There are a lot of questions about whether Batman is good for Gotham City. The debate asks if having a glorified vigilante work as an extension of the police is what’s best for citizens. Whichever side you fall on, there’s no denying that Bruce Wayne has devoted himself to protecting his hometown. Unlike other heroes Batman doesn’t apologize for choosing this life. He took the greatest pain of his life and turned it into the motivation to make the world better. These fascinating elements of his personality have made him a popular character for TV and movie adaptations. No matter what producers and filmmakers are involved, all Batman projects live or die based on who’s playing the Dark Knight. Actors must be able to give equal importance to both Bruce and Batman, something that can get lost in the midst of all the Batmobile chases and fight scenes.
Considering how the different sides of his personality impact his superhero work, it makes sense that he’s a character that can’t be defined by just one performance. Over the years, we’ve seen numerous actors embody the hero in live action film, television and animation. While there are elements we always expect to see from a Batman portrayal, including haunted loneliness, vast intellect and a willingness to make the hard decisions, there are also plenty of chances to find ways to make a performance new. With the remastered release of the complete Batman: The Animated Series box set and the premiere of Gotham’s final season around the corner, it’s time to rank the actors who have donned the cowl in live action and animation.
There are plenty of problems with Batman & Robin, but George Clooney is the least of them. That’s not to say that he was great as the Caped Crusader, but his blandness is overshadowed by everyone else’s over the top performances. Clooney is known for his captivating leading man charm in the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, Up in the Air and The Descendants.
Unfortunately, he didn’t bring any of that to his Batman portrayal. To be fair, this was his first major blockbuster, so it was a steep learning curve to jump in as the Dark Knight. Over the years, Clooney has made many jokes about his performance, making fans still like him, despite his lackluster foray into the superhero world.
It can sometimes be difficult for heroes to stand out in team up films. This was a challenge faced by Jeremy Sisto in Justice League: The New Frontier. Set in the ‘50s, the film features the members of the Justice League finally meeting up to fight an evil entity called The Centre.
Batman doesn’t have much to do here, as other characters take center stage, so he seems to lack some of his intensity. His voice doesn’t carry the intimidating presence that makes criminals fear him and other heroes respect him. Sisto did return to DC animation to play the villainous Talon in Batman vs. Robin, a part that suited him better.
It’s not that we think all variations of Batman should sound the same, however, there are certain characteristics that we expect. First among them is strength. Batman and Bruce Wayne always projects certainty in his decisions. No matter what others think, he never wavers in the idea that he knows what’s best.
In Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, William Baldwin’s Batman never seems very sure of himself. There’s this small hint of questioning during the major scenes. It doesn’t help matters that throughout the film, the Crime Syndicate are better characters than the Justice League. Batman isn’t the leader or star and it shows in Baldwin’s voice work.
For the most part, Batman is always portrayed as billionaire Bruce Wayne. However, on a few other Earths, the hero takes on an even darker life. Justice League: Gods and Monsters features Dr. Kirk Langstrom as a scientist who is transformed into a vampire and uses his abilities to drain criminals of their blood.
In the film, Michael C. Hall voices Langstrom as a tortured man who has turned away from the world and has no time for regular life. So, not a huge change from Bruce. Hall uses the dark tendencies of his most famous character, criminal Dexter Morgan, to embody all of Batman’s lonely resignation. It’s an interesting, unique take on one of the world’s most well known superheroes.
It’s become a running joke that Barry Allen is always changing the timeline. These antics famously led to a devastating alternate reality in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. This timeline features Thomas Wayne as Batman, after Bruce was shot instead. Kevin McKidd voices an angry, violent Dark Knight who has given up life.
It’s a sobering look at what Bruce could become if he ever gave in to his worst thoughts. Though it’s Barry’s story, the change in Batman is what really drives home how awful this new timeline is. McKidd does have all the familiar characteristics, while also putting a completely new spin on the hero, who in this world is more of a vigilante. It never feels like he’s copying someone else.
Fresh off the success of the ‘60s Batman TV series, the Super Friends were introduced to Saturday mornings in 1973. This was purely a fun romp for the kids, so Batman has none of the serious undertones that have become associated with the Caped Crusader.
Olan Soule voices Batman in a similar fashion to Adam West. In fact, West replaces Soule on a few occasions. He turns up the heroic aspects of the character, while also giving into the camp of the time. The Super Friends don’t exactly hold up, but they will always hold a special nostalgic place in comic book fans’ hearts.
