream audiences to the concept of a dark Batman, Christopher Nolan's first installment in his "Dark Knight" trilogy showed them a believable world with a grounded, realistic Batman.

The next two films in this trilogy would take this grounded reality even further, to the point that they almost cease to be Batman movies and become movies that happen to feature Batman. "Begins" however, is still holding onto some of the more outrageous elements of Batman's comic book origins. The third act, with Scarecrow's nightmare toxin causing horrific hallucinations and the city of Gotham tearing itself apart, plays out like something right out of the pages of a comic book.

There are innocent citizens losing their minds and a horse blowing flames from its nose — it is absolute chaos, and Batman is using everything he has to stop it from getting worse. The most rewarding moment, though, has to be Batman's final showdown with Ducard/Ra's al Ghul. The entire film sees Bruce trying to prove that murder isn't justice. So when he tells Ducard that he isn't going to kill him, but he doesn't have to save him, it's a brilliant moment that makes you want to stand up and cheer.