Movies & TV

The Best Batman Actors, Ranked

From the ridiculously campy to the unfortunately nippled.
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As Christian Bale says in Batman Begins: "It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me." The same can be said for Batman actors, whose different portrayals aren't created equally. Every generation has its own version of the Caped Crusader, from the campy '60s era Adam West to the super gritty and serious post-9/11 Christian Bale.

And here—in light of the news that Robert Pattinson will be our next Batman—we take on the daunting task of ranking each of the most famous Batman actors (sticking only to the most well-known live-action portrayals). Here are the best Batman actors ranked from the obliviously bad (Ben Affleck) to the nippled (George Clooney).

6| Ben Affleck

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The beautiful thing about Batman in the age of social media is that there’s a meme that perfectly sums up Ben Affleck’s performance as Batman. During an interview after the film came out, Superman actor Henry Cavill is responding to a question on camera about abysmal reviews for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, while Affleck looks off into nothingness, dejected, seemingly suffering an existential crisis in real-time. As he responded to the meme a few weeks later: “It taught me not to do interviews with Henry Cavill where I don't say anything and they could lay Simon and Garfunkel tracks over it, that's one thing I learned.” It also taught him not to play Batman anymore, because after the equally horrible Justice League, Affleck’s time as Batman came to an end

5| George Clooney

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Batnipples! Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a world in which we can’t make fun of the infamous nipples on Batman’s suit. We can’t really fault Clooney for any of this, he was just the poor soul who had to wear the nippled batsuit. And even he hated the nipples, as he said in 2014: "I wasn't thrilled with the nipples on the batsuit. You know that's not something you really think about when you're putting it on ... Batman was just constantly cold I guess." Batman & Robin director Joel Schumacher went as far as to apologize for his misguided Batman movie. "Look, I apologize," Schumacher told Vice. "I want to apologize to every fan that was disappointed, because I think I owe them that.”

4| Val Kilmer

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Kilmer is perhaps the least remembered of the many Batmen on this list. He only got the chance to don the cowl once in his career in Batman Forever, and looking back, he really deserved another chance as the Dark Knight. Kilmer took on the role of Bruce Wayne for the first of Joel Schumacher's two unfortunate Batman movies in the late-'90s. Though not as obscene as the bat-nipple’d George Clooney in Batman & Robin, the version of the Caped Crusader in Forever was burdened by the baroque madness of the Schumacher vision. One can’t help but wonder what a Val Kilmer Batman would have looked like with a better director.

3| Adam West

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Like with James Bond, every generation gets the Batman it deserves. For many of us in the younger generations, that meant the serious, post-9/11 version of the character Christian Bale inhabits, or the zany, expressionist Burton iteration with Michael Keaton. But years before that, there was a very different sort of Batman in the cultural consciousness. Adam West’s portrayal of the character did everything from wear brightly colored underwear over his skin-tight leotard to dance the “Batusi.” But just because he was silly doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective. West’s take on the character was perfectly in line with the campier vision for the character in the late 1960s. A very different Batman than what we have today, but an exceptional Batman nonetheless. 

2| Christian Bale

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Christian Bale’s Batman not only ushered in a new era of the DC hero, but also changed superhero movies as we know them. After the phenomenal success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, filmmakers pivoted toward gritty and realistic superhero stories. And Bale’s Bruce Wayne was a complex and flawed hero—one who kicked off a multi-billion resurgence of comic book movies in Hollywood. While Nolan’s vision was key to making this happen, it couldn’t have been possible without Bale’s super-serious version of the character. That gravel-y voice has become synonymous with the moody caped crusader. But behind that mask, Bale’s piercing eyes and physical acting make that cowl into something more human than symbolic.

1| Michael Keaton

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Under the direction of Tim Burton, Michael Keaton took the Batman character out of the zany chaos of the Adam West era and brought him to his rightful place as the dark, gloomy hero of the night. Keaton–then best known as a comedian–baffled audiences at the time with his soaring performance, exceeding expectations like no other Bruce Wayne since. His tactful approach to the character, which oscillated between stern and absolutely wacky (because how else do you capture the reality of a man wearing a suit with bat ears?) elegantly breathed new life into a franchise that was fading into obscurity, at least for a cinema crowd. To this day, Keaton’s two bouts as The Bat stand among the greatest comic book movies ever. Without Keaton, the modern conception of Batman as a troubled, yet unshakably heroic protector of the night as we know it today might not exist. He set a new bar for years to come. 

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This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.

* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Matt Miller
Matt Miller is the Associate Culture Editor for Esquire.com
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