Ahoy, there’s a new Batman on the horizon. The dreaded Batfleck is nearly upon us, and despite ample evidence that he’s probably going to be the best living, breathing human to don the cape and cowl since Adam West, the internet is in a tizzy (because apparently the internet doesn’t know what The Dark Knight Returns is)…
Anyways, since my Batman opinions are 100% correct all of the time,* I figured I’d straighten a few things out about who the best Batman really is, and since I’m bored and also a person of taste, I’ll include everyone who ever played Batman post 1960 — be it in film, television or game more than one time (or just once, where Clooney and Kilmer are concerned).
*I’m kidding. Please don’t make fun of me online.
1) Kevin Conroy (Batman: the Animated Series, Arkham Series, basically everything since 1992)
The obvious choice, since Kevin Conroy might actually be Batman. There is no discussion to be had. Move along.
2) Adam West (Batman ’66)
Another obvious choice. There were other men (Lewis G. Wilson, Robert Lowery) to play Batman before him, but Adam West was and remains the gold standard. Sure, Batman ’66 is almost unbearably campy in retrospect, and sure, it set a precedent of silliness that it took the character nearly two full decades to overcome, but the man simply was the Batman of his time. There’s no way around it.
3) Michael Keaton (Batman, Batman Returns)
The drop off from West to Keaton is probably as large as it will be from Keaton to, say, Christian Bale. That’s not to say there’s anything really wrong with the first movie Batman. He’s quite good as a detective Batman and as a slightly doofy Bruce Wayne. He makes Returns work when parts of it shouldn’t, and he’s just generally a good fit for Tim Burton’s vision.
4) Olan Soule (The Batman-Superman Hour, Super Friends)
The original Batman voice actor is just as important to animated Batman as Adam West was to live-action. Again, he seems a little off to people who’ve grown up with a darker Batman, but he was the Batman of his time.
5) Deidrich Bader (Batman: The Brave and the Bold)
The Brave and the Bold is a very divisive show. That precedent of silliness I mentioned before? It seems as though most “Batman fans” (and by that I mean people who think The Dark Knight is the greatest film of all time) consider anything that acknowledges or credits 70s Batman media for being good to be silly or infantile. So this wonderful, wonderful show, that took hold of and celebrated Batman as a 75-year cultural phenomenon, gets ignored. This show, the second best animated Batman show, gets thrown aside, and Deidrich Bader’s gruff, quick-witted, thoroughly heroic Batman gets ignored.
6) Peter Weller (The Dark Knight Returns, Parts 1 and 2)
It took me a while to cope with the fact that the creators of the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns didn’t just opt to use Kevin Conroy’s Old Batman voice, but once I did, I realized just how damn good Peter Weller was. His Batman is brutal, detached and thoroughly insane, just as Miller’s Batman was. Just as every Batman, on some level, should be. The Batman Ben Affleck is playing is at least visually and conceptually based upon this one, but if the homage goes any deeper than that, he could be the best ever to do it on the big screen.
7) Will Arnett (The LEGO Movie)
Will Arnett probably should always have been Comedy Batman, right? This ranking might be a little high, considering just how little screentime LEGO Batman has had compared to basically everyone else on this list, but he’s just such a good fit for the part.
8) Bruce Greenwood (Young Justice, Under the Red Hood)
Bruce Greenwood is the perfect choice for the paternal, opaque Batman used in Young Justice and Red Hood. He’s equal parts stern and inscrutable. The exact sort of Batman two different Robins could revolt against.
9) Jason O’Mara (Son of Batman, Batman vs Robin, Batman: Bad Blood)
Much like the New 52 DC animated movies he stars in, Jason O’Mara’s Batman is good, very good even, but sort of disappointingly so. He’s functional. This isn’t to say he’s bad, though, and he’s especially good where Batman’s sense of secrecy is concerned. We’re getting to the point here where everybody is good, but no one particularly great.
10) Roger Craig Smith (Batman: Arkham Origins, Blackgate)
Another solid Batman who is overshadowed by how he isn’t Kevin Conroy, Roger Craig Smith was perfectly serviceable in the most perfectly serviceable of the Arkham games. If he hadn’t been cast as a young version of Conroy’s Batman, I might have even put him higher, here. As it is, he was good, if a little too gruff.
11) Val Kilmer (Batman Forever)
The definitive example of a Batman who is just fine. Forever is not a particularly good movie, but it has its charms. Val Kilmer isn’t really responsible for the good or the bad. This all sounds backhandedly complimentary, but aside from the next guy on the list, no one here contributed to the idea that Batman is less interesting than his villains than Kilmer.
12) Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Trilogy)
Damnit, Christian Bale. Damnit for choosing to use that stupid fucking voice. The character Bale plays in Batman Begins is so detached from the one in either of the Dark Knight movies that this might as well be two entries.
Christian Bale nailed the billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne persona. Of course, anyone with even a passing interest in Batman knows that’s not exactly the most important aspect of the character. Christian Bale also does very well with the angry, taciturn Crusader of Justice Batman stuff, but he never really merges them. Batman is an insane person, but Bale just seems schizophrenic. Still, he’s on the high end of the lower tier Batmen, because he’s a good actor.
13) Troy Baker (LEGO Batman)
I say this jokingly, and with a healthy respect for Troy Baker, but did you need someone to sound like the most generic white person possible? Troy Baker’s your man! Interestingly, Mr. Baker is, as far as I can tell, the only person to voice both Batman and the Joker in licensed Batman media.
14) Anthony Ruivivar (Beware the Batman)
Oh, Beware the Batman. What unfulfilled promise you had. A 3D animated Batman show based around a younger Batman and Alfred’s struggles with the more obscure parts of the rogue’s gallery? A great concept. While the art style was occasionally quite flat, it also had its moments, and Anarky was an inspired choice as a main villain (though he was a bit too Jokery). The whole just never fits together, and more importantly, it was never given time to fit. As it stands, Ruivivar was a good choice for a failed Batman.
15) Ben McKenzie (Batman: Year One)
If nothing else, Ben McKenzie definitely likes Batman. As perhaps the only person to portray Jim Gordon and the Dark Knight, he’s one of the few good things about Gotham, where his dry, stern style fits very well with an angry young Officer Gordon.
What’s less of a fit is his Batman, who rather inconsistently flutters about the animated version of the Year One adaptation. He has some very strong moments almost directly interspersed with moments he weighs down to the point of ruining them. It’s an odd fit, is what I’m saying, and that oddness is what leaves him down here, near the bottom.
16) Rino Romano (The Batman)
This Batman, on the other hand, was an excellent fit for the tone of his series. It’s just unfortunate that the series in question was the worst animated Batman show to date. Romano did very well with a young, cocky, more martial Batman, and to be fair, I generally like him. No one on this list is particularly bad.
17) George Clooney (Batman & Robin)
OK, I enjoy George Clooney, especially in his turns as the Coens’ favorite doofus. He’s a wonderful actor. And a terrible Batman.
Clooney is the perfect fit for the affable playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne, every bit as good as Christian Bale’s turn. The problem is that, in a movie as flamboyant as Batman & Robin, a dull, blandly personable Batman is just about the worst thing you can have. He’s not angry or mysterious or powerful. He’s just some guy in a nippled Batman suit making flat jokes in a flat movie.