Who are the best Batman actors? The DC Comics hero has had a rich history across the big and small screen over the years. We all know how Batman came to be — a young Bruce Wayne saw his parents be killed and used his family’s vast fortune to become the city’s vigilante and avenge their deaths — and countless action movies, TV series, video games, and novels have tried to unpack the full extent of Batman’s psyche.
With such an enormous legacy, those who portray Batman have the daunting task of not only staying faithful to the source material but also ensuring that they are bringing something different and unique to the character. When you play someone as complex as Batman, it is not just about acting a role in a story: it’s also a character study, where you explore how Batman’s trauma affected him and made him the person he is today.
Now that the mantle has been passed to Robert Pattinson, who made his debut as Bruce Wayne in The Batman in March 2022, we’re going to look back and explore some of his competition: ranking the best Batman actors we have seen over the years from worst to best.
Batman actors ranked from worst to best:
- George Clooney
- Val Kilmer
- Will Arnett
- Ben Affleck
- Robert Pattinson
- Michael Keaton
- Adam West
- Christian Bale
George Clooney’s casting in Batman & Robin is the perfect example of why you should never cast a big name based on their name alone and then expect them to carry the whole movie. You need good writing, a compelling plot and a believable lead — but Batman and Robin’s 11 Razzies make it clear that the film, which was unsurprisingly a box office bomb, had none of that.
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It didn’t help that the movie’s homoeroticism bordered into homophobia, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think I’ve felt a moment of peace since seeing Clooney’s Bat-nipples on screen. They haunt me.
Sure, you might know him as Iceman, but for nineties kids, Val Kilmer was Batman. Nobody is pretending that Batman Forever is the best film ever made, but what it does provide is that more colourful Adam West-like charm and campness that the superhero genre had desperately been lacking for a while at that point.
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It’s easy to pick fault in Batman Forever’s messy writing and plot, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t fill me with that sense of warm nostalgia whenever I watched it, much like how Attack of the Clones is objectively bad but still pleasant to watch to bring you back to your childhood a little.
Wait, is that the horse from Horsin’ Around? No, it’s Arrested Development star Will Arnett in The LEGO Movie. Although, as a voice actor, he isn’t technically considered a Batman, the explosive success surrounding his LEGO-fied portrayal in the 2013 animated movie suggests otherwise.
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With his sharp wit, fruitless attempts to keep his identity secret and his tongue-in-cheek devotion to being a little emo proving so popular, he got his own spin-off, The LEGO Batman Movie, in 2017. With an endless stream of quips and gags both adults and children could enjoy, Will Arnett’s Batman is arguably among the funniest — even if he is made of LEGO.
At a time when the superhero movie genre was bursting at the seams with origin stories, Ben Affleck’s older, fatalist, and slightly more jaded take on Batman was certainly refreshing.
By the time he took centre stage in the DCEU, we had seen plenty of perfectly chiselled, squeaky-clean leading men taking on roles as superheroes. With Henry Cavill arguably taking on that archetype in his portrayal of Superman, this is what made Affleck such a compelling foil to him as Batman in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.
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Affleck’s version of Bruce Wayne could hold his own in a fight: there’s no doubt about that, but he was also hardened, battle-worn and willing to toe the line into some moral greys if he thought it was for the greater good. This meant that the character had a lot more depth and was easy to set apart from some past iterations of the Caped Crusader, but he also managed to bring a more sophisticated charm and suaveness to the character that can only come with age.
Unfortunately, as demonstrated by Batman vs Superman and Justice League’s various Razzie nominations, Affleck was victim to less-than-ideal writing and a lot of behind-the-scenes tension, which led to him packing in the character for good. At a time when the DCEU’s content output was arguably shaky, Affleck was somewhat of redeeming quality for them — it’s no surprise that now he’s left, they’re making drastic changes to the extended universe.
The problem with a lot of the actors who play Batman is that they overlook one thing — the guy is a fucking weirdo. Think about it. A full-grown man spent billions of dollars not on the therapy he desperately needed but a full-on bat costume with a cape and everything so he can deck people and call himself “vengeance” before disappearing into the night.
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This is why I like Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of Batman so much. While his Bruce Wayne has the muscle for action sequences, he is also hugely pasty and quite literally needs sunglasses because he never goes outside. The man has never touched a single blade of grass, and it shows in his social skills, too, especially when it comes to his interactions with Catwoman.
Finally, people have stopped pretending Batman is a smooth talker when he is, in fact, maidenless, and there’s no one better than Pattinson for the job.
Michael Keaton’s casting for Batman was divisive — so much so that 50,000 protest letters were sent to the Warner Bros offices. In the end, however, he more than proved his capabilities: with his suitably dramatic and tortured portrayal not only pleasing fans but also garnering him critical acclaim and box office success (Editor: There’s been a mistake, Keaton is the best Batman).
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He saw similar fan, critical and commercial success in the 1992 follow-up Batman Returns, and arguably paved the way and provided the blueprint for more ‘serious’ adaptations and portrayals of Batman in the years to come.
Whether you love or hate Adam West’s more camp, silly and family-friendly iteration of the Caped Crusader, you can’t dispute the impact on pop culture his time as Batman (which is more than any other actor on the list) had. He brought a level of pantomime-like, exaggerated charm to the 1966 live-action movie as well as several animated series across the ’60s and ’70s.
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While many prefer a more dark and serious iteration of the Caped Crusader — whether it be a ‘detective noir’ type reboot or Zack Snyder’s inability to show light in Justice League — West’s more lighthearted iteration of the hero is refreshing and serves to remind people to not take themselves or a movie about a comic book too seriously.
He was also not above making fun of himself and the hero, as he voiced a parody version of his character, ‘Cat Man,’ in the children’s TV series Fairly Odd Parents. West died in 2017, and his legacy should be looked upon with fun and fondness.
Between them, Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale gave Batman the psychological depth the character desperately needed: fully fleshing out the implications of Bruce Wayne’s tragic backstory, showing us how events in Gotham shaped Batman into the man he was and truly bringing the darkness back to The Dark Knight.
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As the only Batman actor with a whole (impeccably written) trilogy behind him — including Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2009) — Bale’s act will be a hard one to follow: especially given he ended his tenure as the hero on such a high with The Dark Knight Rises.
Starring alongside Heath Ledger as The Joker, the film was absolute electric, and while Ledger got a well-deserved Academy Award for his portrayal of the Batman villain, the world was shaken when the final film was snubbed for Best Picture.
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Bale will always be remembered as the first Batman actor to bring the franchise into Academy Award territory, which caused superhero movies to step up their games in years to come as a result: trying to replicate the success of the movie ever since.
To see Batman’s latest iteration, you can catch Robert Pattinson in The Batman on VOD or via DVD/Blu-Ray.