SLIDESHOW: BATMAN MOVIES V. SUPERMAN MOVIES: We know Superman could totally take Batman in a fight—even with Bats wearing that ridiculous armour. But what about a battle of the movies? Who wins that fight? A tougher call. Each has exactly 10 feature-length live-action films and/or movie serials under their utility belts. But whose are better? Or worse? Let's count down their 20 films, from worst to first, and see who really wins the battle of the world's best-known and best-loved superheroes.
20. SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987):Sorry, Supes: You lose the first round. The idea for this film is absurd (kid tells Supes to get rid of nukes, he does, supervillain is born), the cast is old, the special effects awful. Producers Golan and Globus slashed the budget from $40 to $17 mil after one of their Sylvester Stallone flicks failed. A sad end to the superhero franchise that began it all. Watching, you won't believe you once believed a man could fly.
19. BATMAN & ROBIN (1997): George Clooney plays Batman ironically, Uma Thurman hams it up, and Arnold delivers some of his worst puns ever as Mr. Freeze (“What killed da dinosaurs? Da ice age!”). The Adam West Batman series was intentional camp, tweaking both ‘40s sensibilities and our desperate need for heroes. Joel Schumacher's version is unintentional camp. He turns Batman into a joke without being funny at all.
18. BATMAN AND ROBIN (1949):Worst. Costume. Ever. Batman's suit seems made of felt and his cowl keeps slipping, forcing him to tilt his head up to see. He loses fights, sometimes one-on-one, which makes you wonder why he dresses up as Batman in the first place. Dude, if you can't take a 40-year-old in a fedora, time to hang it up. Everyone here is no-nonsense and marching to the same post-WWII, bureaucratic and martial drumbeat. It's so dull, it almost makes you miss the racism of the first Batman serial.
17. SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN (1951): A small Texas town menaces three midgets in bald wigs, who emerge from the world's biggest oil well, and Superman shows up periodically, stern and humorless, to stop any bloodshed. Best moment? When a lynch mob takes a shot at Lois and Superman responds, “Obviously none of you can be trusted with guns. So I’m going to take them away from you.” And he does. In Texas.
16. SUPERMAN III (1983): First they make Superman play second fiddle to a post-freebase Richard Pryor; then they turn him evil and split him in two. They also took away Lois since Margot Kidder was adamant that Donner was the director for Supes, not Lester. Serves her right for being right. I mean, all the things they could've done here and look what they did. Look at what they did to my boy.
15. BATMAN RETURNS (1992):Batman returns? When? In the first 45 minutes, we get maybe five minutes of him. Too much time, and too much empathy, is given to the supervillains: Penguin (ick) and Catwoman (num), and to the machinations of Chris Walken in white bouffant (whatever). Too many crooks spoil the plot—their schemes keep bumping into and sidetracking one another.
14. ATOM MAN VS. SUPERMAN (1950):You gotta give Lex Luthor credit. In this second Superman serial, he buys a TV station in the beginning of the TV age, builds a flying saucer, and invents the transporter beam 16 years before “Star Trek.” He also wears a glitter jug on his head for half the movie. Even so, he's still smarter than every other character in the serial, particularly Perry White, who manages to get everything wrong. As for the above image? That's Supes with a nuke between his legs. This looks like a job for Freud.
13. BATMAN FOREVER (1995):Batman gets psychoanalyzed by a sexed-up Nicole Kidman so he can change from a Batman who has to fight crime to one who wants to fight crime. “You trying to get under my cape, doctor?” “A girl can’t live by psychoses alone.” Then there's the scenery-chewing battle between Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey. Plus Robin's back. It's the beginning of the end of this franchise.
12. SUPERMAN II (1981):A job for Superman? Sadly, this is a Superman who doesn't do his job. He shows up late at The Daily Planet, explodes a second nuke in space despite an explicit warning against doing that, then gives up his superpowers to get laid. Donner's watchword, verisimilitude, went out the window here and Lester's camp began. Lester did what Zod couldn't: He flattened Superman.
11. BATMAN (1943):Not bad for a racist serial. It introduces the “Bat's Cave,” gives us Capt. Arnold rather than Commissioner Gordon, and has Batman sticking bat stickers on the foreheads of crooks like a latter-day Zorro. But at least Batman is still a vigilante here—that's how we like him.
