“There is no way anyone is going to be completely happy with this list. In fact many will be livid. Let’s run it.”
~AFFotD Editor-in-Chief Johnny Roosevelt
There’s a new entry to the Batman franchise, which is about as evergreen of a statement that has ever existed. Batman franchises replicate faster than Tribbles. We’d make a “Being a Batman franchise is like being one of Nick Cannon’s children” joke but we are not hacks, dammit. We have standards.
Batman is basically the pop culture equivalent of bunnies. Their parents always die.
The latest installment that we don’t really need from a franchise that has about a 50% success rate in their attempts to revive the caped crusader is a CW show called Gotham Knights, which premiered March 14th of this year. Not only is it very bad, it has so many baffling ideas behind it we can’t wrap our head around it.
While there is a popular video game of the same name, that game essentially has you playing characters like Robin, Nightwing, Red Hood and Batgirl in a world reeling from the death of Batman. Gotham Knights the TV series also starts with the death of Batman, but instead follows a random group of teen thieves and the adopted son of Bruce Wayne. We are of course talking about…Turner Hayes????(????)
What? Yes that’s right, they made up a completely new character, who doesn’t even know Bruce Wayne was Batman until his death. There is no Alfred. There is no Jim Gordon. Harvey Dent, played by Supernatural‘s Mischa Collins, basically should be named Gordon, as his role is “boss cop”, but no. (Collins is arguably the only good thing in the show, to be fair. There is a Robin, but she’s a random high school girl that met Batman once before he started training her, again without his son knowing. She is introduced with the line, “Wait, aren’t you in my Trig class?”
It’s basically Riverdale, but Batman. The writing is bad, the acting is wooden, and it likely won’t get a second season.
But it got us thinking. A lot of people have played Batman over the years. So why not create a subjective list that’ll get Batman fans upset? Sweet! Let’s rank the best Batmans!
AFFotD Determines, Definitively, Once and For All, Who Is the Best Batman
Note: to appear on this list the actor must appear in a Batman TV series or movie. We are not including actors who exclusively were Batman for video game voice work here, because we honestly could give less of a shit about video game voice work, come at us Last of Us fans.
We also have decided, after doing hours of research and writing that we since deleted, that we won’t include voice actors who only did direct-to-video films. There are literally hundreds of random Batman “movies” with dozens of actors, with like ten “Robin breaks bad” takes, a surprising amount of “LEGO Batman but based on the video game not the movie” releases, and even a Batman samurai anime.
Apologies to Roger Craig Smith, Jason O’Mara, Peter Weller (yes, that Peter Weller), Bruce Greenwood, Troy Baker, David Giuntoli, Jensen Ackles, Jeremy Sisto, Billy Baldwin (lol, seriously), Michael C. Hall (yes, Dexter was Batman), Anson Mount, and Keith Ferguson.
Also, yes, Seth Green does a Batman for Robot Chicken, but we’re not including him on this list. Seth knows what he did.
20: David Alexander Miller – Gotham Knights (not the video game)
The most research we had to do in this article was to figure out who this actor is. His Batman is so inconsequential that he’s not even listed on the show’s IMDB page. Clearly this is the worst Batman, as his one appearance on screen is as a corpse that had been thrown out of a building wearing a broken Batman mask and, inexplicably, a business suit. No Batman has, or will, ever done less.
19: Dante Pereira-Olson – The Joker
The kid version of Bruce Wayne in The Joker is basically just window dressing for Joaquin Phoenix to overact his way to an Oscar. There’s not much more to say about him here.
18: Olan Soule – Super Friends
We don’t really need to talk too much about this entry, Soule voiced Batman for 15 years in basically every instance that Batman appeared in a Hannah-Barbera cartoon. It’s a very specific, one-note-camp type of Batman that we don’t think about often but hey, at least he does a lot more work at his Batman than, say, a person playing a corpse.
Tie, 16: Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowry – Various Serials
Batman first appeared in a series of short films, which was one of the more common types of media at the time (in terms of length, think of these like a less zany Three Stooges film). Lewis released 15 chapters of the serial in 1943, and Lowry dawned the cape for another 15 chapters in 1949. By default we’re placing them at the bottom of our list, having not watched them, just because we know exactly how far acting as a craft had evolved by the 1940s, and it was not far.
