Only a few years after he made his debut in the comics, Batman hit the silver screen in 1943, and in the decades since, he’s been one of Hollywood’s most accomplished heroes. In an array of feature films, we’ve seen a truly incredible roster of Caped Crusaders and Dark Knights do their best to battle against evil, taking the character in plenty of different directions. Well… Maybe "incredible" is the wrong word. As prominent as Batman has been in film, he hasn’t always been good.
To sort them all out, we sat down with every single Batman movie, reliving all the Shark-Repellent Bat-Spray, molded plastic nipples, suspiciously phallic rocket cars, and incredibly growly voices. Here’s the definitive, inarguable ranking of every movie Batman, from the worst all the way down to the best.
25. Batman, 1943 (Lewis Wilson)
The thing you really have to understand about the original Batman serials is that they’re bad. Not just bad in retrospect after 70 years of advancements in filmmaking and special effects, although they certainly fit that bill pretty handily. No, they’re just bad, even judged by both the comics of the time and the standard set three years earlier by "The Adventures of Captain Marvel."
The first serial, released by Columbia in 15 parts, amounts to four and a half hours of the worst version of Batman to ever hit the silver screen. Batman and Robin, played by Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft, are recast as government agents who joined up to help the war effort and are tasked with stopping the villainous Dr. Daka from building a death ray. In theory, that’s a pretty exciting plot, and it actually does wind up introducing two key elements that would stay at the core of the Batman franchise: the Batcave and the thin, mustachioed version of Alfred that would quickly supplant the heftier version in the comics.
Unfortunately, the actual execution is atrocious. It somehow winds up being repetitive even by the standards of serials, with alarmingly bad special effects, hilariously awkward costumes, unconvincing fights, and, of course, a massive helping of racism to bring it all together. That is, unfortunately, not entirely unexpected for superhero stories released during World War II, but around the time that the narrator starts praising the government’s internment camps for "shifty-eyed" Japanese-Americans, it becomes pretty clear that this is a Batman best forgotten.
24. Batman and Robin, 1949 (Robert Lowery)
The best thing you can say about 1949’s "Batman and Robin" is that it’s not as racist as its predecessor. Admittedly, that’s a pretty important improvement, but it also seems like Columbia’s second Batman serial only managed to clear the lowest possible bar in terms of being better than the first one.
Robert Lowery’s Batman stumbles from one goofy cliffhanger to the next—including being electrocuted on three separate occasions—in an attempt to unmask a mad scientist called the Wizard, only to dismiss the prime (read: only) suspect because he’s in a wheelchair. The only problem is that Batman and Robin, the World’s Greatest Detectives, see him walking around on multiple occasions, and never think to maybe adjust their suspicions accordingly.
We’ll take "hilariously silly" over "upsettingly racist" any day of the week, but the fact remains that Lowery’s bumbling, barely present Batman is trapped in a pretty awful plot that stretches out even longer than the first serial. The worst part, though, is the costume: a straight up sweatsuit capped off with an ill-fitting cowl. It’s like a look at an alternate universe where young Bruce Wayne was wondering how to make criminals afraid on that fateful night all those years ago, when a floppy-eared bunny rabbit crashed through his window. Say what you will about the molded abs and plastic nipples of Joel Schumacher’s late ’90s Batsuit—at least the damn thing fits.
23. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 and 2 (Peter Weller)
Every now and then, an idea comes along that seems like such a no-brainer that you don’t even give it a second thought before you commit to it, and it’s only after it’s done that you realize that it might not have been the best course of action. Such is the case with the casting of Peter Weller as the older Batman drawn out of retirement in the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s groundbreaking "Dark Knight Returns."
It sounds so good on paper, right? An older, more brutal, and even angrier Batman, played by the guy who brought his blunt, stentorian voice to the title role of "RoboCop," a movie so in sync with Frank Miller’s mid-’80s work that they got Miller to write the sequels? It’s such a perfect idea that it’s hard to argue that they should’ve done anything else.
Unfortunately, the idea is the only part that’s perfect. Whether it’s Weller’s unfamiliarity with the art of voice acting or the desired effect from director Jay Oliva — which would be difficult to believe given his otherwise solid track record — Weller sounds in every scene like he just woke up. He might actually be the worst part of the film, and considering how much it sadly suffers in the transition from the page to the screen, that’s saying something. Rather than a dynamic growl that goes with the action, Weller winds up just being boring, and whatever problems you might have with The Dark Knight Returns, "boring" should not be one of them.
