RANKED! The Best Batmans, From Adam West to Robert Pattinson
He is vengeance. He is the night. Batman is…emotionally unstable because he hasn’t actually confronted and worked through the trauma he experienced as a child, so it’s easier to react with anger and project his feelings onto those whom he feels are morally inferior to him, even though his own morals are questionable at best and he wears a mask to hide the fact that, underneath all the mystery and anger, he is still just a little boy who misses his mom and dad.
For 80-plus years, Batman has been waging a war on the criminal underbelly of Gotham City. He started out as a comic book hero, but quickly transcended that medium and made his way into movie serials, breakfast cereals, television shows, animated series, and much, much more. For many, though, their introduction to The Dark Knight came via the silver screen. When Batman ’89 came out in, um, 1989, theatergoers flocked to, um, theaters to see what Tim Burton, the director, could do with the caped crusader. He did not disappoint and, since that summer back in ’89, Batman has stood atop the film industry like it was a gargoyle at midnight.
As of this writing, Batman has appeared in 11 movies, with varying degrees of success. Some of the movies have been good, others have been Batman and Robin. Still, any actor who has donned the cape and cowl considered it an honor and now, as Robert Pattinson prepares to take up the mantle of the Bat, we thought it an opportune time to discuss those who have come before him. These are the best Batmans, ranked!
Cover Photo: Warner Bros.
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Honorable Mention: Adam West
No list of on-screen Batmen would be complete without Adam West, and we would be remiss without mentioning the granddaddy of them all. Adam West first starred in the 1966 television show and, in between seasons 1 and 2, a full-length feature came out that pitted West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin against The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman and The Riddler. It was a fun time at the movies, but it wasn’t really a movie. It was more of a feature-length episode of the show. Still, West’s contributions to the Batman mythos cannot be overstated and even though he doesn’t top this list, he does hold a special place in all of our hearts.
We are also not including Will Arnett (The Lego Batman Movie), nor Kevin Conroy (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm). Both have left an indelible mark on the world of Batman (especially Conroy who, in our opinion, is The Batman) but this article is only focusing on the live-action, full-length actors.
6. George Clooney
Which brings us to George Clooney. Now, don’t get us wrong. We like George Clooney. He’s great in most of his movies. It’s just, he was not great in 1997’s Batman and Robin. After taking over the cowl from Val Kilmer, Clooney could have chosen to go down a number of roads with his performance. He chose none of those roads, however.
To say Clooney’s Batman was bland would be like saying Batman and Robin was a bit disappointing. Both are major understatements. Clooney is a good actor. Joel Schumacher, the director of Batman and Robin is a good director. But this movie was not a good movie and, because he is the one that took on the mantle, most of the blame falls squarely on George Clooney’s chiseled shoulders.
5. Val Kilmer
Not far behind is Val Kilmer. Kilmer, like Clooney, had the chance to take the character of Batman in a whole new direction. But, instead of doing that, he chose to do absolutely nothing. Whether it was due to the script, the direction, or his own performance abilities, Val Kilmer was also an extremely bland, boring, cardboard cutout version of the Caped Crusader. Which is a shame, because there’s a good movie hidden inside Batman Forever. And we know Kilmer can act. Rumors are circulating that a “Director’s Cut” of Batman Forever may be released at some point in the future, and maybe that can redeem some of Kilmer’s goodwill with fans.
4. Robert Pattinson
Robert Pattinson could be the greatest Batman ever put to film. He could also be the worst. Like his predecessors (Affleck, Keaton, etc.), Pattinson’s casting announcement was met with dismay from fans. But both Affleck and Keaton proved fans wrong once before, and it’s quite possible that Pattinson (or should we say ‘Battinson’) could do the very same thing. Of course, it’s equally possible that he is awful -- worse than Clooney and Kilmer put together. We don’t know, yet, because very little footage of Pattinson in the bat suit has been made available. But, if previous installments have taught us anything, it’s that it is not just up to the actor to make a good Batman. It requires a good writer and director as well.
Luckily for Pattinson, and fans, we’re all in good hands as Matt Reeves is the writer and director of The Batman and he is an extremely talented tour-de-force when it comes to filmmaking. What Pattinson’s performance looks like remains to be seen, but we’re cautiously optimistic to see what the former Cedric Diggory has up his gauntlet-covered sleeve.
3. Christian Bale
And now we come to the holy trinity of Bat-Men. This is also where we part ways in terms of opinions. Some people will argue that Christian Bale is the greatest Batman of all time, and those people will undoubtedly let us know in the comments section. But, for our money, Bale is not the best Batman but he is a very good one. Where Bale’s contribution lies is in his performance as Bruce Wayne because Bale actually was the best Bruce Wayne on film. The way we measure this is because he made us, the viewing audience, care just as much about Bruce Wayne as we did Batman. Throughout Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, audiences were invested in the story of Bruce Wayne; Batman was just an added bonus. This is good, because Bale’s Batman wasn’t awesome. The costume never quite felt right, and through Christopher Nolan’s determination to keep his Batman in “the real world,” something was lost.
Batman is not a realistic character, even though he is, by design, more grounded than any other superhero. Bale did a good job in his role as Batman (except for that awful voice), but The Dark Knight trilogy, as it came to be known, was never about Batman. It was about Bruce Wayne and it was as Wayne that Bale truly shined.
2. Ben Affleck
And then, on the other side, there is Ben Affleck. Affleck was an okay Bruce Wayne, but he was a great Batman. When Affleck was first announced as the successor to the cowl, fans groaned. They remembered Affleck’s performance as Daredevil years prior, and they weren’t convinced that Affleck had the chops to pull off The Bat.
Those fears were put to rest when the first trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice arrived and Affleck was able to show just how ready he was to play The Dark Knight. His costume was perfect. In fact, it was the most comic book-accurate costume in the character’s film history. His performance was exceptional as well. Affleck’s Batman was old. He was tired. He was beaten down. This Batman has been waging his war on criminals for 20 years and he was angry. This was a Batman we haven’t seen before and it’s one that we may never see again.
1. Michael Keaton
And then there was Keaton. It was always going to be Keaton. When Michael Keaton was cast as Batman in the 1989 film of the same name, fans were outraged. “How can Mr. Mom be Batman?” they groaned. Letters were written and petitions were signed, all to get Keaton out of the film. It didn’t work. Petitions never do. And Keaton absolutely rose to the occasion.
The “Bat-Mania” of the summer of ’89 cannot be overstated. And much of the fanfare came because of Michael Keaton’s performance. In fact, Keaton was such a good Batman that he is actually going to return to the role, 30 years later in Andy Muschietti’s The Flash movie. Michael Keaton told the world back in 1989 that he was Batman. He always has been and he always will be. No matter who puts on the cowl, Michael Keaton will always be the Batman.