With the release of The Batman last week I thought now more than ever would be the best time to rank and discuss all of the actors who have donned the cape and cowl over his 83 year history. Join me as we rank all of the Batmen.
Number 12: Robert Lowery (1949 Serial)
Up first we have the second actor to portray Bruce Wayne/Batman, Robert Lowery. Putting his last was a difficult choice because his serials featured the first live-action appearance of Commissioner Gordon and the Bat-signal.
However, this version of the Caped Crusader has rough writing, weak performances, and lacks a lot of what makes Batman so iconic, aka the Batmobile. While he is important to the legacy of the Dark Knight, he is arguably the most forgettable.
Number 11: Kevin Conroy (Arrowverse)
Up next is one that many never thought we’d see, Mr. Kevin Conroy, of Batman: The Animated Series fame. I may be one of the only people on earth that find Conroy’s voice work vastly overrated, and overshadows many wonderful actors to take the role (cough cough Bruce Greenwood cough cough). So, when it was announced that he would portray a fragile, older Bruce Wayne in the Arrowverse’s annual crossover, I wasn’t expecting much, and I got about all I expected.
The franchise itself struggles to keep its continuity straight, but this is one of the biggest missteps in the whole Arrowverse. For one thing, a completely different actor portrays Bruce Wayne, although it is actually Tommy Elliot, in the Batwoman show, but in Crisis on Infinite Earth we have Kate Kane acknowledge that this is the Bruce she knows. My biggest issue with the casting is that they did it strictly for fan service and tweets instead of actually taking the chance to develop this version of Bruce.
What makes his Batman so lackluster is it’s design. It has a disgusting Batmobile, a cheap suit, lack of meaningful relationships, no morals, and just disappears. The Arrowverse has handled many characters expertly, but this is not one of them.
Number 10: Lewis Wilson (1943 Serial)
Here is one I wanted to put higher, Lewis Wilson. His turn as Batman is likely the most important as his serial introduced two very key mythos to his character, the Bat’s Cave (as it’s referred to in the serial) and the iconic look of Alfred Pennyworth. Also, his version was a U.S. Secret Agent?
Prior to the release of the serial, Alfred was overweight, bumbling, detective; but with this release he became a slender, pencil mustache wearing, butler who is the only one to know of Batman’s true identity.
In addition, Lewis’s Batman also featured the first on screen appearance of Robin, portrayed by Douglas Croft, an actually sixteen year old kid marking the first child actor to be the Boy Wonder.
While many have never heard of these classic serials, they have forever cemented their place in the upper echelon of Batman history.
Number 9: Iain Glenn (Titans)
Now, this one is a hot take that many will disagree with as most reactions to his attempt as Batman as received mixed to very negative responses, he is of course Iain Glenn.
I plan to eventually rank all the Batsuits and Batmobiles in another ranking, but for right now I will attempt to explain my reasoning as to why he is placed higher than most. Unlike most versions of the character he actually has a Robin who is featured prominently in the series, in fact one of them is the main character. Yes, I said one of, because Titans is the first incarnation of both Jason Todd and Tim Drake. His partnerships already give him an edge above the rest because he has Robins, had Batgirl, has fought the Joker, Harvey, Ra’s, etc. He has had a long, experienced career that we see hints of. Glenn’s Batman also features a high tech and modern Batcave that is reminiscent of the comics, and an awesome Batmobile that is every nerds dream. His character has the potential to be much higher but the series struggles to use him properly or even attempt to write him accurately. This Bruce is laughable. He runs away from his responsibilities and even contemplated killing himself after failing. It’s disheartening to see them take him down this path when the history of his version is so great.
Number 8: George Clooney (Batman & Robin)
Here he is, the man who killed the franchise, George Clooney. Taking over after Kilmer left the role, Clooney was tasked with playing a characterization of Batman designed to sell toys. Looking back, as a kid I had dozens of figures of Clooney, even a statue that says his iconic line “Hi Freeze, I’m Batman.” In the late 90s, this version was everywhere, McDonalds, Commercials, Cereal, Video Games, you name it. But, as much as he resonated with kids, he failed the fans. His portrayal of Batman is so laughable for all the wrong reasons. It’s campy to the point of cringe, it is overly sexual, and features the absolute worst villain castings ever to be put on screen.
