The Flash hits theaters this week, which means we’re getting another dose of Michael Keaton‘s Batman. After nearly 35 years, Keaton returns to don the famed cape and cowl to battle the evildoers of Gotham and spark debates about the best live-action Batman actors.

Remarkably, since Keaton first wore the pointy ears, we’ve witnessed no less than five actors tackling the role on the big screen in live action. In comparison, we’ve only had two new Supermen — not including the numerous TV interpretations.

But which Batman did it best? I’m glad you asked, because I’ve put together a snazzy list for you to look over and debate. Check it out (ranked from worst to best), then let us know your list! Up, up, and away — or something like that.

7) George Clooney – Batman and Robin (1997)

Clooney nearly derailed his budding film career by starring in Joel Schumacher‘s 1997 turkey, Batman and Robin. While his portrayal of Bruce Wayne works rather well, this particular Bats spends far too much time rattling off campy one-liners and not enough time brooding or kicking ass. To be fair, WB and Schumacher opted for something more in the vein of Adam West after the shocked reaction to Batman Returns and doubled down on the splashy, neon-lit madness that audiences seemed to enjoy in Batman Forever with disastrous results. No, really, by the time Bats produces his own personalized credit card, this dumb, two-hour toy commercial has literally leapt over the proverbial shark into something resembling trash art.

Thankfully, Clooney is in on the joke, often mocking his portrayal as the Caped Crusader on various talk shows. He also appears at the end of The Flash in a fun cameo that left my audience in stitches. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing him portray an older, grizzled Bruce Wayne in future Flash movies, but I doubt anyone wants to see Clooney don the cape and cowl again.

6) Adam West – Batman: The Movie (1966)

Before Tim Burton came along and rescued the character from obscurity, this was the only live-action interpretation of Batman we had. Sure, there’s a certain charm to the madcap shenanigans on display. Everyone involved is clearly having a blast, including the great Cesar Romero and West’s faithful sidekick Burt Ward. I can appreciate Batman: The Movie for its earnest charm, but it still poorly represents the character, no matter how cool his Batmobile is.

5) Val Kilmer – Batman Forever (1995)

In an alternate reality, Val Kilmer stepped into a more serious interpretation of the Caped Crusader and became the greatest Batman of them all. Alas, like Clooney, his solid performance in Schumacher’s ambitious but ultimately uneven Batman Forever gets lost under a heap of campy nonsense. It starts in the opening scene where we see Batman, lit in dark shadows not too far removed from Burton’s style and tone, step into the frame and deliver his first line: “I’ll get drive-thru.” Oye. How can you take a hero who rambles off bits like “This is why Superman works alone” seriously? Answer: you can’t. Kilmer is clearly game and looks great in the suit, but the production (and Jim Carrey’s manic performance) unfortunately lets him down. Even peak Nicole Kidman couldn’t save this bloated product from cruising off the rails.

4) Robert Pattinson – The Batman (2022)

The jury is still out on Robert Pattinson’s interpretation of the character. While Matt Reeves’ The Batman is undeniably awesome, a spectacular piece of filmmaking that ranks among the best comic book adaptations despite its lengthy runtime and slow-burn pace, Batman/Bruce Wayne’s journey still has a long way to go before we can fully assess Pattinson’s portrayal. As it stands, this version of Batman comes across as brooding and somewhat reminiscent of a moody teenager, which hampers full appreciation.

Additionally, his Bruce Wayne lacks charisma and is oddly less appealing than his superhero alter ego. I do appreciate the look of Batman in this film and remain curious about the future direction Pattinson will take with the character. For now, he delivers a solid, if not outstanding, portrayal of the beloved comic book icon, leaving ample room for growth and development.

3) Michael Keaton – Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)

Look, I grew up with Michael Keaton’s Batman. The man is a legend, and I’ll go to bat for Tim Burton’s original blockbuster any day. After all these years, it’s still an exciting, stylish piece of filmmaking with solid production values and a handful of legendary performances from Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Likewise, Batman Returns offers morbid entertainment and works as a bizarre Burton comedy aided by an incredible production design (better suited for a different film) and Danny Elfman’s magnetic score.

Still, I’d be hard-pressed to call Keaton the best Bats because, well, he’s hardly a character. His entire arc in Batman revolves around vengeance and he all but takes a backseat to Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Batman Returns. Simply put, there’s not much to Keaton’s Batman/Bruce Wayne. He’s more James Bond than a street-smart ninja, relying more on gadgetry than brains to get the job done. For a while, Keaton was the one and only Batman until Christopher Nolan came along and gave us the hero we deserved.

Having seen The Flash, my opinion of Keaton hasn’t changed. His Batman certainly gets more to do on his third big-screen appearance and has a couple of incredible fight sequences, but his role doesn’t serve the story much and primarily functions as hollow fan service. Honestly, I wish they had trimmed the lengthy first act of The Flash by about 30 minutes and devoted more screen time to Keaton’s character. Even at 71 years old, he still looks great in the suit!

Ben Affleck Reflects on Playing Batman, His Role in The Flash

2) Ben Affleck – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

Disregard the catastrophe that was 2017’s Justice League, Ben Affleck‘s take on the Dark Knight is the stuff of comic book dreams. Designed very much in the style of Frank Miller — read: dour, brooding, and violent — Affleck’s Batman marks the first time we’ve seen a superpowered interpretation of the character on the big screen. This guy beats the holy bejesus out of bad guys, goes toe-to-toe with the Man of Steel, and doesn’t blink when confronted by literal gods from other dimensions.

Honestly, the only thing holding Affleck back from the top spot is the lack of a solo movie. While he enjoys a satisfying character arc through BvS and ZSJL, morphing from an angry, vengeful man into a hopeful, spirited hero, his Batman still feels frustratingly incomplete. Oh, the adventures we could have had with the big guy. Alas, we’ll always have the famous warehouse scene — arguably the greatest Batman sequence to grace the screen.

On a negative note, his cameo in The Flash leaves much to be desired. I dug his motorcycle chase and the various gadgets and gizmos he uses to thwart a truck full of bad guys. But holy hell, his suit is abysmal! Especially in broad daylight. To add insult to injury, director Andy Muschietti takes his cues from 2017’s Justice League and makes Affleck’s Batman a walking joke. The lasso of truth bit is hard to watch. I get WB’s desire to lighten the mood following audience dissatisfaction with the Snyderverse, but (as typical) the studio overcorrects, resulting in an underwhelming send off for Batfleck.

live-action Batman actors

1) Christian Bale – Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Was there ever any doubt? From start to finish, Christian Bale‘s take on the Caped Crusader is perfection. Yes, even down to his gravelly voice. Out of everyone on this list, his Batman/Bruce Wayne is the only one who enjoys a complete arc, overcoming his inner demons to find a smidgeon of happiness at the conclusion of The Dark Knight Rises. It helps to star in the best Batman (and comic book) movie ever made, 2008’s brilliant The Dark Knight, where he dutifully delivers a criminally overlooked performance and more than holds his own against Heath Ledger’s fantastic Joker. Also, kudos to Christopher Nolan for finally letting Batman turn his damned head.

The Dark Knight series is special, folks — a masterful trilogy that transcends its comic book roots and delivers the kind of cinematic magic that only comes along once in a great while, and Bale’s Batman is the glue holding it all together. As such, he takes the cake and will remain our greatest Dark Knight until someone knocks him off his perch.


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