Today, DC Comics is officially celebrating the 75th anniversary of their most popular character, Batman. Whether you became a Batman fan through the lens of Adam West’s 1960s “bright knight,” or the comics and modern films’ Dark Knight, it’s very easy to see that the character himself has stood the test of time through multiple iterations and interpretations, and across multiple mediums. Batman has been at the forefront of an incaluclable number of memorable moments across film, television, radio, prose literature, and of course, comics. While it might be a bit too much of a task to name his greatest moments from all of those different exploitations here, we can definitely go down the list and name all of the best moments from the character’s live-action film appearances.
So, from 1966 on up through 2012, here are Batman’s greatest movie moments!
1966 – “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
If there’s any single scene that encapsulates what the 1966 iteration of Batman is all about, it has to be his desperate attempt to dispose of a bomb from the hideout of his most dangerous enemies. Taking place in a seedy Gotham dock, Batman grabs the bomb and frantically runs all around the place trying to find a safe place to toss the explosive before it goes off and hurts someone. The campiness sets in almost immediately, with everything from a group of nuns, to a persistent marching band, to a cute little family of ducklings all stopping him from throwing it somewhere nearby. Batman takes a moment for himself while the fuse is still burning, and exclaims, “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
This scene, of course, has become one of the classics of this entire era of Batman, and while the sequence with the shark almost took this spot, the overall charm and goofiness of the bomb scene ultimately had to win out.
1989 – “Get in the car.” “Which one?”
The 1989 Batman film was more than just a blockbuster movie that summer: it was a cultural event. “Bat-Mania” swept up the world in excitement for the forthcoming film, and helped to make Batman the popular powerhouse he is today. The film itself did a lot of things for the character, as well. It helped banish the 1966 campy conception of the character from the minds of popular audiences the world over, and returned an air of darkness and mystery to Batman that hadn’t been seen in the public eye for decades. While there are a lot of great moments to choose from for this list in 1989’s Batman, the one that still proves to be goosebump-inducing is the reveal of the car.
The design of the 1989 Batmobile still tops many peoples’ lists of the most definitive iterations of the Batmobile, and for good reason. Production designer Anton Furst created an art deco design for the car that still proves to be extraordinarily unique, and easily identifiable as the conveyance of the Dark Knight. In this scene from the 1989 film, Batman has just rescued Vicki Vale from the Joker at the Flugelheim Museum, and as they make their escape, Danny Elfman’s music works in concert with both Kim Basinger’s expression and the design of the car to blow audiences away with the sheer greatness of this vehicle. It still works to this day, and demands to be recognized here.
1992 – “What’re you waiting for?! The signal!”
The opening scene of Batman Returns is a great way to kick off a Batman film. Very early on you establish the chaos of the Penguin’s Red Triangle Gang, and their terrorizing of Gotham during Christmas time requires a more…extreme hand. Gordon gets the signal called in, and when it lights up, we take in a rather drab and depressing view of Wayne Manor. Sitting inside is Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne. He’s sitting alone in a room with no lights on, brooding and contemplating something that would probably make our nightmares seem like an episode of My Little Pony, before the signal becomes the only light source that envelops the room. He looks quickly and stands, as if he finally has a purpose for the first time in his life.
There’s more chaos in Gotham Plaza as Batman arrives in the car, using the vehicle to take down many of the “clowns” of the gang, and even using the Batmobile’s afterburner to set the fire-breather on fire. It all culminates in one of the clowns holding Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle hostage with a stun gun. Batman quickly shoots his grapple gun next to the clown’s head, who confidently laughs when telling him, “You missed!” Batman then yanks on the line he just shot, pulling out part of the wall and knocking the clown out decisively.
This is one of the only scenes in the film where Batman is depicted actively saving people, and the heroism (though sometimes brutal) and the use of the car brings it to the top spot for Batman Returns.
1995 – “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST DIE?!”
Batman Forever is a weird film to try and analyze in this moment in time for the character, because it was largely a transitionary piece between the utter darkness of Tim Burton’s films, and the horrible campfest that would follow in 1997. Contrary to popular belief, though, there are a number of great Batman moments in Forever, and this one has to top the list. While Edward Nygma is holding a prty at the flashy Ritz Gotham for his new invention, Two-Face and his men burst onto the scene for an “old-fashioned stickup.” Batman then bursts through the building’s skylight, and begins a pretty awesome fight scene against many of Two-Face’s men simultaneously. In the end, Two-Face begins to make his escape, and Batman rushes to the roof and jumps off in an attempt to capture him. Two-Face is ready for him, though, and leads him into a pit underground that he’ll then envelop in flames.
