Forget King Lear or Uncle Vanya – the Dark Knight might be the hardest character to ever play, yet these guys make it seem easy!
Assume you’re a trained actor. You’ve been in front of cameras for years, you’ve studied your craft, transformed your body, occupied whole other existences. But, what happens when you’re then covered in head-to-toe rubber, or sat alone in front of a microphone, all to play a character more famous than Hamlet, Willy Loman, and Blanche Dubois combined. And you have to play this iconic person in a way that’s original, true to the character, AND will please both fans and the executives that oversee a billion-dollar franchise. That right there is the pressure of playing Batman.
Counting both live action, animation, and video games, dozens have played Batman in his 75 year history, but only a few have truly left their mark on Bruce Wayne’s legacy. Some, like Roger Craig Smith in Arkham Origins, do a serviceable job that doesn’t forge much new ground, while the first ever Batman on film, Lewis G. Wilson, seemed to have little clue what to do with Bats. Those are the performances you have to ignore on the way to determining who played the Dark Knight Detective better than anyone ever, and this narrows it down to the top 7 best. Starting with…
7. Michael Keaton
When Tim Burton’s interpretation of the Bat was about to come out, many doubted the character could be taken seriously by the mainstream. So many identified Bats with his jokey 1966 series, not an angry loner skulking in the shadows. And then Burton hired former comedian Michael Keaton, the star of Beetlejuice, to play Batman. It all seemed doomed from the start, yet Keaton found a way to play both Bruce and Bat as a complex character plagued by guilt, responsibility, and anger.
Ignoring Batman ’89’s many problems – Batman kills a dude, dopey lines, Jack Nicholson chewing every piece of scenery he could get his hands on – Keaton found something in Batman that hadn’t been embodied in live action before. He was a damaged person trying to make things right in a crazy world, and he was pretty angry about it too. He’s a grief stricken man, but this Bruce can also make a joke or at least pretend he’s having fun. He even struggles with telling his new girlfriend that he’s Batman. Keaton’s is an approachable hero, one who recognizes he’s fucked up, yet can’t get off the track he’s set himself on. Even with his inconsistencies, Keaton gets the honors on this list for adding a much needed sense of tragedy to the man.
6. Diedrich Bader
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy swung the pendulum so far toward “grim and gritty” that Batman really needed something lighthearted, especially for younger fans who maybe don’t need to see Maggie Gyllenhaal burned to death. That’s where the comedic, Silver Age-inspired Batman: The Brave and the Bold comes in, which cast comic actor Diedrich Bader as a lighthearted, fun, and self-aware Batman.
This Batman made jokes from time to time and could recognize that maybe it’s slightly silly to wear a blue cape and punch clowns in the face. But Bader’s Bats is still a badass crimefighter when he needs to be. Also, the premise of the show is a weekly team-up with other classic DC folks, and that gave Bader the rare Bat-opportunity to play off of other Justice Leaguers, and he handled that beautifully. One of his best scene partners has to be Aquaman, played by Bender himself, John Dimaggio. Just watch the some of the above scenes and try not to laugh.