What makes The Batman such an interesting movie is that it doesn’t feel like a superhero film. Especially when compared to Marvel movies. Why is that? Because The Batman is, above all else, a crime thriller. It abandons almost every expected trope of the superhero genre. Its inspiration is less The Dark Knight and Iron Man and more Silence of the Lambs.
With that in mind, I’ve assembled a bit of an odd ball list of movies heavily skewed to the crime thriller genre.
1. Seven (1995)
Obvious things first. For over 25 years, Seven has been one of those movies that makes people say, “Wait, you’ve never seen Seven?! Go watch it right now!” It’s pretty iconic. And essentially the blueprint for The Batman. The comparison is so obvious that most online outlets have written some kind of article about it. If you’ve seen Seven before then you’re probably nodding or have skipped this entry entirely. If you haven’t…well…go watch it right now.
2. Zodiac (2007)
I swear this list won’t just be David Fincher movies. This is the last one. But I have to mention Zodiac. It’s much more of a cult film than Seven. Despite being a Fincher film with an insane cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downy Jr., Mark Ruffalo), it’s not as popular as Seven, Fight Club, Benjamin Button, Social Network, etc. There’s a patient emptiness to the film that is off-putting—and I mean that as a good thing. It’s like as you watch the movie, it watches you back. Who doesn’t want that?
Similar to The Batman, Zodiac features a killer who loves puzzles and cyphers and leaving taunting notes. Matt Reeves even said the Zodiac Killer inspired a lot of The Riddler. Also like The Batman, the movie is long. A whopping 157 minutes. It flies by, trust me.
3. Prisoners (2013)
Prisoners has become a quiet classic. Especially with how incredibly popular director Denis Villeneuve has grown since making Prisoners (Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, Dune). This is another story that features a killer on the loose and a heroic figure trying to figure out who it is and where they are before anyone else gets hurt. Except it’s much more intimate than the previously mentioned films. We’re not in the chaos of New York City. Or swept up in one of the biggest cases of the 20th century. This is a local terror. Even though it’s smaller in scope and scale, that somehow makes it feel all the larger. And, guess what? Paul Dano, who plays The Riddler, is in this! And it probably comes as no surprise when I tell you that, yes, he’s unsettling. Prisoners may not have some of the visceral, mainstream surprises as Seven, but it’s a cinematic force and will stick in your head for months—if not years (though probably the rest of your life).
Once you’ve watched, go ahead and read our Colossal explanation of Prisoners.
4. Taking Lives (2004)
Okay, now we’re getting a little weirder. Taking Lives was not popular. Critically-panned. A box office failure. The Razzie even nominated the star, Angelina Jolie, for Worst Actress. Despite all that, there’s something effective and compelling about Taking Lives—I think, at least. It’s also the first time Paul Dano plays a killer. He’s only in a few flashbacks, but he’s already very compelling in this kind of role. Knowing what we know now, it’s fun to go back and watch Taking Lives, as it laid the foundation for the impressive performances Dano would give in There Will Be Blood, Prisoners, and The Batman. This isn’t “high brow” stuff. But it’s pretty fun. And has a pretty outrageous final act that is, in a lot of ways, similar to Batman…and Robin.
5. The Crow (1994)
This is maybe a bit of a leap. But Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne reminded me, at times, of The Crow‘s main character, Eric Draven. Eric’s back from the dead, after a gang kills him and his fiancée, and foremost on his mind is revenge. And revenge he gets! There’s a ton of stylized violence. Violence that’s broken up by quiet, existential moments, where Eric reverts from “The Crow” to a man processing grief. In those moments, he feels very Bruce Wayne. The hair. The makeup. The exhaustion. The Crow is a story that finds comfort in mutual destruction. And for most of The Batman, Bruce is in a similar headspace (one he thankfully matures beyond). To this day, few comic book movies have gone as dark and intense as The Crow, opting instead for more humor, brightness, and positivity. While The Batman doesn’t match The Crow‘s bleakness and violence, it certainly appreciates those things in a way other comic book movies usually don’t.