Top 10 Portrayals of Batman

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There are some debates that can literally lead to physical brutality.  Who is the best home run hitter?  Lord of the Rings versus Star Wars?  Who is the hottest actress named Jessica?  However, no debate has inspired more thought, discussion, and threatening motions than, “who is the best Batman?”  We are bold enough to take it on.  Number one is at the bottom of list, but first take time to appreciate ten through two…

10.  Andy Samberg

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In 2011, Andy Samberg starred in a skit with Steve Buschemi on Saturday Night Live.  Buschemi plays Commissioner Gordon, and cannot shake Batman.  Batman shows up at Gordon’s house.  Batman shows up in Gordon’s shower.  Batman shows up in Gordon’s bed.  Batman dresses up Gordon’s wife as the Riddler.  Samberg plays it for great comedy in only one sketch, but the important thing here, is that Samberg’s mere existence knocks George Clooney off of any actual mention on this list.

9.  Seth Green

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Seth Green plays Batman for obvious parody on his Cartoon Network show, Robot Chicken.  However, listen to the voice and the delivery.  Green adds a dimension to Batman that is not generally seen.  Green’s Batman has a legitimate sense of humor.  There is also a certifiable nasty streak to Green’s Batman.  Even though this is a toy representation, somehow Green’s interpretation of Batman just seems to be more true to real life.

8.  Pete Holmes

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Stand-up comedian Pete Holmes, working with Front Page Films, has made a series of skits focused on Batman.  As anyone with a Facebook account can tell you, life is not all highlight films.  The highlights are just what we show to others in carefully planned albums.  Pete shows you the Batman that tends to end up in the emergency room, while Alfred gives a lame story.  Holmes’ Batman is still trying to get everything down and hopes no one sees.  In addition to the humor, Holmes gives Batman a sense of vulnerability, reminding you that this really is some rich guy in his twenties.

7.  Olan Soule

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When you look at a picture of Olan Soule, you will never fathom how Soule ever got onto a list of Batmen.  If  you grew up in the 1970’s – 1980s, you may not know Soule’s name, but you certainly know his voice.  Soule was the voice of Batman in every incarnation of the Superfriends until Adam West himself took over the part for the Super Powers show.  Every time anyone does a cartoon parody of Batman, they are trying to get Soule’s voice just right.  Until Kevin Conroy, if you heard the voice of Batman in your head, there was a good chance the default voice was that of Olan Soule.

6.  Lewis Wilson

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Have you ever heard the story about the Batman television show being the result of a party at the Playboy mansion?  Hefner, and a lot of women that you probably could not date even now, strung together old Batman serials.  When Hef has an idea, network executives tend to use it.  Voila, the 1960’s Batman show was born!  The question then becomes “how did they get those serials in the first place?”  The answer would be the serials starring Lewis Wilson.  They were done in 1943, only four years after Batman was created.  Lewis Wilson was the first cinematic Batman.

5.  Michael Keaton

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When the casting was first announced in the late-1980s of Michael Keaton as Batman, the question became “how can that pimply comedian from Beetlejuice do Batman?”  The film was awesome, and went on to gross a quarter of a billion dollars domestically.  However, the fact that Michael Keaton was able to make you convincingly believe “I’m Batman…” does not mean Keaton was the greatest Batman.  It simply means that Tim Burton did not make a disastrous casting decision.  It also begs the question of what would have happened if Burton went with young Edward Scissorhands star, Johnny Depp.  Any series of films where you are consistently overshadowed by your villains may get you top five, but will not get you any higher.

4.  Adam West

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For many people to this day, there will never be any Batman other than Adam West.  Others see the show as a campy relic from the 1960s.  Part of the reason why you see the show in that way, is that Adam West is more than willing to parody his own image.  West did Batman in both live action and animated forms, and parodies him with Catman on The Fairly Oddparents.  Adam West did not let himself become a joke.  Instead, he retold the joke, and always kept in front of the punch line. He continues to do so to this day.

3.  Val Kilmer

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Val Kilmer.  Yes, Val Kilmer in Batman Forever played the best live action version of Batman up to that time.  When Kilmer told Chris O’Donnell’s Dick Grayson, “I can stop you,” he convincingly let the audience know that Bruce Wayne was Batman any time Bruce Wayne wanted to be.  Kilmer’s Batman had a sense of aloofness, menace, and sexuality.  Kilmer was handsome enough to Bruce Wayne, and tortured enough to be Batman.  It is truly a shame that Kilmer and Joel Schumacher could not manage to get along longer than they did.

