Ranking the Batman Actors

Montage Tall

Somehow, we have never ranked the Batman actors??? Well, our long international nightmare is over. We brought in the best minds in the biz to finally crack this conundrum.

To clarify, this is specifically looking at actors who have played Batman in a film that received a wide theatrical release. Sorry, Diedrich Bader.

Here are the voters:

Matt Waters
Jerome Cusson
Ben Phillips
Mike Thomas

9) George Clooney

Highest: 9th | Lowest: 9th

Mike: I **really** like Clooney, and I would imagine with even minimal effort he would be a fine Batman. But this was not minimal effort. This was a man instantly full of regret about his decision to sign onto this project, and it just radiated every moment he was on screen. Whatever anyone else might think about the other actors who put on the cowl, there is no one else who so completely phoned in the performance.

8) Val Kilmer

Highest: 8th | Lowest: 8th

Matt: It appears that any interesting pathos Kilmer attempted to bring to his single appearance as The Caped Crusader was left on the cutting room floor as part of the nearly 40 minutes of deleted scenes. The film originally dwelt more on Bruce being haunted by his parents’ death and his own self-perceived culpability, and was generally more introspective and at times even trippy. Casting Kilmer for such a role would have made sense, as a tortured artist style Bruce seems in his wheelhouse. Instead the performance in the final product feels hollow or half-baked. He sure does seem sad sometimes, but he’s not very interesting. Ridiculous smile meme aside, I actually think his in-suit work is underrated.

7) Will Arnett

Highest: 4th | Lowest: 7th

Ben: It’s impossible to talk about Will Arnett’s performance as Lego Batman, without acknowledging the only other purely comedic Batman performance on this list: Adam West. West’s shadow looms large over this kind of performance, but it’s also clear that West was playing a version of Batman that’s only recognisable as ‘Adam West’s Batman’. It’s certainly an iconic role – and many of the most long-lasting Batman tropes are in the show – but the entire show is fundamentally a parody that isn’t really interested in Batman lore or continuity. The Lego Batman Movie is. It’s a movie that opens with references to Condiment King (apparently Robert Pattinson’s favourite Batman villain) and has visual references to ‘Gotham by Gaslight’. Unlike West’s Batman, Arnett’s obviously skews far more modern in its style of humour, in a way that could be understandably grating for some people. The movie gives him a few too many opportunities to rap and the quips come at a relentless pace. But what I think elevates his performance is that Arnett can explore the pathos at the heart of Batman. It’s a movie that puts the Robin and Joker relationships front and centre (in particular, Michael Cera is doing some career-best work) and is more interested in Batman’s emotional arc (compared to most of the other movies we’ve covered).

In The Lego Movie, Arnett was obviously cast to play the cocky side of Batman, but here he’s given opportunities to show off a greater emotional range (for what has up to this point been a ‘funny, if fairly one-note’ character). Not only does this movie allow Arnett to do a lot with his voice, he also gets to dig into some of the psychology of Batman that the other movies have shied away from. The Lego Batman Movie is probably the most comics accurate depiction of Batman on the big screen and Arnett is the perfect voice to cover just how broad Batman can be. He works to keep the movie grounded in both its emotion and Batman comedy roots, even as the movie threatens to become unmoored with the influx of WB IP cameos.

6) Adam West

Highest: 2nd | Lowest: 7th

Jerome: I am a sucker for the Adam West version of the character because he’s such a lighter version of Batman. Most people associate with the serialized television series, but his cinematic version is incredibly horny with Catwoman and there’s that iconic bomb run. True cinema if you ask me. The fact that West plays this character totally straight and sincere is a testament to his acting skills. Will Arnett and Diedrich Bader have played similar lighter versions but always seem to be winking and nodding along. West gives it his all despite being surrounded by some horrendous acting (Burt Ward is actually bad).

5) Ben Affleck

Highest: 2nd | Lowest: 7th

Mike: In a remarkable turn of events, Ben Affleck has established himself as a top tier portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman. The key to the character is his self-delusion and the fact that he is so wrong about everything which gets compounded by his defining stubbornness and need for total and complete certainty in order to function. Despite twenty years of cleaning up Gotham, it is still a shithole by all accounts. When faced with the prospect of a being like Superman, Bruce clung to the idea that he needed to protect the world from him to compensate for his unspoken failures in Gotham. When forced to confront how badly he botched that plan, he convinces himself that swinging to the complete opposite end of the pendulum will fix everything. He has no means of coping with confronting his own failure in any way that would be helpful long-term. Instead it just leads to him creating bigger problems and “losing more slowly” despite his stated policy of avoiding doing just that. An iconic portrayal of pop culture’s most popular sociopath.

4) Michael Keaton

Highest: 3rd | Lowest: 4th

Matt: Perhaps the best Bruce Wayne on this list, Keaton infused his performance with just the right amount of squirmy, uncomfortable energy. He hard swings from being painfully bored of everyday life to a bit of a wild man, though the latter was more pronounced in ’89, with the whole “You wanna get nuts?!” thing. Not entirely sure how I felt about that… I always return to two particular moments with Keaton: 1) Coyly pretending to not be Bruce Wayne at the party with Vicki Vale and 2) Sitting alone in his big empty mansion, silently waiting for his next excuse to go and punch people (as seen above). I always found his Batman to be Only Okay, but props for beating Conroy to the different voices thing by a few years, even if it’s less pronounced.

