It seemed since 1989, when Tim Burton intrigued Michael Keaton to become one of the first Batman actors; there has been a never-ending debate over that topic. For the historically inclined, this conversation trails back to 1939. There have been close to two dozen people to don the Cape and the Cowl, and in 2022, we get another — affectionately known as “Battinson.”
Depending on the DC Comics chronicler or fan you ask, Robert Pattinson very well could be one of the best Batman actors ever. Yes, the trailers are that convincing. See for yourself:
Now that your adrenaline is spiking to the point of cardiac event, there is no telling where Battinson ranks (yet). However, we have plenty of Batman actors to consider for a Top 10 list. DC Comics gave us films, cartoons, animated features, and one iconic TV show. Who among them is mercurial enough as Bruce Wayne and badass enough as Batman to make a list?
Let’s start this debate with respect for Will Arnett. Still, despite his extraordinary portrayal as the LEGO Batman, that is not a character designed for hijinks and hilarity, so he didn’t make this list. Also, respect for the acclaimed thespian George Clooney, but (oh hell) no, “Batnips“ will never make this sacred list.
Who are the Top 10 best Batman actors ever?
10. Robert Lowery
When you consider the O.G. Batman, two names immediately rise to the top — Michael Keaton or Adam West. Those names will come up later in this Top 10 list, but back in 1949, America was introduced to Bruce Wayne by a dapper gent named Robert Lowery. Even though there was one other Batman actor six years before (Lewis Wilson), Lowery brought in the Bat man to us all.
He was 6’1″ and could quickly fill out the shabby leotard more than his predecessor. Before Lowery was hired to play in “The New Adventures of Batman and Robin,” he portrayed Zorro. For those not aware and missing this coincidence, Batman creator Bob Kane used Zorro as an inspiration behind a masked vigilante with a dual personality. It’s astounding how things come full circle.
Before we continue, think about the similarities between Batman and Zorro:
1. They were sons of a murdered aristocrat or businessman
2. Inside their mansions, each had a secret entrance to catacombs as a lair or workshop
3. Each man wore a black costume as they fought corruption under a mysterious persona
4. They only work at night
5. Even their transportation was black — a bold steed or a vehicle full of horsepower
And the mass commercialization and popularity of Batman came to nerds of all generations through Robert Lowery (who even looked like Clark Gable). That’s called great casting and an even better beginning.
9. David Mazouz
Admittedly, this is a controversial pick because David Mazouz spent all of seven seconds in the suit on FOX’s “Gotham.” However, Mazouz made a young Bruce Wayne believable as a dual persona role. Like, we could see this guy in school. Maybe not on the football team or drama class, but he would have been “a dude” in high school. His chin wasn’t “Bat-chin” levels under the cowl, but his humanity as the young heir was refreshing.
He didn’t mask his voice or do many dumb things guys did in high school. This Bruce Wayne understood a higher calling even then, among the raging hormones and covered acne. The five-season FOX series was never meant to focus on a Batman, but Bruce Wayne understood how the boy would grow into the man. There was no catchphrase, no brooding over crime, but distinct humanity in this role made the Caped Crusader seem possible.
8. Peter Weller
Peter Weller rarely comes up in conversation whenever fans sit around the cosplay fire roasting marshmallows and other people’s characterization of Bruce Wayne in effigy. Why? He played a come-out-of-retirement Bruce Wayne with grit and determination in the animated classic and Frank Miller graphic novel, “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Parts 1 and 2.” If you’re a fan of Weller, you know the enigma comes with him in roles like “Star Wars: Into Darkness” and, of course, “Robocop.”
The book changed the way graphic novels were created, so WB needed a voice that would strike fear in enemies and excitement in fans. Peter Weller’s gravel-toned voice as a crotchety Bruce Wayne was a genius call. It takes art and imagination to pull off voice acting in characters as iconic as Batman. Weller should get more opportunities in the future. Well, we can at least hope.
7. Val Kilmer
Val Kilmer is an enigma in Hollywood known for playing some grizzled characters with confident ease. Jim Morrison to Doc Holliday, Iceman in “Top Gun” and Chris in “Heat,” Kilmer knows how to reach a character’s purpose. Batman and Bruce Wayne were surprisingly convincing in the entree into the Schumacher Batverse.
He brought calm and confident mannerisms to the role, a staple of the Bruce Wayne character. As for his portrayal of Batman, he wasn’t as intimidating as his predecessor (coming later). However, he did have enough of an on-screen presence to make the villain’s fear feel real when he met them. He also brought an enjoyable amount of camp to the role. Ironically, he dreaded that move but is now remembered fondly. If not for anything else, he said, “It’s the car, right? Chicks love the car.”
6. Diedrich Bader
This one may fail your recollection for those not so familiar with Saturday cartoons. However, Diedrich Bader portrayed the character in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” and was much better than you may think. This series is known as an animated comedy targeted toward children, and the attitude of his Batman emphasizes that.
