Batman is one of the most popular comic book heroes, and over the last 60 years we’ve had quite a selection of Thespians playing or voicing the character on the big and small screen. Some serviceable, some amazing, and one that is plain bad…
Appearances: Batman & Robin (1997), The Flash (2023, cameo as Bruce Wayne)
The blame is not squarely on Clooney’s shoulders for his placement on this list, but this is the only entry on the list that is just not good. His starring film, Batman & Robin, is considered by many as one of the most ill-received superhero flicks ever. While Clooney’s Bruce Wayne is serviceable and actually quite charming, his time behind the cowl is marked by poor jokes, a bad suit (why include such visible nipples), and stiff action scenes. In a 2020 interview with Howard Stern, Clooney said, “The truth of the matter is, I was bad in it. Akiva Goldsman — who’s won the Oscar for writing since then — he wrote the screenplay. And it’s a terrible screenplay, he’ll tell you. I’m terrible in it, I’ll tell you. Joel Schumacher, who just passed away, directed it, and he’d say, ‘Yeah, it didn’t work.’ We all whiffed on that one.” In the Burton/Schumacher films this Batman ultimately falls behind the superior portrayals of Val Kilmer and Michael Keaton.
Appearances: DC League of Super-Pets (2022)
Reeves voiced the Caped Crusader in 2022’s DC League of Super-Pets, and it’s a hilarious performance, though there’s not much to say here. With Reeve’s recognizable monotone voice, this Batman constantly discusses the death of his parents or the fact that he is definitely not Bruce Wayne. This rendition of Batman is meant more as a comedic parody on the character itself, and works really well in this aspect. It only ranks so low because the focus isn’t really on Batman in this movie, he has very little screen time, and the movie doesn’t add much meat to the character.
Appearances: The LEGO Movie (2014), The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
Another voice role, Will Arnett gave us a hilarious Batman as well in 2014’s The LEGO Movie and 2017’s The LEGO Batman Movie. Like Reeves, Arnett is comedic and tiptoes the line of being a parody of the character. More of a bumbling buffoon as opposed to the genius we’re used to when we think of Batman, this Batman generally has no complaints from fans. While well received and hilarious, much like Reeves’, there’s not much else to say and the performance just doesn’t do much else to justify a higher placement.
Appearances: Batman Forever (1995)
There’s no denying that Kilmer is a great actor, but similar to Clooney’s Batman, his time as Bruce Wayne was better. Portraying Batman in the first Schumacher film, Batman Forever, Kilmer was thrust into a much more goofy world that was a jarring change for audiences after Batman Returns. Like Clooney, Kilmer is marred by bad jokes and action scenes, though not half as cringe inducing. The cartoony nature of Batman and Robin is clearly an evolution from this interpretation, but there are still remnants of the Burton movies here. The thing that makes Kilmer’s Batman particularly painful to watch is the fact that it follows the two movies starring Michael Keaton, which were excellent. In the documentary Val, Kilmer expressed disappointment during his time as Batman, saying, “…whatever boyish excitement I had going in was crushed by the reality of the Batsuit….It’s very isolating. It was a struggle for me to get a performance past the suit and it was frustrating until I realized that my role in the film was just to show up and stand where I was told to.” All in all, Kilmer was serviceable as Batman, and much of the criticism of the film isn’t on him.
Appearances: Suicide Squad (2016), Batman v Superman (2016), Justice League (2017), Zach Snyder’s Justice League (2021), The Flash (2023)
Affleck’s time as the World’s Greatest Detective led to much debate among the fanbase. Many people enjoyed the darker, more violent Batman, while others criticized his lack of mercy and characterization. An older and more buff version of the character, Affleck’s Batman stands out, but the troubled production and reception of the DCEU films did nothing to help him win over the majority of the crowd. After stepping away after the release of 2017’s Justice League and stating his time as the vigilante was done, Affleck ultimately returned as the character for Zach Snyder’s Justice League and The Flash.
Appearances: The Batman (2022), The Batman Part II (in pre-production)
Where Affleck’s Batman is the toughest, Pattinson’s is the edgiest. Rocking a fringe cut with a penchant for journaling and Nirvana, “Battinson’s” first outing is also notable as it contains more noir and mystery elements than other Batman movies, and as such Battinson does more detective work than the others on this list. This Bat also has more anger problems than others on this list, leading to him being extremely brutal (almost on par with Affleck), but it is enjoyable to see his character progression as he slowly builds the values we associate with the character. He realizes that his actions affect other people, and throughout the movie begins to see his work as Batman as one for the greater good of the public rather than just a personal vendetta against corruption.
Appearances: Batman (1966-1968), Batman: Return of the Capes Crusaders (2016), Batman vs. Two Face (2017, post-humous release)
The goofiest and most light-hearted iteration of Batman belongs to Adam West. Gallivanting around Gotham in a colorful cloth costume and brawling with goons with visual onomatopoeia (BAM!) in the 1960’s TV series Batman, West’s portrayal is vastly distant from the others. While I criticized Clooney and Kilmer for being over the top, West is a different story. Reveling in it, and not doing it solely to sell merchandise, this has a different feel; West along with the other actors look like they’re having genuine fun. You can’t help but crack a smile when watching Batman and Robin foil a silly plan in this classic series.
Appearances: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Bale’s time as Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was critically acclaimed. Possibly the most committed actor to don the cowl, Bale and Nolan created a Batman that felt very tangible and real. The voice is the one downside to this Batman, going from pretty grizzled in Batman Begins to sounding silly and painful in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Bale also gave us a perfectly ridiculous and over the top persona as Bruce Wayne in order to conceal his secret identity, and it very satisfyingly contrasts to his character’s true nature. While its true that Bale benefitted from starring opposite brilliant actors portraying his villains (Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Heath Ledger, and Tom Hardy) he still managed to stand-out in each of his entries, and his time behind the mask is remembered fondly.
Appearances: Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1991), The Flash (2023)
Michael Keaton portrayed Batman in Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns. Intelligent and stoic, Keaton’s version of the character is the basis for which many of the other actors took inspiration. He’s not the biggest or meanest Batman we’ve seen, but he carries an air of mystery and just “coolness” that the other Batmen can’t match. Keaton’s ability to create a fake persona for Wayne is also notable, and is even a notch above Bale’s. Much of Keaton’s success is thanks in part to the unique style of Tim Burton, but Keaton himself is the first Batman many people took seriously, and continues to be the favorite of countless fans. Keaton recently reprised his role in The Flash, and regardless of what you think of the film it was amazing to see him return after over 30 years.
Appearances: Countless TV Shows, Movies, and Video Games
Kevin Conroy was the voice of the character for many generations of fans, and his work is likely to be remembered for decades to come. First voicing Wayne/Batman in the critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series, Conroy went on to voice the character in a large number of other shows, movies, and video games (including the acclaimed Arkham series), often alongside Mark Hamill’s Joker. The deep, intimidating voice Conroy gave the character has become iconic, and we are unlikely to get another Batman performance quite as good as his. Hamill said of Conroy, “His rhythms and subtleties, tones and delivery — that all also helped inform my performance. He was the ideal partner — it was such a complementary, creative experience. I couldn’t have done it without him. He will always be my Batman.”
Another Batman is Coming
As you can see, some Batmen are much better than others, and the great ones really stand out. As we are still unsure of who is going to play the next Caped Crusader in James Gunn’s DCU, and we have no current timetable on The Batman Part II, you can be confident that you have plenty of great interpretations of the character to hold you over in the meantime. For more on Batman, check out our article All Batman Movies Ranked From Worst to Best.
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