22. Batman: Under the Red Hood and others (Bruce Greenwood)
Bruce Greenwood can best be described as the 2003 Toyota Corolla of Batman actors. Nothing fancy, no real features to speak of, and it doesn’t quite have the appeal of the older classic models or newer, objectively better ones, but it’ll get you where you’re going. The perfect choice if you care more about reliability and getting it done than having any real style or memorable aspects, you know?
Okay, so maybe that’s a harsh way of putting it, but it’s pretty accurate. Greenwood has played Batman on multiple occasions — three DTV movies (most recently, 2020’s "Death in the Family"), a videogame and the "Young Justice" TV show — and it’s probably telling that there’s only really one of those, the adaptation of "Gotham by Gaslight," where he’s the focus. Even then, the emphasis is less on Batman as a character than it is on the idea of seeing all the familiar characters recast in the Victorian era setting of a story in which Batman fights Jack the Ripper. The others are all focused on different characters, and in the case of "Under the Red Hood," Greenwood is playing Batman opposite "Supernatural" star Jensen Ackles, whose performance as Jason Todd has so much charisma it’s difficult to watch without thinking how good he’d be at voicing Batman. Which he did, years later with the "Long Halloween" films — and he was, at minimum, a Camry.
21. The Long Halloween Parts 1 and 2 (Jensen Ackles)
As mentioned before, "Supernatural" actor Jensen Ackles did a bang-up job as Jason Todd in 2010’s animated adaptation of "Under the Red Hood" — so good, in fact, that he seemed like a natural for Bruce Wayne. Compared to Bruce Greenwood’s Dark Knight in that film, the Ackles performance wielded an emotional charisma that seemed ideal for bringing humanity to such chronically-tortured characters.
With a pair of "Long Halloween" adaptations in 2021, the "Supernatural" star got his chance, elevated to the starring role. Unfortunately, it was a swing-and-a-miss, as Ackles showed his talents weren’t quite the fit for Batman that many had anticipated.
Jeph Loeb’s 1996/1997 "Long Halloween" story is a beloved series and one whose elements have been co-opted many times over the years (most recently in Matt Reeves’ "The Batman"), but while this animated movie aimed for loyalty to the source material, it never quite soared. As for Ackles, he delivers a stock standard Wayne and slightly gruffer Dark Knight; Troy Baker, ironically enough, becomes the hero of this adaptation by giving an excellent Hamill impersonation as the Joker. David Dastmalchian, who lived his comic book nerd dreams in 2021 by playing "Polka Dot Man" in James Gunn’s "Suicide Squad"), continued that fine work with a genuinely chilling performance here as Calendar Man.
This classic Loeb story arc is adapted fairly faithfully, given three hours to breathe and go into nuanced detail, with some great actors putting in the work. This arc features most of Batman’s rogues gallery appearing in one way or another, each character playing their own small role. If you’re a Batman fan, it’s a must-watch; just don’t expect Ackles’ work here to give you any new insight or nuance into the character.
20. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2016 (Ben Affleck)
On paper, Ben Affleck seems like a pretty solid choice for Batman. He’s got those square-jawed good looks and he’s more than capable of bringing a deep focus and intensity to roles when they call for it—and honestly, if you’re looking for someone to play a moody aging millionaire, you might as well get a real-life aging millionaire. In practice, though, the Batman of "Dawn of Justice" is only saved from being the worst superhero in his universe because Superman is somehow even worse.
It’s worth noting that much of director Zack Snyder’s inspiration came from Frank Miller’s landmark story "The Dark Knight Returns." Unfortunately, while the movie definitely lifted entire scenes wholesale from the comics in an effort to please hardcore fans by recreating iconic imagery, they’re all divorced from their original context, and presented to viewers in a world where the first thing we see Batman do is come out of retirement to fight another superhero. This is a Batman who’s been operating for years right across the river, and yet apparently no one ever heard about him, which might be a more believable play on Batman being an "urban legend" if he didn’t have a spotlight with his personal brand on it mounted on the top of a building.
