Much like Mark Johnson felt about the directors who have helmed Batman flicks, this list of the best actors in the role of Batman really sort itself out quite easily. Playing Batman is treacherous territory for an actor, not only do you have to corral the entitled billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne side, but you have to be up for the physical and anti-hero aspects of the Batman side. There is also an added issue of serving the director’s vision for the character, regardless of how bad it might be. So without further ado, here are the rankings of the Best and Worst actors to play the Caped Crusader.
5. Val Kilmer – It might shock you that Kilmer is at the bottom of the barrel. But after consulting many a Batman fan and rewatching Batman Forever, its clear that he is the worst actor to play Batman. It’s not even that his acting was bad per say, but his performance is rather stiff given the sillier tastes of Joel Schumacher and he just doesn’t seem comfortable in the film. Following after Michael Keaton couldn’t have been the easiest thing to do, but this role definitely need someone with more personality, something that Kilmer didn’t have in this interpretation.
4. George Clooney – While he wasn’t an awful fit for the character like Val Kilmer, he is part of the black hole that is Batman and Robin so he must be included in the worst section. You’d be hard pressed to find a better person to play Bruce Wayne given Clooney’s real life personality but he comes off kind of bland, especially against the hammy acting of Uma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The saving grace for Clooney might be that he doesn’t look too foolish in the action scenes and that you believe his relationships with Robin, Batgirl, and Alfred.
3. Adam West – He’s the “original” Batman (there were other actors before him in serialized versions of the tale) so he should be respected. Tasked with providing the early blueprint for the Caped Crusader he managed to give a good portrayal of the more comic book version of Batman. While the original Batman films seem a bit silly given the direction the character took going forward, it is still enjoyable given the performance of the leading man.
2. Christian Bale – Were it not for the grumbling voice and the fact that his Bruce Wayne doesn’t get more to do in The Dark Knight, Bale might be number one. More than the other actors, Bale brought a physicality that none of the other actors who have played the Caped Crusader could do. His take on Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins is fantastic, showing us the many layers of the man who would become Batman and he’s serviceable in The Dark Knight, a film geared more towards the Joker than Batman. Bale performances at the center of these movies have helped make Christopher Nolan’s saga as successful as it is by not detracting from the story, instead being in service of it.
1. Michael Keaton – Part of Tim Burton’s double bill, he’s far and away the best Batman actor, IMHO. He was able to balance the many sides to the Bruce Wayne/Batman persona as well as hold his own against the more vivid acting portrayals of the villains. Consider the villains he had to act against in the two films he made with Burton: Jack Nicholson, Billy Dee Williams, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Danny DeVito. That’s a lot of acting firepower and Keaton’s portrayal still leaves an impression. He was definitely the perfect person to serve the Burton Batman aesthetic and by delivering a fine performance, leaps to the top of this list.