Batman movies vs. Superman movies: Whose are better?

  • Christian Bale, seen here in 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises," played Batman in three movies directed by Christopher Nolan.

    Christian Bale, seen here in 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises," played Batman in three movies directed by Christopher Nolan.

  • Christopher Reeve played the Man of Steel in four movies, beginning with 1978's "Superman: The Movie."

    Christopher Reeve played the Man of Steel in four movies, beginning with 1978's "Superman: The Movie."

  • How do Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill stack up against early incarnations of Batman and Superman?

    How do Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill stack up against early incarnations of Batman and Superman?

 
 
Posted3/25/2016 5:00 AM

Before the "Avengers" cinematic universe made movie stars out of Iron Man and Captain America, there were two clear titans of the superhero world: Batman and Superman.

They square off this weekend when "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" comes to theaters after what seems like about a million years of hype. Today, let's pit them against each other and declare which hero's modern exploits make for the best movies. Then, you can watch them at home before -- or after -- seeing how the new film fares.

 

Batman on film

• "Batman" (1989)

The good: Michael Keaton defying the critics. Film noir production design. Danny Elfman's indelible music. Jack Nicholson's over-the-top Joker.

The bad: Robert Wuhl's annoying, unnecessary reporter. Alfred (Michael Gough) letting Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) into the batcave.

The grade: B+

• "Batman Returns" (1992)

The good: Villainous trio of Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito and Christopher Walken. The Penguin's tragic, allegorical existence. Nightmarish Gotham.

The bad: A little too Tim Burton-ish for its own good. Bruce scratching a CD like a DJ at a turntable. And more clowns?!

The grade: B-

• "Batman Forever" (1995)

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The good: Tommy Lee Jones, over-the-top like never before (or again) as Two-Face. Nicole Kidman as Batman's femme fatale. Val Kilmer inherits the title role without missing a beat.

The bad: Director Joel Schumacher lets garish production design and The Riddler (Jim Carrey) take over the movie.

The grade: C-

• "Batman & Robin" (1998)

The good: George Clooney makes a fine Bruce Wayne.

The bad: Everything else, beginning with Arnold Schwarzenegger's pun-heavy performance as Mr. Freeze. A notoriously bad movie.

The grade: D-

• "Batman Begins" (2005)

The good: Stellar cast. Fresh take on Batman's origin story with opening act set in Asia. Christopher Nolan behind the camera.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The bad: Katie Holmes, apparently, who was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal in the next film.

The grade: A-

• "The Dark Knight" (2008)

The good: Heath Ledger's legendary turn as The Joker. Tone and structure of a true-life crime epic.

The bad: The third act drags. Home video release diminished by muddy picture quality.

The grade: A-

• "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012)

The good: Hans Zimmer's intense, wall-to-wall music. The most emotional of Nolan's trilogy. Incredible final scenes. Michael Caine's best performance as Alfred.

The bad: Huge leaps in logic, particularly in Bane's (Tom Hardy) stock market caper. Ineffective plot twist in third act.

The grade: A-

Superman on film

• "Superman: The Movie" (1978)

The good: Perfect casting of Christopher Reeve. First 45 minutes are thrilling, gorgeous, emotional. Gene Hackman is a hilarious Lex Luthor. John Williams' score remains iconic.

The bad: Cringe-worthy dialogue throughout for Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), including a painful nightgown-clad interview with Superman.

The grade: B+

• "Superman II" (1980)

The good: Great villains led by General Zod (Terence Stamp). Exciting final battle.

The bad: Strange shifts in tone thanks to switching directors midstream (Richard Donner, then Richard Lester). Some less-than-special effects.

The grade: B-

• "Superman III" (1983)

The good: A memorably scary scene in which villain Vera Webster (Annie Ross) is absorbed by a supercomputer and turned into a robot.

The bad: The attempt to make a Superman comedy with Richard Pryor. Kryptonite turns Supes into a lecherous drunk.

The grade: D

• "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace" (1987)

The good: Hackman returns. Other than that ... it has end credits?

The bad: Nearly everything, beginning with blonde-maned villain Nuclear Man and the utterly unconvincing visual effects. A total waste of a movie.

The grade: F

• "Superman Returns" (2006)

The good: Brandon Routh and Kevin Spacey as Supes and Lex. Thrilling plane crash sequence. Impressive visuals.

The bad: Noticeable lack of action. Heavy-handed Christ parable. Oh, and Superman winds up in the hospital. (Yes, the hospital.)

The grade: C-

• "Man of Steel" (2012)

The good: Unparalleled superhero action. Another forceful, percussive score from Zimmer. Krypton is a sci-fi nerd's dream. Russell Crowe is so good as Jor-El, you wish the movie was about him.

The bad: Pa Kent's (Kevin Costner) convictions make no sense. Superman (Henry Cavill) betrays himself in murdering his opponent (Michael Shannon). Strange product placement. And an even stranger phallic obsession. (Seriously, watch it again.)

The grade: C

Who wins?

Batman, with a B average. We'll find out this weekend if Zack Snyder's prelude to a full-blown "Justice League" franchise brings our heroes' averages up.

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