Affleck’s Batman is a ludicrously violent murderer who only takes some time away from driving around in a vaguely car-shaped gun when he’s easily manipulated into a fistfight with another superhero—a fistfight that ends when the person he’s fighting reminds him that other people also have moms. You’d think that would be something he would’ve learned in his years as the World’s Greatest Detective.
19. Batman: Year One (Ben McKenzie)
The animated adaptation of Frank Miller and Dave Mazzucchelli’s "Batman: Year One" fares a little better than "The Dark Knight Returns" for a few reasons, but the casting of its title character was not one of them.
Ben McKenzie approaches the role of a young Bruce Wayne trying to figure out how best to fight crime with what can only be described as the monotone delivery of a sexy robot. Seriously, we’ve tried to think of other ways to describe it, but that is unquestionably the best one. He should be narrating an audiobook version of that "Next Generation" episode where Data and Tasha Yar get it on, and while that’s certainly a valid approach to some things, it doesn’t quite work for Batman. All of the intensity and emotion of key scenes from the original, like being inspired by the bat crashing through his window or announcing his presence to Gotham’s wealthy white-collar criminals, is lost in favor of the sensual monotony of some kind of pleasure droid.
Once you have that image in your head — you’re welcome — it does make McKenzie’s Batman a little more interesting, but it doesn’t rescue the performance. Instead, ironically enough, Batman winds up being overshadowed by another "Year One" main character, Jim Gordon, who’s played here by Bryan Cranston in a role that McKenzie would get a few years later as the star of "Gotham."
18. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (William Baldwin)
"Crisis on Two Earths" was one of the earlier entries into the ever-expanding roster of DC Universe Animated Original Movies — a heck of a mouthful for the official name of an entire franchise — and generally speaking, it’s also one of the best. It was loosely based on some classic JLA stories, including the original Earth-3 tales and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s "JLA: Earth 2," giving it a solid foundation. It was written by the late Dwayne McDuffie, who was the story editor for "Justice League Unlimited." More than any animated project that came before it, it did a great job with the premise of pitting the good guys against their evil versions from an alternate Earth. It has some great fight scenes and solid visuals that are a step above what viewers would get later.
In fact, pretty much everything about the movie is great… except Batman. It was a weird bit of stunt casting to get the third-most famous Baldwin brother — William — to play the Dark Knight, but he’s not really bad in the part. He just never really sounds like Batman, in a way that’s difficult to pin down. Maybe it’s just that this feels like a lost episode of "Justice League," which makes it a little weird that it’s not Kevin Conroy’s voice coming out of Batman. Maybe it’s that this appears to be Baldwin’s very first voice acting gig, giving him some intangible quality that sounds a little off. Maybe it’s just that Batman and his alternate universe counterpart, Owlman, have different voice actors — James Woods, in this case — and if we’d gotten Baldwin doing both good and evil versions of his Batman voice, the contrast would’ve made it work better. Whatever it is, it’s just not quite right.
Even worse is that this Batman is willing to kill to achieve his goals. That’s not entirely a dealbreaker for a lot of fans — especially when it comes to movies — but it definitely feels weird in the context of something that feels so much like the Batman we see in "Justice League Unlimited" and "BTAS," especially since he does it by choosing to lie to someone about how they’re going to wind up killing themselves by using their powers. It’s weirdly grim even for Batman, and makes this one of the few projects where Batman is actually the worst thing about it.
17. Batman: Soul of the Dragon (David Giuntoli)
2021’s "Soul of the Dragon" is another modern DC animated outing that recasts the Dark Knight, and it has a lot of good things going for it — even if the least impressive of them is its take on Batman. "Grimm" actor David Giuntoli gives a dry performance as Bruce Wayne. His Batman doesn’t fare much less grim in the rare instances he dons the cape at all; this movie focuses as much on Mark Dacascos doing his best Bruce Lee (as the amusingly-named Richard Dragon) as it does on Bruce Wayne.
This original Batman story was written by "Animated Series" veteran Bruce Timm. Set in the 1970s, "Soul of the Dragon" is an R-rated-like take on martial arts films, inspired largely by the Bruce Lee classic "Enter the Dragon." Of course, it takes cues from the martial arts-heavy "Batman Begins" as well. Overall, though, "Soul of the Dragon" is a pretty good animated homage, if not necessarily a great Batman movie.
