Batman is one of the most iconic superheroes in history. His tragic backstory, rogue’s gallery, interpretations and evolutions over the years have created a media franchise nearly 80 years old. Thanks to a bit of recency bias, Robert Pattinson has found himself in the discussion as one of the best actors to don the cape and cowl but he is not the only actor worthy of the honor. Let’s set the record straight of who should be called the best to portray Batman.
Val Kilmer: After Michael Keaton left the role during production of Batman Forever thanks to a dispute over the direction and several script changes (he was even offered $15 million just to stick around), Val Kilmer was cast over actors like Keanu Reeves, Kurt Russell, Daniel Day-Lewis and Johnny Depp. While the film was a box office success, Kilmer was not brought back for Batman & Robin due to on set friction between him and director Joel Schumacher that even escalated to the point of the two not speaking to each for two weeks during filming.
Robert Pattinson: While The Batman is worthy of every praise it has received and future accolades, Pattinson does deserve to back in this success. After his casting in May 2019 was heavily criticized, Pattinson’s performance has effectively silenced the haters. Pattinson brought to life Bruce Wayne’s brooding, anger and trauma in a way that past actors had not managed to achieve. While a sequel is in development, The Batman was an incredible first outing to begin the actor’s run as the Dark Knight.
Ben Affleck: “Batfleck” was not a bad Batman but merely a victim of bad films, studio meddling and personal events that would have brought down even the most stoic of individuals. Many were at best skeptical following his casting for Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice but he did his part in convincing audiences he could play the part for years and be the anchor in Warner Brothers floundering DC Extended Universe. Dawn of Justice had such a large budget that it needed to gross at least $1 billion just to be profitable; Suicide Squad was a bloated film that did not necessarily need Batman’s inclusion and Justice League fell victim to Joss Whedon’s Avengers-esque restoration to create a movie that is offensive to anyone with eyes. Affleck was then hired to write, direct and star in a solo Batman film but due to his relapse into alcoholism and the breakdown of his marriage to Jennifer Garner, those plans pivoted to writer/director Matt Reeves and the casting of Robert Pattinson. Affleck was not only convincing as Batman thanks to his fight scenes but was the most convincing Bruce Wayne since Michael Keaton. It is easy to play “What Could Have Been” if Warner Brothers were not so concerned with playing catch up to Disney and Marvel but audiences will get to see Affleck suit up one last time in The Flash set to release in theaters on June 23, 2023.
Christian Bale: The decision to reboot the Batman franchise in 2003 was not an easy one but a necessary one. Director Christopher Nolan was brought in to modernize and bring a realistic take on the hero. The casting of Christian Bale went unheralded at the time but was the perfect actor to bring realism to a franchise that had grown too fantastical. Over the course of Nolan’s trilogy, Bale’s Batman raised the role to new standards and had showcased a character arc on par with Robert Downey Jr. in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Bale also leaned hard into his Batman voice by adopting an intensely gravelly and growling tone that either intimidates or elicits laughter but has become synonymous with Bale’s tenure as Batman. There is a lack of showing the public persona of Bruce Wayne over the course of these films while seemingly glossing over the fact that Batman was shaped by an immeasurable tragedy that he seemed to get over pretty quickly thanks to some wise instruction from Liam Neeson. The Dark Knight is the pinnacle of the Batman films featuring an iconic performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker, action sequences that rival James Bond films and hits the perfect balance of gritty realism and comic book entertainment.
Kevin Conroy: If you have watched Batman: The Animated Series or have played any of the Arkham video games then you are familiar with Kevin Conroy. He has been the voice of Batman for over 30 years and is credited with adopting two distinct voices for both Bruce Wayne and Batman. While appearing as a live action Batman only once over his career, Conroy’s longevity and participation in numerous high quality Batman projects make him worthy of inclusion in the best Batman conversation.
Michael Keaton: It seems like no casting will ever make fans happy as Keaton’s casting caused a major uproar. After rising to prominence as a comedic actor, fans did not want to see Tim Burton’s new vision become a campy, comedic take similar to Adam West’s series in the 1960’s. Warner Brothers even reported to have received over 50,000 protest letters threatening to boycott the film but Keaton was able to quickly win over fans. An entire article could be devoted to the marketing for 1989’s Batman as movie theaters even sold tickets just to show the trailer but Tim Burton’s Batman films marked the beginning of a new era in comic book superhero films. It’s dark tone, haunting orchestral score courtesy of Danny Elfman and gothic production design have become hallmarks of the Batman series and Keaton is the benchmark for all future Batman performances. His seriousness and ability to seamlessly transition between Batman, the public persona of Bruce Way and the Bruce that only few know is astounding. While his Batman walks a fine line between justice and vengeance, it is still powerful to watch him enter the frame and announce that he is Batman. After years of reluctance, Keaton is also slated to star in The Flash as well as Batgirl.
Featured Image Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.