Here are our picks for the best Caped Crusaders in cinema.
With Ben Affleck confirming that he has hung up his cape and cowl and won’t be playing Batman again, the time has come to once again light up the Bat-Signal, call all the Dark Knights to action, and figure out who the best movie Batman truly is.
Whether they appeared only once as the Caped Crusader or starred in a full-fledged trilogy, these stars all hold the honor of donning the cape and cowl of Gotham’s one true protector. Whether it was an animated release, a colorful tongue-in-cheek romp, or a grounded and gritty take on the vengeful vigilante, the following actors breathed life, for better or worse, into Bruce Wayne and his cranky costumed alter ego. (And a note: We’re not including the Batmen from the old movie serials here because movie serials aren’t really movies.)
Check out our movie Batman rankings below, and also take our poll and pick our favorite!
Fans were excited when George Clooney was announced as Val Kilmer’s replacement for Joel Schumacher’s follow up to Batman Forever. Clooney was super hot from NBC’s ER and had proven himself to be a capable action hero in From Dusk Till Dawn. Little did we know that Batman & Robin would wind up being the worst Batman installment of the ’80/’90s run (and of any decade, really) and that Clooney himself would actually be bad as Batman in it. It’s one thing to be the best part of an awful movie, but Clooney was no saving grace. Years later, he’ll still readily apologize for “ruining Batman” – though he wasn’t solely responsible. A lot of effort went into making Batman & Robin a cartoonish, nippled mess.
Strong-jawed Val Kilmer was director Joel Schumacher’s first Batman, for a mixed bag of a film, Batman Forever, that was a half dark and half over-the-top stab at making the franchise more kid-friendly. With Kilmer’s stint came the (modern) franchise’s first attempt at making Batman be more than just a side character/afterthought in his own movie. Unfortunately that meant that Kilmer’s Bruce Wayne had to, essentially, forget why he was Batman. Yes, Batman’s arc in the movie involved him being plagued by a dream that he’d eventually come to recognize as the buried memory of the night he decided to become a vigilante who dressed up like a bat.
♪”Darkness! No Parents!”
As a breakout character from The LEGO Movie, Will Arnett’s hilarious tragedy-obsessed action hero-bro eventually got his own spinoff movie. Cleverly expanding on some of the character’s most famous themes, the film tackled both Bruce Wayne’s deep-rooted desire to push away friends and family for their own protection and Batman’s almost symbiotic relationship with arch-nemesis The Joker. Arnett’s comedic delivery and a funny script combined to create a memorable character-focused animated adventure.
The already-mega famous Ben Affleck came into the costume as part of DC and Warner Bros.’ attempt to jump-start a huge cinematic universe with the second movie of a franchise. After the Tim Burton films and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the feeling was that you could now easily skip over Batman’s origins (though we did get that flashback to Crime Alley) and just have him exist as an already established character with little build up. And for the most part that worked, mostly thanks to Affleck’s brooding, sarcastic take on Bruce and Batman’s understandable resentment of Superman.
When established comedic actor Michael Keaton was cast as Batman for Tim Burton’s seminally dark, gothic cinematic take on the character, fans were in an uproar. Well, as big of an uproar as there could be back before the internet. Later on though, after two films, fans could hardly imagine anyone else playing the character when the news came that Keaton was leaving the franchise. That says a lot for the actor on this list who probably did the most with the least. Keaton was able to create a vital and memorable Batman despite sometimes feeling like a supporting character in movies that shined huge spotlights on the villains and their respective origin stories.
Adam West was best known for playing Batman on TV, sure, but the 1966 Batman movie that sprang from the series, featuring West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin (and some Bat-Shark Repellent spray) squaring off against all their major adversaries – Catwoman, Riddler, Joker, and Penguin – is an essential camp classic. For an entire generation, West, and the good-hearted, campy nature of the ’60s show, was the quintessential take on Batman. This was the tone and style that Joel Schumacher tried, and failed, to evoke with his two films (particularly with Batman & Robin). Only the beloved West and his delightfully dry delivery could pull this off.
The most complete Batman movie journey (even though you may have issues with the way the story ended or with Batman’s “SWEAR TO ME! voice) can be found within Christopher Nolan’s compelling and grounded Dark Knight trilogy, featuring Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman. In almost a direct response to the previous franchise’s inability to properly focus on Batman himself, the Nolan films took a deep dive into Bruce’s origins and motivations, even spending an entire movie on his transformation into the Caped Crusader. Bale himself may arguably have been a better Bruce Wayne than a Batman, but his tormented take on the character’s self-loathing and guilt, along with a strong desire to actually stop being a hero once he felt like Gotham was in good hands, made for an iconic performance.
Kevin Conroy, through just his groovy and gravely voice acting alone, worked to create one of the most iconic and long-standing representations of Batman to date. Batman: The Animated Series ran for over 80 episodes in the mid-90s and stands, for many, as a near-perfect representation of the Dark Knight and his foes. The series gave us two movies, one of which, Mask of the Phantasm, got a theatrical release, and led to Conroy voicing the character on other shows within the DC animated universe – up through, even, 2010’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold (in a guest capacity). Conroy also voiced Batman in three of the four Arkham games, once again proving the fact that for most fans he was, and still is, the definitive voice of the character.
Who is your favorite movie Batman? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Note: This story has been updated to reflect the news that Ben Affleck is leaving the role.
Matt Fowler is a writer for IGN and a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA). Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler and Facebook at Facebook.com/MattBFowler.