Batman has a long history on film, especially when you consider he's only been around since 1939.
1943- THE BATMAN (Columbia Pictures) This 15 Chapter serial starring Lewis Wilson (graduate of Worcester Academy) and Douglas Croft gets a lot of heat both for the cheap costumes and the overly racist attitudes towards the Japanese spies in the film-- but keep in mind this is 1943 folks and we were at war with Japan-- at a time when we actually DECLARED war and got the home front behind the troops. It's a great four hour film with some real characterization. William Austin is great as Alfred and Shirley Patterson as Bruce Wayne's girlfriend Linda Page seems to have real emotions--something rare in a movie serial. In my opinion, the best screen adaption of Batman to date. The ONLY time in the history of the character that Robin has been played by a genuine teen (14 at the time).
1949- THE NEW ADVENTURES OF BATMAN AND ROBIN (Columbia Pictures) Another 15 Chapter serial this time with Robert Lowery replacing Wilson and Johnny Duncan as a 27 year old Robin who looks more like he should be shaking guys down in Juvie than paling around with Batman-- who himself looks like he could use a few hours in the gym.
Laughably bad-- this is a Batman movie as if it was directed by Ed Wood-- if you're a fan of BAD movies this is 4 hours you'll cherish.
1966- BATMAN THE MOVIE (20th Century Fox) Adam West and Burt Ward reprise their TV Series roles in a big budget color spectacle featuring the big 4 villains-- it's campy and fun and features an exploding rubber shark. Can you ask for more?
1989- BATMAN (Warner Bros) Michael Keaton dons lifts and a fake chin to put on the Batman suit in this Tim Burton film which broke the public perception of Adam West as Batman. It's good, Batman can't turn his head in his rubber suit, Jack Nicholson makes a great Joker and there's enough silliness to counter the grim mood-- but PRINCE is involved in the soundtrack so points off in the old "what was he thinking" chart.
1991- BATMAN RETURNS (Warner Bros) They let Burton go with this one-- and it's MUCH darker than the first one, it's also kind of a mess story wise with Catwoman, Penguin and Max Schreck as villains. Penguin seems to have 2-3 different plans during the film, and Batman seems like he's trying to figure out what he's doing here.
1995- BATMAN FOREVER (Warner Bros) The studio took the complaints about the previous Batman film and put Joel Schumacher in the helm to give us a friendlier Batman-- there are some real possibilities here. Val Kilmer is pretty good as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Nicole Kidman is an interesting character, BUT Chris O'Donnel as Robin the BOY(?) Wonder makes no sense here. He looks to be about 25 but he needs to be adopted by Bruce Wayne when his parents are killed? Didn't anyone on the set notice this? And Jim Carrey as The Riddler does what Carrey does best-- annoy you until you beg him to go away. Tommy Lee Jones apparently HATED Carrey during the filming which makes me like Tommy even better. Coulda been a contender.
1997- BATMAN AND ROBIN (Warner Bros) George Clooney takes over-- and he looks the part for the first time in the modern franchise. But the rest of the picture is a mess. If you like parody, this Mad Magazine skit turned two hour movie might be up your alley but for the rest of us we would like our money back.
2005- BATMAN BEGINS (Warner Bros) Christopher Nolan, hot off MEMENTO, was given the responsibility of saving Batman and he did, thanks in no small part to Frank Miller's BATMAN YEAR ONE, which this is loosely based on. Christian Bale actually has the build to carry off Batman, and the only weakness to the movie is the addition of the character of Rachel Dawes as Bruce's childhood sweetheart (never been in the comics), why film makers feel the need to do this with superhero films is beyond me. They don't all need a girlfriend to save.
Michael Caine is the best Alfred since William Austin.
2008- THE DARK KNIGHT (Warner Bros) Heath Ledger gives an Oscar Winning performance as The Joker which makes everyone forget about Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero (although I still like Romero's Joker)-- he plays the characters as a demented psychopath and steals the film from Bale. Too bad they had to meander with the whole nonsense about "Become a villain or stay the hero" or whatever that trite line of dialogue was about. It's called precursor dialogue in Screenwriting 101 and it's badly used here. If you couldn't see Harvey Dent's fate from the second he's on the screen then you've not seen a lot of movies.
So there you have it-- I didn't cover the animated films-- I'd recommend BATMAN UNDER THE RED HOOD and WORLD'S FINEST for great Batman animated films, the Batman character on the screen.
I'll likely see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES because we have movie passes, and I'm expecting to like it because I have no expectations on it. I just hope it's not 2.5 hours long.