Since Frank Miller turned Batman into a symbol of hope, there have been a lot of iterations of Batman. There have been a few different solo Batman film attempts throughout Hollywood history. Before we begin this countdown of the most noteworthy Batman (Bruce Wayne) actors from the franchise(good and bad), some honourable mentions:
Alan Napier, who played Alfred in Batman ’66 but dressed up as Batman a few times, was incredible. Iain Glen portrayed Batman in the Titans series.
Rino Romano, who voiced Batman in The Batman animated series for five seasons, did a great job too, but putting him on this list seemed strangely out of place. In fact, the voice casting on that show reads like a Who’s Who of top talent, and it’s sad that the show isn’t viewed with as much love as Batman: The Animated Series. Speaking of great voice talent, I’m not sure who played Batman in the Graphic Audio adaptation of No Man’s Land (Buy it! It’s awesome!), but the whole cast deserves awards.
In fact, there have been countless other great Batman actors, from people on stage to cosplayers. Unfortunately, space is limited, but these twelve stood out in some ways. Some are better, and some are far worse, but all have left a mark on the legacy of Batman. The actors mentioned brought something to the table, as did the Dark Knights they played. At the same time, the writing and directing of the productions certainly influenced how DC Comics’ Batman came across.
David Mazouz’s younger Bruce Wayne / Batman in the Gotham TV series wasn’t too bad either.
But… you just know which Batman actor is in last place here, right?
He may be an actor of the highest order and a silver-screen heartthrob, but he’s notoriously the worst on-screen Batman or Bruce Wayne of all time, nearly ruining the iconic character.
Uttering lines that make him unbelievable as both Batman and Bruce Wayne, he’s like the George Lazenby of all the dark knight detectives. Except George Lazenby was unduly criticised and was really good as James Bond, while Clooney sucked as Batman. Granted, nobody could have made that movie good, but it’s particularly embarrassing that someone of his calibre couldn’t pull off a single good moment as Batman. His performance in director Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin is more wooden than Pinocchio, making even the number 12 entry seem great by comparison. However, Uma Thurman made a really good Poison Ivy, especially alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, making a great Mister Freeze.
12. Val Kilmer – Batman Forever
There was a time when Val Kilmer could do no wrong. He was young, talented and handsome, starring in hit films like Top Gun and Top Secret! Then he took the mantle of the bat and the rest is history.
Looking completely confused throughout the entire film, his Bruce Wayne suddenly has no idea of why he dresses like a bat in the first place and even sees a psychiatrist about it – forcing fans to wonder if Batman received a concussion we didn’t know about. On the plus side, some of his interaction with Robin is pretty amusing, even if director Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever itself is a disaster.
Sorry to say but Val Kilmer definitely wasn’t one of the better Batman actors. Val Kilmer’s Batman is rather average. In comparison, Jim Carrey’s Riddler really made the movie more fun, along with Tommy Lee Jones’ Harvey Dent / Two-Face.
Bringing a swashbuckling air to this classic old serial, Lewis Wilson made quite an impression as Batman.
He may not be striking fear into the heart of criminals all the time, but he looks pretty believable and intimidates his foes by locking them in the Batcave with all his nocturnal pets. He even does some real detective work, which is more than can be said for many others. Unfortunately, this serial isn’t too well known these days due to it being offensive by today’s politically correct standards.
Still, Wilson put in a good performance and has to be given credit as a Batman actor.
10. Diedrich Bader – The Brave and the Bold
It’s a shame that Bader is ranked so low down on this list because, in Brave and the Bold, he’s absolutely perfect as the voice of this particular Batman.
Usually light-hearted but occasionally sombre and always serious about upholding justice, it’s an awkward tightrope to walk. With Batman referring to his fists as his hammers of justice, everything Bader says conveys just the right emotion. Instead of sounding constantly grim, subtle shifts in his tone let you know exactly how he’s feeling – from ironically funny to concerned to intimidating.
Uttering alliterative tongue-twisters which defied normal boundaries of dialogue, Bader’s Batman is an action hero and a detective of the highest order. He is a narrator in this lighthearted series, introducing viewers to some of DC’s lesser-known heroes.
9. Robert Lowery – Batman & Robin (serial)
Lowery had a tough time taking the bat’s mantle from Lewis Wilson.
Wearing a costume that didn’t fit him and looking like he’d eaten a few too many doughnuts, he was less of an action hero than the actor he replaced. However, as Bruce Wayne, he’s distinctive, has a better look and exudes far more charisma as he deflects Vicki Vale’s quest to expose him as Batman. Not only that, but he has genuine enthusiasm whenever he decides it’s time to wear the costume. He also spends some time doing detective work, has a great rapport with Robin, and his undercover work is always on form.
