2. Michael Keaton
Michael Keaton sits just behind Christian Bale in this list because he has, to date, only ever played Batman twice. Sure, this is through no fault of his own, but when judging Keaton’s task at portraying the character development of Gotham’s Dark Knight in comparison to that of Bale (who played Batman from his origin to his retirement across three films), it’s clear that Keaton’s task was not quite as large as his younger counterpart.
The requirements upon Keaton to maintain a toy-friendly face for the corporate overlords was of detriment to the sincerity of his performance. Full Keaton could have been magic, and this was damn close, but close doesn’t get you the cigar.
This isn’t to dismiss Keaton’s contribution. The Tim Burton collaborator had to re-establish Batman in a post-Adam West world, rooting him in a more brooding and gothic sensibility while remaining likeable. He knocked both Batman and Bruce Wayne out of the park, and to many he always will be the true Batman. This truly was the closest of calls.
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1. Christian Bale
Much more of an intense and challenging Batman than a charming and/or witty Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale’s rendition of the famous DC hero was one rooted in trauma and fully encased within a mindset that these Batman films would be more than “silly old superhero movies”.
Having direction from someone as accomplished as Christopher Nolan, and headlining a cast that is almost incomparable from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight Rises, Bale was given all the tools he needed to produce the goods, and produce them he did.
Like Kilmer, Bale was perhaps outshone as the titular character for one of his films, The Dark Knight, in which Heath Ledger (who played the Joker) was the biggest on-screen force. Unlike Kilmer however, this seemed as if it was by design, the middle act of Bale’s Batman trilogy needing the Caped Crusader to take a loss (mental, spiritual and physical) in order to set up his triumphant return in The Dark Knight Rises, and his character therefore taking a backseat to the evils overcoming his hometown in the middle instalment.
With some of the most quotable lines of all time and a voice people still mimic to this day, Christian Bale’s Batman became a pop culture icon, the actor’s physical transformation and overall commitment to the role mimicking that of Bruce Wayne’s on the screen, his unique and terrific cinematic representation being one that has stuck with the actor ever since.
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Which iteration of Batman do you enjoy revisiting the most? Which features of a Bruce Wayne/Batman performance do you most look out for? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates on more insightful movie lists.