For years debates have raged as to which silver screen live-action portrayal of Batman is the best. For 30-somethings, the answer seems to be more often Michael Keaton of Batman (1989) and its sequel Batman Returns (1992), while 20-somethings seem more attached to Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy between 2005 and 2012. When we posed the question to our loyal readers via Facebook recently, the response was passionate and en masse, but the debate remained open, Keaton and Bale matching one another’s appeal to top the poll with some 70% of the overall voting, the likes of Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Ben Affleck and classic Batman himself Adam West seemingly falling fowl to headlining vastly less popular franchises.
In this edition of Ranked, we’re looking to settle the debate (or more likely pour fuel onto the fire) once and for all, taking into account the popular consensus, our passionate readers, the artistry behind each portrayal and the accuracy in which each actor managed to channel the energy of both Batman and Bruce Wayne. In this list, it doesn’t matter how good the films were, it only matters how well the Batmen Batmanned.
We know you’ve probably come here to have your opinion validated, so whether you agree or disagree, make sure to let us know in the comments!
6. George Clooney
If you ever want to see an actor completely checked out of what he’s doing, then look no further than George Clooney in Batman & Robin (1997).
Starring in the 2nd Joel Schumacher entry to the franchise and probably the most ill-received Batman movie ever, Clooney was always going to be at a disadvantage when it came to the great Batman portrayals, but in watching him (very) closely in Batman & Robin it’s clear to see that he already knew what a disaster the whole thing was bound to be.
Largely vacant and seemingly only temporarily awake, Clooney floated through the film with such a lack of intensity that you’re left to wonder if the Bat-nipples became a part of his outfit just to cover for his absence of actual enthusiasm.
5. Val Kilmer
Suffering from an unfortunate case of the Schumachers, Val Kilmer’s portrayal of the Dark Knight was diminished courtesy of the poor material he was given, which is largely why he has landed at this position on the list.
It’s not that Kilmer was necessarily bad. In fact, he was actually a lot better as Batman than Batman Forever (1995) was at being a Batman movie, and he was clearly adept at mixing the different takes on Batman (intense, camp, funny) in amongst Schumacher’s cartoonish landscape of colour and spectacle. He’s also undeniably the winner of the unofficial “Best Batman Chin” award, so let’s give the man his due.
The arguments against Kilmer come in the shape and form of his Clooney-levels of poseriffic and how his version of Batman often faded into the background behind the undeniably more interesting (albeit obnoxious and ridiculous) Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones, both of whom were turned up to 11 for their roles as Riddler and Two-Face respectively.
Kilmer offered quite a distinctive rendition of Batman and deserves more credit than he’s given, but that doesn’t mean he offered anything close to something classic. In the pantheon of DC movie history, nobody is going to remember Val Kilmer as the best Batman of all time.
4. Ben Affleck
Despite how fleeting Ben Affleck’s run as Batman seems to have been, the veteran actor of some 20+ years has actually clocked the most big screen appearances as the Bat (joint with Christian Bale) having starred in three movies: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Suicide Squad (2016) and Justice League (2017).
Acknowledged as one of the few universally appreciated aspects of BvS, Affleck established a brooding Bruce Wayne that complimented the resourcefulness of his Batman character, the subtle nods he gave to Batman’s unhealthy psyche helping to drive investment in him, his feud and the film as a whole – in doing so, he helped us all to get over our initial unhappiness at his appointment to the role.
In fact, he was so great at playing both Bruce Wayne and Batman in BvS that he would likely have ranked higher on this list if he hadn’t been “cheered up” for Justice League, a movie in which his characterisation was seemingly completely at odds with all we’d come to expect or indeed know of him from the previous two movies. So far as intense, brooding, dark and gritty Batman goes, Affleck produced something quite remarkable in a divisive movie and deserves praise in that regard, but his legacy will always be tainted by the reception of his films and indeed his character’s evolution.