Who Is the Best Batman? Batman Actors Ranked Worst To Best
Batman is, undeniably, one of the greatest superheroes ever created. Part of the reason is that he’s the most relatable. Bruce Wayne wasn’t born on another planet or gifted (or cursed) with intrinsic powers through a freak incident. He was just a human who went through an unimaginably traumatic experience as a child when he witnessed his parents’ murder and decided to do something about it by becoming vengeance himself.
Wayne dedicated his life to fighting crime and forged the Batman persona from his trauma. Additionally, he was a wholly self-made hero, spending years strengthening his mind and body to allow him to become Gotham’s protector. While Batman has had a few trusty sidekicks along the way, he has largely relied on his resources and intelligence to make his heroism possible. His past, his brooding personality, and his blurring of the line between heroism and vigilantism also add layers of complexity to his character.
Given his complexity, no two actors have ever portrayed him the same way. A total of 9 different actors have portrayed Batman in a lead role. Their takes on Batman have ranged from haunted to vengeful to funny to lighthearted to dark. Each take is a valuable portrayal of Batman as there was some variance in how comic book writers depicted him, too. Of course, some performances were much more well-received than others. Here is every major live-action Batman actor ranked worst to best.
9. Lewis Wilson
Lewis Wilson was the first actor to portray a live-action Batman in the 1943 theatrical serial, Batman. Now, this was 1943 and Wilson had no precedent to follow as Batman, so expectations shouldn’t be too high. However, even with that being said, Batman was still pretty terrible. Given that it was released during World War II, the serial was filled with war propaganda and overt racism. The racism is difficult to watch as the lead villain is an evil Japanese spy, Tito Daka, who is portrayed by a white man, J. Carrol Naish, and depicted with negative ethnic stereotypes.
Even if we ignore the racist, propaganda iteration of Batman, Wilson’s portrayal of the hero still fell flat. First of all, his acting was poor and unconvincing. Second, at 23 years old, he was just a tad bit young to be playing Batman. He simply failed to nab the brooding, imposing figure that Batman is. His youth, combined with his terrible costume, made it impossible to believe that he was the Dark Knight, striking terror into the hearts of his enemies. With that being said, he did nab the charming, upper-class persona of Bruce Wayne. As Batman, though, he was uncompelling and unbelievable.
8. George Clooney
George Clooney portrayed Batman in the 1997 film, Batman & Robin, and has subsequently apologized for butchering the hero. Batman & Robin was the fourth and final film in the original Batman film series by Joel Schumacher and Tim Burton. However, this marked the first film in which Burton had no involvement whatsoever. Meanwhile, Val Kilmer chose not to reprise his role as Batman in the film, leaving the role open once more. As a result, Clooney was chosen as his replacement. The film followed Clooney’s Batman along with Robin (Chris O’Donnell) and Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) as they fought against Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman).
Clooney is often considered the worst Batman as he often seemed to be playing a spoof of the hero. His performance as Batman is nearly solely comprised of terrible one-liners and just plain weirdness, like the bat nipples on his suit and his Bat-credit card. Besides the puns and oddities, Clooney’s Batman was way too light-hearted and happy as the brooding hero. He was much more believable as Bruce Wayne than Batman and did have good chemistry with Alfred (Michael Gough). The thing is, he likely could’ve been a good Batman if Schumacher hadn’t pushed the cheesy, campy tone of the film. Clooney’s spoof Batman is a little better than propaganda Batman, but not by much.
7. Robert Lowery
Robert Lowery was the second actor to portray Batman in a theatrical serial. Lowery starred in the 1949 serial titled Batman and Robin. Batman and Robin was a sequel to the 1943 Batman serial, but the characters were recast. The serial follows Batman (Lowery) and Robin (Johnny Duncan) as they fight a mysterious foe known only as the Wizard (Leonard Penn). The Wizard poses as a constant obstacle to Batman and Robin but his identity and motives remain a mystery. Batman and Robin proved far less offensive than the 1943 Batman and a bit more compelling.
Ultimately, Lowery wasn’t an amazing Batman, though this was partially due to the production’s low budget. His costume does him no justice, he has no Batmobile and no cool gadgets, and his performance can be rather dull at times. However, Lowery also proved the merit of having an older, more athletic actor in the role of Batman. He was authoritative, intimidating, and believable as Batman. Additionally, he did manage to kick butt pretty well and even did some detective work. He may have lacked personality and depth but he was the first actor to touch on Batman’s imposing physical presence and prowess.
6. Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck made his debut as the DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU) Batman in the 2016 film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. He reprised his role for Justice league in 2017 and will return as Batman for The Flash and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom in 2023. In Batman v. Superman, Affleck’s Batman becomes disillusioned by Superman (Henry Cavill) after the hero causes massive destruction during one of his battles. He comes to view the hero as a danger to society and takes it upon himself to subdue him. Meanwhile, in Justice League, Batman partners with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and forms a team of metahumans to stop the villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds).
Affleck, now 50, is the oldest actor to portray the hero. His iteration is a middle-aged, rugged veteran Batman broken from life’s trials. He is also one of the most aggressive, violent, and darkest iterations of Batman. Comic book writer Frank Miller depicted Batman similarly, so this wasn’t necessarily bad. What went wrong is that Affleck puts no heart, spirit, or personality into his performance. There’s little explanation for why Batman is the way he is in this dark version—he mainly just comes across as an angry, tired, and, a little bit sad, middle-aged man. Affleck had the look and the grit of Miller’s Batman, but his lack of personality, emotion, and earnestness made his performance tragically unremarkable.
