Who're the best Batman actors? And who's the ultimate Batman?
As The Batman is finally hitting cinemas across the globe, we thought it was the perfect time to rank the actors who've taken on the iconic role.
How does Robert Pattinson, the latest big name to play the legendary character, stack up against the like previous Batman's like Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck and, the original, Adam West?
Without further ado, here is our list, ranked from worst to best... and don't miss What To Watch's The Batman review.
Best Batman actors — ranked worst to best...
8. George Clooney
Stars in: Batman & Robin (1997)
Ah, yes. The fabled sequel so bad, it not only broke the Bat-franchise, but also made Hollywood question the marketability of comic book films. Clooney's portrayal equally matched the film's goofy and campy tone, contributing to its silliness with terrible deliveries to terrible lines like "This is why Superman works alone."
It's a cringe-inducing performance in a cringe-inducing film that’s so out of character for the Batman role, that Clooney himself has taken public jabs at it several times. That said, when viewed as an unintentional comedy (while heavily unsober), watching it can be fun.
7. Val Kilmer
Stars in: Batman Forever (1995)
Kilmer’s performance as Batman has the advantage of not being the trainwreck Clooney’s ultimately was. But there’s not much more you can say in its favor. Joel Schumacher’s neon-lit camp direction started to blossom as an overcorrection to the dark surrealness of Burton’s Batman Returns.
However, Kilmer, to his credit, played the role as straight as he could despite the ridiculous script and tone. Unfortunately, it just ended up being a somewhat bland, unmemorable turn as Batman, particularly when standing next to the go-for-broke performance of Jim Carrey’s Riddler. While we're glad he didn’t steer into the outright ridiculousness of the film, it still felt like Kilmer was doing a completely different film from everyone else.
6. Adam West
Stars in: Batman The Movie (1966)
In order to appreciate the direction Batman is going, one must also remember where it’s been. Be it for nostalgic purposes or otherwise, many still consider West to be their ideal Batman. The show, and its theatrical spin-off, perfectly captured the silly tone of the Silver Age, Wertham-affected pages of The Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder at the time.
And West’s performance is exactly the right actor, in the right role, at the right time. Audiences weren’t ready for a dark and broody Batman, so West’s optimistic interpretation of the character is what was needed. That said, it was nice to see the character finally go back to his roots when the 1980s hit, thanks to Frank Miller’s work.
5. Ben Affleck
Stars in: Batman vs Superman (2016), Justice League (2017)/Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
Affleck’s movies aren’t great interpretations of the character. When you see a bloodthirsty Batman swinging a Kryptonian hero into columns, you check out. But that has everything to do with the writing and direction, and less the performance. Despite the films, Affleck’s performance as The Caped Crusader is actually fantastic.
If the role of Batman is defined by balance between the Bruce Wayne and Batman personas, Affleck nailed it, and without on-screen subtitles (see Bale). His ability to switch from broody, tortured billionaire, to drunk playboy, and intimidating detective vigilante is terrific. Even when watching the intro to the widely-panned theatrical cut of Justice League, the performance Affleck gives while trying to draw out a Parademon with a terrified criminal is something right out of a Batman comic book.
If Affleck’s performance as Batman were in films that serviced the actor’s knowledge and understanding of the character, he could have been the most perfect Batman put to screen so far. He just wasn’t given the proper material or screentime to showcase his expertly performed portrayal as Bruce Wayne/Batman.
4. Christian Bale
Stars in: The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012)
Bale's version of the character set the course for, not only Batman films to be taken seriously, but also superhero films. The Dark Knight to this day is widely considered the greatest comic book film of all time, and, along with Donner’s Superman, is only one of two superhero films on the National Film Registry. And Bale’s vulnerable, complex performance is key to this. He is, without a doubt, the best actor to portray Bruce Wayne in live-action to date.
Why then is he only third? Two factors. The first: the Batman voice. Bale’s choice to use the ridiculous over-the-top growl as Batman made his lines while in the suit almost incomprehensible at times. It’s an incredibly grating and unnecessary choice.
The second: with Batman being widely considered to be the smartest superhero of all time, Bale’s performance didn’t quite highlight the scientific or detective aspects of the character. Nolan’s direction opted to show the more emotional and physical aspects of the character.
However, Batman is a genius and detective that is always one-step ahead of his enemies, and we never truly get that from Bale’s version of the character.