Also, and we’re not saying that these Batman costumes are offensive, but given the political climate of the 1940s, they somehow feel just a little racist? We can’t put our finger on it, but then again, costume design also hadn’t gone really far in the 1940s. You gotta work with what you got, we guess.
15: Jimmy Kimmel – Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
Yes, Jimmy Kimmel has played Batman in a major motion picture. He’s essentially just doing a (pretty okay!) Batman voice as a minor character in the movie for a popular children’s animated series. There’s nothing more to really add here.
14: Keanu Reeves – DC League of Super-Pets
Another instance of stunt acting where the actor just does a decent impression of “this is my Batman voice.” Reeves literally has no more than a dozen or so lines and Batman has about two minutes of screen time. It’s funny, and it’s Keanu Reeves so contractually we have to love it, but he does oscillate between “sounding like Batman” and “Keanu Reeves trying to sound like Batman.”
13: George Clooney – Batman and Robin
Oh boy. To be fair, you can’t blame this low ranking on the infamous nipple suit, but we see how you could think that. And the writing didn’t help. But Clooney, who was just transitioning from TV star to film star (consider this is awkward puberty moment, filmography-wise) doesn’t exactly elevate the material with his wooden and “safe” take on the dark knight.
You know a performance is lackluster, or at least regrettable, when the actor has to apologize years later. At best, it’s a bland, forgettable Batman performance in a film that temporarily killed the franchise due to ridiculous set pieces and incredibly dumb storylines. At worst, he might have contributed just a little bit.
12: Iain Glen – Titans
Titans is the HBOMax show centered on Nightwing (a.k.a. Robin 2, Electric Boo-ga-loo-oh-God-the-Joker-brutally-killed-the-other-Robin) and his team of superheroes. It’s “gritty” even by Batman standards, and as such Iain Glen’s Batman is well-performed, and also kind of an aloof dick, just like the Batman from Batwoman, even though there’s a much better chance you’ve seen this one over seeing the Batwoman one.
It’s great to see everyone’s favorite Game of Thrones Incel back on the small screen, but like most Titans-adjacent Batman appearances, he’s not an integral part of the show, though he does good work in the small time he has.
11: Rino Romano – The Batman (animated)
It’s surprisingly hard to find clips of this kid’s cartoon (or at least that’s how they advertised it) but from 2004 to 2008 Romano was the voice of the caped crusader. It’s completely fine, but also very much just a neutral Batman voice. It’s fine! It works for the show! It’s better than Clooney? It’s perfectly suited for middle-of-the-pack.
10: Val Kilmer – Batman Forever
The less said about the Joel Schumacher Batman films that temporarily killed the franchise the better (as we proceed to write roughly 600 words about his films). Our staff members that were kids or in their teens when Batman Forever came out have a soft spot for it, even though it is inherently a silly, ridiculous movie. The best thing it did was provide us that story of Tommy Lee Jones telling Jim Carrey “I cannot sanction your buffoonery” on set.
Val Kilmer is a generational talent, and he makes sense as Bruce Wayne. As Batman? He falls a little flat. To be fair, the costume designers didn’t do him any favors, putting him in an uncomfortable suit that didn’t allow him to turn his neck, but it’s safe to say that Kilmer wouldn’t point to Forever as one of his finest works.
9: David Mazouz – Gotham
Gotham was an interesting show on Fox with a lot of weird shit going down. It focused mostly on Jim Gordon, and a young Bruce Wayne dealing with the death of his parents (yes they show it of course they fucking do every Batman director has a hard on for killing Batman’s parents on camera).
It was a mid-ratings Fox show that got five seasons, and Mazouz plays the angsty but mostly “proper” Bruce Wayne (who begins his training to become Batman eventually). He’s not the focal point of the show, but especially as a kid-and-then-teen actor, he holds his own, though he doesn’t have to deal with performing the Batman side of things. Again, still better than Val. Sorry, Val.
Now, Mikhail Mudrik plays actual Batman in the series finale, as a grown-up of Mazouz’s Bruce Wayne, but we’re not including that because it is essentially a cameo.
8: Diedrich Bader – Harley Quinn
He is definitely not a major part of the deliciously profane Harley Quinn animated TV series, but Diedrich Bader, who made his initial mark with his work in The Drew Carey Show and has been in everything from Office Space to Napoleon Dynamite, is one of the few mainstream “comedy Batman” performances, and he does it pretty well.