2.  Christian Bale

Christian-Bale

Yes, the current incarnation of Batman directed by Christopher Nolan makes it all the way up the list to number two.  Yes, there is a Batman out there who is better.  Amazingly, the movie that probably propelled  the current Batman/Dark Knight series to its present heights, is the 2000 film American Psycho.  Watch American Psycho again, and you will see Bruce Wayne willing to use a chainsaw.  Bale and Nolan also further enhanced their partnership with The Prestige.  Bale exudes the cool insanity, and dangerous need, to pull off Batman.  You can also tell that Bale is used to, as well comfortable with, wealth.  As casting goes, choosing possibly the greatest actor of his generation is always inspired.

1.  Kevin Conroy

Kevin-Conroy

Let’s review.  From Batman: The Animated Series, to the present day, no one has played Batman more times than Kevin Conroy.  Also (even though it was animation and video games) no one has played Batman any better than Conroy.  He can give you the darkest of Batman’s pathos, as well as some surprisingly lighter moments.  After twenty years, when Batman is needed, the call goes to Kevin Conroy.  No one answers the Bat-Signal better.

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Written By Jim Ciscell


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22 Comments

    • I felt like the reason for the clip is that before the note, there is clearly Bruce Wayne. Wayne is happy relaxed… etc. Aftter the note, the voice is clearly that of Batman even though he is not wearing the cowl. It is the subtlety of Conroy interacting with the animators that goes directly from the Wayne to Batman simply after a crumpling sound. Everything about the voice changes. Now there were a couple of clips that I could not find that I felt would have been great. Personally, the speech at the end of A Silicone Soul or the House Garden episode in which Poison Ivy has the mostly synthetic family would have been great as well.

  1. I am sorry but in my opinion, Michael Keaton was terrible as Batman. In my view, he was completely unbelievable in the role. Jack Nicholson was great The Joker but Michael Keaton missed the mark as Batman. As a child of the 60s, I believe the best Batman was Adam West — period.

    • Michael Keaton was a serviceable Batman. In my heart, Adam West will always be Batman. Batman was one of my Dad’s favorite shows and was also the show that I grew up on. I have a signed VHS tape directly from Adam West. On the West /Keaton debate, West wins for me as well. Up until 1992, West would have been number one on the list. The protrayals by Kilmer, Bale, and Conroy have surpassed West as far what Batman is, however not in my heart. Sometimes it is hard to make objective decisions on these things. I also felt like the 1989 movie would have done a lot better being titled ‘Joker’

    • Complete disagreement. This movie came out nearly 25 years ago and, even compared to the newer version, STILL holds weight due to the strength of the cast’s performances, and Keaton was a big part of that, even if he was overshadowed by the brilliance of Jack’s Joker.

      See, Keaton was alluding to the older, 1938 Batman while having the edge of frank Miller’s Dark Knight, which was the pervading Batman of the time. I’ll agree, Keaton didn’t really have the body to pull of the superhero….but THAT’S what made the portrayal so impressive! Given the limitations of the suit in terms of movement and size, Keaton made the very PRESENCE of Batman a real, tangible thing, while separating the suave, smart, decent, occasionally funny Bruce Wayne into a whole other character. Even with that, in his time alone in the cave, in the ( without a SINGLE LINE, mind you) scenes where he showed his grief over his parent’s deaths, in his serious approach to fighting crime…

      Keaton was as good at being Batman silently as Conroy was at playing Batman with a voice ALONE!

      Micheal’s Batman was dark, impossibly imposing, and powerful without being sinister. The romances between him and both damsel in distress Viki Vale —warm, comforting, balanced—- AND (especially) fierce she-lion Selina Kyle—-passionate, flirtatious, and a little deranged— was so well-played by the actors one could recognize the human dynamic in it; honestly, Val’s was a little too timid in some pieces, and humorously sexually frustrated in others, while only I only JUST got something meatier from Bale’s interaction with Hathaway in the last film. With this balance of character (“Split….right down the center”) It’s no wonder Conroy took a little bit of inspiration from Keaton’s Batman.

      His size aside—yeah, in truth, dude was short—- Keaton had the LOOK of Bruce Wayne and the Fiercness of Batman when he was behind the mask; Val was too much the “kinder, gentler” Batman; Bale is all repressed rage (Brilliantly played, mind you, but the whole “Do I look like the Police to You!” attitude speaks more to vigilante than World’s Darkest detective). As a kick ass batman, yeah, NO QUESTION, Bale tops the list, but given the limitations, I found Keaton’s action more interesting to watch on screen.

      Finally, Keaton;s separation of characters via mannerisms and voice were subtle, but thus stronger than Bale’s (it didn;t look like he was trying to HIDE who he was, as much as BEING two separate people). And honestly—I NEVER liked Bale’s interpretation of Batman’s voice. Keaton did it better, Conway did it WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY better, and Kilmer’s was almost non-existent. Then again, it’s two different Batmen for two different times; where as in the 80s you could get away with the less-defined mystery behind Keaton’s batman, in THIS TIME, you would NEED to be a bit of a Psycho in order to hunt down criminals in Bale’s Gotham with the driven fanaticism he showed.

