As we’ve previously discussed, superhero movies and TV shows are seemingly churned out every other day. Only a handful of characters from Marvel and DC Comics properties really live up to the silver screen expectations, though. And Batman — a.k.a. Bruce Wayne — is one of them. At least most of the time. While it’s difficult to say who the best Batman of all time is, we can all agree that there are many interesting interpretations of Gotham’s beloved vigilante.
Created by DC Comics’ artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27, which came out on March 30, 1939. This was just a year after the debut of Action Comics #1, the comic book series that starred DC’s other soon-to-be-titan, Superman. Together, the superheroes helped usher in what’s known as the Golden Age of Comic Books, alongside characters from rival publishers.
Much like the Caped Crusader, Batman’s alias, Bruce Wayne, has taken on different traits over the years. Still, he’s most often depicted as a wealthy playboy and philanthropist — the head of Wayne Enterprises who moonlights as a Gotham City vigilante to seek vengeance against criminals after, at 8 years old, he witnessed the murder of his parents.
The Many Faces of Batman
Batman is unique among superheroes in a lot of ways. For starters, he has the whole noir thing going on. But, unlike Superman, he isn’t an alien being with superpowers. Instead, he’s a smart, tech-savvy guy who’s done some training and whipped up an appropriately glum bat persona. And, maybe, that’s why he’s endured through the decades. The Dark Knight isn’t god-like — he’s a guy with a vendetta, a penchant for solving crimes and a drive to make justice happen.
Across numerous comic and graphic novel series, TV shows, cartoons, movies and video games, Batman has been reinterpreted time and again. Some of those interpretations are better than others — though it is hard to compare the campy Adam West Batman to a more brooding take, as portrayed by Robert Pattinson in the latest live-action film adaptation, The Batman.
While every generation has gotten the Bruce Wayne they need, they may not have experienced the Bruce Wayne they deserve. Here, we’re ranking the various Caped Crusaders, from both live-action and animated offerings, to determine the best Batman actor of all time.
Who’s the Best Batman? Ranking Actors from Worst to Best
16. George Clooney
What else can we say about Joel Schumacher’s 1997 flop, Batman & Robin? In our first-ever Bad Movie Club, we revisited this much-hated film, and, despite the camp lens we want to put on it to make it a little more fun and a little less awful, there’s no denying that this is easily one of the worst Batman movies to date.
Clooney is about as stiff as his nippled Batsuit. While following up Val Kilmer, who followed up Michael Keaton, is kind of a hard ask, it’s clear that the casting choice hinged on getting a big-name star. Clooney has acting chops, of course, but he just didn’t play a convincing Batman — or Bruce Wayne.
As a result, the film’s planned sequel was axed, and Batman didn’t return to the big screen until Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) rebooted things.
15. David Mazouz
David Mazouz played Bruce Wayne in the five-season TV series Gotham, which aired from 2014 to 2019. Let’s get this out of the way: Mazouz isn’t a bad actor. In fact, his performance on Gotham was impressive.
Really, Mazouz is just at the bottom of the pack because he never really got to be Batman. Instead, he played a young Bruce Wayne who was trying to find his footing. As the title suggests, the series is really about the city of Gotham — not the beloved superhero — so it makes sense that this unofficial Batman outing ranks low.
14. Lewis G. Wilson
In the 1943 movie serial Batman, Lewis G. Wilson played the first-ever on-screen version of the character. While Wilson might’ve been a great actor in general, his performance doesn’t quite hit.
It’s hard when material doesn’t age well, but the fact remains that Wilson was the first actor to put on the Bat-suit. While he may not be the best Batman, he certainly deserves a shoutout.
13. Robert Lowery
The second-ever live-action Bat-adventure dropped in 1949 with the 15-chapter New Adventures of Batman and Robin — often just shortened to Batman and Robin. The multipart serial was technically a sequel to the 1943 Batman, but the production featured an all-new Bruce Wayne — Robert Lowery. Johnny Duncan, meanwhile, joined in the fun as Batman’s sidekick, Robin, replacing Douglas Croft.
A more veteran actor, Lowery had featured in popular films of the time, including Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943) and The Mummy’s Ghost (1944). There’s no doubt that Lowery had more of the Batman-from-the-comics physique. Not to mention, the serial featured more exciting fight scenes. Still, this is another case of something not aging all that well — though, in its day, Batman and Robin marked a big moment.
12. Val Kilmer
When Michael Keaton didn’t return for the third Batman film in the series Tim Burton began, Val Kilmer took over. In Kilmer’s words, 1995’s Batman Forever is “so bad it’s almost good”, or so he says in his memoir.
It’s no secret that Joel Schumacher’s first stab at the Bat-films marked the beginning of the end. Honestly, the villains in the film, like Jim Carrey’s Riddler, are way more memorable than Kilmer’s underwhelming and forgettable Batman.
