With The Dark Knight a few days away from kicking both your ass and the box office’s ass, one can’t help but think back to all those who have worn the boots before Christian Bale. Who wore the boots proudly, who shamed the suit? Clearly, we must approach this as scientifically as possible and develop a complex mathematical system of algorithms. Or, I just remember the movies and grade the actors on the following criteria:
Batman – Batman is all about kicking ass. The best Batman will physically look intimidating. He will have a commanding presence. He’ll fully be able of executing ball busting moves and terrifying stunts. We break this down into the following: Intimidation. Ass Kickery. Believability.
Bruce Wayne – As a billionaire playboy and alter-ego, Bruce Wayne is actually quite complex. He must at once be a brooding and serious character in private and a boisterous, spoiled child in public. He needs to be attractive physically and have a wry sense of humor that stays away from the camp. These qualities are: Physical Appearance. Personality. Duality.
With these qualities in mind, we begin!
5. George Clooney
This really wasn’t a hard one for me. Clooney is not only in the worst Batman movie of all time, but even he admits to the movie being embarrassing.
Intimidation: While not the least intimidating Batman of all time, the costume is laughable and the nice guy chin of the lovable Clooney protruding through the mask lend no air of danger to the character. Also, he had nipples.
Ass Kickery: George Clooney is many things. A rough and tumble brawler, he is not. If you bought Clooney going toe to toe with Mr. Freeze, you’re easy to please.
Believability: George Clooney just doesn’t look like Batman. He doesn’t vibe as the crime fighting type.
Physical Appearance: Well, my mom thinks Clooney is attractive, as does People magazine, but he is too sweetly good looking, completely lacking in the bad boy billionaire department.
Personality: A little bit too funny as well, George is too likable to be Batman or Bruce Wayne.
Duality: You never really believe that Bruce and Batman are entirely different. It’s just like Bruce Wayne puts on a mask and is Bruce Wayne as Batman, rather than truly becoming the hero.
Final Thoughts: Clooney had the deck stacked against him as he starred in the worst movie, but I didn’t buy his look as either Batman or Wayne.
4. Adam West
I’ll readily admit to hating a campy Batman, so Family Guy fans and people who carry Shark Repellent can claim to love West as Batman, but really they just like to laugh along with West.
Intimidation: Zero. Nothing more to say.
Ass Kickery: Despite his comedic nature, Adam West’s Batman threw one damn hell of a punch, a punch so forceful that it resulted in a giant sound effect appearing in the air. He gets points here just because of how ingrained that has become in our comedic culture.
Believability: Adam West is a more mature Batman, and he portrayed the intelligence fairly well, though he is probably less believable than Clooney.
Physical Appearance: Again, a bit more mature than we’ve become accustomed to, but he does look very much like a rich white man. As far as Bruce Wayne goes, he’s too old, but as far as old Bruce Wayne goes, I guess he’s okay. Definitely lacking the physical prowess though.
Personality: Campy, but this defined Batman in the 1960s. While I hate this portrayal, I am glad he helped resurrect the character and he played up the Detective nature.
Duality: Nothing too major here, though his Bruce Wayne did seem more refined than his Batman, who went around WHALLOPing everyone.
Final Thoughts: A Batman from a different era, there is a kind of charm to the utter ridiculousness of this campy classic, though I don’t enjoy much of this.
3. Michael Keaton
Controversial perhaps, as many fans recollect him as the original Batman they became acquainted with. As a kid, I loved the movie, but it totally doesn’t hold up all that well. I think that Keaton played a good Batman and an OK Bruce Wayne, but that just doesn’t cut it today.
Intimidation: I’d actually rank Keaton as 2nd in terms of intimidation. He is definitely a dark character and even though he couldn’t turn his head, he was the kind of guy you didn’t want to see in a dark alley.
Ass Kickery: He does kick some ass. Gets shot, goes down, gets up. Really introduced us to the world of the gun-fired climbing rope, which as a kid, I wished I had.
Believability: Tough in the face and in pretty good shape, Michael Keaton didn’t have the body of Batman. He was one of the better ones, though he was at what seemed to me to be an awkward age – just a touch too old.
Physical Appearance: Again, attractive to a slightly older generation of lady, I never bought Keaton as a devilishly handsome playboy.