He may not be everybody’s favourite Batman actor, but he was more than up for the job.
Ranking Christian Bale (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight & The Dark Knight Rises) so low down may seem like an insult, but he’s up against tough competition.
Pulling off the public Bruce Wayne as just the right sort of drunken dilettante, the private Bruce Wayne as a driven man intent on achieving his goals in Gotham City, and Batman as the gravel-voiced vigilante, he excels in almost every way. He occasionally does a little detective work, has strategies planned out well and dominates in fights. If only Bale could have removed that stick from up Batman’s butt and developed some personality that we could like.
Also, The Dark Knight Rises drags him down. Sure, it’s hard to steal the spotlight from Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, but even against an unintelligible moron like Bane, this Batman doesn’t shine. This particular Batman is so dumb that he gets involved with Talia al Ghul for no reason, loses his company, and retires just a few years into his life’s mission because his not-girlfriend dies.
In other words, Christian Bale could have played the greatest Batman actor ever (the box office numbers prove it), but the writing lets him down, and the character looks like a quitter. And every Bat fan knows that Batman is no quitter. Speaking of which…
Perhaps one of the least-known Batman actors, Bob Sessions voiced Batman/Bruce Wayne in the BBC audio drama adaptation of Knightfall.
His performance may not be the best and can sometimes seem hammy, but it’s still more than good enough to be believable even in the story’s weaker moments. So why is he ranked so high? Because, thanks to the series being a faithful, almost word-perfect adaptation (yes, it covers Knightfall, KnightQuest and KnightsEnd), he’s the one Batman who’s exactly like how he is in the comic books. You genuinely believe this is a Batman who’s put through the wringer and physically broken by Bane before returning to greatness.
Sessions pulls it off with some style, and this Batman is an underrated gem.
6. Ben Affleck – Batman v. Superman
Batfleck isn’t the greatest, no matter what some starry-eyed fans may claim. Yes, his Batman looks the part, thanks to his Crossfit sessions and time spent pointlessly hitting tyres with a sledgehammer. He’s buff and physically intimidating. As Bruce Wayne, he’s reasonably smooth too, although he still looks scruffy even when wearing the finest suits. Basically, he is Batman straight out of the Dark Knight Returns graphic novel.
Unfortunately, he’s also borrowed Christian Bale’s no-fun buttstick, treats Alfred pretty poorly, and appears to have no functioning brain cells. His lack of logic and strategies implies that he’s brain-damaged, his detective skills are non-existent, and he seems to spend most of his time sleeping. A narcoleptic Batman is not what anybody needs.
2017’s Justice League was a real low point for the character and the actor. So he definitely loses points in the running for the best Batman actor of all time. And even though Zack Snyder’s Justice League might have redeemed his character a little, we never really looked at Batfleck the same. It’s no surprise then, that he has lost interest in the Batman role. He also made a little appearance in Suicide Squad as a way to make capturing the cast members make sense.
Sure, people were amazed at Batman wearing a cloth costume instead of the more recent padded armour ones, but it really wasn’t anything new. Robert Lowery, Lewis Wilson and our number four entry did that all the time…
5. Adam West – Batman ’66, Super Friends
Bounding into any fight with a two-fisted ka-pow, actor Adam West was Batman for many years and had no issues wearing the cloth costume.
This Batman may not have looked physically imposing, but this was still a Batman who gave his all in every fight and could escape from any death trap. And there were a lot of death traps back then. Doing detective work came naturally to this Batman. He could banter using alliteration with ease and gave respect to all who deserved it. Occasionally brooding over his parents’ deaths, Bruce Wayne was a philanthropist and an all-around nice guy.
The series may be known for its campiness, and, yes, Adam West’s Batman gave us the Batusi. Yet West almost always played it seriously. This was a friendly, polite, intelligent Batman who still kicked butt and got the job done. For some, he’s an embarrassment, but the Batman ’66 TV shows revitalised the comic books and introduced the character of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, so there’s a lot to be thankful for.
Plus, this Batman had a real way with the ladies. His moments with Catwoman are so sexually-charged that it’s amazing it was allowed on television at all.
4. Robert Pattinson – The Batman
Telling the story of Batman before he was more established as a crime-fighting vigilante in Gotham City, Matt Reeves’ The Batman brought a new spin on Batman that we hadn’t seen before, but of course, it wouldn’t be as good as it was without the addition of all the other actors that brought their characters to life, like Zoe Kravitz’ Catwoman, Colin Farrell’s Penguin, and the brilliant choice of Andy Serkis as Alfred Pennyworth. Not used to playing such a serious role, it really showed the acting prowess of all of the actors involved.