But Batman’s ready for that, too, and just when Two-Face thinks he’s snuffed him out for good, Batman burst through the fire, with a look of rage on his face that still comes off as a pure Batman moment. While there’s a lot of Forever to dislike, there’s also a fair amount to enjoy, and this has to be at the top of the list.
1997 – “Uh oh!”
I need not convey how much of a disappointment Batman & Robin ended up being. I know it, you know it, and commentators much funnier and clever than I have said it better than I could ever hope to.
That being said, there’s some inherent Batman value in the few seconds where you see Batman relentlessly pursue Freeze in the middle of the film, culminating in a pretty cool visual showing Batman quickly glide into Freeze’s car. In truth, though, that’s about it for Batman & Robin. At least it pulled off a few seconds that were cool!
2005 – Conquering Fear
With Batman Begins, we come to an opposite problem. The Christopher Nolan-directed, Christian Bale-starring reboot of the character’s film series is packed full of great Batman moments, which definitely makes it difficult to narrow down just one. But, if you’re looking for something that encapsulated the spirit of Batman to conquer, then you likely don’t get any greater representative scene than the moment where Bruce Wayne overcomes his fear, and embraces the things that frightened him as a child: the very creatures he would use as his symbol going forward. Batman Begins, at this point, was the most complete look that general moviegoing audiences had ever gotten at the man behind the mask, and the overall thematic illustration of fear in Batman Begins was culminated in the incredible imagery of Bruce Wayne overcoming the very emotion that he would use as a weapon against his enemies.
While he isn’t wearing his familiar suit in this scene, it goes a long way to inform you about who this man is, and what drives him when he actually does don the cape and cowl for the first time. So, this goosebump-inducing sequence deserves the nod here.
2008 – “You wanted me, here I am.”
Fiction is filled with countless timeless antagonisms, the kinds of conflicts that help to truly ignite our imaginations and tell us stories that will stand the test of time. Holmes and Moriarty or Bond and Blofeld come to mind in literature and on screen, but just as deserving of a spot at their side is Batman and the Joker. Batman’s nemesis hadn’t been seen on the big screen in nearly 20 years, and Jack Nicholson’s portrayal, while memorable, was still not as representative of the comics character as it could’ve been. Then, along came Heath Ledger, who embodied the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, to stand across from Bale’s Batman as the new representation of that timeless conflict.
This scene isn’t a fight, and it’s not particularly action-oriented. Instead, it’s a battle of the minds, and frankly, one that Batman loses. When he tries to get information in the ways he knows has been effective against other criminals, he fails. So, he resorts to violence. The result? The Joker laughs in his face. Everything that Batman knows how to do against criminals doesn’t work on this man, because the Joker is a special breed of criminal that he hasn’t prepared for. Fighting against Falcone, crime, corruption, and graft never even remotely prepared him for someone who, as Alfred put it, “just wants to watch the world burn.” I noted in an academic project I contributed to a few years ago that this scene may be the finest in all of comic book cinema, and I think that’s just as true now as it was then. So, do yourself a favor, and soak it in one more time.
2012 – “Then…you have my permission to die.”
As great as The Dark Knight was, 2012’s follow-up The Dark Knight Rises was more polarizing and controversial. It jumped years away from the events of the second film, and sought to provide a concrete end to Batman’s story…something that had never been accomplished before, and certainly not on film. People have varying opinions on whether or not it succeeded in giving the character an effective finale, but regardless of where you stand, it’s difficult not to recognize the greatness of the final fight scene. Everything had been building to this moment, and with Batman and Bane both leading their “armies” on the Gotham streets, they engage in a battle with the very soul of the city on the line.
I almost passed this moment over for the first fight between Batman and Bane, as that fight was probably one of the most visceral scenes I’ve ever taken in from a film before. You can almost feel the pain that Bane is dishing out on Batman, and with that scene culminating in Batman’s defeat, it placed Rises in a very interesting place as the plot moved forward. This scene, though, was the beginning of the payoff, and with a much more evenly-matched fight, it definitely proved to be suspenseful. Besides, who doesn’t love Batman throwing Bane’s own threat right back in his face?
So that does it for Batman’s best moments on film from 1966 until 2012. We’ll have to wait until 2016 to see what new moments Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will present to us, but in the meantime, today would be a great day to absorb some of your favorite Batman moments. It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you, so make sure you pick your favorite moments carefully!
Do you have different choices for Batman’s best on-screen moments? Feel free to leave them in a comment below, and be sure to celebrate the day for everyone’s favorite Dark Knight!
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