Clooney played Bruce Wayne fine enough, but when he dons the cape and cowl his performance is no different. He is the playboy through and through, asking the question, why is he even Batman. On the positives, there is a great subplot about Alfred dying that really gets to show the father-son dynamic that has been drastically overlooked. But, that is about it, and please do not get me started on this version of Batgirl.
Number 7: Val Kilmer (Batman Forever)
Growing up, this was my Batman. I LOVED Batman Forever as a kid, rewatching it weekly on VHS. To me, Kilmer was Batman like RDJ is Tony Stark, now that has changed drastically over time but my love for this film still remains. It’s fun, campy, yet serious and intricate… okay kinda. The original cut of this film featured an additional hour of character development for Bruce Wayne, as he tries to gather why he is the Dark Knight. You can find some of the scenes online if you wish, but the fact remains, Kilmer tried. As I watched the Val documentary last year I came to the realization that he went into the role wanting to explore the inner turmoil that an orphaned kid would feel. He wanted to define what makes Batman, Batman. It’s something I will always respect, even if we didn’t get to see that in the final film.
Batman Forever is infamous though for its inclusion of the now iconic, Bat-Nipples. In behind the scenes interviews, it was confirmed that the nipples were added to give these characters the greek god look, by defining their anatomy. It’s an interesting idea but as anyone can tell you, it wasn’t smart for the final project. The film also returned Robin to the silver screen after almost thirty years. Chris O’Donnell does a good job bringing to life Dick Grayson, even if he is a bit too old. But the real stand out of the film is Jim Carrey as the Riddler. His performance has stood the test of time, being funny and thrilling, while still having that sense of fear that is key to the character. Although, the same cannot be said for Tommy Lee Jones who gives a career worst as Two-Face (and to think he had the balls to tell Carrey he doesn’t like his baboonery yet gives a deep character like Harvey Dent a whimsical and looney side).
I also had to include this imagine of Nicole Kidman and Val Kilmer. Even in promotional images her character is regulated to a sex object.
Number 6: David Mazouz (Gotham)
Oddly enough, I never expected to see David Mazouz’s version of Bruce Wayne this high. But, upon review of the series I realized that he actually carries many of the key elements that define the character. Mazouz also has the benefit of being a lead in a five season series that featured twenty episodes a season. This gave him a lot of time to develop his characterization of Batman way more than many others. Yes, we see the death of the Waynes again, but for once it felt needed. We needed to see our lead witness that tragedy and move through it, it connects us to him more than many other renditions. This Bruce is loving, kind, compassionate, eager, and determined. We get to see him learn, train, love and grow into the Batman of the comics. On the negative side, his villains are all twenty plus years older than he and most even take their comic names before he even puts on the suit.
Number 5: Michael Keaton (Batman and Batman Returns)
It’s funny, how over the decades fans have complained about version of the characters not being accurate to their comic counter-parts, yet if you ask most Batman fans their favorite actor they’ll say it’s Michael Keaton. Now, this is probably because most adult fans of Batman grew up in the 80s and were at the right age to experience this radically new version of Batman, but many will still insist that this is the definitive version of Batman in live action. But, why? Keaton, in my eyes, is arguably one of the least accurate representations of Batman to ever hit the scene. This one kills, with a smile on his face, his entire motive is revenge, he lacks the training and expertise of a detective and fighter. His Bruce Wayne is lackluster, rarely being utilized, especially in Batman Returns, and hell, Keaton is often sidelined in his own films to give the spot light to Joker and Penguin. Strangely enough, he’s my number five, but for all the wrong reasons.
