THE DARK KNIGHT RISES IS ALMOST HERE! One of the most hotly anticipated movies of all time, it’s the final part of Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy which elevated the potential of comic book movies to Oscar winning heights.
While Nolan’s take on the caped crusader is now widely regarded as the definitive silver screen offering, the debate as to which actor donned the Dark Knight’s cowl most convincingly rages on. From Adam West through to Michael Keaton to George Clooney, Batman’s been played by a fair few thespians since being first created by Bob Kane back in 1939.
But who was best? Brandish enters the Batcave in our definitive rundown to uncover the finest Batman of all time.
Adam West: 1966 – 1968
KAPOW! Adam West stared in the 1960s super-camp Batman TV series, and a few TV movies that followed it. Far from the high-tech wizardry we expect from Batman today, West’s Batman wore just a spandex suit and a “groovy” navy cowl. His slow and measured voice showed a Batman almost always totally in control, while the show’s colourful comic caption flashes during fight scenes have become iconic. Though the West-era Batman gets a lot of stick for its playful tone, many forget that it’s a pretty-much bang-on representation of the “Golden Age” era comics that inspired it. It was a simpler time, when we could totally buy into ridiculous gadgets like “shark repellant”, which Batman just so happened to always have whenever he was jumped by one of the aquatic beasties.
Michael Keaton: 1989 – 1992
It took a long time for the dust to settle after the West-era show, but the late 1980s saw a massive resurgence in popularity for Batman, mostly thanks to comic book writer Frank Miller’s massively influential The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One comics. The Tim Burton-helmed Batman films that followed, starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and Batman, were perhaps the movie adaptations that came closest to the gothic feel of the comic books.
It helped that Michael Keaton was not only a great Batman, but an excellent Bruce Wayne too. Though not focussing massively on Wayne’s traumatic childhood, Keaton always effectively gave off a feeling of loneliness that is central to Batman’s character. He pulled off action scenes excellently too; the opening action scene in Batman Returns in which Batman faces off against the Penguin’s clownish thugs is superb, with Keaton’s comically timed use of gadgets giving Batman the much-needed cool factor. Though sometimes overshadowed by stellar villains (both Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito made for amazing Jokers and Penguins respectively), Keaton had it all.
Val Kilmer: 1995
From Batman to Fatman, it’s hard now to remember how massive a star Val Kilmer was back in 1995. He was also a great Batman too, with his “chicks love the car” quip one of Batman’s most memorable silver screen lines. Val Kilmer came across as believably intelligent; in the scene where he shatters the dreams of a pre-Riddler Edward Nigma, you can totally believe he’s the head of the massive Wanye Enterprises empire. However, though his pretty-boy looks bagged him the girls as Bruce Wayne, he looked just a bit too pouty under the cowl.
George Clooney: 1997
Ugh. Batman and Robin. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s my least favourite film OF ALL TIME. On paper, it all seems so right: Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, and of course, George Clooney as Batman. You’d think Clooney would be the perfect fit for Batman, but he proved to be terrible. Far too smarmy, Clooney had the chin to play the Bat, but failed to channel any of the vulnerability needed to effectively pull off all angles of the multifaceted crime fighter. And while the costume design wasn’t Clooney’s fault, the less said about Batman’s “nipple suit” used in the movie the better. For a few years now rumours have circulated that Clooney could return to play an ageing Batman in an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns comic book, which could be great, as Clooney would make for a far more convincing middle-aged hero in our opinion.
Christian Bale: 2005 – 2012
Christian Bale’s realistic take on the Batman role, under Christopher Nolan’s superb direction, totally rejuvenated the Batman franchise. Here was a close look at a genuinely troubled Bruce Wayne, constantly dealing with the guilt he carried over his parent’s death. From stoney faced watchman to playboy billionaire, Bale’s performance covers all bases.
Bales commitment to the role is also legendary, training hard to pile on massive amounts of muscle after an astounding transformation verging on anorexia for The Machinist. He brings a much tougher physicality to the role than previous Batmen; you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a smack from Bale’s superhero sleuth.
Bale’s trademark Batman bark, often ridiculed, is just fine by us. Attempting to be more than a man, a terrifying symbol showing that crime won’t be tolerated in Gotham City, Bale’s Wayne completely embraces the theatrical. His aggressive tone would strike fear into the hearts of his foes, while also sensibly masking his true voice and identity. Nolan couldn’t have picked a better star for his take on Gotham’s protector.
WILDCARD – Kevin Conroy (Batman voice actor) 1992 – present day
Do you remember Kevin Conroy as Batman? Or even know who he is? Probably not, but you’ve almost certainly heard him. Conroy is the hardest working Batman on this list, having been the go-to voice actor for Batman in everything from games to animated TV shows for the last 20 years. For many comic book fans, he’s the best Batman there’s ever been, effortlessly moving between the reserved Bruce Wayne and the might of Batman better than any other person on this list. A true Dark Knight, New Yorker Conroy also helped with the clean up effort following the devastating Twin Towers attack of 2001.
THE BEST BATMAN OF ALL TIME IS…Ermmm…
Wow, it’s a tough one! For Brandish, it comes down to two actors, who we just can’t separate: Michael Keaton and Christian Bale. Both are perfect for the differing Batman visions they are a part of. Michael Keaton nails the morally charged, lonely eccentricity of the Batman comic books, while Bale’s realistic take on the Bat is so good that you totally buy into the real-world possibility of a billionaire moonlighting as a masked vigilante. When we’re after gothic gloom and outlandish thrills we’ll go for Keaton, but Bale’s tense troubled Bat gives us our intellectual kicks too.