11. Ben Affleck
Unlike Wilson and Lowery, Ben Affleck doesn’t have the excuse of his Batman outings not living up to contemporary movie standards. After all, he first put on the suit — more on that in a minute — in 2016 for Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The real hype here? The Caped Crusader and Superman (the very well-cast Henry Cavill) were finally going to duke it out in a live-action film.
Dawn of Justice was a pretty bad movie, full of muddled CGI action sequences that squander a story that is incredibly powerful (and cool) in the comics. So, that doesn’t help Affleck’s case much. While Affleck might play a decent Bruce Wayne, he just isn’t a convincing Batman.
Sure, it’s hard to follow up Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but… we were right to be skeptical of this casting move, which favored star-power over everything else. That Bat-suit here is also pretty lackluster. Yes, he has to have something that’ll withstand Superman’s might, but he’s more mecha-Batman than the stealthy vigilante we know and love.
The over-reliance on tech goes hand-in-hand with the overuse of CGI, of course. When Affleck reprised his role in Justice League (2017) — another terrible, though marginally better, film — his characterization was just as thin. Maybe it makes sense that his suit is more Pacific Rim than Batman — it would explain the empty, stiff performance on display here.
10. Iain Glen
Okay, so Iain Glen hasn’t played Bruce Wayne in a feature film, or even his own series, but he does give us a pretty convincing Batman in Titans. The series centers on Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) — the first Robin, who later takes on the mantle of Nightwing and leads the Teen Titans. (The young Justice League, if you will.)
You’ll probably recognize Glen from Game of Thrones; he played Ser Jorah Mormont in the HBO’s hit series. Titans explores the trauma Dick Grayson has as a result of his time with Bruce Wayne. Sure, Bruce took Dick, an orphan, in when he was young and aimless, but it was always more about what Bruce needed Dick for than anything else. Or that’s what Dick believes, anyway. It’s also one of the reasons he leaves Gotham to do his own thing.
Needless to say, Glen’s aged-up Batman is a fresh look at the character, even if it is a more minor role.
9. Adam West
For many fans and casual viewers alike, Adam West is the quintessential Caped Crusader. West helped make the comic book character one of the biggest superheroes in the 1960s, in part thanks to all of his fun gadgets — the Bat Cycle, Bat-Copter, shark repellent, and so on.
Most importantly, West wore the Bat-suit with pride. So, why doesn’t he rank higher? Well, there’s something to be said for the purposefully campy approach here. After all, comics are fun and over-the-top a lot of the time, and this was pre-gritty reinventions.
With upbeat music and some (unintentionally, at times) hilarious moments, the Batman of the 1960s just isn’t something you’d see today — and it just isn’t our favorite interpretation of the character.
8. Peter Weller
In the critically acclaimed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2013), Peter Weller got the chance to voice Bruce Wayne. This two-part animated adaptation focuses on a 55-year-old Bruce, on a man who’s a retired vigilante. The films are based on Frank Miller’s (Sin City) gritty graphic novel take on the Caped Crusader.
Beyond the source material giving Batman a darker feel, it’s beloved because it told a different kind of story. “Miller’s biggest — and most overlooked — triumph wasn’t the tone of his book. It was the story he told,” Peter Suderman writes for Vox. “The Dark Knight Returns is a true classic because it makes an argument about Batman’s essential nature, and because it does something that traditional superhero comics can almost never do: It brings Batman’s story to a fitting close.”
While a great story goes a long way, we have to give Weller all the kudos for selling the whole thing and giving a voice to one of Bruce’s most compelling stories.
7. Jason O’Mara
Jason O’Mara took over Batman voice acting duties from Kevin Conroy — more on him later — and, because he was following a bona fide legend, he was met with resistance from fans. But O’Mara proved his critics wrong. Since embracing the role, he’s voiced Bruce Wayne in more than 10 instances, becoming an instant classic in the pantheon of Bat-actors.
The actor has lent his voice talents to lauded animated features, including Batman: Hush (2019), Batman vs. Robin (2015), Batman: Bad Blood (2016) and several Justice League films. Aside from voicing the Caped Crusader, O’Mara has appeared in live-action roles for major properties, most notably Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
6. Will Arnett
Listen, The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) is awesome. “Everything is awesome!!!”, you could say. The LEGO Movie (2014) really blew viewers — including us — away, thanks to its brilliant animation, surprisingly heartfelt story, endless inventiveness and, of course, laugh-a-minute humor. But the Batman spin-off might be the best in the LEGO series, and a lot of that hinges on Will Arnett (Arrested Development).
A lot of Arnett’s success boils down to his take on the voice — it’s kind of a send-up of Christian Bale’s growl, but it’s also unmistakably Batman, especially the self-serious kind of Dark Knight who’d show up in the LEGO universe. Plus, the self-aware humor and willingness to be self-deprecating when it comes to these beloved characters is welcome. We’ll never forget Arnett’s Batman — or his microwave struggles.
