Since he first premiered in Detective Comics #7 in 1939, Bruce Wayne/Batman has been Gotham City's masked vigilante protector for decades. The caped crusader has been dishing out his own brand of swift justice for over seven decades, and there are few more complex and fascinating as the Dark Knight. With an upcoming 80th birthday this summer, Batman has quite a legacy behind him. The world has been graced with quite a number of Batmen in the superhero's extraordinarily long career, from the film serials of the '40s to the more recent Ben Affleck portrayal, Batman has had a number of various personae over the years. Some adaptations pull the character right off the page, but others fall flat and fail to bring him out of the dark. Fortunately, we're here today to see the highlights of Batmans various versions.
To truly do Batman justice, a proper adaptation has to show more than a rich billionaire playboy in an expensive combat suit with a cool car. It has to show the complexity of Batman's inner workings, his relationship with both his friends and adversaries, as well as explore the symbol of justice he is for the people of the city he protects. In works of film, television, and graphic novels, The Dark Knight has been just about everywhere and done just about everything. But which adaptations of the character truly bring out the best in the character? Pull on those cowls and fire up the Batmobile, because we're looking at fifteen adaptations of Batman.
15 BATMAN FILM SERIALS
In the late '30s and early '40s, the silver screen was first introduced to the Caped Crusader in Colombia Pictures's Batman and Batman and Robin. The films were a series of theatrically released episodes akin to the likes of The Lone Ranger. The films were well received, but certainly are a product of their time.
The serials featured a more toned down Batman than we're used to, but still contained the adventurous spirit of early DC comics. Significantly lacking in supervillains such as the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler, this version of Batman fought against mad scientists, gangsters, and nuclear threats inspired by the events after Pearl Harbor. Though the serials are significantly dated by modern standards, they are watchable pieces of superhero history.
14 THE KILLING JOKE (ANIMATED)
Alan Moore's graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke, gave readers an interesting and tragic look into the background of Batman's arch-nemesis, the Joker, and complex relationship between the two characters. Fans soon desired a film adaptation of the famous story, wanting to see this dark and complex narrative brought to life. In 2016, that's exactly what they got, but to a mixed response.
Taking away the infamous Batgirl side story, it's essentially a very faithful adaptation. With Batman alumni Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in the lead roles of Batman and the Joker, the film was basically a grim but mature version of the classic animated adaptation. Love it or hate it, it's still surprising and impressive.
13 BATMAN: NOËL
This graphic novel sees the Dark Knight take the role of Scrooge in Lee Bermejo's Gotham version of A Christmas Carol. This story shows how Batman's brand of justice has an effect on individuals caught in the crossfire. When a struggling man has to work under the Joker, Batman takes a journey to discover that justice is not always black and white.
It's part character study and part gothic Christmas story. With appearances from DC favorites like Superman, Catwoman, and Jason Todd, this loose adaptation of Dickens's novel is both chilling and exciting as well. It shows us a side of Batman we don't often think about. Both the readers and Batman forget how blinded by vengeance he can be on his quest for justice.
Who knew fighting games could tell such incredible stories? We were certainly surprised seeing the chaos and action that unfolded in Injustice: Gods Amongst Us. Essentially a "one bad day" scenario for Superman and the Justice League, we see what happens when Batman has to go toe to toe with his greatest friend and ally.
This version sees a more tech-heavy version of Bats fighting friends and foes alike, using all of his extraordinary arsenal of bat-gadgets. The Batarangs, bat-drones, and even the Batmobile all make an appearance in Batman's move set. The game is a love letter to DC characters and gives us a Batman worthy of that cape and cowl.
11 GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT
It's always fun seeing our favorite superheroes in other time periods, isn't it? We've seen the Avengers in Marvel:1602, Superman in the cold war in Superman: Red Son, and Spider-Man as a hard-boiled vigilante in Spider-Man: Noir. Batman has been featured in many alternate timelines, including pirate and ninja-themed outings. But his best is his steampunk adventure as a vigilante detective in Gotham By Gaslight.
In this one-shot graphic novel, Batman goes on the hunt for the notorious, Jack the Ripper, in the eerie streets of a Victorian Gotham City. Full of thrills and chills, it's a classic detective story of murder and mystery for the Caped Crusader. To this day, it is a cult favorite amongst Bat-fans.
10 JUSTICE LEAGUE (ANIMATED SERIES)
Right behind Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited soon graced our screens and gave us new adventures with our favorite DC superheroes. These shows took the Batman we knew and loved from his solo animated series and showed us how well he played with others. By putting the Dark Knight on a team, we see how Batman reacts when he's not just worrying about himself.
For a show aimed at younger viewers, it certainly didn't cut back on the action and storytelling. Batman and the rest of the Justice League go up against the likes of Darkseid, Steppenwolf, and even the Joker. Batman is still his cool and calculating self, but we do see more camaraderie from him than we expected.
9 LEGO BATMAN
Let's be honest here, Will Arnet is not exactly someone we expected to be such a great Batman. A follow-up to the surprise hit, The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie is considered by many to be the best modern Batman film. Who woulda thought, right? The action of Batman meets the fun of Lego in this tongue-in-cheek comedy.