16. Hush and Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (Jason O’Mara)
The best way to describe "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." actor Jason O’Mara’s take on Batman is this: What would it sound like if George Clooney had been allowed to be Batman in a much less campy setting? O’Mara’s tone of voice is remarkably similar to how Clooney sounded behind the cowl, even if he isn’t allowed to embrace his charisma as fully as Clooney could. The story of "Hush" is a strong one, as Batman must uncover the identity of a mysterious new killer in Gotham; nonetheless, it doesn’t lend him that type of material. Instead, O’Mara delivers a confident, only slightly brooding, take on the detective.
Much like "The Batman" with Robert Pattinson, "Hush" leans into being a noir thriller with a compelling mystery at its core that reinvents the rogues gallery. O’Mara came back for 2020’s solid "Justice League Dark: Apokolips War," where he reprised his role alongside Rosario Dawson (Wonder Woman), Jerry O’Connell (Superman), Tony Todd (Darkseid), Rebecca Romijn (Lois Lane) and Lex Luthor (Rainn Wilson) in a very different sort of superhero story.
15. JLA Adventures: Trapped In Time (Diedrich Bader)
First things first: Diedrich Bader is actually a really good Batman. In "Batman: The Brave and the Bold," he served as the spiritual successor to Adam West, a cheerless Batman who served as the straight man for a cast of superheroic oddballs in a series of team-ups that spanned the entirety of the DC Universe. Even the viewers who were initially put off by the show’s inherent silliness — because a man dressing up as a Dracula and getting in fistfights with circus clowns and furries should always be presented as extremely serious — were won over when the show veered into darkness with "Chill of the Night."
"JLA Adventures: Trapped In Time," a DTV movie that was released exclusively to Target in 2014, is mostly just okay. It does, however, score a few points for being an original concept rather than a rehash or adaptation of an existing comic, and for being built around the premise of the Justice League having to go back in time to save baby Superman from being murdered by the Legion of Doom. At one point it involves them literally throwing an indestructible Kryptonian baby around like a football, and that is fantastic. Overall, though, it’s pretty forgettable outside of some truly bad costume designs, and none of the things that made Bader’s Batman work are on display.
14. Joker (Dante Pereira-Olson)
In the run-up to the release of 2019’s "Joker," there was a lot commentary about how it’s "no superhero movie," with writer/director Todd Philips specifying that his take on the title character with Joaquin Phoenix "didn’t follow anything from the comic books." With that being the case, it was probably pretty embarrassing for him to realize that he accidentally put both the Joker and Bruce Wayne, who is actually the comic book superhero Batman, into the film. Really, if you’re trying to not make a superhero movie, you have to imagine that "don’t put Batman in it" is the very first rule you’d try to follow, and that "definitely don’t put Batman’s famous origin story in there" is on the list, too. Oh well, we all make mistakes.
Either way, Bruce Wayne does in fact appear in "Joker," and Dante Pereira-Olsen gives us an interesting baseline for Bat-performances. He definitely doesn’t do anything wrong in his portrayal of LI’l Batman, but that’s mostly because he doesn’t really do anything, period. His most memorable moment in the film comes in a scene during which Bruce stands there silently while a grown man puts his fingers into Bruce’s mouth and makes him "smile," but that’s more having something done to him than doing something. Like, say, alerting the nearest adult. All things considered, the fact that Alfred doesn’t respond to all of this by soundly thrashing Arthur Fleck is the movie’s biggest surprise.
Anyway, Pereira-Olson is perfectly fine for what he’s given to do, which is nothing, and the end result is that this is the Bat-performance equivalent of pure water: a completely value-neutral baseline that we can use as our midpoint.
13. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (Jimmy Kimmel)
In virtually any other film, casting Jimmy Kimmel as Batman would be downright alarming for fans, provoking the kind of discourse that would make Ben Affleck getting the part look like a brief but civil debate. In "Teen Titans Go! To the Movies," however, it’s not even in the top five most notable casting choices.
The big one is almost certainly Nicolas Cage‘s all-too-brief performance as Superman, both because Cage was initially set to play the Man of Steel in Tim Burton’s "Superman Lives" — which, if it hadn’t been canceled, would’ve almost certainly been the most insane superhero movie of all time — and because it’s Nicolas Cage as Superman. Compared to that, or to Lil Yachty as Green Lantern or Michael Bolton in a cameo role, Kimmel as Batman doesn’t seem all that notable.