So while a minor character on an irreverent animated show on premium cable outranking Val Kilmer might feel wrong, we’re going with this placement. Sorry, Val.
7: Will Arnett – The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie, The Lego Movie 2 – The Second Part
It’s easy to dismiss Arnett’s comedic turn as Batman in the series of Lego Movies he’s voiced the character in, but hear us out. As far as the purpose of his Batman, it’s to mock the over-seriousness of Batman, and Arnett does that amazingly. He has just the right amount of gruffness and cluelessness to make his Batman a realistic and hilarious satirical character.
Arnett also adds a level of insecurity and phycology to the Batman character that makes total sense when you think about how ridiculous of a character Bruce Wayne is in a vacuum. There’s a reason why, when The Lego Movie became a smash, they went to Arnett’s supporting role to be the film they invested in for a spin-off (which is getting a sequel). We stand by our ranking here.
6: Robert Pattinson – The Batman
Emo Batman! Some would like to see Pattinson higher on this list based on his work on the good-but-fuck-did-we-need-all-three-plus-hours The Batman, and we’ll agree he had a unique and refreshing take on the character, and put in a good performance.
Pattinson has been just making his own personal weirdest career choices ever since he got thrust into an uncomfortable spotlight with the Twilight films (this is in no way meant negatively, he’s one of the most compelling stars in Hollywood at the moment).
So when the director Matt Reeves, who made his mark on Hollywood with a child love story about a bullied kid and his vampire best friend, was given “fuck you” money to make a Batman, of course he goes to the actor who used his “fuck you” Twilight money to do whatever he wants and just let him do his thing.
Wispy Fall Out Boy haircut? Sure! All the eyeliner? You fucking bet that’s on the docket. Moody Bruce Wayne who clearly has some sort of social anxiety disorder? Ding ding ding!
The subversion of the “playboy persona” of Bruce Wayne is the largest departure from most other Batman movies, and the film is definitely successful in large part of Pattinson’s intense performance. But, despite many of your protestations, we ended up placing him juuust outside of the top five. And many of you will be mad about that when you see who we chose as number five.
5: Ben Affleck – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, The Justice League
Two things. First, we will not be having any Zach Snyder cut discourse in this household! Shut it, you hear us!? We don’t want it!
Secondly, we will not be having any discussion about how we didn’t do a perfect job cropping this photo, or why we felt the need to crop it, in this household! WE DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT! THIS IS NOT THE PLACE FOR THAT DISCUSSION!
Listing Affleck this high might be our most controversial take in this article. No matter your thoughts on the four hour (FOUR HOURS) mulligan that was the Snyder Cut, Batman v Superman and The Justice League were rightfully derided as overstuffed, overdramatic, overly-dreary train wrecks that actively contributed to the DC franchise to completely blow up their plans for a DCCU.
Affleck portrays the Dark Knight Rises style of “old, bitter Batman” which, combined with the lack of natural light and “are we sure happy colors don’t exist?” vibes of Snyder’s contribution to the Batman canon, as well as Affleck’s general A-list status, led to a lot of knee-jerk “Affleck sucks as Batman” takes.
But you could easily argue that Affleck was the best part of Batman v Superman. Minus that whole MARTHA scene. Batman’s always been portrayed through a lens of grief (minus some of the older adaptations) and Affleck manages to mix in some Roy-Kent level “grrr” humor while grounding his portrayal through the lens of grief extrapolated (they somewhat subtly show he’s since had to deal with the loss of his ward, Robin) and how time can make mismanaged grief turn into rage.
He’s not the most popular Batman, and many think he’s a bad one, but we think his performance is much more nuanced and emotionally rich than Affleck gets credit for.
4: Kevin Conroy- Batman the Animated Series, Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm, Batman: The Killing Joke, Justice League Vs. the Fatal Five, Justice League Action, Batman and Harley Quinn, The New Batman Adventures, Various Cameos, Batwoman (live action), Various Shorts and Video Games
Many Batman fans mourned the passing of Kevin Conroy last year, even if they probably didn’t know what he looked like. But they definitely knew what he sounded like. A whole generation was introduced to the world’s greatest detective from the animated series (with the primarily antagonist, The Joker, being played by Mark Hamill, a.k.a. Luke Skywalker, which most of you know, but we include here because at least one reader just had their mind blown) that aired from 1992 to 1995 (and is rated by IMDB users as the 23rd best show of all time).