When you hear Lego is making an adaptation of your favorite character, you know it’s going to be funny and to not take it too seriously. With his work as Batman in Lego’s DC Comics Super Heroes franchise, Troy Baker delivers a great balance of the caped crusader’s overwrought dramatics and hilarious shenanigans we expect from a Lego movie.
The veteran voice actor knows when to take the spotlight and when to let the jokes speak for themselves. Unlike some of his other appearances, this Batman is specifically made for kids, so the actor is given the room to play up the sillier aspects of the character. It’s a fun diversion from the hero’s non-stop serious nature and tortured personality.
One of Batman’s most popular stories is Year One. It chronicles Bruce’s first adventures of Batman and how he learned on the job. It was adapted into an animated film where Gotham star Benjamin McKenzie voiced the young hero. It was fascinating to see him discover his new alternate personality and define the differences between Batman and Bruce.
Though the movie focuses more on Lt. Gordon, McKenzie makes all of Bruce’s scenes matter. He actually spends more time as Bruce, so the effect his new vigilante life has on his normal one is explored a bit more. It was interesting to see a Batman story that’s really about Bruce Wayne.
Roger Craig Smith is a brilliant voice actor who has appeared in several animated series and video games as characters including Captain America, Kylo Ren and of course Bruce Wayne/Batman. As great as he is, his take on the hero isn’t exactly groundbreaking, however, that’s what DC probably wanted for the role.
They wanted a familiar sounding Batman that fans could instantly grab onto. He appeared in the Batman: Unlimited series, as well as, the Arkham Origins video games. The last thing players want during a game is to be distracted by a weird Batman voice. Smith’s Batman performance is a warm, comfortable blanket that fans can feel free to wrap themselves in.
Ever since Michael Keaton created the modern interpretation of Batman in 1989, all other actors to play the role have been copying some variation of his performance. In the animated series The Batman, Rino Romano doesn’t quite live up to previous portrayals.
The cartoon was clearly designed to sell toys to children, so character development wasn’t exactly at the top of producers’ list. Unfortunately, this lack of personality is most obvious in the lead hero. Batman is a one note, generic superhero. Saying Batman is the least interesting character in his own show is pretty much the worst thing we could say about him, and that’s saying something considering all the terrible things he’s done over the years.
FOX’s Gotham follows a teenage Bruce Wayne dealing with the aftermath of his parents’ demise and his quest to find the perpetrators. David Mazouz portrays Bruce as he first learns he must hide his true self from the world and wear an acceptable facade in public. He is essentially being asked to play Batman without suiting up and becoming the famous hero.
As the show has gotten increasingly crazy, Mazouz has managed to keep Bruce somewhat grounded in reality. With the series heading into its fifth and final season, Mazouz has done a great job of setting the audience up to follow Bruce on the final leg of his transformation. As such a young actor, he’s done an admirable job with such a complex character.
One of Batman’s most defining stories is The Dark Knight Returns, which features the character coming out of retirement to once again keep Gotham safe from criminals. The animated film was split into two parts, so that the whole arc could be told. Peter Weller is the voice of an older, wiser, but no less stubborn Batman.
Weller is the Dark Knight in the tale of the old gunslinger out for one last ride. He knows the end is coming, but he has one more adventure left in him. Every step of the way, he’s resigned to his coming fate, yet his resolve to do what is necessary never waivers. The movie isn’t every fans’ favorite adaptation, however, Weller’s Batman is true to the character.
Though Batman is seen as the most serious superhero character in comics, he has been portrayed in a more comical manner on a few occasions. One of these was the cartoon Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The series featured a lighter tone as the dynamic duo teamed up with other heroes to take on less well known villains.
As Batman, Diedrich Bader made the character more self aware, as the show occasionally broke the fourth wall. Fan reaction to the show is somewhat mixed, though the negative opinions don’t usually involve Bader’s performance. The comedian did a good job with the mixed bag of stories he was given. The portrayal may not go down in history, but it’s also not among the most memorable.
It was a Mt. Everest sized task to find someone to take over for Michael Keaton after the success of Batman and Batman Returns. However, Val Kilmer surprised everyone with his more human approach to the role. He played Bruce as someone who is a little jealous of his other half.
Perhaps more than any other actor, he played the part as two completely separate personalities. While Bruce still suffers through the trauma of losing his parents, Batman gets to leave rules behind and just beat up bad guys. It was a fascinating juxtaposition and a great way to make the character his own.
For years fans have been making jokes about how serious Batman takes himself, and how other heroes must be exhausted with him. In The Lego Movie, Will Arnett leaned into every Batman joke out there, creating a new hilarious version of the hero that became an instant classic.
