Who Played Batman Best? We Look at All Ten Actors
Ten actors have played (or at least voiced) Batman on the big screen, which puts the Caped Crusader pretty high on the list of fictional characters who have been played by the most actors. (He can't touch the likes of Sherlock Holmes or Santa Claus, each of which has been played by dozens of actors.) That number goes up to 11 next year when THE BATMAN arrives, with Robert Pattinson taking over the role from Ben Affleck.
Naturally, the big question is who played Batman best? Fortunately, the answer is both complicated and subjective. Christian Bale would not have fit into the 1960s TV series, just as Adam West would never have worked in Tim Burton's dark and gothic movies. We're not going to rank these actors because they're all doing very different things, even in the framework of playing the same character, but we love looking back to see the variety of Batman portrayals.
Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery
[Image Credit: Columbia Pictures]
Wilson and Lowery played Batman in 1940s adventure serials, with each actor leading a 15-chapter serial that ran about four and a half hours in total. Both actors are entertaining in the lead role, and these serials are really great to see now, as they come from an era when comic book adaptations were fairly new, and Batman himself was still a recent arrival. The 1943 BATMAN serial, starring Lewis Wilson, played when the character had only been around for four years.
[Image Credit: 20th Century Studios]
In addition to starring in three seasons of the Batman television show, Adam West led the cast of the 1966 movie based on the TV series. It was the first feature-length Batman movie, and it featured almost all of the original cast of the TV series. West's Batman was very in keeping with the tone of 1960s DC Comics — his Batman was ironically serious and deadpan funny and became the best-known public face of the character for more than 20 years.
Tim Burton's 1989 movie BATMAN pushed the character forward in the public eye, inspired in part by the gritty comic book stories of the mid-'80s such as "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Batman: Year One." Michael Keaton was an unusual choice to play Batman but in addition to being a great Bruce Wayne, Keaton's Batman was believable as a weird, detached, and sometimes even scary crime-fighting figure. Keaton's use of a notably different voice for Batman, compared to Bruce Wayne, was a simple acting choice that has been a defining aspect of all screen incarnations of the character ever since.
No one has voiced Batman more than Kevin Conroy, who provided the voice of Bruce Wayne and his caped alter-ego in the TV series "Batman: The Animated Series" and the offshoot theatrical movie BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM. Conroy was so adept at voicing both aspects of the character that he performed in more than 200 episodes of several different animated series. Conroy's Batman is measured and analytical and perfectly paired with the art-deco inspired design of "The Animated Series."
Warner Bros. pushed the Batman movies in a more pop-art direction following Tim Burton's sequel BATMAN RETURNS, and Michael Keaton dropped out. Val Kilmer was tapped by incoming director Joel Schumacher, and the actor's comedy background (REAL GENIUS is one of the great '80s comedies) made him a good fit for this lighter version of the character — even if the actor and director did not exactly get along, making Kilmer's role a one-off.
The former star of "E.R.," whose true emergence as a movie star in OUT OF SIGHT was still a year away, was a great choice to follow Kilmer in the batsuit. For his second Batman movie, however, Schumacher went for a look and tone that were more akin to the '60s TV series than anything else, and packed the movie with so many characters that Clooney had to fight for screen time. Clooney openly joked about his role years later, saying "I think we might have killed the franchise" just prior to the release of BATMAN BEGINS.
Christopher Nolan had already emerged as a major new director before BATMAN BEGINS — and you might be surprised to know that he pitched Warner Bros. on the idea of directing a Batman movie, rather than the other way around — and casting is undoubtedly one of his great talents. Christian Bale was known as a great actor but he was hardly a star prior to his first turn as Bruce Wayne. No surprise that things immediately changed; Bale's commitment to the character made for the most psychologically unified union of Batman and the man under the suit.
We never got to actually see Will Arnett ("Arrested Development") in costume as Batman but his deep voice was exactly right for the not-entirely-serious Batman in THE LEGO MOVIE and THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE. Whether or not you're a fan, his "theme song," with lyrics like "Darkness / No parents / Super-rich / Kinda makes it better" is absolutely perfect.
Zack Snyder turned to Ben Affleck to play a hulking, grizzled older Batman in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and JUSTICE LEAGUE. It was a great choice. Affleck put on a lot of muscle for the role and very ably captured the weary, angry hero of Snyder's vision. It's a shame he only got to make those two appearances before hanging up the cape.
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All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, unless otherwise indicated.