No one has spent more time on screen as Batman (we can argue if voice actors are technically on screen, but you get the point) than Conroy. He was brilliant at getting that mix of emotion and monotone seriousness that can give the character menace and depth. When you think of what Batman should sound like, you probably hear Conroy’s voice.
Almost poetically, one of his last performances saw him play an aged and hobbled Batman (in a mech suit, of course) in the Batwoman episode of the CW Arrow Verse’s Crisis on Infinity Earths‘ series.
3: Michael Keaton – Batman, Batman Returns
Michael Keaton is a national treasure, but many people don’t know that when he was cast to play Batman, it was incredibly controversial. (Those who do know that were either there for the media panic, or are movie sickos like most of our staff.)
At the time, Keaton was known primarily for his comedic acting chops. Admittedly, he showed his weirdo sensibilities and worked with director Tim Burton in Beetlejuice, which at least showed his range and ability to channel something a little darker than, say, being the guy from Mr. Mom.
As an actor, Keaton is incredibly charming, so he makes sense as the playboy Bruce Wayne. But it wasn’t clear if he could channel the darkness and imposing figure that is needed to dawn the bat suit. He nailed it.
Without Keaton’s Batman, it’s very possible that Batman wouldn’t be as culturally, well, everywhere as it is today. He revived the character in an endearing and impactful fashion, and is one of the most important actors to play Batman of all time.
Also fun fact – another finalist to play the role before Keaton got it? Willem Dafoe. We’ll just leave that for you to think about for the rest of your lives.
2: Adam West – Batman, Batman ’66
We’ll acknowledge that we definitely are putting West higher up on our list than we should if we’re going solely on performance, which admittedly, is the actual promised content of this article. But we’re bumping him up a few points for a few reasons.
First, respect for a cultural icon. Secondly, without West’s Batman, it’s hard to imagine that the character would stay in the cultural zeitgeist enough to stay relevant long enough for Tim Burton to launch the “Batman as a pop culture staple” rocket ship.
And finally, the purpose of his Batman was so different than every other Batman that it’s kind of hard to compare him to his peers on a pure performance angle. Plus, he’s in one of the few Batman movies that doesn’t feel the need to torture porn us with Thomas and Martha Wayne getting murdered in an alley in a slow-motion shot.
Most relevantly, however, is that his Batman episodes and movie are meant to be comedies. They’re camp. A tortured performance that oscillates between wealthy playboy and PTSD-suffering vigilante takes a lot of work and skill. But what about all the work and skill that goes into successfully applying shark repellant while hanging off a helicopter ladder?
1: Christian Bale – Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
It feels like the laziest, most obvious, most fanboy-pleasing selection for the top Batman, but at the end of the day, you have an Oscar-winning actor completely revolutionize a character (who has been revolutionized roughly twelve times) with an iconic performance (depending on how much you think “the voice” is iconic or silly), being one of the few actors who has played the character in more than two films for the most critically acclaimed and financially successful series of Batman movies ever made.
Bale works so well as Batman because he is a handsome leading man who got himself in supreme “yup, that’s Batman” shape for the movie, who is fantastic at winking into the absurd douchyness of the Bruce Wayne socialite lifestyle, making it clear that he spends his life playing a character, and that character is not the Batman side of him. Batman is rarely subtle, and Bale often isn’t, but there is a subtlety to his performance that is impressive, and also helped make his trilogy so successful.
But the real reason why Bale works so well as Bruce Wayne? Because, deep down, Bruce Wayne is kind of a weirdo. Think about it – he’s a billionaire who thought to himself, to avenge my parents’ deaths I will become the world’s greatest detective.
So he went to the mountains to learn martial arts, spent millions on gear, gadgets and assault vehicles, and decided to dress as a giant fucking bat and beat the shit out of random criminals snatching purses. That’s deeply weird! You know who else is deeply weird? Christian Bale in about 90% of the movies he’s in.
There’s a solid mix of people who would have wanted us murdered for not putting him in this spot, and people who would have wanted us murdered if we made him number one. We hope that the half in our favor will step up and protect us with their lives, as they very well should. As Batman would.
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