The brilliance of Arnett's performance was how he used the character’s famous lone wolf personality to showcase how much everyone really dislikes Batman. Underneath all the comedy, we saw how Bruce is still just a sad, lonely boy with trust issues. Arnett managed to make the Lego brick Batman the most emotionally real version we’ve ever seen.
As the voice of Batman in several Justice League movies, Jason O’Mara has the unenviable task and making the Dark Knight stand out amongst the world’s greatest heroes. On a team with Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, Batman must always be the toughest one in the room.
In all his appearances, O’Mara exudes a commanding presence that lets everyone know he is in charge at all times. He doesn’t need long speeches or over complicated dialogue to project confidence. It’s actually his ability to say so much with so few words that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
Though it sounds crazy, the day does eventually come when Bruce Wayne can no longer be Batman. As they say, father time is undefeated. Fortunately, Terry McGinnis comes along to take up the mantle. Voiced by Will Friedle, viewers got to know Terry as a regular Gotham teenager before he ever discovers the suit or Bruce.
While there are clearly similarities between Terry and Bruce, what sets them apart is Terry’s need to have some semblance of a regular life. Friedle is fantastic at projecting Terry’s love of being Batman, while also reminding us that he’s still just a high school kid with all the problems of a teenager’s world. He created a brand new Batman that became essential to the character’s canon.
Batman is known for not showing his emotions. It’s kind of his jam. He thinks getting too emotional will make him unable to do his job properly. In Batman: Under the Red Hood, Bruce Greenwood gets to show the hero at his most vulnerable. Batman must deal with the guilt of losing Jason Todd, then reconcile even more guilt when he comes back mentally unstable.
In the final moments, Greenwood puts all of Bruce’s true feelings on display when he admits that he doesn’t permanently dispatch Joker because it would be too easy for him to get lost in that darkness. It’s a game changing performance that opens up Batman in a way we’ve rarely seen on screen.
The announcement that Ben Affleck was playing Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was met with negative reactions online. Imagine everyone’s surprise when it turned out Affleck was the best part of the movie, and became the glue of the franchise.
Affleck was a tired Bruce, who’s been fighting these battles for 20 years. The actor uses subtle body language to show how exhausted he is from carrying the weight of his responsibilities all this time. There’s also an experience in his eyes that you might see in soldiers, as they can’t really communicate all that they’ve seen. It was a transcendent, deep portrayal of the man beneath the cowl.
Adam West was not only the world’s introduction to Batman, he was the introduction to the comic book world. His Batman was the consummate good guy who never broke the rules, worked with the police and always beat the bad guys using his brain. Despite the over the top, comical nature of the show, it never felt like West was making fun of us or the character. He loved being Batman.
His performance is a joyful celebration of what it means to be a hero. It made the kids watching want to be heroes too, the real purpose of these stories. We want to be transported to a world where good always triumphs over evil, and West did that every time he played the role.
After the monumental flop of Batman & Robin, it took awhile for the character to return to the big screen. When he finally came back in Batman Begins, Christian Bale introduced us to a fresh take on his origin story. His Bruce was a lost boy looking for someplace to belong and something to believe in.
Once he found it in the form of protecting Gotham, his commitment became all consuming, and Bale deftly built a character in three films who went from entitled heir to noble hero. What makes his portrayal so great, is that he doesn’t blow the whole journey in one film. He saves something new for each movie, letting each performance build on the previous one.
It seems impossible to imagine now, but when Michael Keaton was announced as Tim Burton’s choice to play Batman, fans were shocked. We’re all lucky there was no Twitter at the time. Of course, now it’s obvious how wrong all those people were, as Keaton is many moviegoers choice for the best on screen Dark Knight.
He made the character so likeable and understandable. He didn’t seem like an untouchable billionaire/superhero, he was just a sad, lonely guy who needed to save others from the pain he lives with. He was also able to find the perfect balance between the character’s action packed hero world and the absurdity of the life he must now live.
Since 1992 Kevin Conroy has been the quintessential Batman. His voice has defined many of the Dark Knight’s most memorable and heroic moments. Beginning with Batman: The Animated Series, Conroy let fans into the world of a deeply flawed man with abandonment issues and a martyr complex, who somehow focuses his problems into saving his city and the world.
For many Batman faithful, Conroy is the voice they hear in their heads while they read the comics. He brought life to the complicated personality from the page, setting the standard for all other Batman performers to follow. All those who’ve come after him have just been doing their variations of his character. He is the night, he is Batman.