Or, to be honest, all that memorable. Despite Batman being at the center of one of the film’s most notable moments — you know, when the Teen Titans happily arrange the violent murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents in this movie for babies? — Kimmel is ultimately very forgettable as Batman. It’s that rare case of a movie that just has too much going on.
12. Batman Forever, 1995 (Val Kilmer)
In a movie that’s soaked in lime green neon and hot pink leopard print, Val Kilmer’s portrayal of the Caped Crusader is… well, the kindest way to put it would be "reserved," but let’s not mince words here. Kilmer, only two years removed from a charismatic, scene-stealing turn as Doc Holliday in "Tombstone," drifts through "Batman Forever" with the screen presence of a cardboard cutout.
To be fair, there was a good reason for him to make that choice as an actor. Director Joel Schumacher, Tim Burton’s hand-picked successor, was clearly drawing his inspiration from the 1966 television show, and with Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones chewing their way through every available bit of scenery, replicating Adam West’s stentorian straight man so they’d have something to bounce off of probably seemed like the best way to go.
There are parts where it actually works, too—the best scenes by far in "Batman Forever" are the ones in which Carrey’s Edward Nygma tries to dress, act, and sound like his idol, Kilmer’s Bruce Wayne. For those, he’s the perfect straight man for the wildly over-the-top villains. When it comes to actually being Batman, however, his Adam West impression just doesn’t land, whether it’s battling against the villains, giving Dick Grayson a home, or having a monumentally tepid romance with Nicole Kidman’s Dr. Chase Meridian, the worst-named love interest in the franchise. It just flat-out doesn’t work.
11. Batman Unlimited and others (Roger Craig Smith)
If you’re not familiar with "Batman Unlimited," that’s probably because it’s the reverse of the way things usually work. Rather than starting out with a movie or cartoon and then creating toys based on that, this one started out as an action figure line that was created to keep kid-friendly Batman toys in stores during the more PG-13 era of the Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder films.
Once the toys were out, a series of animated shorts and a trio of direct-to-video movies were released, and if you’re into the weirder side of Batman, they’re well worth watching, because they are buck wild. You might expect a movie that only exists to support an action figure line to feature a series of incredibly toyetic costumes, but the "Unlimited" movies go a step further by giving Batman a new sidekick in the form of a robot wolf that turns into a motorcycle. That rules, and should honestly be in every version of Batman. Oh, also they’re set in the future and Batman has a Megazord in the third one. They’re not exactly what you’d call "good," but they are awesome.
Anyway, Batman is brought to life this time courtesy of veteran voice actor Roger Craig Smith. It might seem counterintuitive to cast the same guy who played Sonic the Hedgehog and Thomas from "Regular Show" as Batman, but he turns in a solid performance, and definitely shows why he was brought back to play the Caped Crusader in other projects, like the English dub of "Batman: Ninja" and most recently, 2020’s "Superman: Red Son."
10. Batman and Robin, 1997 (George Clooney)
To say "Batman and Robin" has a bad reputation is putting it about as mildly as you possibly could. Whether or not it deserves all the hate, it’s commonly regarded as one of the worst superhero movies of all time, with a bloated cast of villains and sidekicks sprawling out into a plot that starts off silly and ends up verging on ludicrous. It’s so bad that both Joel Schumacher and George Clooney have apologized for it since, and it was credited with nearly killing the franchise until it returned with a darker direction under Christopher Nolan.
The thing is, as controversial as it might sound, Clooney’s not actually that bad.
Like Affleck, he’s an actor who was perfect for the role on paper, a leading man on the rise who brought an effortless charm to the role. The problem is that "effortless charm" doesn’t really work for Batman—but it ends up working pretty well for Bruce Wayne. If you can get past the toyetic suits and their marble statue anatomy, Clooney’s best work comes when he’s out of the costume, sweeping around Wayne Manor dealing with Alfred’s not-quite-fatal illness, or in the few scenes where we see him as the franchise’s most convincing version of a celebrity playboy to date. Plus, let’s be real here: even if Clooney was as bad as the movie’s reputation would lead you to believe, he’d still score bonus points for the way he gets frustrated and refers to Robin as "Dick."
9. Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and others (Troy Baker)
Of all the actors to play Batman, Troy Baker might be the most versatile. He’s the only actor to play both Batman (in the DTV "LEGO Batman" and "Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" films) and the Joker (in the "Arkham Origins" video game and the "Batman Unlimited" movies). Heck, in "Batman vs. TMNT," he plays them both in the same film, and he’s even been three different versions of Robin in other movies. The dude has range.
He even has range within the same character. The version of Batman that he plays in the kid-targeted "LEGO" movies (most recently, 2020’s "Lego DC: Shazam! Magic and Monsters") is a slightly different character than we get from the more serious version — no, really — in "Batman vs. TMNT," where he’s the straight man to the goofy antics. Even better, they’re both recognizably Baker, who manages to carve out a performance that’s a little more distinct from go-to voice actors like Greenwood or Smith while still, well, sounding like Batman.
The only real downside is that he often comes off as a substitute for other actors. His Joker, for instance, is very much filling in for Mark Hamill, and his Batman is often seen as a replacement for Kevin Conroy. Even so, judged on its own merits, Baker’s Batman is incredibly solid. He captures the threatening growl of the Dark Knight while still having enough energy and character to keep it from slipping into monotone. It’s arguable that his performance, letting all the wackiness of that delightfully weird premise bounce off of him, is what makes "Batman vs. TMNT" work far better than it has any right to.
8. The Batman vs. Dracula (Rino Romano)
Rino Romano had what might be the most unenviable job in the long history of Batman’s cinematic adventures. Not only he was the guy who had to follow Kevin Conroy in the role of voicing the Dark Knight, he had to do it on the show that followed what many fans considered the definitive version of the character in any media, not just animated shows. Even worse? He had to do it while Conroy was still in the role. While "Batman: The Animated Series" had ended its six-season run in 1999 (after a title change to "The New Batman Adventures" that accompanied its move to another network), and the older, somehow even grumpier version of Batman from " Batman Beyond" had come to an end in 2001, Conroy was still playing Batman on the "Justice League" cartoons, and would continue to be the go-to guy in video games and other projects for the next two decades.
As a result, Romano’s tenure on "The Batman," despite lasting an extremely respectable five seasons, will always exist in the shadow of its predecessor, and will never be as fondly remembered. That’s a shame, too. He might not be as definitive as Conroy, but Romano is actually very good in the part. As a younger (and frankly more toyetic) Batman, Romano’s got a little more lightness and energy to his performance, but still keeps the gravelly menace that comes along with the cape and cowl.
Romano’s one full-length adventure, the spooky-scary made-for-TV "The Batman vs. Dracula," is a perfectly fine, pretty enjoyable movie in its own right, and even works as a showcase for the redesigned characters like Penguin and Joker that were meant to get as far away from "BTAS" as they could. Still, for the epic confrontation between bat-themed good guy and kind-of-an-actual-bat bad guy, it’s not quite as good as you want it to be, especially since that story’s been told with more panache elsewhere. And really, that’s Romano’s role in a nutshell: if we didn’t have anything to compare it to and could judge it entirely on its own merits, he’d be great. Unfortunately, we do.
7. The Batman, 2022 (Robert Pattinson)
After two decades of dark, darker and darkest Batman portrayals engineered by Messrs Nolan and Snyder, filmmaker Matt Reeves said "hold my beer" with his own grim take on Gotham City. He took a big chance in casting Mr. sparkly "Twilight" vampire himself, Robert Pattinson. But as the months of production went by — followed by many more months of COVID-related delays — the concept of RBattz won over the geeks, much like Bale had done decades prior.
Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is not only younger-looking than fans have come to expect from the character, but he’s also decidedly more awkward around people than other actors have chosen to portray Gotham’s wealthiest resident. In case the Nirvana needle-drops didn’t get the point across, this man is filled with angst, regret and a healthy dose of self-loathing. He clings to his virtuous vigilante mission as Batman like an alcoholic to a bottle, referring to himself as a "nocturnal animal," determined to clean up the streets. But in a film heavily influenced by ’70s cinema, will he soar like Brewster McCloud or go off the deep end like Travis Bickle? By the time we say goodbye, he’s disillusioned, beaten and broken like Jake Gittes or Elliott Gould’s Philip Marlowe.