 

3) Robert Pattinson

Highest: 2nd | Lowest: 5th

Jerome: Although he is the newest entry, he is nonetheless one of the strongest because he gets to spend so much time in the suit. We do not get Batman revealing himself to anyone or being unmasked. We also get to see some fantastic eye acting and his jawline for so much of the movie. Sadboi Bruce also feels incredibly fresh as all of the cinematic versions have seemingly played the billionaire playboy similarly. If nothing else, The Batman showed Pattinson is capable of bouncing back and forth between mainstream cinema and indies quite well. 

I think the best part about Pattinson is his version of Batman seems set to evolve and change moreso than even Christian Bale’s. This character may evolve from vengeance to hope in such a way we get less of sadboi Bruce and maybe some levity to what was a really dark (literally and figuratively) movie.

2) Christian Bale

Highest: 1st | Lowest: 6th

Ben: The release of American Psycho meant that Christian Bale was in constant conversations around who should play Bruce Wayne in the early 2000s –  and it makes a lot of sense! Keaton had played a Batman who was barely clinging onto reality, so why not cast cinema’s second most famous psychopath? The detached air that Bale brings to the roles allows you to see why no one in Gotham would suspect him of being the Caped Crusader. Batman Begins is far more of a Bruce Wayne story than it is a Batman story and what that showcases is Bale at his best in the role, especially in the way that he modulates his performance playing Bruce at various stages of his development.

Bale’s weakness, however, is when he’s in the suit. Much like Keaton’s cowl emphasises his lips and Pattinson’s emphasises his jawline, Bale’s gives focus to the intensity of his eyes, which helps him maintain his energy despite the suit’s obvious physical limitations. Let’s not waste the energy on his Batman – which has been memed and litigated to death – but instead focus on what tools it removes from Bale as a performer. He really can’t tap into his charisma as a performer, especially as he struggles to move his head when in costume. This makes the contrast between Bruce and Batman even more pronounced, but it does mean Bale’s performance plays second fiddle to the Nolan directed action when suited up. This isn’t so much an issue after Batman Begins however, as the focus shifts more onto the villains, and Bale is only asked to act as a foil to them, which he does with aplomb. Even now, I’d say Bale is the best live action Batman actor, but it’s readily apparent how hard it is to cast someone who can embody every facet of this character – even whilst perfectly embodying one of them.

1) Kevin Conroy

Highest: 1st | Lowest: 5th

Ben: Kevin Conroy has played Batman more than anyone else. West and Keaton might have been cast beforehand – and have played multiple roles referencing or reprising their time in the cape and cowl – but between 1992 and 2019, no one has been more consistent than Conroy. Even when there were other animated Batman shows on the air, Conroy was still playing the character. Between Batman: The Animated Series, the Arkham games, the Injustice games, the Arrowverse and the various DC animated movies, Conroy is THE definitive Batman. Where Bale and Keaton suffer from their directors getting bored of them, Conroy’s Batman is always central to whatever project he’s in. He’s got a perfect Batman and a perfect Bruce Wayne in his pocket. He gets to play the drama and humour of the character as well as face off against mobsters, supervillains, aliens, and gods. He’s the only actor we’re discussing who’s had a successful tenure on the Justice League (sorry Ben) and fought Superman. Conroy has gotten to play everything that people think of when they think of the Caped Crusader – and has done it all with style and grace. I hope he has a few more times at the mic before he ultimately retires, especially if he decided Batman: The Killing Joke with Mark Hamill wasn’t the right time. But for now, we can enjoy a body of  work that is unparalleled within the sphere of Batman performers.

Jerome: Calling him ‘the voice of Batman’ seems almost trite at this point, but he’s just that. I think he hits a very specific generational point because of the animated series. The fact he’s gone on to play the character in various animated projects and even in an epic live action CW crossover is a testament to how popular and iconic he is in the role. 

Matt: There are just shy of 200 reviews of Conroy’s work by me on the site through The Matt Signal, and they have led me to the opinion that he is completely untouchable. During his run he has presented FIVE voices (Bruce at four different ages, and Batman), and every one of them sounds authentic and different. Mask of the Phantasm was perhaps his finest shift, but really, throw a dart and you’ll hit an iconic line. There is a reason he is still voicing the character 30 years later. Also: What a singing voice!

Mike: Compared to my comrades on this site and in this article specifically, I am comparatively the low man in regards to Conroy excitement. To be clear though, that is less about being down on Conroy but instead enjoying some of the live action performances a great deal. Conroy was the Batman of my childhood and the formative performance by which I think of still when I instinctively think of Batman.

Plugs

Mike & Matt reviewed every Batman movie (and some that ‘don’t count’) for their podcast, The Tape Crusaders. A new episode on The Batman should either have just been released or will be coming soon!

Matt presents a weekly column on Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond called The Matt Signal Beyond. This weekend it’s time for The Return of the Joker as well as the secret final episode of the series which drops some MAJOR bombshells.

Jerome presents The Superhero Pantheon, a podcast aiming to review every single superhero movie ever and determine if it’s worthy of the Hall of Fame or Pile of Shame. He also presented his 100 favourite movies last year, which included some of the above.

Finally, Ben & Matt’s Marvellous Journey, an MCU podcast, returns soon to cover Marvel’s 2021 slate.

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