Since his debut on the silver screen in 1966, Batman has become a staple in cinema. All of his movies, awesome or awful, have managed to leave an impression on fans and critics alike.
With rumors of current Batman actor Ben Affleck hanging up the cowl & cape for good, the age-old question remains, who wore that cowl & cape best? Who portrayed the Dark Knight in his purest form? Which one did the character justice? And likewise, who didn’t?
Now this question is a tricky one to answer, as everyone has their own opinion. With that said, let’s take a gander at the cinematic history of the Batman character and his various incarnations by ranking every Batman actor from worst to best. In order to make this list, an actor must have appeared as Batman in a theatrically released film. Direct to DVD movies like “Batman: Under the Red Hood” and “The Killing Joke” will not be considered for this list.
8: George Clooney (“Batman & Robin” 1997)
Let me start this off by stating, George Clooney is a good actor. In fact, most of the actors/actresses in “Batman & Robin” are good at their profession. However, under the bizarre direction of Joel Schumacher, George Clooney was given little to nothing to work with to make his Batman believable.
You see, every great Batman has three key personas. You have Bruce Wayne who is viewed by the public, as a charming millionaire bachelor. Then you have Bruce Wayne as he is on the inside, a mentally tortured soul. And then of course, you have Bruce Wayne as the caped crusader. Most of the other actors on this list follow this formula rather well. Clooney, on the other hand, doesn’t.
No matter what situation he finds himself in, He constantly plays the same charming bachelor character. This may fit when he is Bruce Wayne, but when he fights Mr. Freeze as Batman, it just comes off as phoned in. (Also, the bat-nipples and bat-credit-card are among the worst things I have ever seen on film.)
7: Will Arnett (“The Lego Batman Movie” 2017)
Reprising his role from “The Lego Movie,” Will Arnett Stars in 2017’s smash hit, “The Lego Batman Movie.” His caped crusader differed greatly from the dark anti-hero many of us are familiar with. Arnett’s Batman portrayed an egotistical over-the-top parody of himself who listens to heavy metal, goes to an orphanage handing out bat-merch and enjoys tuxedo dress-up parties. (I’m not making that last one up.)
Despite how hilarious Arnett is in the role, parts of the movie like his constant use of Siri felt a little grating. I feel like his Batman was played more as a self-aware parody of the superhero, rather than the dark vigilante that we know and love. That isn’t bad, it’s just not Batman for me. However, as zany and arrogant as this Batman is, there is still that deeper side of him that’s haunted by his past.
In “The Lego Batman Movie,” his butler Alfred speaks of his fear of being part of a family again. This aspect of the film was very fascinating and made for a unique and unforgettable version of the character. And while it wasn’t a perfect portrayal of the dark knight, it worked for what the movie was trying to do, and managed to leave a memorable impact.
6: Adam West (“Batman: The Movie” 1966)
Long before Keaton or Bale dawned the cowl and cape, this was who Batman was; a bright, colorful and campy crime-fighter. Adam West’s Batman truly was a product of the times, and I mean that in all the best ways. The 1966 Batman movie, as well as the TV show, perfectly captured the fun & goofy feel of the silver age of comics.
Unlike most D.C. or Marvel heroes, who went through similar phases of silliness, Adam West’s cheesy portrayal of Batman has stood the test of time, and is miraculously so dated, it’s timeless. While other campy heroes like Lynda Carter’s “Wonder Woman” and Lou Ferrigno’s “Incredible Hulk” are fondly remembered, few have obtained the iconic status that West did. He may not have been the dark knight, but he was the caped crusader.
5: Christian Bale (“The Dark Knight” Trilogy 2005-2012)
WAIT!! Don’t click off the website just yet, let me explain. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the Dark Knight movies. They resurrected a dead franchise, and redefined what a comic-book movie could be. Despite the film trilogy’s greatness, I have mixed thoughts on Christian Bale’s version of Batman itself. Like I stated earlier, every great Batman plays three characters, and Bale mostly does that pretty well.
Starring in the longest running Batman film series, Bale’s Bruce Wayne was given a lot more character development than most Batmen previous. He does play a disturbed orphan gone vigilante rather well. Now while his Bruce Wayne is very grounded and believable, his Batman, on the other hand, doesn’t fit as well.
First of all, the design. It has been my observation the bat-suits and vehicles have looked less and less like Batman as time has gone on. Bale in the costume always looked a bit off. From the bulky armor, to the dull color-scheme, he looked more like someone dressing up as Batman. Not to mention his voice sounds like he has throat cancer. It just felt like Christian Bale was trying to be threatening, while guys like Ben Affleck or Michael Keaton just naturally are.