Luckily for us, Matt Reeves seems to have signed a long deal with Warner Bros. for many more movies and made it possible for him to keep his version of Batman separated from the rest of the DC universe, so we might find more than one Batman being around at the same time. Ironically, this is exactly what CEO David Zaslav had said they were trying to avoid.
3. Will Arnett – The LEGO Movie, The Lego Batman Movie
Some hardcore Batman fans may dismiss this one. However, as Bat-Mite would say, this may be a lighter incarnation, but it’s no less valid, and Batman’s rich history allows him to be viewed in a multitude of ways.
The Lego Movie offered up one of the funniest characters of all time in the form of Lego Batman. Powered by Will Arnett‘s ridiculously comedic gravel voice, this Batman is so over-the-top serious it’s hilarious.
Parodying both the overly-grim Batman of recent years and the fanboy cliché that Batman is the most amazingly perfect superhero ever, he’ll throw a dozen Batarangs before one finally strikes home and yet boast that he got it on the first try. He sings songs about how everything in his life is dark and brooding, is so arrogant that he’ll never admit to being wrong and is a complete idiot. Yet he’s still every bit Batman, and the trailer for the new film shows him brooding over the death of his parents before kicking Alfred into a piano.
This version of Batman would be funny anyway, but Arnett’s voice makes this portrayal perfect (even if it isn’t a live-action version). Well, almost perfect.
2. Michael Keaton – Batman, Batman Returns
When it was announced that Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice actor Michael Keaton would be playing the first big-screen Batman or Bruce Wayne, fans trembled with fear. They shouldn’t have worried. These days he’s an Oscar-nominated actor, but even then, he brought his A-game to the role of Batman.
In the first of his two films, he’s on form as a seemingly clueless Bruce Wayne but looks a little out of place in the Batsuit. Regardless, his Batman is the dark knight detective in every way.
It’s his performance in Batman Returns, though, which is truly incredible. From brooding intently over Christmas and lamenting being so alone to some wicked grins in the Batman suit, you realise that he’s a tortured soul who truly relishes dispensing justice. Also, the chemistry between Keaton’s Batman and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is off the charts.
In a great film, Keaton presents one of the best Batman ever and gives him more depth than any live-action actor in recent years.
In fact, fans love Keaton so much that Warner Bros. is bringing him back in the upcoming Flash movie.
Unfortunately, there’s only room for one perfect Batman / Bruce Wayne actor, and it’s…
1. Kevin Conroy – Batman Animated, Justice League, Arkham games, more
You can’t get better than the best. Kevin Conroy started out on the classic Batman animated series, but then there was the Justice League. And Justice League Unlimited. And Batman Beyond. And Gotham Knight. And Public Enemies, Apocalypse, Doom, The Flashpoint Paradox, New Adventures of Batman, Mask of the Phantasm and Assault on Arkham. And those Arkham video games. And even the new Killing Joke movie. He’s been the main voice of Batman for nearly 25 years, portraying the character for longer than any other actor.
So what makes Conroy the best Batman / Bruce Wayne actor? It’s because he’s never played just one definitive Batman, but pretty much every type of Batman you can imagine.
Kevin Conroy has voiced a serious Batman, a playful Batman, an old Batman, a parallel universe Batman, a family-friendly Batman and a hardcore Batman. He’s played a singing Batman too, in JLU’s episode This Little Piggy (one of the highlights of the whole series). His rich voice always makes whichever version he’s playing work completely, reminding us there’s a flesh-and-blood person underneath the costume. When he wants to sound intimidating, he’s more intense and terrifying than any gravel-voiced live-action incarnation. And yet when he’s playing Bruce Wayne, there’s an entirely different voice with completely different tonal qualities.
His various Batmen – regardless of whichever version you favour the most – will always be just right, both due to great writing and because Conroy perfectly captures the Dark Knight Detective. It’s simply hard to imagine anyone doing a better job. Maybe one day there will be, but for now and the foreseeable future Kevin Conroy IS the ultimate Batman. He is the best actor to play the iconic role. Even his work in Crisis on Infinite Earths was great!
Well, as it turns out, the US audience listed Christian Bale as their number one guy, followed by Michael Keaton. More puzzlingly, George Clooney was listed in third, above Ben Affleck and Val Kilmer. Like, WTF?!
