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Screen to Screen: Who Played Batman Best?

Updated on July 22, 2015
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The List Itself

The Batman film franchise possesses more movies to it than any other superhero franchise (ignoring shared universes) and with that, a tremendous amount of more actors that have donned the cowl. There are different outfits, different villains, gadgets, directors, and everything else. There are a lot of different factors when considering what was possibly the best portrayal of Batman on the big screen. This is my list, so feel free to agree or disagree as you see fit. Be sure to say why in the comments below.

For this list, the actors considered for the list are as follows: Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale. In the future, I'll be sure to add Ben Affleck in where his performance lands in the upcoming Batman v Superman.

*To be honest, I've never watched the television show featuring Adam West as the Caped Crusader. The sheer amount of campy-ness kinda dissuades me so he's not really considered for this list. Also, voice performances such as Kevin Conroy are not considered either (no matter how fantastic or incredible) as it takes more to play the role of Batman than simulating a voice.

Ben Affleck as Batman

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as Batman

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Val Kilmer

With a little thought, we all remember that Val Kilmer played Batman but we can't remember any scenes he was in. Truth be told, Val Kilmer played a very forgettable part in a film with the very striking Nicole Kidman, the ever-whiny Chris O'Donnell, and the extreme performances of Jim Carrey and Two-Face. Batman is the least interesting character of the bunch, and Kilmer's performance is superbly lacking.

I'd say more if his character wasn't so miserably boring. Really, the only reason Clooney places better than Kilmer is that he's memorable even for the wrong reasons. I feel it's a greater sin to be a forgettable Batman than it is to be a campy Batman.

as BatNipples

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George Clooney

With that out of the way, Clooney didn't really act as Batman. Instead of acting as a masked vigilante, we have Clooney wearing bat-ears and being unable to turn his head. Any mannerisms, behaviors, or lines delivered by Batman in his suit are simply Clooney. While later I comment on Bale's incessant need to overload his Batman-face with extra sound, Clooney doesn't do enough.

Clooney as Batman also suffers from the 'utility belt' clause. Ice-skating blades, thawing lasers, and worst of all, a Batman credit card.His gadgets are silly and illogical past the regular silliness that already exists with Batman's utility belt. Yet even when considering how bad his villains are, how annoying his sidekicks may be, and how ludicrous the series had gotten since Tim Burton started it, Clooney failed to portray Batman. However, Clooney is at least memorable, so he one-ups Kilmer on my list.

as Batman

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Christian Bale

Bale's Batman is highly regarded for a variety of reasons. It's the most serious take on the superhero, props and graphics are more modern than they have been, it has Liam Neeson in it. But still, Bale's Batman is capable of a great many things to portray that previous (and largely campy) Batman have failed to do.

Despite all the technological advantages, many considered Bale's battle with throat cancer forced guttural voice abrasive, unintelligible, goofy, or a mixture of the three. While Nolan's films attempted to make Batman a bit more realistic and dark, the logic is unsteady. If Batman adopts this voice to avoid recognition, what about all the checks and balances?

Of all the Batman portrayals, Bale's romance suffers the most. The most obvious reason stems from the casting change for Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes to Maggie Gyllenhaal. While the latter commands more respect for her character as a more mature and steadfast portrayal, any recasting decision is difficult to sell to an audience and many argued that Gyllenhaal was far less attractive. While Dawes's death was a surprising turn of events, I found it hard to feel connected to her character. It makes sympathizing with Bruce Wayne's depression stage in the sequel less believable. I also found Batman's relationship with Selina Kyle fairly stiff and unfunny and I'm still trying to find the reason she appears with Bruce Wayne in the epilogue.

Bale's Batman voice on display

as Batman

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Michael Keaton

Keaton faced public outrage at his casting choice but thankfully appeased a majority of the Batman fans. While his work is a little dated, Keaton's Batman succeeds most in his presentation directed by Tim Burton. This Batman is actually scary. Batman is seemingly invincible, never really hurting from a blow (aside from Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman) and walking tall amongst all of his opponents. Every recreation of Batman has become vulnerable in some instance. Arguably Tim Burton films focus more on the villains and I agree with this. Maybe it's this limited perspective of the Batman portrayal that gives him this presentation.

As an arguable side note, Keaton's expression under the mask are clear and often, you can see the crazy zeal Keaton betrays (more like his performance as Beetlejuice actually). Personally, I feel this works to Keaton's advantage since it matches his somewhat obscure past. After all, isn't Batman merely a man with a lot of money who dresses like a bat to beat criminals with his fists? His sound of mind is a debatable topic.

Again, Batman suffers from the inability to turn his head without moving his body but that's actually a now extinct recurring issue. Not only that, but Keaton's Batman kills people. For instance in Batman Returns, he straps a bomb to one of the Penguin's henchmen and knocks him down a sewer before walking away. Killing people is a very touchy thing with Batman, but I still feel that Keaton's Batman is by far the most intimidating and carries the terrifying presence he primarily uses against his enemies.

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End Thoughts

And that's my opinionated list. I know there are a great many that disagree, and a great many more that would argue against the placement of some of my other dismissed performances.

So, agree, disagree? Who would you chose as the best? Are there qualities in some of the portrayals that you believe I neglected? And how do you think Ben Affleck will perform? Be sure to say in the comments below.

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    • Travis W Wood profile image
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      Travis Wood 2 years ago from Woodstock, Georgia

      Thanks Miran! Glad yo have your opinion as well.

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      Miran Shuleta 2 years ago

      George Clooney was not Batman, George Clooney was George Clooney in a terrible costume embarrassing a generation of DC enthusiasts. Val Kilmer was indeed very forgettable however at least his acting range was considerably better than George Clooney's. Christian Bale, aside the weird voice thing, was a clever Batman with the ability to make us care for his character and understand his actions, and what they meant. Michael Keaton portrayed Batman as a very sophisticated character with the ability to somewhat control his emotions as well as displaying a range of memorable acting prowess.

      Great Hub!