Now I am in no way saying Christian Bale’s Batman was bad. As a matter of fact, the action with Bale in the Dark Knight films are among some of the best in any comic-book movie. And while he lacked mystery that other Batmen possessed, Bale brought a level of grit and realism to the character that we hadn’t really seen before.
4: Val Kilmer (“Batman Forever” 1995)
The most underrated Batman ever, Val Kilmer, and “Batman Forever” in general, are sadly too often associated with the film’s successor “Batman & Robin.” With so much hate towards the drastic change of tone in the Schumacher films, people often forget just how good Val Kilmer was as Bruce Wayne/Batman.
While he plays a good rich bachelor, the real highlights of the film are when he is haunted by his past. In the movie “Batman Forever,” we see Bruce suffering from a series of nightmares and flashes of his parent’s death, to the point where a rose falling on the ground greatly startles him. Up until “Batman Begins,” we hadn’t really had an in-depth look at Bruce’s past, aside from brief flashbacks in “Batman 89.” This part of the film is where Kilmer truly shines.
In a deleted scene we see Bruce find his way into an older part of the bat-cave, where he finds his father’s journal. There he reads about how when he was young he wanted to go to the movies with his parents, where they ultimately were shot and killed. So, he essentially feels like he was responsible for the death of his parents. Sadly, that scene isn’t in the final cut, and many people only see the campy overtone of the rest of the movie.
I believe had Kilmer been given a better script to work with, along with a better villain, this could have been a stronger more memorable film. But considering Val Kilmer was tasked with filling the shoes of Michael Keaton, its impressive he did as well as he did. He felt closer to a live-action Kevin Conroy.
3: Ben Affleck (“Batman V Superman” 2016, “Justice league” 2017)
Well, we all know what a disaster “Batman V Superman” was. Riddled with boring exposition, a depressing depiction of Superman and whatever Jessie Eisenberg was supposed to be. Despite the film’s shortcomings, I think we all can agree that Ben Affleck as Batman was absolutely fantastic. Rather than a younger dark knight like Christian Bale, Affleck presented an older, more seasoned Bruce Wayne, tired of doing what he has done for years.
Now earlier I made fun of Bale’s raspy Batman voice. Well this Batman fixes that issue with a digital voice box. Not only is this more practical, but it sounds a bit more natural, despite being digital. Aside from small fixes like that, Affleck improves on Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman by balancing the two personas considerably better, while still keeping that grit that made Bale’s Batman so intense. Whether or not he stays on board for another movie may be up in the air, but I can guarantee you this; it will be hard to top Batfleck.
2: Kevin Conroy (“Batman: The animated series” 1992-1995, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” 1993)
Out of all the Batmen, few have stood the test of time like Kevin Conroy. Despite only lending his voice to the character, the voice was all we needed to believe that this man was Batman. From 1992 to 1995 and beyond, Conroy has often been considered the definitive Batman thanks to the animated series.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that he seems to encompass every version of Batman there has been, while still adding his own touch. This makes his portrayal resonate with fans young and old, for it reminds them of some version of Batman they grew up with. Taking his countless outings as the caped crusader into account, it’s shocking that Kevin Conroy only featured in one theatrical movie as Batman.
And that film is “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.” Despite losing in the box office to “The Lion King,” over time it has gotten a following as possibly the best Batman movie there is. Whether you heard him on TV, in the theaters, or even in the Arkham video game series, Kevin Conroy somehow connects with Batman fans young and old.
1: Michael Keaton (“Batman” 1989, “Batman Returns” 1992)
Taking the top spot on the list is the original guardian of Gotham, Michael Keaton. The original, the classic, the master of unpredictability. And I really mean unpredictable. Back in 1989, before the movie was even released, Michael Keaton was facing extreme fan backlash when he was cast as Batman. With a comedic background, nobody believed the man who starred in films like “Beetlejuice” or “Multiplicity” could pull off a dark brooding role like Batman.
Some feared it would come off as a repeat of the Adam West TV show rather than a serious Batman story. However, on June 23, 1989 everybody was proven 100 percent wrong. Michael Keaton played a mentally tormented, reclusive billionaire who unlike other batmen ahead of him, keeps all his pain inside.
Whereas Bale or Affleck always looked like they were trying to hide something, Keaton on the other hand never lets on to others the struggle he’s going through. When he mourns over his parent’s death there aren’t any tears or words, but you feel his pain.
And of-course you have to look at him as Batman. While other guys like Bale, Kilmer and Affleck all portray the vigilante rather well, none of them quite capture the silent but intimidating presence that Keaton possessed when he put on the cowl. He didn’t need a raspy voice or one-liners to be threatening, it was just natural to him. While there will be many more talented actors to dawn the cape and cowl, it will be very difficult if not impossible to eclipse Michael Keaton’s place as the darkest knight. What else can you say but, he’s Batman.