Batman actors come and go, but they all leave a mark on the Caped Crusader. Earlier in the week, we asked on Twitter who would you want to see cast as Batman if you could pick any actor. Surprisingly, there were a ton of votes for those that have already played the role. It got me started down a rabbit hole thinking about who I would want in an ideal world, and I started ranking the actors who had already played him in my head. A bout of insomnia later, I thought why not write it down and see what the readers think?
The character Batman on TV and in movies has gone through a crazy evolution since he first appeared on serials in 1943. He started out as a campy detective who occasionally fought crime and evolved into the darker brooding hero we know today. In a lot of ways, the Caped Crusader’s portrayal has mirrored his society at the time. Before we dive into the list, a few caveats, this is obviously not definitive, just my thoughts as a huge fan of the character. Also, I wasn’t alive during the early portrayals, so I haven’t seen all the episodes, I’m just using the few that I have seen as references. Here we go!
9. George Clooney (Batman & Robin 1997)
If this list had been definitive, I’m pretty sure Clooney would be at the bottom. I actually didn’t hate him as Bruce Wayne, but when he put on the cowl even teenage me couldn’t help but laugh. Bat-nipples aside, his chemistry with the crazy campy villains was non-existent and director Joel Schumacher even went so far as to publicly apologize for this film. Audiences seem to agree, it’s the lowest grossing movie in the franchise raking in just $258 million globally.
8. Robert Lowery (Batman & Robin serial 1949)
This was actually a reboot of the Batman character on TV and Lowery did an admirable job with what he was given. Maybe if I was alive in the 40’s I would have felt differently, but looking at his costume and performance through a modern lens, it’s tough to rank him any higher.
7. Lewis Wilson (Batman serial 1943)
Respect to the original. This was the first time the world got to see Batman in any sort of live action setting. Think about that for a second. It’s pretty cool to imagine a time when there were no preconceived notions about the character, just a blank canvas on which to paint on. I’ve seen several of these episodes and unfortunately his performance is totally forgettable, but much like the internet, being first does count for something.
6. Val Kilmer (Batman Forever 1995)
BaReplacing Michael Keaton as Batman was no easy task (spoiler alert for later), but Kilmer came in with a unique take on the character that made him seem a bit edgier to me than Keaton’s portrayal. The movie wasn’t great, But I did enjoy his version of the Dark Knight.
This is obviously a way different version of the character, a sarcastic, lonely. almost sad version of Batman… but I think Arnett nailed it. This clearly wouldn’t have worked as a live action film, but in the light-hearted animated style of the LEGO movies, it was a fun departure from what we’re used to.
This is where I imagine some of you may start to disagree. Adam West’s silly costume and painted on eyebrows is what I thought Batman looked like as a little kid, his portrayal is iconic. Sure it was campy, and West’s voice (R.I.P. Adam) has almost become a parody, but whenever I see reruns, I always watch. He was the Batman the swinging 60’s needed, and Adam West delivered.
The top three are probably interchangeable on most people’s list. Even today, Michael Keaton is Batman for so many people. Things don’t tend to change much for fans when the casting was announced there was a crazy amount of backlash. Keaton was almost exclusively a comedic actor, but his turn coupled with Tim Burton’s vision silenced the critics and breathed new life not only into Batman but interest in comic properties as a whole.
I’m not really an Affleck fan, but to me, he absolutely nailed the role(s) of Batman and Bruce Wayne. I’m going to avoid a Zack Snyder debate here, but his version of the character as an older, grittier Batman who is fed up with the world was a fresh take and acted brilliantly by Affleck. I just wish the rest of the movies lived up to his portrayal.
I don’t think my top pick will come as much of a surprise to anyone. It’s almost impossible for me to separate Bale’s portrayal from Christopher Nolan’s direction, that’s why he ranks top for me. Sure his Batman voice borders on silly at times, but the intensity in his eyes and the vigor in which he became Bruce Wayne and Batman sealed him as my top pick.
These are my picks, but what are yours? If you haven’t seen the older versions of the character, how would you rank the modern versions? I’d love to hear, and hopefully, we can have a fun discussion in the comments.
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