Who is The Best Batman? The question is simple enough. Everyone surely has their favorite Batman. Sometimes it’s the one that came to prominence during their childhood. Sometimes we find our favorite Batman later in life. Either way, every Bat-fan has a preference. But which one is the best cinematic portrayal of the legendary comic book detective? With the Dark Knight’s latest cinematic iteration, The Batman, dropping in theaters this weekend, we decided we’d try and figure it out.
In order to answer the question, it’s important to first acknowledge that there are elements that all of the Batman portrayals share. Each has a broody backstory. Each has a badass car and an extensive rogues gallery. Each has plenty of gadgets and an iconic suit. It’s in the details where we find the differences. The way each actor modulates his voice when he’s behind the mask, the way each actor fills out (or doesn’t fill out) his suit and the way in which each actor’s portrayal fits into the usually very specific world that each film’s director is building. In the over-75-years that Batman has been appearing on the big screen, no two actors have ever done it the same.
For the purposes of this exercise, our special task force of Batman enthusiasts thought it might be fun to first break the cinematic representations into two lists — one to determine which actor gave us the best Bruce Wayne, and one to rank them based on their performance as Batman. And then at the end, we’ll recap with a final combined ranking to determine once and
for all for now who truly is The Best Batman.
Batman Actors Ranked by Their Performance as Bruce Wayne
11. Robert Lowery
The first time we see Lowery in his Bruce Wayne persona, he’s yawning, feigning tiredness to his girlfriend, Vicky Vale. That’s a first impression that makes for a lasting association throughout the four and a half hours of the 1949 Batman and Robin serial. Every time we see the unmasked actor, even when he doesn’t mean to seem like a “lazy do-nothing” or hungover after a night on the town, he comes across as lethargic and dopey. The thing that really makes this and Lewis Wilson’s earlier portrayal of a supposed party boy ring false is that we never see them out in social settings (nor do their apparently uninvited girlfriends). Lowery’s Bruce Wayne also doesn’t come off as being very rich, despite the narrator telling us he is, considering he lives in a modest middle-class suburban home (outside Gotham City) and can’t even afford a second car to serve as his Batmobile. I guess he’s a philanthropist in that he loans out his vehicle to the famous superhero? (Christopher Campbell)
10. Lewis Wilson
If the main idea for Wilson’s Bruce Wayne was to make the guy an a-hole, he did his job very well. Batman’s alter-ego should simply be himself, a wealthy bachelor who sometimes makes appearances as a philanthropic mystery man. In the 1943 Batman serial, though, he tries too hard to be unlike a superhero, to keep up the masquerade. Early on, Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Robin) actually warns him that he’s taking the act too far. Indeed, it’s a wonder girlfriend Linda Page is even attracted to him when he keeps claiming to be a laid-back guy who stays out all night socializing, is often late for their dates, and even has to take naps on the side of the road on the way to rescue her — leaving Batman and Robin to do the job in his place. Yet, Wilson’s Bruce Waye is also really a jerk, the kind who would scare Alfred by shooting a confiscated laser gun in the poor butler’s direction, and then laughing at the man’s trauma. (Christopher Campbell)
9. Will Arnett
There’s certainly nothing wrong with Will Arnett’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne in The Lego Batman Movie. In fact, the animated feature gives us a very sequence involving Batman coming home to live his most introverted life, complete with a great HDMI input-related gag. Arnett’s Bruce Wayne is perhaps one of the loneliest portrayals on the list, as the film plays heavily with Bruce’s longing for family. But he’s also the only one who keeps the Batman mask on even when he’s enjoying some Lobster Thermadore in his bathrobe. In a way, Lego Batman never really gets to be Lego Bruce Wayne, which probably isn’t a problem for the film’s target audience (kids) but doesn’t do him any favors within the rules of this exercise. (Neil Miller)
8. George Clooney
There are plenty of problems with George Clooney’s portrayal of Batman in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. And we’ll certainly get to those. But as Bruce Wayne, he has a few bright spots. Most notably, Clooney’s performance comes alive in many of the scenes that he shares with Michael Gough’s Alfred. As his friend, employee, and longtime guardian struggles with a mysterious illness that may end his life, Bruce is forced to process another instance of losing people close to him. In these emotional exchanges, Clooney’s performance is at its most lucid, imbuing his 40-something Bruce with a thoughtful, gentle warmth. (Neil Miller)
7. Val Kilmer