10. SUPERMAN (1948):Kirk Allyn gave this Superman a dancer's grace and a neophyte's enthusiasm. We also get the whole origin of Superman: Krypton, rocket ship, Kents, trip from Smallville to Metropolis. “Your unique abilities make you … a kind of super man,” Pa Kent says, as he urges his son to fight for ”truth, tolerance and justice." That was our post-WWII, pre-Cold War lesson. Tolerance had a small window.
9. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012):Bloated and needlessly complicated. Batman returns from retirement to get his back broken, thrown down a third-world hole, rise up again, and retire again. Gotham, cleaned up by the Batman, succumbs to fascism and anarchy. Nobody can understand a word Bane says. But the movie is redeemed in part by Oldman's Gordon, Gordon-Levitt's Blake, and Hathaway's Selina Kyle.
8. SUPERMAN II: THE DONNER CUT (1981/2006):The opening scene, where Lois draws glasses and a fedora on a photo of Superman, then teases Clark, trying to get him to reveal his secret identity, is better than anything in Lester's version. Watching it, you wonder what might have been if the Salkinds had left Donner in control rather than going for Lester. You also want to borrow Jimmy Olsen's watch to signal Superman. Cuz we wuz robbed.
7. SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006): We live in a throwaway culture, so you have to admire Bryan Singer's attempt to recycle the 25-year-old Donner Superman movies. It doesn't quite work, though. The leads look and act too young, the ass-kicking of Superman on the kryptonite isle is too disturbing, and then there's the voyeurism. But what poignancy. Superman goes searching for Krypton and finds it in his own backyard.
6. MAN OF STEEL (2013):Cavill is an underrated Superman, and the main storyline—the idea that the U.S. would freak rather than applaud if an illegal alien with godlike powers showed up one day—is a smart move. Plus Lois is smart: She figures out Clark is Superman before there is a Superman. But then it gets dumb fast. I said it from day one: Zack Snyder is not the right director for Superman. He's really not the right director for anything.
5. BATMAN (1989): It starts out with gothic seriousness, ends as a kind of joke, but in-between it's not bad. Keaton makes the best Bruce Wayne, since he's constantly distracted, not quite there, which he isn't. (He's Batman.) Plus his bat suit is one of the coolest. Plus Jack. Plus Prince. But then we get: “Tell me if I’m crazy, but that wasn’t just another night for either of us, was it?” Girls.
4. BATMAN BEGINS (2005):If only Bruce Wayne had hated Gotham City for killing his parents. Then Ra's al Ghul's offer to destroy Gotham would've resonated. Bruce would've realized that what he'd always wanted wasn't what he really wanted. Instead, this. The movie also suffers because its main villains are all flunkies: Carmine Falcone just takes orders from Jonathan Crane, Scarecrow, who takes orders from ... Etc. But at least we got Christian Bale.
3. BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966):Suggestion: Watch the '49 serial and then this. You'll laugh your ass off. It's not only a great sendup of America's chest-thumping post-WWII sensibilities, it's the best satire ever created on our need for heroes, super or otherwise. Sadly, this need has only grown. To paraphrase Dylan: We were so much older then; we're much more juvenile now.
2. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008):The Joker terrorizes Gotham in order to reveal its ugly soul. And he's right. Again and again, the people and institutions of the city give in to indirect terror. But threatened directly? On the ferry boats? The people act nobly. How? More, how does Batman know this would happen? Yeah, I know. Most Batman fans don’t go to the movies looking for anything logical. Most Batman fans just want to watch the world burn.
1. SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1978):It's epic, witty and gritty, with Reeves perfect in the title role. And it was years ahead of its time—Kryptonian in its advancement. It took another 11 years before we got Tim Burton’s “Batman” and another 11 after that to get to Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” Twenty-two years: an entire generation. Back in the mid-1970s, Hollywood, enamored of disaster movies, didn’t think much of superheroes. But it only lacked the light to show it the way.
FIN: So who wins? What's the final tally? Well, Supes has the No. 1 movie but Batman dominates the top 5. If you do it numerically (20 points for No. 1, 19 for No. 2, etc.), then Batman beats his more powerful friend, 111 to 99. I'll still take Superman. But I'd like a Superman not produced by Golan and Globus. Or directed by Richard Lester. Or Zack Snyder. Or...