It’s Batman Day, So Let’s Rank The Dark Knights
I'm sure no one will disagree with this list.
Every year on the third Saturday of September, comic fans are invited to celebrate Batman day, and in this 80th anniversary year for the caped crusader, the celebrations are even bigger, with the Bat Signal projected in the skies around the world. We don’t need to get into the argument about who’s the best superhero, because it’s obviously Batman (or at least today it is) but we can totally talk about where the various Batmen of film and television rank, because just like Bats, we’re always ready to throw down. Especially with Robert Pattinson taking on the cowl and Batman set to finally make an appearance in the Arrowverse, it the perfect day to look bat at the past.
8. George Clooney – Batman and Robin
While some selections on this list might be controversial, I don’t think anyone will disagree that Batman and Robin is a very bad movie. Yes, it has it’s campy, over-the-top, so-bad-it’s-kinda-fun charms, but none of those come from Clooney in his be-nippled batsuit. Clooney can usually coast on the charm of being George Clooney alone, but in this train-wreck of a movie he’s duller than wet toast both in costume and outside of it. It’s okay though, his career seemed to do just fine after this bomb, unlike some of his co-stars.
7. Val Kilmer – Batman Forever
Joel Schumacher was allowed to nearly kill all superhero movies forever with Batman and Robin because Batman Forever was…not bad. It’s a comic book movie that, in it’s best moments, really leans into being a comic book. Nost of those moments of course come from Jim Carey as the Riddler. Val Kilmer is a bit a snooze when he’s in Bruce Wayne mode, but he’s fine as Batman and at least tries to have a little fun when he’s behind the mask. Even so, it’s not his best performance (that would we Tombstone) by a mile, and as Bat-actors go, he’s at the (perfectly sculpted, rubber) bottom.
6. Ben Affleck – D.C. Extended Universe
I really don’t mind Ben Affleck as Batman. He has a wry sort of humor and self-awareness in Justice League that actually works, and you do get a sense that this is just a guy with a lot of money and even more issues trying to do his best when surrounded by impossible people and situations. He’s got a fine balance of charm and grit that could have worked pretty well…in better movies. Unfortunately I’d rather Watch Batman and Robin again than slog through Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice because at least Batman and Robin is fun. At least Bat-fleck doesn’t get out charisma’d by the villains of his films, which says more about how bad they are than about how Affleck succeeds in the role.
5. Adam West – Batman (series)
I recently rewatched a bunch of the old Batman television series and discovered to my delight…it’s kind of great? If you go into the show understanding that it’s meant to be campy and silly, you can just have fun with the “pow!” and “bang!” of it all. The show is pure, delicious cheese and Adam West carries all of it on his caped shoulders with surprising aplomb. He’s funny, smart and, believe it or not, sexy as hell when he has that mask off. West never takes himself too seriously, just like the show, but there’s a reason that he’s still an icon, fifty years later.
4. Michael Keaton – Batman/Batman Returns
Batman and Batman Returns are both iconic, but much like the original Batman series, they’re extremely of their era and in this case, of their auteur, Tim Burton. They’re great films, but the succeed on atmosphere and scenery chewing villains perhaps more than on the performance of their leading man, which is kind of a shame because Michael Keaton is really quite good in the role. He plays Bruce as a man who is believably broken enough to dress up in a costume (where he can’t turn his head) each night, and pulls it off well. Keaton is also the most romantic on screen Bats by far and his chemistry with Kim Basinger and then Michelle Pfeiffer is truly amazing.
3. Will Arnet – Lego Batman
No one expected 2014’s The Lego Movie to be one of the best Batman movie of the decade, but it was. And Lego Batman was just as much fun, thanks to Will Arnet’s hysterical work as the Dark (plastic) Knight. Lego Batman manages to be the perfect parody of almost every Batman that’s come before, yet also something fun and entertaining all on it’s own. It’s very meta, but also very, very good.
2. Christian Bale – The Dark Knight Trilogy
We know that Bale, or possibly director Christopher Nolan, went overboard on the “I’m Batman” voice, but Bale really does shine in this series. Many of the actors on this list did better as Batman or Bruce Wayne, but Bale brings his considerable talent to making both side of the character rich and compelling, and in doing so gives us a human and haunted version of Batman like we had never really seen on big screen. My particular favorite performance, and possibly my favorite Batman movie, is actually Batman Begins because it really is a story about Bruce and how he became a hero, piece by piece. The movie, and Bale’s great, layer performance in it, lays the foundation for the sequels, which focus less on the Bat, but still succeed because Bale is so great in the role.
1. Kevin Conroy – Batman: The Animated Series
I know it might be trite at this point to say that Batman: The Animated Series is far and away the best screen version of Batman ever but it’s a cliche because it’s true. Batman:The Animated Series and it’s progeny transcended the medium of a Saturday cartoon and took the all its characters to new heights and without ever getting too dark or too silly. It’s honestly a miracle how good the show is, and that’s thanks in part to Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman/Bruce. The subtle variations in that rich baritone are astounding. As good as Bale or Keaton were at conveying that it’s Bruce Wayne who’s really the mask, Conroy did that even better with just his voice. We’re beyond excited that Conroy will be playing our first Arrowverse Batman, because, in our hearts, he’ll always be the hero behind the mask.
Do you agree with the rankings? How are you celebrating Batman Day? Sound off in the comments!
(Images: Warner Brothers)
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