Over the years we've had a lot, and I mean a lot of different Batmans. The Dark Knight is an icon that transcends just one actor, but in my opinion there is just one who owns the character more than any of the others. I'll explore the best actors who have donned the cowl to decide who is the best Batman, but in order to do that we must also look at the worst. Let's get down to the Batcave and suit up as we figure out, which actors portrayed Batman the best!
The first entry on my list is none other than the punny George Clooney. Batman and Robin has been critically panned and currently holds an 11% on Rotten Tomatoes. Now I'll admit that George Clooney wasn't the worst part of this film, but he was a big part of it. Although the writing and visuals are what set the tone for this parade of tongue-and-cheek puns and colors, even George Clooney's trademark charisma wasn't enough to improve this film. In fact, I think what bothers me the most is the way he pairs his charisma with Batman, rather than Bruce Wayne. I feel like when he is portraying Bruce Wayne he is monotone and boring, but when he's Batman he is flashy, quick to quip, and much more sexual. Everything about this performance is backwards, and it does nothing but set the character back as well.
Val Kilmer is the serious version of Pete Holmes' Batman impression. Now, if we want to talk about setting the character back, Val Kilmer is a prime example. After taking over the mantle of the Bat from Michael Keaton, Kilmer managed to change everyone's opinions on Batman with a single movie. Instead of completing what was supposed to be the end of a trilogy, Val Kilmer's Batman put everyone to sleep, and those that were left awake had a bad taste in their mouths. Val Kilmer was very much so the opposite of George Clooney, whereas George was always acting like Bruce Wayne, he was nothing but cold and stoic like Batman. I would say that remaining cold and stoic is a bigger sin to the Batman character because Batman depends on his persona of Bruce Wayne to keep people believing that the two are not the same. However, if you always act like Batman, you're doing nothing to through people off of your tracks. George Clooney at least had a bit of the duality going, but Kilmer didn't bring to life, the sense that two men were living in a body as one.
Now I'll start by saying that I get that this is The Lego Movie. However, he is still an incarnation of the Dark Knight. The movie completely neuters the character and basically turns him into the exact character Will Arnett always plays. He always plays the sly womanizer who is usually a douche. Now, I love Will Arnett, but him as Batman was the worst part of The Lego Movie for me. As someone who loves Batman as much as I do, it was a disservice to the character. It was much more about name recognition than suitable character. A better character would have been perhaps Hal Jordan because he is known for the antics that Will Arnett always brings to the table, but Green Lantern is not as recognizable. Regardless of it being in The Lego Movie, I still find Will Arnett's performance to be extremely weak and unsuitable for the cowl of the Dark Knight. There is just no depth to his portrayal of Batman.
I understand that Adam West's Batman came from not only a different era in comics, but TV as well. That being said, it still damaged the character. I enjoy watching the old Batman show, but more as, "Wow I can't believe people genuinely liked this, and didn't watch it ironically." It's fun to watch now in retrospect, but it is just so campy and it makes almost a mockery out of the character Batman. I understand the importance of Adam West's Batman, and what is was able to do in bringing the name into thousands of households, but I just can't forgive what this TV show did to my favorite character.
I must admit that I'm not as huge of a fan as everyone else when it comes to Michael Keaton's Batman, but I have to admit he did a damn fine job bringing not only a darker Batman to our screens, but an interesting Bruce Wayne as well. I think he plays Bruce Wayne much better than he plays Batman, but Bruce is an important part of who Batman is. I love that Keaton really tried to embrace the duality between both men living as one, even though it could become a bit campy at times. Keaton also brought a bit of brutality to the character which is another big part of his mythos. Batman doesn't kill, but he will break the bones in your body and leave you bleeding. I applaud Keaton for the transition he made as an actor into this role, and I believe he set a great tone and precedent for what Batman should be.
Peter Weller, being the legendary actor he is, gave one hell of a performance as the brutal, demented Dark Knight in The Dark Knight Returns animated movie. Weller embodies the anger and power that Batman, in his older age, would and should possess. When Weller delivers the monologue to Superman, you can feel the anger and cockiness that this Batman has inside of him. Weller is everything that anyone ever expected out of the Batman from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. He brought this version of Batman to life like almost no other man could. Just listen to his monologue and tell me you don't get a little frightened by the thought of defeat at the hands of the Bat.
Just look at him! I'm sure we've all seen the Dark Knight trilogy, so I won't speak as if you haven't. Christian Bale has defined himself as Batman for a generation. To many, he IS Batman. For a man of his stature, he became menacing. Regardless of his Bat-voice, he exuded anger and instilled fear. Despite the military suit, he remained stealthy and maneuverable like the ninja he was. Literally everything about Christian Bale's performance was immaculate. He became The Batman by allowing himself to become immersed in this character, as well as embracing the struggle with duality between Bruce and the Bat. Bale allowed us, over the course of the trilogy, to understand the psyche behind why the Bat can, and will, do what he does. Never before had we seen this side of Batman done so well. We see a Batman that is a man struggling with becoming a legend and allowing himself to become a symbol for justice and terror. Bale did a phenomenal job at helping us understand the Batman, as well as letting us experience the journey Bruce had to take to become the legend he was at the end of the trilogy. Well done Bale.
We haven't yet seen a movie with him as Batman, therefore I can't include him on this list. However, he is showing some enormous promise as the Caped Crusader. He is the most like Batman in stature, and conveys the emotions of the broken Batman that we'd expect in this upcoming film. I can't wait to see how well Ben Affleck does as Batman, but I'm sure he'll be amazing.
The Best Batman
Kevin Conroy IS Batman. It's just a fact. He has portrayed the character more times than anyone else. Out of every actor that has ever donned the cowl, he understands the character the most because he has lived it for so long. He knows how to showcase each and every facet of Batman, whether it be sadness, loneliness, rage, happiness, cockiness, humbleness, or duality. He has given us the most well-rounded and fleshed out Batman we could ever ask for. Kevin Conroy is the Batman for many generations, and has come to own the character so much so that it confuses people to hear other actors voice the character. Now even though Kevin just does the voice work for Batman on multiple platforms, his performances are so profound that they transcend the medium he is on. Kevin Conroy has elevated one of the greatest characters of all-time, and made him into what he always was in the comics, but is now in real life: a legend. If you're not convinced, just listen to the greatest Batman line of all-time, performed by none other than Kevin Conroy.
As an added bonus, here's Kevin Conroy saying The Dark Knight Returns monologue to the voice actor Tim Daly, who played Superman in the animated series.
So there you have it folks. We've made it through the worst and best Batman's of all-time. As always be sure to let me know what you thought in the poll and comments below! Thanks for reading and be sure to follow me on Twitter @haneycasey and on Moviepilot.com/HaneyCasey.