Actors Who Played Batman
The caped crusader has been a core characters of the DC universe since its humble beginnings. The company’s name even comes from Detective Comics, which is the title Batman was created and continues to be featured in. When it came time to cross over into other artistic forms, The World’s Greatest Detective was a natural fit for a cinematic appearance. Bruce Wayne did not possess any superpowers, but he did have the sleuthing abilities of Sherlock Holmes, the fighting skills of Bruce Lee and the gadgets of Jame Bond. These elements have helped launch Batman into one of the most successful superhero franchises in Hollywood history.
Batman (1943): This 15 part serial had Batman and Robin struggling to bring down a Japanese spy ring. The leader of this evil organization, Dr. Tito Dakak, needs radium to power his death ray and only our dynamic duo can stop him.
*If you want to read more about this serial, you can read my article Batman Serial 1943.
Not only would Lewis Wilson be the first actor to play a live action Batman, he would also be the first actor to portray any of DC Comic’s superheroes in live action form. Batman had only been created four years earlier and it would take another five before Superman would hit the big screen. Wilson was only 23 years old when he secured the role, making him the youngest actor to play Batman/Bruce Wayne on screen. This serial would be Wilson’s first feature role and remain one of his only major credits.
Batman and Robin (1949): Professor Hammil has created a machine that can controls any motor vehicle within a 50 mile radius. When The Wizard steals the invention for his own evil plans, it is up to Batman and Robin to retrieve the device. For 15 episodes the dynamic duo attempt to track down The Wizard and stop him from acquiring the diamonds needed to power this powerful machine.
*If you want to read more about this serial, you can read my article Batman and Robin Serial 1949.
Robert Lowery had an extensive resume before being cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne. He was a trained singer and dancer, who started out in the Slats Randall's orchestra before moving to Hollywood. By the time Robert passed away of a heart attack at the age of 58, he had 126 films and 55 television shows under his belt. Robert would be the second man to put on the cowl and play Batman, but he was not the first choice. His costume in the film was made for Kirk Alyn, who had a larger build and wound up playing Superman instead. Despite having a costume that did not quite fit, it was Lowery’s animated image of Batman that was used in the opening credits of the 1976 The Pink Panther Strikes Again.
Batman (1966-1968): This campy take on the Batman mythology only ran for three season, but aired 120 episodes. For the first half of its run, it aired two nights a week. This allowed for cliffhanger endings on Wednesday nights and the conclusion episodes wrapping things up to air Thursdays at the same bat time and same bat channel (ABC). When the show was reduced to only once a week, the episodes were often stand alone stories. However, the use of Batman’s rogue gallery of comic book villains was used till the end of its run. The villains were a huge factor in the success of the series.
Batman (1966): This would be the first official full-length Batman movie. The script was originally for the pilot episode, but instead they gave it a larger budget and filmed it for the big screen. It hit theatres between season one and two. The Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and Penguin join to form The United Underworld and hatch a scheme to take over the world. It is up to Batman and Robin to take down these criminal masterminds and save the day.
When West began acting in 1954, he used his real name Will. After moving to Hollywood in 1959, he created the stage name Adam West because he liked the way it sounded. He worked consistently as an actor for years, but being cast as Batman would turn him into a star and pop culture icon. It was his role in a Nestlé Quick commercial that caught the attention of Batman producer William Dozier and ultimately the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Although Adam West was able to continue acting after the series ended, he struggled to break away from being typecast. (It is fascinating that a man who parodied the comics, ended up embodying the actual character.) In the end, he found that embracing his role of Batman and his own Iconic status led to future success. He was often called upon to voice the Caped Crusader in animated form and frequently makes guest appearances as himself in both cartoon and live action shows.
Batman (1989): Bringing the Dark Knight attitude back into the Batman franchise, this movie retells the origin of Batman. Bruce Wayne is working in the shadows at Batman and attempting to clean up the city, while the Joker uses his chemistry background to take over the underworld and bring Gotham to its knees.
Batman Returns (1992): In this sequel, Batman faces off against the Penguin and corrupt businessman Max Schreck. These villains attempt to rule over Gotham and make Batman look like the bad guy. To make things more complicated for our hero, Selina Kyle is gallivanting around the city as Catwoman and she has a score to settle with Schreck.
Michael Keaton would start a trend of casting established movie stars in the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Keaton was mostly known for his comedic work and the news of him being cast in the new Batman movie did not go over well. Not only did Bob Kane, Sam Hamm and Michael E. Uslan doubt this casting choice, but 50,000 letters were sent to protest Michael Keaton being the new Dark Knight. Tim Burton, who had just directed Keaton in Beetlejuice, felt he was the only actor who could capture the overly obsessive dark personality that draws a billionaire to fight crime in a Batsuit. Michael Keaton won fans over and was asked to come back for the sequel. Keaton had not signed a contract securing his return, so he was able to negotiate approval of the script and more than doubled his salary. The Batsuit became a subject of much conversation. Keaton said, the inability to hear in the costume and his claustrophobia “made me go inward and that's how I wanted the character to be anyway, to be withdrawn". Keaton also got a zipper added to the Batsuit. (Going to the bathroom in the original outfit was a difficult process.) They wanted Keaton back for a third installment of the franchise, but Keaton was unhappy with where Joel Schumacher was taking the series. Keaton left the series and continued his successful acting career. Since he was 40 when filming Batman Return, Keaton holds the record for being the oldest actor to play Batman on screen and the first to play him more than once.
