To celebrate the 80th Anniversary of Batman, we’re ranking the best performances of the Caped Crusader on the big screen.
Batman has appeared on the big screen in over 15 adventures, from solo films and team-up films, to animated features and serial films. Every generation has their big screen Batman, and everyone has their favorites. Today we’re ranking the eight major portrayals of Batman in the big screen from the 1966 Batman The Movie (Adam West) to this year’s The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (Will Arnett).
- George Clooney
This should be pretty self-explanatory. Honestly, we can’t put all the blame on Clooney; we should put all the blame on Joel Schumacher. We should also all agree that Schumacher should never be allowed to make anything ever again.
- Will Arnett
Having voiced Batman in three animated Lego films, Arnett has definitely made an impact in the film world of Batman. A lot of credit goes to the writers of the three features, but Arnett’s cold delivery of Batman and occasionally Bruce Wayne’s dialogue is spot on.
- Adam West
Batman has always had two sides for the majority of his history in any format: one being the vengeful and dark vigilante who beats villains to a pulp and works in the shadows, the other being a more lighthearted, kid-friendly hero that stops dastardly criminals, while also delivering a message to be better. Adam West’s take on the character, on TV and in the film spinoff from the live action series, is the epitome of the lighthearted version. Every family-friendly version of the character since then owes nearly everything to West’s portrayal. In many ways, he will always be Batman to multiple generations of fans.
- Val Kilmer
We don’t give Kilmer enough credit, partially because Batman Forever is always lumped in with Batman and Robin as being the lesser of the “Burton Batman Films.” But on its own, Forever is actually a much better film than we usually remember. There are some flaws there, but Kilmer does a great job at balancing the two sides of Bruce Wayne and portraying a clear distinction between the man everyone sees and the man underneath the cape and cowl.
- Ben Affleck
Between the cuts made on Batman v. Superman, the insane post production mishaps for Suicide Squad, and the entire “Snyder cut” debacle with Justice League, Affleck got a bad rep for films that have honestly become far different things than what he initially signed up for. The Batman we could have gotten with Affleck is barely visible in the three films he portrayed the character in, but what’s there is worthwhile at times. There are plenty of scenes within the three films where we see the character Affleck is trying to portray, and it’s everything we’ve ever wanted. He’s a Batman who is dark and measured, one that plans and is stoic, but has his moments of levity. If Affleck could have had the chance to portray the character in a solid film without being chopped up and pieced back together, he likely would have been considered the best.
- Michael Keaton
Keaton did a phenomenal job of making a clear distinction between the two sides of the character. He’s also the first actor to portray the character in a darker way after years of only having Adam West’s portrayal of the character. His role in redefining Batman is undeniable, and there are plenty of small moments that help show his version is spot on: sitting in Wayne Manor at the start of Batman Returns, waiting for the signal, the change in tone of his voice when under the mask, the way he could play the lighthearted Bruce with someone and then flip to the darker persona when that person turned their back. Keaton is without a doubt one of the best and always will be.
- Kevin Conroy
Kevin Conroy has voiced Batman more than any other person has portrayed the character in any format: TV series, video games, straight to DVD movies, and the fantastic feature-length film, and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Conroy is the voice of Batman to nearly every fan. He’s the voice we hear when we read the comics. He’s the voice we hear when we think of Batman. He has the ability to flip back and forth between Bruce and Batman with ease, and it’s distinctive and memorable. He’s played the character in some of the best stories of all time, and his mark on the character will last for generations to come.
- Christian Bale
This was a hard one because The Dark Knight Rises isn’t nearly as solid as many of the other Batman films, but Bale’s work in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight is what cements him as the best. He’s able to pull of every single aspect of the character with ease, and we believe every part of it. His only strike against him in the first two films is the drastic difference in his Batman voice in Dark Knight, but that’s still acceptable given everything else he does. Bale is Batman in these films, and even with its flaws, he still does a great job in Rises. Overall, his performance will be the one that many others will be judged upon for decades to come.