It may be a long time until we get another Batman movie, which got us thinking: Who is the best Batman? For better or worse, many actors have donned the cowl throughout the years, from the weird to disturbing. Let’s take a look back to see who has played Batman on the big screen.
As the story goes, Adam West was vying for the role as Batman against Lyle Waggoner, ultimately winning out after producer William Dozier saw West portray a spy in a Nestlé Quik commercial. Imagine that. He went on to play the character from 1966 to 1968 in a show on ABC, also appearing in a feature-length film.
It would be several years until Batman appeared in another live-action feature film, starting with Michael Keaton’s iconic turn in Tim Burton’s 1989 film. It was a more realistic take on the character combined with Burton’s patented style. It was equal parts camp and grit and became a huge success at the box office.
Keaton would appear in the sequel, Batman Returns, but was replaced by Val Kilmer in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. Along with a new actor and director, the film’s tone shifted significantly, almost becoming more light-hearted and fun. Apparently, Warner Bros. wanted to make the movie more “family-friendly” after Batman Returns underperformed.
But Val would only play Batman once. When Batman & Robin was released, George Clooney won the role. The film took on a similar campy tone to Batman Forever, and it is probably best remembered for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s horrible one-liners as Mr. Freeze and the Batman suit featuring nipples. The movie had an undeniable visual style but was ultimately poorly received by critics.
Batman & Robin’s failure would shelve any sequel plans until 2005, when Christopher Nolan’s reboot began with Christian Bale in the role. Nolan’s darker take on the character is often regarded as the pinnacle of Batman’s live-action films, peaking with 2008’s The Dark Knight, which featured Heath Ledger as the Joker.
Nolan went on to film one more Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, concluding his famous film series. As for Bale’s portrayal of the character, he played a fantastic Bruce Wayne, but his unintelligible Batman growl turned a lot of fans off. He still did an admirable job and was more of a throwback to the Keaton era compared to Kilmer and Clooney.
Ben Affleck is the latest actor to play the character on the big screen, starting with last year’s Batman v Superman. Thanks to a thrilling fight scene toward the end of the film, Affleck’s more brutal Batman was praised by critics and fans, whom we’ll get to more of in this year’s Justice League.
There have been many others who have tackled the role, including Kevin Conroy and Will Arnett, but we wanted to focus entirely on Batman’s live-action career. If we were to choose the “Best Batman,” Conroy would probably be it, portraying the character in an animated series and in several video games.
Since West won the role in the ‘60s, it’s been fun to see how the character has changed throughout the years. I have a soft spot for Keaton’s Batman simply because he was the first one I saw in the role. But there’s something to like about all of them, even if it is the absurd nipples from Clooney’s suit.