While the fallout from 2017’s Justice League was widely discussed as well as Affleck’s phoned-in performance, it’s still bizarre to see Clooney’s version of the Caped Crusader ranked above Affleck and Kilmer. If anything, Affleck’s turn as Gotham’s protector in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was one of the best portrayals of the character in cinematic history. Kilmer wasn’t exactly a bad Batman in Batman Forever, either, so he doesn’t deserve the bottom spot. Also, Batman & Robin is universally considered as possibly the worst superhero film ever made, with Clooney apologising for his part in it numerous times, so how does he rank so high?
That said, maybe we shouldn’t emphasise this poll as the audience voted Halle Berry as their favourite Catwoman actress over Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway, so they might’ve been trolling from the get-go.
At least the results were accurate in the Joker category, as Heath Ledger came out on top, followed by Jack Nicholson and Jared Leto. That’s a ranking that most people cannot dispute.
If the answers to the Batman question were genuine, the end of days may soon be upon us. It’s 2019, and Americans think Clooney was a better Batman than Affleck. They also believe Bale’s Batman was the best? Mind-blowing.
Christian Bale Nearly Had a Role in Batman v Superman
Batman v Superman director Zack Snyder revealed in an interview that he had considered casting Christian Bale in a completely different role in the DC universe. Here’s what he had to say, about how this new superhero universe is separate from Christopher Nolan’s trilogy.
“This is a total and opposite reality from the Chris Nolan movies. It’s another universe, so we couldn’t hire Christian Bale if we wanted to, because he doesn’t exist in our world. Maybe we could hire him to play another part. We did talk about that briefly. I just wanted to hire Christian to play another part to make that obvious. Christian could play, like, Alfred with age makeup. No! Of course not. But you know what I mean. Even people at the studio would say, ‘Who are you getting from the other movies?’ And I was like, ‘Hey, come on guys, let’s all understand, it’s a different world.’ In the Batman universe that Chris Nolan created, Superman would have a hard time existing. That’s why we did a reboot on the universe, so we could allow these characters to exist together. We needed to do that to have Batman exist in this world.”
It’s interesting to note that there were rumours earlier on that Christian Bale turned down several million dollars to reprise the role. However, Bale later debunked the rumour by revealing that he was never approached to play Batman again.
How cool would it have been to see Christian Bale as an older Batman out of control and going up the likes of Superman? I guess we’ll never know.
Believe It Or Not, Steven Seagal Was Nearly Cast As Tim Burton’s Batman
Yes, it’s true. Martial artist actor Steven Seagal was the first actor in consideration to star in director Tim Burton’s Batman as the Dark Knight / Bruce Wayne.
In the early ’90s, Seagal was as the height of his career. Films like Under Siege, Above the Law, Hard to Kill and Out for Justice rocketed his career and Steven Seagal became a household name. As someone who was considered charming, handsome and able to pull off action sequences quite well, it’s not surprising that Warner Bros. once considered him for one of the most iconic roles in superhero history.
Before agreeing to Michael Keaton, who was mostly known for comedies at the time, as 1989’s Batman, the studio was focused on getting the action-oriented aspects of the film correct rather than the Bruce Wayne side. “There were a lot of people at Warner Brother who wanted to cast it with an action star,” says screenwriter Sam Hamm in a new interview with Syfy.
However, it seems Burton was looking for a more experienced actor who could pull off both sides of the character instead, especially the role of Bruce Wayne. Even Daniel Day-Lewis and Pierce Brosnan were considered.
“You have to make Bruce Wayne work, because Batman is, for the most part, going to be a stunt guy, or it’s going to be somebody running around in a costume in long shot. You don’t need the martial arts expertise of, say, Steven Seagal or somebody like that because you can fake all of that kind of stuff. Seagal was one of the people that was suggested to us,” Hamm continued. “Believe it or not. He had just kind of appeared on the scene, people thought holy cow, this guy’s badass. He could be Batman. I don’t think it ever got to the point where he read for it. He was just one of the names that was floated.”
Of course, we know how the story unfolded. Keaton was cast as Batman instead. Although, that wasn’t without controversy either. But can you imagine Batman movies with the action movie star?
A list of Batman actors isn’t complete without mentioning Gotham‘s David Albert Mazouz (as a young Bruce Wayne). While he isn’t one of the most popular Batman actors, he certainly did a great job in the role.
Rick Austin is a highly creative and talented author with a passion for all things geeky. Best known for his fantasy-parody novel, "Life Insurance of the Gods" (available in paperback on Lulu.com!), Rick is also a prolific writer for various websites and anthologies.
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