As Batman, Pattinson’s jaw is the best since Kilmer. But his quirky in-game decisions and physicality (or lack thereof) feel more like Michael Keaton, without the Tim Burton polish. This is a World’s Greatest Detective who makes mistakes, gets teased over the declaration that "I’m vengeance," and punctuates a daring escape by deploying his parachute too quickly and slamming into the pavement.
In many ways, Pattinson’s Batman is better than the movie itself. Here’s hoping future installments give us further opportunity to see what RBattz is hiding in his utility belt.
6. The Dark Knight Trilogy, 2005 – 2012 (Christian Bale)
There’s a moment in "Batman Begins" when a crooked cop gets snared by the ankle and pulled up five stories in a rainstorm, coming face to face with a vigilante who demands information, and when he immediately breaks down and says "I swear to God," Batman’s response, literally shaking with rage, is to scream "SWEAR TO ME!" with a growl that sounds like Satan himself came to Earth and decided, for some reason, to fight crime. So yeah: the word you want when it comes to describing Christian Bale’s performance is intense.
Bale’s Batman brings that level of intensity to everything he does, showing an emotional range that stretches from the righteous fury of Batman to the aimless pain of the orphaned Bruce Wayne who was denied his vengeance, and even the quippy sarcasm of his exchanges with Alfred. It’s a power that’s only ever matched when he goes up against Heath Ledger’s Joker—truly one of the best performances in the genre.
Sure, the actual "detective" part of the package might be a little lacking—the scene in "The Dark Knight" when he uses computers to put together a shattered bullet so that he can discover exactly one fingerprint is one of the goofiest things ever put on film—but the way Bale plays off of his costars and paints a picture of a man torn between using his rage to fuel his mission and letting it consume him is genuinely incredible. The fact that he does it all while speaking in a voice that sounds like he’s chewing rusty nails and PCP? That’s just icing on the cake.
5. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (Will Friedle)
Unlike every other actor on this list, Will Friedle doesn’t play Bruce Wayne. Instead, he plays Terry McGinnis, the cool teen of the cyberpunk future who takes over the role in "Batman Beyond," answering the question we’ve all been wondering: what if Batman was also Spider-Man?
The answer, it turns out, is that it would rule super hard, and along with a killer costume design and the fact that he’s playing off the best version of a retired Bruce Wayne, Friedle’s performance is one of the biggest reasons why. The way he switches from Peter Parker’s — uh, Terry’s — normal, lighter speaking voice to the growly "Batman Voice" that he affects while he’s fighting future crime is distinct without ever feeling like he’s going too far over the top with it. He’s also an extremely likable character in a way that Bruce’s Batman never really is — or at least, he’s likable in a completely different way than Bruce is, as Terry seems more like a human being and less like the peak ideal of human perfection who is also very grumpy about it.
The only thing that’s arguably holding him back is that his only full-length appearance comes in "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker," which has a very different tone. It’s one of the darkest things that DC has ever done with their animated properties, to the point where some pretty graphic scenes were heavily edited for its first release. While it’s easy to make the case for the movie going too dark even by Batman’s grim standards, it’s still a well-done and extremely engaging movie. It’s just not a good showcase of what makes Friedle, and Terry, so good in their roles.
4. Batman/Batman Returns, 1989 – 1992 (Michael Keaton)
Here’s the thing about Tim Burton’s Batman movies: they’re great Tim Burton movies. They have an incredible visual style, with a Gotham City that’s hellish urban sprawl come to life, full of buildings with exposed ductwork and piping stacked up next to Art Deco sculptures, where everyone still dresses like it’s 1940 and where lime green gas is a deadly threat against a monochromatic cityscape. They’re full of great bits of satire, beautiful shots—particularly in "Returns" — and the casting is amazingly offbeat, pitting our hero against Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jack Palance, and Christopher Walken.
They’re just not good Batman movies, and no one really captures that disconnect more than Michael Keaton did when he put on the cape and cowl. Not only is he not at all bad in the part, he’s actually kind of perfect for the kind of remote, mysterious weirdo who sleeps upside down because he wants to be more like a bat, and finds himself slugging it out with thugs in purple satin jackets in order to get his vengeance. It’s Batman ’66 with shadows and guns.