      Also, against THAT Batman, Jack’s joker, which was more pun-spewing calculating Crime Boss showman, would be WAY less of a threat than Heath’s Anarchist with 0 regard for life and twisted self-hate issues Joker.

      I say the 89 movie is still a wonderful piece of cinema, and thank heaven it was Keaton behind the mask. His portrayal deserves at LEAST a 4th place, maybe 3rd.

    • There is a lot wrong with Val Kilmer, mostly as a human being. He is not someone that I or Joel Schumacher (for that matter) would invite to dinner. However, for one movie Kilmer did nail the role and provide a bluepring for how Bale would do the role later. Kilmer was a believable Wayne and a believable Batman. Kilmer brought an acting talent to the role. You could see the exploration of a dual personality in the role that you would not see again until Bale. Kilmer made you believe that he was a handsome billionair scientist. He also made you believe that Batman was a bit of a bad human being. Overall, the package was more than Keaton/West and less than Bale/Conroy.

      • I agee, I thought the top-5 was spot on perfect! IMO, Kilmer was the most believable Bruce/Batman combination ever seen at the time. The movie suffered a lot from a terrible script & campy directing, but Kilmer did what he could with the role he was given. I don’t know if he would have been better or worse than Bale in the current films, though I think he could have been just as good.

  2. I liked the Michael Keaton version the best. IMO. I have never seen or heard the Kevin Conroy version. So i cant compare that. But the rest of the group fall behind Keaton’s coolness to me.

    • I loved the Batman 1989 movie. I wore the t-shirts. I can quote the movie. I owned it on VHS. I saw it in the theaters. At the time, I thought it was one of the greatest movies ever created. Also, at the time, I thought Adam West was a better Batman. Keaton did a great job, however looking back at it I don’t even think that Keaton was Burton’s best option. Even at the time, imagine a 25 year old Johnny Depp in the role. I believe it would have actually been more iconic than Keaton’s.

  3. Great list. Completely agree with numbers 5 to 1, although Keaton and Kilmer for me are always interchangeable. But that’s just me.

    I’m still debating in my mind who played the worst Batman: Clooney or Bader. Although in fairness to Bader, his voice is good, but whenever I hear it, I can’t help but see his moronic sitcom characters. That kinda ruined Batman The Brave and the Bold for me.

  4. The names on this list were already stupid, but you compounded it even more by putting Val Kilmer ahead of Michael Keaton. Frankly, I haven’t been able to watch any of the Batman movies since they replaced Micahel Keaton. He was the best to play Batman.

  5. I don’t entirely agree with your list (or at least where you placed a couple people), but I think overall it is a very awesome one. You covered different eras and mediums and you especially nailed number one. Conroy is the greatest Batman ever, there will never be anyone better. He has forever left his mark on the character and in the best possible way.

    • I have a lot of love for Batman as well as for the individual actors so a lot of thought was put into it. I was not a fan of the 1940s follow up actually called Batman and Robin which used a different actor. I also feel that even Clooney should not feel he deserved inclusion in the list. Ironically, the 1990s Batman and Robin is my children’s favorite and they were in disbelief that Clooney did not make the list. West was my Dad’s favorite Batman and the one I grew up with. I was a bit surprised over all of the support for Keaton being higher than 5th. Just where he seemed to land. Kilmer was simply a better overall package as both Wayne and Batman. I loved Keaton’s portrayal of Batman and Keaton certainly maximized what he had in the role. However, I felt like what he had was never really Batman or Bruce Wayne. That makes what he did all the more admirable but does not make it the best. Thanks for all the kind words and the enlightening criticism.

  6. Adam West better than Michael Keaton? You should be punched in the face for that. Doing a voice over isnt “playing” (acting)

  7. how did val kilmer get so high on this list, i mean he put nothing what so ever into the role, you couldve replaced him with a piece of cardboard i mean he put absolutely no emotion into the role, i mean i know batman can be quite cold but damn

    although agree with christian bale and kevin conroy being in the top two although probably wouldve put christian bale at number one cause as great as kevin conroy is he only lends his voice while bale has to actually be batman through every part of his body which is a lot harder but i think he still nailed it

  8. I was praying that Kevin Conroy would be somewhere on this list and when I got to number two I was like “he’s gotta be number one.” Sure enough I kept reading with a smile on my face.

  9. Mom Fears My Music on

    This list is perfect. I agree with every entry and every position. Adam West IS better than Michael Keaton. Val Kilmer WAS a good Wayne/Batman. And Kevin Conroy is the dark knight incarnate. Love this list. Love it, love it, love it.

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