Batman Actors: The Best and the Worst of All Time

With Ben Affleck confirmed to star in his own Batman film, fans of the Caped Crusader are about to step foot into an entirely new version of the character’s world that was only glimpsed in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It remains to be seen where Affleck’s film will rank alongside the other standalone Batman releases that preceded it, but with his film and Justice League on the way, there will be plenty of the Dark Knight to go around.

With that in mind, we’re looking back at all the of the actors who have played Batman in a live-action theatrical film. Since we’re not including animated releases, don’t expect to see Kevin Conroy in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm or Will Arnett in The LEGO Movie listed below.

6. George Clooney, Batman & Robin (1997)

George Clooney wears a Batman suit and stands at the bottom of stairs in Batman and Robin

George Clooney in Batman and Robin | Warner Bros.

Clooney is among the most charismatic and powerful Hollywood stars, but you wouldn’t know it from this Joel Schumacher film. Saddled with a horrendous script and a nippled Batsuit, the actor wouldn’t have really been able to do much to save this mess. Moreover, Batman & Robin doesn’t even try to make the Caped Crusader or his billionaire alter-ego remotely interesting. Talk about missed opportunities.

5. Val Kilmer, Batman Forever (1995)

Val Kilmer in Batman Forever

Val Kilmer in Batman Forever | Warner Bros.

Any actor filling in for Michal Keaton was doomed to be compared to his fan-favorite portrayal of the DC hero. Considering that fact, Kilmer actually does a solid job of making the character his own. While not as clearly defined as some of the other interpretations on this list, his Bruce Wayne/Batman at least taps into the duality inherent in the character, even if the film itself leans a bit too heavily on the campy humor that would derail its direct sequel.

4. Adam West, Batman: The Movie (1966)

Adam West in Batman: The Movie

Adam West in Batman: The Movie | Fox

If we were taking West’s popular stint as Batman on the eponymous TV show into account, he may rank a bit higher on this list. However, his tongue-in-cheek performance as the Caped Crusader (“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”) is so pitch-perfect for the campy tone of both the show and this film adaptation that he deserves some respect for being the only one to aim for a sillier, decidedly less brooding take on the character and making it work.

3. Michael Keaton, Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)

Michael Keaton in Batman

Michael Keaton in Batman | Warner Bros.

Fans were outraged at the thought of Michael “Mr. Mom” Keaton playing the iconic superhero, especially in the wake of sophisticated comic book titles like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns a few years earlier. Nowadays, that thought seems ludicrous, as Keaton’s performance perfectly captures the inner torment of the character as well as his unstable nature (“You want to get nuts? Let’s get nuts!”). Even though he doesn’t have the physicality of other Batman actors, Keaton was the first to prove that a serious live-action film about the hero could find an audience.

2. Ben Affleck, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2015)

Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Warner Bros.

He may have yet to lead an entire film as Gotham City’s vigilante hero, but Affleck has already proven himself capable to bringing together the combat skills, inner turmoil, rage, and charisma that are all necessary to convincingly bring some of the most beloved versions of Batman to life onscreen. Even if opinions on Zack Snyder’s film have largely been mixed, one of the biggest takeaways for fans has been how wrong their initial skepticism about Affleck’s casting was. Once the actor leads his own film, he could very well prove to be the best movie Batman of all time, but he’s not quite there just yet.

1. Christian Bale, The Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012)

Christian Bale in Batman Begins

Christian Bale in Batman Begins | Warner Bros.

OK, so the Batman voice that Bale adopted throughout the trilogy may be a sticking point for a lot of people, but aside from that, his version of the character is about as perfect as we’ve gotten so far. From his emotional drive to save his city from certain doom to his construction of a spoiled rich guy persona to cover his crime-fighting activities, Bale’s Batman unites the character’s pathos, detective skills, and relentless pursuit of justice to deliver the definitive screen Batman thus far. True, the Oscar-winning actor had a full trilogy to develop his version, but in any case, Affleck needs to get in the character’s head as much as these films do in order to trump Christopher Nolan’s version.

Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable

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