Bader is known for being a goofball on screen (see “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Drew Carey Show,” “Jay and Bob Strike Back,” and his titular role as Lawrence in “Office Space.”) Yet somehow, this Batman actor managed to stay true to the tone of the series. Diedrich Bader gave us moments that reminded us though this is a show for kids, we are still watching a Batman show. Another fun fact, he has voiced several super characters, including Kilowog, Adonis, Simian, Guy Gardner, Bigfoot, and Maximus.
He reprised his Batman role in the R-rated Harley Quinn TV series. Bader applies his signature blend of humor and seriousness into an animated mold that has been appreciated over the years. A Batman actor can make this character his own, no matter who the intended audience is.
5. Adam West
As we just explained, other Batman actors have been humorous, but Adam West is the funny Batman. During his classic run, West gave an enjoyable performance that is still remembered fondly by all who have seen it. He gave us fun life lessons, made us dance, and even taught us how to get rid of a bomb.
Also, who can forget that shark repellent!
He appeared in numerous shorts and commercials and lent his voice in various radio and animated shows. Even though he is no longer the GOAT as Batman, he is still the standard. When you can act in a role for three years, and generations of fans still admonish you, it’s easy to understand he did something right.
There was no Batman without Adam West, and (unfortunately) there was no Adam West without Batman. He was seen as the definitive Batman.
That is, until 1989…
4. Michael Keaton
For many Batman fans globally, Michael Keaton is considered by many as the GOAT Batman actor. Despite the sentiment, we must consider everything. His casting was considered controversial, as in national protest and signed letters sent to DC Comics. Many thought he lacked the physical traits commonly associated with Batman. Another complaint was nothing in his filmography made us believe he had the necessary talent (see “Mr. Mom,” “Gung Ho,” and “Night Shift.”)
They were all wrong. His performance brought a sense of depth and anger never seen in a live-action Batman before. Furthermore, few people saw a Batman in Keaton as an actor. Some might say his performance is outdated from today’s standards, but that doesn’t change the facts. Because of Michael Keaton, Batman was taken seriously again and always. (Same goes for Jack Nicholson’s perfect bat-ess crazy Joker.)
3. Ben Affleck
Here we go. Cue the Snyderverse!
A list of the best Batman actors wouldn’t be complete without the DC Extended Universe’s favorite mass murderer! (Yeah, I said it.) All jokes aside, Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Batman (aka. Batfleck) has a special place in our hearts.
He was older and angrier. But Ben Affleck was just as capable of interpreting the Caped Crusader, which was refreshing and stimulating. Not only that, but Affleck’s Batman had the absolute best martial-arts choreography ever placed in a superhero film (until we saw Shang-Chi, which is the real stuff). Zack Snyder knows how to put together an action sequence, and Affleck was at the center of most of them.
Finally, this was the first live-action Batman to share the screen with other DC characters, like Superman, Wonder Woman, or the Flash. That was a dream come true for every fan of the genre. And if you’re still dreaming of restoring the Snyderverse, we have learned never to say never. Of course, Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck will be in the Flash concept, so who knows with DC Films anymore.
2. Christian Bale
Grumble. Gripe. Piss. Or moan. It doesn’t matter. The Christopher Nolan-led “Dark Knight” films make up what may be one of the greatest trilogies in cinematic history. Yes, it was that good. And it wouldn’t have been if Christian Bale wasn’t a part of it. And, to date, he is the quintessential live-action Batman.
Unlike previous versions of Batman, Christopher Nolan’s take on the character was set in the real world: Magic and superpowers didn’t exist. Instead, this Batman fought mobsters, politicians, and the terrifying political climate of a post-9/11 America.
He was put to the test in ways that hadn’t been done on-screen before (or even after). The way he overcame those tests showed us what makes Batman a hero. This was one of the most complicated versions of Batman to portray, and as a Batman actor, Christian Bale encompassed many layers in his performance, which made him equally as good as Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader.
1. Kevin Conroy
However, this is your GOAT. It doesn’t matter that Kevin Conroy “just voices” Batman. He has been asked to do it time and time again for nearly 30 years. No one can say that!
Initially, Conroy voiced the character in “Batman: The Animated Series.” And as a Batman actor, fans and critics critically acclaimed his performance. So much so that he occasionally reprises the role in other media.
Kevin Conroy models the perfect Batman portrayal. His performances have been engraved in our collective consciousness. You might not even realize it, but whenever you think of Batman, you’re probably thinking of Kevin Conroy’s stelo and bravado. And he does it all from the privacy of a recliner having a Coke and a smile.
From Batman: TAS, the Justice League cartoons, the Arkham Games, to even a live-action appearance on the CW’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” Whenever there’s Batman, there’s a guarantee Kevin Conroy will be there in one way or another. Extol the man’s greatness. He is the GOAT. He “is Batman.”
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Since he saw ‘Dune’ in the $1 movie theater as a kid, this guy has been a lover of geek culture. It wasn’t until he became a professional copywriter, ghostwriter, and speechwriter that he began to write about it (a lot).
From the gravitas of the Sith, the genius of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or the gluttony of today’s comic fan, SPW digs intelligent debate about entertainment. He’s also addicted to listicles, storytelling, useless trivia, and the Oxford comma. And, he prefers his puns intended.