Debates have raged for years as to which silver screen live-action portrayal of the Batman is the best. For those who experienced their youth in the 80s and 90s, the answer seems to be more often than not Michael Keaton of Batman (1989) and its sequel Batman Returns (1992), while those who experienced their adolescence throughout the 2000s seem more attached to Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight 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 being no more justified as “best ever Batmen” as the original silver screen hero Adam West, SnyderVerse front man Ben Affleck, or 2022’s megahit-leading Robert Pattinson, at least in the eyes of our social media collective.
That’s why, in this edition of Ranked, we’re looking to settle the debate once and for all. Taking into account the popular consensus, the artistry behind each portrayal, the accuracy in which each actor managed to channel the energy of both Batman and Bruce Wayne, and the overall critical reception of each performer in their leading role, we have listed each of the 7 actors to play a live-action feature version of Batman from worst to best. In this list, it doesn’t matter how good the films were, it only matters how well the Batmen Batmanned.
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7. 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 in 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.
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6. 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 is 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 poser-iffic 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.
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