Batman Forever (1995): For the third film of this series, the supervillains have a personal grudge against our hero. Two-Face blames Batman for his disfigurement and the Riddler has a vendetta against his former employer Bruce Wayne. When they team up to steal the intellect of Gotham, it will take Batman and Robin to stop their evil plans.
When Val Kilmer was cast to replace Michael Keaton, he already had established himself as a comedic, dramatic and action star. He was doing research for his role as Col. John Henry Patterson in The Ghost and the Darkness, when receiving the news he was going to be Batman/Bruce Wayne. In an eerie coincidence, he was specifically in a bat cave in Africa. He accepted the role without reading the script and dropped out of the film Johnny Mnemonic. Despite being the only blond actor to play the role, he was Bob Kane’s favorite actor to play Batman/Bruce Wayne up to this point in time. Every Batman film has a story about his suit. For this production, the Batsuit was so heavy that Kilmer reportedly lost 5 lbs during the opening fight sequence. Kilmer enjoyed his time as Batman, but he had a terrible relationship with Joel Schumacher during the filming process. When Kilmer’s commitment to filming The Saint interfered with the next Batman movie, it was decided to recast.
Batman & Robin (1997): The fourth and final film of this series throws everything at our heroes. Mr. Freeze is threatening to send Gotham into an ice age, if they don’t pay the ransom money he needs to find a cure for his dying wife. Poison Ivy wants to turn the city into a garden for her genetically altered plants and she brought Bane along for a little extra muscle. To make things more complicated, Alfred is dying from the same disease as Mr. Freeze’s wife. It will take the combined might of Batman, Robin and Batgirl to save Gotham from these villains and their diabolical plans.
George Clooney had been acting for years, but was only beginning to take off as a movie star when he was cast as Batman. Schumacher thought of George for the role after drawing the cowl on Clooney’s face in an advertisement for the new From Dusk Till Dawn movie. Being a professional actor, he immediately called his cousin, who was a huge Batman fan, to tell him the news. George Clooney is known around hollywood as having a good sense of humor and being a practical joker on set. Clooney visited his friends on the set of ER, while wearing his full Batsuit. Of course this costume was not easy to get out of and it is rumored that George purposely urinated while still wearing the costume. Not to worry, Clooney and his stunt doubles went through fifty batsuits by the time production wrapped. So, he was changing them like underwear anyway. For part of the filming, the suit’s boot had to be removed, because Clooney had to wear a cast after breaking his leg playing basketball. The reviews for Clooney were not great, but the batnipples on the costumes were ridiculed even more and have gone down in history as one of the worst Batman design features ever. Clooney would move on to be one of the most influential people in Hollywood and later win an Oscar.
Batman Begins (2005): The origin of Batman is retold. When Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed by a mugger he seeks revenge. Wayne journeys around the world to study the criminal element. He crosses paths with Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Shadows, who show him how to fight evil. When he returns to Gotham, he creates Batman to be a symbol that strike fear into the criminal underworld and inspire hope for the citizens of Gotham.
The Dark Knight (2008): Harvey Dent is the new District Attorney in Gotham and he plans to take Gotham back from the criminal underworld that has overrun it. However as Batman and Dent try to bring order and peace back to their city, the Joker is only interested in creating chaos. Beyond terrorizing the city, he wishes to push it’s heroes over the line they hold so dear.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012): The last installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy takes place 8 years after the second film. Gotham has finally broken free from the criminal element and is prosperous once again. Batman has disappeared and Bruce Wayne is now a reclusive billionaire. That all changes when Bane shows up with the goal of destroying Gotham. Now Batman must rise again to save Gotham from total destruction. This time he is going to need the help of the cat burglar Selina Kyle.
Christian Bale is an Academy Award winning actor who is known for the extreme lengths he will go in order to portray a character. He became interested in playing Batman back in 2000, after a friend loaned him a copy of the Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum. When Christopher Nolan agreed with Bale’s choice of making Batman a “rage-filled monster”, a dream team was created. Bale was the first brit to play Batman and he was well aware of his role in representing an American icon. He made the choice to do his Batman Begin promotional interviews in an American accent, instead of his natural Welsh/English accent. Before filming even began, Bale had to put a lot of work into getting physically prepared to play the Dark Knight. He had recently lost 63 lbs for his role in the Machines and only weighed 120 lbs. Bale went on a six month exercise and diet program and bulked up to 220 lbs. He was then thought to have gained too much weight for the Caped Crusader and chiseled down 20 lbs. Beyond finding the right muscle build for the character, Bale worked a lot on making Batman and Bruce Wayne have distinct voices. The gravelly voice was the center of much conversation. Although Bale would lose his voice three times during the filming of Batman Begins because of this acting choice, it was Christopher Nolan who made Bale’s voice even more gritty with some post production sound editing. On set, Bale’s trailer was labeled for Bruce Wayne and not his own name. The batsuit became an integral part to Bale’s interpretation of the Dark Knight. In an attempt to get used to wearing the batsuit, Bale wore it the entire day he first tried it on for filming. Bale also credits the suit for being so uncomfortable that is helped him be in a foul mood whenever he had to wear it. A lot of the changes to the suit for the second film, were made to help Bale be more comfortable. It was comprised of 200 pieces that allowed for great flexibility in Bale’s movements and performance. It also gave him a reason not to gain as much weight, since this Batman would be more agile in his fighting style. With three movies, Bale played Batman more than any other actor. After filming, Bale got to keep the mask as a memento of his time on the project.
Ben Affleck has been announced as the new Batman. More information will come after his film has been released.
Did you like the actors performance as Batman?