5. Diedrich Bader
It’s no secret that we love Harley Quinn — especially because of the show’s sharp, self-referential and often-crass humor. In the very first episode, Harley can’t help but feel like Joker (voice of Alan Tudyk) doesn’t care about her. (She’s right.) And she also can’t help but feel like he loves someone more than her. (She’s also right.) That someone? Batman.
The Clown Prince of Crime loves his cat-and-mouse game more than anything, after all. While Batman isn’t really a main character here, he does show up a lot. In the third season especially, a lot of time is spent on the Bat-family — and revisiting the murder of Bruce’s parents (again and again and again).
Whether he’s dealing with Harley’s antics, the washed-up Commissioner Jim Gordon’s (voice of Christopher Meloni) ravings or trying to give Selena Kyle/Catwoman (voice of Sanaa Lathan) a foot massage, Diedrich Bader’s Batman is the perfect fit. There’s a warmth to his self-deprecating humor, and the character feels live-in. Sure, the show is about Harley, but Bruce is a strong side character — not because of our history with him, but because of Bader’s performance.
4. Michael Keaton
For many Batman fans, Michael Keaton would take the top spot. When he was cast as the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton’s reimagining of the character and series, it was a big gamble. Keaton was known for his comedic work, and Burton was looking to make a more serious (though still fun) Bat-film. Needless to say, there was some fan backlash in the late ‘80s — but those skeptics were resoundingly silenced once the film hit screens.
The last live-action version of the character had been Adam West’s campy take. But Keaton changed all of that. He helped make Batman a legitimate superhero again — a vigilante we had no choice but to take seriously thanks to his dark, mysterious persona. Of course, Keaton’s Batman (the character and the movie) were still fun; the film’s weren’t so dark as to not throw us some humor, too.
Without a doubt, Keaton laid the foundation upon which the character would be built for decades to come.
3. Robert Pattinson
When Ben Affleck stepped down from the role, there was a lot of clamor around who would take up the Bat-suit. Fans were still eager for a suitable Christian Bale follow-up, after all. Robert Pattinson, who’s starred in everything from artsy A24 films like The Lighthouse (2019) to Hollywood popcorn fare like Twilight (2008), perhaps wasn’t the first pick among fanboys. However, he more than delivered, giving us one of the best Batman performances of all time.
The Batman (2022) was the Caped Crusader’s first successful film — and first successful solo film — since the Christopher Nolan era. Not only did it kill at the box office, but critics and fans alike praised the film for going back to the character’s detective, noir roots and pulling inspiration from the beloved Batman: The Animated Series.
It’s clear that Pattinson is committed to the role. His Bruce Wayne, more of a brooding, Nirvana-loving, wealthy sad boy take, is wholly convincing. But he’s also a convincing Batman, someone who’s obsessive and aimless — and who eventually arrives at the conclusion that he just has the drive to make Gotham a better place. It’s hard to capture both facets of the character, but Pattinson soars.
Instead of relying on Bat-gadgets or mountains of CGI, The Batman gives us a gritty, hollow and authentic-feeling Gotham as well as thrilling fight scenes and chases that rely on practical effects and stunts. It’s a very welcome return to form, and we can’t wait to see Pattinson reprise the role in the greenlit sequel film.
2. Kevin Conroy
If you’re not a diehard fan, Kevin Conroy’s name might not ring a bell. But there’s no doubt you’ve heard his voice. In fact, when you imagine Batman speaking, you probably hear Conroy’s take on him, especially if you grew up loving comic book-based cartoons in the ‘90s.
Conroy is a legendary name in voice acting. In fact, he’s probably portrayed Batman and Bruce Wayne in more instances than anyone else on this list. In fact, he even got the chance to portray a jaded Bruce Wayne in live-action form courtesy the Batwoman episode of The CW’s Arrowverse crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths (2019). (Though it wasn’t necessarily a fan favorite moment…)
Still, from the beloved Batman: The Animated Series from the ‘90s — a show that defined Batman for a generation — to the Batman Beyond and Justice League shows from the late ‘90s and early 2000s to the critically acclaimed game Arkham Asylum (2009), Conroy has brought the Caped Crusader to life in some of his most quintessential appearances.
1. Christian Bale
It’s difficult to put anyone else in the top spot, especially given the ardent fan support for Christian Bale’s portrayal of the Caped Crusader. According to director Christopher Nolan, Bale was cast because “he has exactly the balance of darkness and lightness that we were looking for”, and he’s not wrong. The actor absolutely kills it, both as the brooding Bruce and the out-for-justice Batman.
Bale also gets points for giving us a complete trilogy — sorry, Keaton — from Batman Begins (2005) to The Dark Knight Rises (2012). The full arc of Nolan’s films let us see Bale’s character through several life-altering moments, from his face-off with Heath Ledger’s Joker to his back-breaking fight with Bane (Tom Hardy). Plus, The Dark Knight (2008) is one of the best superhero films ever made — if not the best, by some critics’ standards.
That said, Christian Bale earns the top spot on our list of best Batman actors for giving us one of the most definitive Batman performances to date — and for setting a new standard for the Bat voice.