3. Robert Pattinson
Stars in: The Batman (2022)
It’s particularly difficult to rank Pattinson’s performance among the pantheon of Batman actors because his story is just beginning. While The Batman is both a terrific film, the arc for Bruce Wayne is such that Pattinson is intentionally not able to bring the same level of duality to the characters of Bruce Wayne and Batman as his predecessors were.
The Batman persona is the dominant one at this point in Bruce Wayne’s career. As such, from a performance level, one could argue he had an easier job than all of the other Batman actors. It’s almost the inverse of Bale’s Batman, which is to say his Batman is phenomenal!
But his “Bruce Wayne” needs work, since he doesn’t change his voice or demeanor at all regardless of whether he’s in the Bat suit or not. But I’m eagerly waiting for future installments to see that duality evolve.
Having said that, there’s probably never been a more spot-on, pitch perfect interpretation of the Batman persona in live action than Robert Pattinson’s portrayal. Pattinson plays the role as grim, moody, dedicated and calculating (plus you can understand what he’s saying). He draws his inspiration from the lone gunslingers of Sergio Leone and the hardened detectives of Dashiell Hammett — lonely, busy, obsessed with their missions, but committed to justice.
Behind his busy eyes he’s constantly working, trying to figure out what murder is next and how to stop it. There’s an imposing attitude to him that can just as easily be swapped with compassion, particularly in scenes opposite Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle (and by the way their chemistry is off the charts) or among other orphans. He has a “no guns” and “no killing” rule. This is everything that encompasses the perfect Batman persona. And no one prior to Pattinson has ever achieved that before.
The only thing Pattinson has to do to take the crown is complete the Bruce Wayne side of the coin with the same perfection he brought to The Batman. If he can do that in future films, he will truly become the definitive version of the Dark Knight!
2. Michael Keaton
Stars in: Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)
You can’t beat this MVP. Keaton’s performance redefined how the public saw the Dark Knight, and stunned skeptics expecting Mr. Mom. From his intelligible, intimidating “I’m Batman” rooftop intro, to his intelligence cracking The Joker’s chemical formula on the Bat-Computer, Keaton’s version of the character was broody and brilliant. And as an actor, Keaton’s versatility meant he was able to navigate between the dual sides of the character seamlessly.
To this day, the scene between him and Selena — check out our best Catwoman article — dancing at the Christmas party in Batman Returns serves as the perfect physical manifestation of that duality. Expertly performed, Keaton’s Batman will be the standard at which all Batman performances, animated or live-action, will always be compared to.
That's why Keaton — who revealed recently why he walked away from the franchise — tops our best Batman actors piece!
1. Kevin Conroy
Stars in: Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) and more.
When this list was put together back in March, we made the decision to consider simply the live-action actors in Batman films. And the reason this was the case, was because if the list included actors from the animated films as well, there simply would not have been any fair contest. Kevin Conroy was, and forever will be, the greatest, definitive interpretation of Batman ever put to any screen, animated or live action.
With the booming gravitas in his voice as Batman, and completely different vocal work for Bruce Wayne's public and private personas, Conroy brought a pitch perfect versatility to the role that no actor live-action or animation has managed to nail as successfully. His performance perfectly embodies the dichotomy between darkness and light that personifies the tormented orphan vigilante that is Bruce Wayne/Batman. To this day, when picking up a Batman comic, the voice that comes to mind with every speech bubble is that of Conroy’s and no one else.
For this reason above all he would have been ranked as the greatest working Batman actor of all time, and we'd be hard pressed to find anyone up to the challenge of surpassing Conroy’s iconic performance.
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Mike is a proud, sarcastic nerd with a penchant for comic books, comic book movies, and movies in general, and occasional delusions of grandeur. He's also a UC Berkeley graduate who decided to go into writing over pre-med because he figured he'd ultimately save more lives by not being a doctor. He's a Slytherin and a Pisces, so he's very emotionally sensitive, yet also evil, but can be defeated by exploiting his insecurities. His goal is to live one hell of a unique life, and it's been working so far! His proudest moments are being retweeted by James Gunn and Ryan Reynolds in the same week, and getting 999,999 points on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland.
You can find Mike's writing around the web at publications like The Nerds of Color, What to Watch, Spoiler Free Reviews, and That's It LA.