And that’s the problem: a disconnect between the stylized goofiness that Burton explored in movies like "Pee Wee’s Big Adventure" and "Beetlejuice," and the ’80s action movie aesthetic that saw Keaton’s Batman throwing people off buildings and blowing up factories with bombs. It’s not really portrayed as heroism, but as a personal quest for vengeance that only incidentally winds up saving a city, and that’s a shame. Keaton does so well in the role that he really deserved a better version of Batman to define for a new generation.
3. The LEGO Batman Movie, 2017 (Will Arnett)
An ultra-competent, self-absorbed superhero who writes heavy metal songs about being a sad orphan and who is seemingly able to appear at will as soon as no one’s looking, the LEGO version of Batman is one of those rare finds: a parody of something that actually works pretty well as the thing itself.
Make no mistake: Arnett’s Batman is a parody, a version of the Caped Crusader that skews towards comedy, from his obsession with only building things out of black bricks to Arnett ramping up his naturally gravelly voice into a spoof of Christian Bale’s. At the same time, though, he’s very rarely presented as anything other than extremely good at what he does, and he really does act heroically, even if his heroism occasionally means that, y’know, Han Solo gets eaten by a space worm.
Either way, it works—while other portrayals might do their best to move away from the inherent silliness of a guy dressed as a bat who primarily fights murder clowns, embracing it gives the Lego version a flavor that helps him rival even the best of his big-screen contemporaries. As funny and angular as he might be, he’s still Batman, in one of his purest forms.
2. Batman: The Movie, 1966 (Adam West)
The best thing about Adam West’s performance as Batman is that it can mean completely different things depending when you watch it. As a child, it’s easy to buy West’s spandex-clad squareness as completely genuine, and as an adult, once you’re in on the joke, the fact that he was able to play the perfect straight man for a wild cast of villains is every bit as astonishing as those surface-level comic book thrills—and while that largely came out during the three seasons he spent as the Caped Crusader on television, the 1966 movie makes the perfect stage.
It has everything, in a very literal sense. The arch-villains this time around are four of his greatest foes brought together as the United Underworld, complete with a sequence in which Batman and Robin identify their enemies through truly profound leaps of logic that include the immortal "it happened at sea… C… for Catwoman!" Even beyond that, though, it features West using the role of Bruce Wayne as an attempt to draw his enemies out into the open, miraculously turning his carefully modulated tone into barely controlled rage at the threat to his love interest, Miss Kitka. And the heartbreak in his eyes when he discovers that she was Catwoman all along? Even if you’re watching it with a healthy level of irony, it’s a powerful moment.
No actor has ever been as strongly identified with the role of Batman as Adam West, and the movie shows exactly why. His performance walks the same delicate balance between full-hearted adventure and witty satire that the material does, and the end result is perfect. He is and always will be the Batman who won’t throw a bomb at a bunch of baby ducks.
1. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, 1993 (Kevin Conroy)
Okay, we’ll admit that this one is a bit of a cheat. Kevin Conroy has, after all, been the most prominent Batman actor for over 25 years, making his debut on "Batman: The Animated Series" and staying in the role in everything from DC’s animated movies to the "Arkham" video games. But there’s a good reason for that: Conroy is an amazing Batman, and everything that makes him great is on display in "Mask of the Phantasm."
It’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t really work. One of the great things about "The Animated Series" was that it gave us a version of Batman that was already fully formed, saving the origin stories for a handful of villains like Two-Face and the Riddler while boiling its title character down to his most crucial components. For the film, though, the origin story was a crucial component, and Conroy’s performance sold it beautifully. The scene when he’s standing in front of his parents’ graves, pleading with them to understand if he gives up on being Batman because he’s finally found happiness, might sound ridiculous if you read a description, but in practice, it’s devastatingly emotional. And when that happiness is taken away and Batman gives himself over to his mission entirely, with Conroy shifting his voice to Batman’s deep growl? It’s fantastic.
For a generation of Batman fans, Conroy’s is the voice they hear in their heads when they read comics, and that alone should show just how great he was in the role. It takes an incredible amount of talent to redefine the character and emerge from Adam West’s shadow, but Conroy did it—and continues to do so.