The reason I have Keaton so high on my list is purely due to the world he inhabits. Tim Burton and Co. have designed and filled in a living breathing Gotham that both adapts and improves the city seen in the comics. It has this gothic, Victorian Era design yet neon lit and modern, truly giving it a timeless feel. His villains are multi-leveled and unique, standing the test of time, especially Catwoman. He has one of the coolest cars and iconic suits in all of Batman’s history and introduces one of the best Alfred actors to ever hit the scene. So much of these movies work that it allows me to ignore the critiques that his interpretation of Batman gives.
Number 4: Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Trilogy)
Well here we go again with going against the popular opinion, Christian Bale as number four. There is something about Bale’s performance that has always bugged me. It’s not the meme voice he uses, but as if he has no emotion. Every frame, every scene he has this grim stare, whether he is Bruce or Batman. Now, I’m not saying that brooding = bad, I’m trying to say that he has no range in his performances. He feels stale and tired, like he doesn’t want to do any of this. Which is why for me he is the worst part of his trilogy. Christopher Nolan aimed to create a Batman that could appear in our world and for the most part he succeeded. His suit and gear seems militaristic, his villains (mostly) are grounded and flawed, his friends have layers and his city is Chicago and Pittsburgh. I can believe that a man driving a tank can fight off crime, but I don’t believe that he could be the one doing it.
Bale’s Batman is probably one of the strangest of the list. His fighting is very choppy and rough making Clooney look like a Heavy Weight Champion, his detective skills are solely based on “hmm, which brick has a bigger hole”, and his morals are all over the place. For a Batman who states he doesn’t kill, he surely tends to do it.
Now where he stands above the rest is his enemies, who like Keaton, over shine him. I figure I don’t really need to explain myself because I assume everyone has seen these movies.
Number 3: Adam West (1966 Film and Batman Series)
Na, na, na, na, number three! Surprised we have Adam West so high up? You shouldn’t be. This man has it all, painted over mustached villains, crazy accurate suits, badass car, hell even has the detective skills that out pace Sherlock Holmes.
Adam West is the reason the character wasn’t forgotten, helping Batman from being cancelled in the comics and making him one of the most well known characters in all of pop culture. West gives Bruce Wayne this philanthropist nature that is shocking for a show mainly aimed at kids and his gadgets are unmatched. Don’t underestimate this version of the character, and if you haven’t checked him out, I reckin you do.
Number 2: Ben Affleck (Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Zack Snyder’s Justice League)
Back in 2013 when Affleck was announced for the role in the follow up to Man of Steel I feel like everyone thought it was a mistake, and believe it or not, I was not one of them. I grew up watching his Daredevil movie on FX and I always thought he could be a good Batman. Thankfully, he was even if his characterization of him wasn’t to everyone’s liking. I think the idea that after twenty years Bruce began to lose his way, especially after everything he went through. His belief that if the criminal dies by “accident” it wasn’t his fault was an interesting take. It’s a loop hole he created for himself to not take responsibility for the consequences of his actions. To learn to be better and learn to find the good in humanity again is a great lesson for Bruce to learn, but in execution it just wasn’t done right.
Affleck’s Batman has some of my favorite elements in live action. He has my favorite suit, Batmobile, Alfred, Bruce Wayne persona. The man’s got it all. He even has the most villians featured out side of a series. Where he falters is the lack of a solo film. Affleck was always regulated to team up movies and was never really given his chance to shine. I believe if he had that he would have been number one.
Number 1: Robert Pattinson (The Batman)
But number one is The Batman. I know his film is brand new and many still haven’t seen it so I won’t give much away but this Batman is the definitive on screen representation of the character. Right from the start we see his usage of fear, fighting, gadgets. We see why he is the world’s greatest Detective and we get to EXPERIENCE how a billionaire with a death wish turns into the beacon of hope for the citizens of Gotham. But most importantly, we finally have a Batman who doesn’t kill. I cannot wait to see more of what Matt Reeves and Co. do in the Battinson universe.
What do you think? Agree, disagree? Let me know!