Robert Pattinson might be “emo Batman,” but Val Kilmer was the first and maybe only truly sensitive Bruce Wayne. He’s the closest to a real romantic, he took in a near-adult teen as his ward after the kid’s family died trying to be heroes, and he cares enough about the world to not fund an employee’s project that could mess with people’s minds. This is the wealthy philanthropist and businessman who doesn’t seem too cynical about Gotham City, though he certainly has inner conflict and questions himself in both of his high-profile identities. And his personal issues make for an interesting regrettably hypocritical mentor dynamic with Dick Grayson. He’s still the deep thinker of the previous Batmans, but he’s now more emotional. Maybe it’s because I saw Batman Forever after learning of Kilmer’s passion and dissatisfaction with playing the part that makes me want to root for his performance, but I do think he’s an underrated Bruce Wayne at least. But why did he need to wear glasses when he’s Wayne? Who does he think he is, Clark Kent? (Christopher Campbell)
6. Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is all business. He’s working from the opposite point on the timeline than Robert Pattinson. This Bruce Wayne has been doing the Batman secret identity thing for a little too long. So long that he’s given up Christian Bale’s gameshow duality. His superpower is his money, and his confidence stems from that pile of cash he reigns upon. There is not a problem he can’t solve with a gadget or a takeover. Affleck’s Bruce Wayne standing in a room might as well be Affleck’s Batman. You might not see the costume, but it never leaves his body. His secret self-knowledge keeps his chin up and his jaw square. (Brad Gullickson)
5. Robert Pattinson
The conceit with the dichotomy between Batman and Bruce Wayne is that there’s a noticeable distinction between them. The former commits violence in the dark while the latter is the public face no one would suspect such things. The Batman makes a point of blurring that line, meaning Robert Pattinson’s Bruce is every bit as dour and grimacy as his Batman. It’s a choice that works to a degree given the character’s youth and intentions, but it leaves Bruce lacking when it comes to the personality department, making him little more than a maskless Batman. (Rob Hunter)
4. Kevin Conroy
Kevin Conroy’s Bruce Wayne is just a good dude. He can play the schmoozer and the billionaire nitwit, but more often than not, he fills the room with warmth. His Bruce Wayne does what many online wish other versions of the character would do. He uses his money to make a better Gotham. He’s not only out there in the alleys, punching punks in their mugs, but he’s also hosting fundraisers to house the homeless and creating charity events to improve the city’s infrastructure. Conroy offers the slightest alteration between his Batman voice and his Wayne voice. Mostly it’s tone and volume. The transformation is not a magic act. It’s a matter of aural swagger. (Brad Gullickson)
3. Christian Bale
The last person Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne wants to be is Bruce Wayne. He wears the billionaire playboy like a Halloween suit, a costume to trick, definitely not treat, those around him. His Wayne is a disguise used as a weapon to distract from his nightly activities. Much to Alfred’s chagrin, Bale’s Wayne happily torpedoes his reputation amongst the elite, smearing the good family name so they couldn’t possibly consider him as Batman. It’s a fun show to watch in Batman Begins, but as his narrative descends throughout Nolan’s trilogy, it becomes easier and easier to side with the concerned Alfred. Bruce Wayne took up his Batman vow to avenge his parents, but Thomas and Martha couldn’t possibly enjoy the mud their kid slings on the family crest. (Brad Gullickson)
2. Michael Keaton
The advantage that Michael Keaton’s portrayal of Batman has over many of these other guys is that he fits perfectly into the vibe that Tim Burton was looking to deliver. As Bruce Wayne, he’s mysterious and aloof, a puzzle to be solved by the characters around him, which makes for a perfect distraction from the fact that he moonlights as a rubber-clad vigilante. He’s also a Bruce Wayne who can confidently hide in plain sight, throwing parties, hobnobbing with Gotham’s elite, and showing off his extensive collection of armor and weapons from throughout human history. This is a Bruce Wayne who isn’t entirely hiding the fact that he’s got a thing for violence, but his quietly unnerving, eccentric charm allows him to keep everyone in the dark about his… other hobbies. (Neil Miller)
1. Adam West
The ’60s were a wild time, and while Adam West’s Batman might not get the same kind of “cool” points as more modern-day portrayals, that doesn’t make him any less great. You try being cool in leotards and Underoos — it ain’t happening! Just as West’s Batman marches to his own Bat-drum, his dapper Bruce Wayne is a lovable nerd doling out wisdom to his young charge and witticisms to those who cross his path. Optimistic to a fault and as capable of wooing a young lady as he is of charming a room full of bankers, West’s Bruce is the uncoolest of dudes while still being the fun, safe uncle you never had. (Rob Hunter)
On the next page, we continue our quest to name The Best Batman by ranking each actor’s performance as Batman.
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