Personality: Burton directed a fairly Gothic take on this all, and Keaton performed well, though his Wayne felt a bit one-note to me. He definitely nailed the social awkwardness that some writers imbue into Wayne though.
Duality: Because of the one-note nature of his Wayne, there wasn’t much differentiating his Batman from his Wayne. They again felt a bit too close to one another, without Keaton able to really play up the Bad Boy image of Wayne.
Final Thoughts: I know a lot of people like Keaton. His Batman was scary looking and intimidating. His Wayne didn’t do anything for me though and I didn’t totally believe him in the role.
2. Val Kilmer
And this is where you hate me, but I legitimately believe that Val Kilmer was a great Bruce Wayne and a good Batman.
Intimidation: Kilmer is a strong actor, capable of putting some vengeance into his voice. Coupled with a fairly strong jaw and a well designed, dark costume, Kilmer had a good physical presence, though he wasn’t quite as good as Keaton.
Ass Kickery: Matching wits with some lamely portrayed villains, Kilmer could sell the fight scene, appeared to be young enough to really whip the ass of his less than physical villains.
Believability: I buy Kilmer as Batman. He was a decent age, in fairly good shape, and had a physicality that shown through.
Physical Appearance: Kilmer gets a lot of points from me for his Bruce Wayne. He is definitely attractive enough and has that bad boy flair. You buy him as a rich playboy that women swoon over.
Personality: Again, this Bruce Wayne doesn’t fully play up the difference between playboy and super hero, but he does show a bit more charm and cockiness than many of his competitors. I really did buy Kilmer as Wayne and saw a lot of potential, which is why gets high marks in all of the Wayne categories.
Duality: There is a bit of a difference between his Wayne and his Batman. Kilmer as Wayne has good interactions with hottie love interest Nicole Kidman and dangerously toys with Edward E. Nigma while at the technology demonstration. Perhaps a little bit of Kilmer’s inner asshole came out on screen and sent out that duality vibe.
Final Thoughts: It was a close race between Kilmer and Keaton. I gave Kilmer the benefit of the doubt because I saw a ton of potential. He played a decent Batman, but the first really good Bruce Wayne that had a little bit of duality to him.
1. Christian Bale
The best Batman and Bruce Wayne, by far. Of course, some of this is owed to good writing and an actual good film, but Bale has both the physicality and acting chops to portray a good character on both sides of the coin.
Intimidation: Gruff voice, 200+ lbs of muscle, a menacing grimace, and the physicality to kick the hell out a half dozen ninjas at a time, Bale sold himself as a badass both in costume and as a trainee with the League of Shadows.
Ass Kickery: Oh come on, no contest. Big Bale manhandled all his competitors and co-stars and is perhaps the most physical of the Batmen we’ve seen on screen. His reality-based combat and training sequences made me realize I would not want to get in a fight with this guy.
Believability: Completely sold. Bale as actor went the extra mile and bulked up and looked like a real-life fighter who would have no problem whipping criminal ass. He could have sold a cloth Batsuit with the pounds he put on.
Physical Appearance: A good looking guy, no doubt about it, he brings a bunch of looks from cocky and arrogant to wounded. Both convincing as a playboy and a crimefighter, Bale has the perfect look.
Personality: Christian definitely brought the fire to Bruce’s single-minded determination and gave life to all his other traits. For the first time, we saw Bruce as an actor, playing the role of spoiled brat, savvy businessman, and brooding individual.
Duality: Finally there is a clear difference between the two characters. Even going as far as to change the voice to hide his identity, the difference between Batman and Wayne was clear. Whether buying out hotels, hanging with beautiful, vacuous ladies, or performing surveillance and smashing criminal skulls, this performance perfectly showed the duality of the role.
Final Thoughts: I’ve had a long time to think about his first performance, and I still think Bale nailed it on every point. He had the size and physicality and menace to be Batman and he put in the work to really create a more complex and multi-layered Wayne than we’ve ever seen. Easiest choice of the day.
So there we have it, my rankings of the Best Batman of all time. I’m fully prepared to see some flaming below over fans of Keaton, but I stand by my choices. Kilmer had everything except a good movie, Keaton was a good Batman but poor Wayne, and Bale fired on all cylinders.
Agree with the list or disagree? What order would you have placed them?