26 years ago today, Tim Burton’s Batman was released in theaters, bringing an immense new popularity to the character. Jack Nicholson’s star power drew in the audiences, while Burton’s dark tone and unique depiction of Gotham City instantly made it a success. Suddenly, much more people knew who Batman was. He was no longer sulking in the shadows — even the biggest jock could recognize the caped crusader. Now, there was a TV show, but that was a different beast. It wasn’t until ’89 that Batman made it BIG.
In honor of this anniversary, and as well as the release of Rocksteady’s first superhero title to make it to current gen (Arkham Knight) consoles, I decided to compile a list. A comprehensive ranking of my personal favorite all time on-screen would-be Dark Knights. Before I spur up a slew of haters and trolls, I’d like to remind you this is my preference. It’s fine for you to disagree — and if you do, I implore you to leave a comment — let’s just be sure to keep it civil. That’s the way Batman would like it, anyhow.
I will preface by saying that I haven’t really felt like any of the people to play Batman thus far have matched what I imagined for the character. Take that how you will, I just believe that the best Batman may yet be ahead of us. It seems that the character is destined to be reiterated and rebooted in perpetuity. My number one is as close as it has come so far, but I have high hopes that somebody will get it right in the future.
Without further adieu, let’s dive in!
6) George Clooney — Batman & Robin (1997)
I don’t think this unfortunate movie was 100% George’s fault. There were a lot of factors that made it the steaming garbage pile that it became. True enough, he did little to help at the same time. With his silly, phoned-in line delivery, and his lazy fight sequences, to his vomit-inducing “Bat Nipples,” Clooney’s take on the caped crusader now resides in the realm of infamy. In recent years, virtually everyone involved with Batman and Robin expressed feelings of regret about the film. It’s too bad, because I actually really enjoy George Clooney and think he really could have brought justice to the part…if he even remotely tried.
5) Adam West — Batman, the TV series (1966)
Some people may gasp at this, but come on! Comics were just a different monster back then! They weren’t taken nearly as seriously, and it showed in this well-remembered, but laughably silly TV series. Ratings dropped quicker than Harley Quinn’s panties at a damaged clown convention. The show got cancelled after it’s 3rd season. I can’t knock it completely. Adam West had a great superhero voice for the time, and without this show I don’t think there would have been the inspiration for SNL’s The Ambiguously Gay Duo shorts, for which I will be forever grateful.
4) Christian Bale — Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
This is the Batman the young kids grew up on. The same young kids that will likely tear me a verbal new one on the internet. Say what you will about Christopher Nolan’s thrilling Dark Knight Trilogy — I just can’t say that Bale was the best aspect of it. I don’t think people were totally sold back when they saw Batman Begins, which is probably a better written movie of all three. It was with Heath Ledger’s casting in the sequel, and his subsequent death that ignited the hype train and had people going bananas.
I personally feel that if another actor had donned the cape, people would have been completely sold back in Begins. He isn’t terrible as the socialite Bruce Wayne, but once he puts on the cape, he ventures into the land of cheese. His voice is so silly, that I can never even take him seriously. It’s just hard to picture that he strikes fear into anybody, even as he is pummeling them into a pulpy mess.
3) Val Kilmer — Batman Forever (1995)
People kind of just forget about Val Kilmer ever being Batman. His career slowly faded into obscurity right around this movie released as well, and I was never able to understand why. Kilmer was competent in the part. The villains at the time were pretty great, with Jim Carrey’s Riddler being one of my favorite castings of them all. Chris O’Donnell was pretty terrible, but hey…it wasn’t THAT bad. This was Joel Schumacher’s first attempt after taking the reins for Tim Burton. Kilmer had kind of a silky smooth voice for Batman, which made the film seem a little more noirey (that’s not a word, but I’m coining it). He did look kind of weird with the mask, though. I’m not sure what it was, but I’m fairly certain Kilmer dropped out when he heard about there being a sequel, dooming us to what would eventually become Batman and Robin.
2) Michel Keaton — Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)
This was the OG for me. Growing up, I knew him as Batman. Oh, and Beetlejuice. Michael Keaton is a fantastic actor, and has never gotten nearly enough credit. It was largely due to his calm and collected Bruce Wayne in a weird universe only Tim Burton could conceive that helped make the movies so popular. Sporting some of the coolest styling, with most of the best depictions of his rogues gallery, Batman and Batman Returns so far are still my favorite iterations of the Dark Knight. I will argue Ledger’s Joker over Nicholson’s until I’m blue in the face, but when it comes to Bruce Wayne, Keaton takes the cake.
AT LEAST when it comes to the Silver Screen…Which leads me to number 1…
1) Kevin Conroy — Batman: The Animated Series (1992), The New Batman Adventures (1997), Batman: Beyond (1999), Arkham Series (2009-2015), etc.
Kevin Conroy, famous voiceover actor in tons of well-known productions, IS the voice of Batman. I watched a lot of the show random mornings on TV, and just believed in that voice. He’s equal parts commanding, yet wise. That’s the kind of voice I could hear lecturing children about how crime doesn’t pay, as he’s beating the runny shit out of random thugs. His voice added heft to the beefier looking Arkham series version of Batman as well. It’s great that he continues to wow those grew up listening to him to this day. It lends credence to the fact that there is a lot of skill and ability necessary to be an effective and talented voice actor. When it’s done well, their performances can rival even the actors playing the character on the big screen.
What about all of you? Do you agree with my list? How would you rate it? Let us know in the comments below, and to the lucky readers who get to ride through Gotham CIty tonight in Arkham Knight…I’m officially jealous. I will be getting it soon, though. I actually have quite the ever encroaching backlog of games to get through before I can begin that journey. I digress. Thanks for reading!