The film pays tribute to the best of Batman as well as poke fun at some of his blatant superhero cliches and tropes. Though a kids' flick it may be, it contains more than a few dozen easter-eggs to impress even the most hardcore of Batman purists. Humor, heart, and lots of bricks, The Lego Batman Movie is a more lighthearted take on our Dark Knight.
8 THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
Frank Miller, brought us a tough and gritty reimagining of a classic character in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The graphic novel shows a middle-aged Bruce Wayne taking up the Batsuit once again in a crime-ravaged dystopian Gotham. Considered the best Batman storyline by many fans, this story sees a darker and edgier Batman ready to serve some cold hard justice.
The graphic novel sees Batman pushed to the edge, bulking up and throwing down a gang of thugs called The Mutants, Superman, and even a reawakened Joker in this thriller by Miller. The redesign of Batman, the Batmobile, and Carrie Kellie's Robin have all influenced the DCU, the Animated Universe, and even the Lego film. It's possibly the most iconic Batman comic out there.
7 LOEB AND SALE'S BATMAN
Second to the aforementioned Dark Knight Returns, Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale's series of graphic novels dish out some truly memorable Batman adventures. The original trilogy has enough adventure, action, and amazing artwork to satisfy any fan of the bat. All three are impressive, but none so impressive as The Long Halloween.
With a Batman Michael Keaton could be proud of, a year-long murder mystery that puts even Batman to the test, and an appearance from every classic villain in Arkham Asylum, this adaptation has everything we could ever want. Though not as dystopian as Miller's version, Loeb and Sale's Batman is visually stunning and a thrilling read. We highly recommend this one for any comic collector.
6 BATMAN BEYOND
The popular sequel to the iconic animated series, Batman Beyond sees an elderly Bruce Wayne pass the Bat-Mantle on to high school student, Terry Mcginnis. What we're given is a cutting-edge Batman for a sleek and sharp futuristic Gotham. From the new and improved Batsuit to the flying Batmobile, this is literally Batman for a new era.
The series was incredible, telling darker and more sci-fi based stories. It had a group of thugs who worshiped the Joker, a brainwashing cult, and a drug that turned citizens into animals. It was a brand-new take on a classic and beloved character. Just like it's predecessor, it's even worth a watch today.
5 ARKHAM ASYLUM
When the first game in the Batman: Arkham series premiered, it was a smash hit. At the time, this was one of the few games that completely captured the superhero experience. For the first time, gamers knew what it felt like to be Batman.
The gameplay was hard-hitting and fluid, the story was enticing, and the performances from many Batman bigshots were phenomenal. Players got to use gadgets, throw Batarangs, use detective skills, and go toe-to-toe with the biggest and baddest of Batman's rogues gallery. With a series of four console games and several spinoffs, there's always an easy way to get your Batman fix.
4 BATMAN ('66 TV SERIES)
Easily one of the first, and most iconic adaptations of Batman outside of a comic panel, the charming and charismatic version brought to life by the late Adam West is an adaptation that lives in the heart of every fan. From the blue fabric suit to the corny dialogue, this is clearly one of the more lovable versions of Batman. We're still doing the Bat-Tusi.
Though this version isn't the darkest of knights, it's nice to see an upbeat and colorful version of the character. The show helped pave the way for other heroes to find a place on the big and small screens. It was a sign of the '60s, but it's still a shining example in the silver age of superheroes.
3 BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
And now we come to perhaps the most famous and most recognizable of the Batman TV adaptations. Batman: The Animated Series was/is arguably the most beloved version of the character outside of a feature film. Nearly everything that brought this show together was pure perfection. The writing, the voice talent, and the design all had the makings of an ideal Batman series.
The show was conceived as a kid-friendly crime noir with dark design and storytelling, but the characters, good and bad, gave the grim world of Gotham City some color and creative personalities. It was chilling, funny, smart, and anything else it needed to be to keep the viewers watching. Hard-hitting and entertainingly gripping, the animated series was absolutely bat-tastic.
2 THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY
Before Christopher Nolan brought his more realistic take on the Batman mythos, the Caped Crusader had been on a sort of film hiatus for years. You can thank Joel Schumacher's cheezy attempts. But in 2005, Nolan brought Batman out of the shadows and back onto the silver screen with Batman Begins.
Nolan's Batman, particularly The Dark Knight, was considered the perfect superhero adaptation. The stories, casts, and designs were all incredibly phenomenal and even won several awards, including an Oscar. Though it took several creative liberties and made Batman a little more realistic than the comic books did, it was considered the ideal version of the character.
1 BATMAN ('89 FILM)
Tim Burton is responsible for the rebirth of the comic book movie and the creation of what is considered by many to be the perfect Batman. Batman, to this day, still holds influence over a plethora of other adaptations. From the previously mentioned animated version to even the Lego film, the familiar design, voice, and mannerisms all come from this '80s classic.
Burton's Batman was everything a comic book movie should be. The characters were large personalities and the attention to design and detail was incredible. The film is home to not only the most iconic Batman but the most iconic Batmobile, Batsuit, and bat-signal brought to the screen. The film brought Batman out of the 60s and into the modern age of superheroes.