5. Val Kilmer
Batman Forever marked the third installment in the original Batman film series. Michael Keaton, who had portrayed the Caped Crusader in the first two films, chose not to return for Batman Forever. Hence, he was replaced by Val Kilmer. Batman Forever premiered in 1995 and sees Batman (Kilmer) pitted against two enemies—Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and The Riddler (Jim Carrey)—as he takes in orphan Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) and pursues a romance with Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman). Like Batman and Robin, Batman Forever leaned too heavily on the cheesy side and overdid it with the maniacal villains, bright colors, and exaggerated acting.
Kilmer is arguably the most underrated Batman. He was one actor who brought humanity and depth to the character. The film sees him take an orphaned boy under his wing and attempt to dissuade him from the path of revenge in an attempt to rectify his own wrongdoings and unresolved trauma. Plus, he pursues a very human and very sweet romance with Dr. Meridian. Kilmer could still be brooding and imposing but he also captured all of Batman’s vulnerabilities—his repressed memories, his trauma, his regrets, and his desire for human connection. He wasn’t the most impressionable or alluring Batman but he is the most realistic, human, and relatable Batman on this list.
4. Adam West
Adam West portrayed a live-action Batman from 1966-1968 in the TV series, Batman. The campy 1960s superhero comedy also starred Burt Ward as Robin, Alan Napier as Alfred, Neil Hamilton as Jim Gordon, and Yvonne Craig as Batgirl. Batman follows Batman and Robin as they fight crime and face off against villains such as the Joker, Penguin, the Riddler, and Mr. Freeze.
West’s Batman may not hold up in the eyes of modern audiences. However, his iteration of Batman was a true delight in the 1960s. His campiness came naturally and hilariously, not forced like Kilmer’s and Clooney’s Batman. Additionally, West provided a Batman that audiences of all ages could look up to. He was also surprisingly comic book accurate in his dependence on his intellect and his strict moral code West’s performance as Batman lacked complexity but was nonetheless semi-accurate, hilarious, likable, earnest, and heartfelt. Even if he didn’t offer the most grandeur performance of Batman, he believed in his performance and his performance was for the kids who looked up to him, making him a pretty tough Batman to top.
3. Robert Pattinson
Robert Pattinson is the most recent actor to take on the role of Batman. He made his debut as the hero in Matt Reeves’ The Batman which premiered on March 4, 2022. A sequel to the film has already been announced, meaning Pattinson will return as Batman. The Batman is a darker take on the hero as he delves into the Gotham underworld to track down a sadistic killer who has left a trail of bodies and riddles to unveil his plans. At the same time, Wayne uncovers dark secrets about his family’s legacy and struggles with the question of whether Gotham even deserves saving.
Pattinson offered a take on Batman that was dark, vulnerable, and human. He is the first to delve deeply into Batman’s detective side and portray him accurately as a genius who relies heavily on his intellect to combat crime. Plus, he added enormous depth to Batman by exploring poignantly exploring his grief and trauma. Pattinson was also a realistic Batman who refused to see the world as black and white or strictly divided into good and evil. Yet, Pattinson was just slightly too sullen and gloomy throughout the film. The brooding personality is a good take on Batman, but he overdid it to the point that it clashed with his attempt to make Batman more nuanced.
2. Christian Bale
Christian Bale made his debut as Batman in Batman Begins in 2005. He was chosen as the Caped Crusader by Christopher Nolan who rebooted the Batman franchise with The Dark Knight trilogy. Bale would portray Batman in the trilogy from 2005 – 2012. The trilogy begins as an origin story, exploring how Wayne crafted the Batman persona. Meanwhile, The Dark Knight sees him face off against his most serious enemy, The Joker (Heath Ledger). Lastly, The Dark Knight Rises sees him return one last time as Batman as he prepares for a battle he isn’t sure he can win.
Bale was fantastic as Batman and a large part of this is because he is a phenomenal actor. He was, perhaps, the best at differentiating Bruce Wayne and Batman. Bale could seamlessly transition from the rich playboy to the vengeful brooding hero. Plus, the emotion he put into the role was palpable. As far as acting and making Batman believable, he did a top-notch job. The only place where his Batman fell short was that he wasn’t very comic-book accurate. His lack of fighting skills, willingness to indirectly kill, and lack of detective work all go against who Batman is in the comics. He had the best presence as Batman but he wasn’t the comic book’s Batman.
1. Michael Keaton
Michael Keaton portrayed Batman in the original Batman film series. He portrayed the character for the first two film installments – Batman (1989) and Batman Returns. Additionally, after a 30+ year hiatus, he will return as Batman in the 2023 film The Flash. He was initially also slated to star in Batgirl in 2022 before the film was canceled. Batman sees Keaton’s Batman pitted against The Joker (Jack Nicholson) who proves to be his most ruthless and deranged foe yet. Meanwhile, Batman Returns sees him pitted against the Penguin (Danny Devito) as he delves into a complicated relationship with Penguin’s vengeful former assistant, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Keaton was unexpected as Batman but proved to be deserving of the role. He ditched his comedy for a stunningly accurate portrayal of the Caped Crusader. As Batman, Keaton is haunted by his past and at times could get into Batman’s terrifying side. At the same time, though, he was never overly aggressive, miserable, or angry, which is where most actors lose their edge as Batman. Instead, Keaton made him cool, calm, calculated, and intelligent. Plus, he gave Bruce Wayne a human side, a wry sense of humor, and strong connections with his acquaintances. Needless to say, Keaton found a balance in portraying Batman that allowed him to make him believable as both a hero and a human.
(featured image: DC Entertainment)
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