Top 7 Best Batman Performances!


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.

20 thoughts on “Top 7 Best Batman Performances!

  1. Its hard to argue Conroy because like you said, he has been batman in so many things. But its hard to put just the voice of batman over someone who not only has to voice, but appear as the Dark Knight himself. Uhg, im glad you did this list, I dont think I could ever put them in order. A fantastic read though, thanks!

  2. I can’t argue with this list. Conroy is my Batman. I never saw Brave and the Bold or the 1966 show, so I can’t agree or disagree with those.

    I look forward to what Ben Affleck does with Batman as well.

    1. Ben is going to surprise us and may be the next best thing for the franchise since casting Heath as the Joker.

  3. I would put Keaton at 2 or 3, nobody beats Conroy. Conroy and Hamill are both great in the animated series and the games.

  4. I’d put Bale a bit higher. I always liked his bat-growl. Also, Aquaman is the best part of the Brave and the Bold. The Rousing Song of Heroism is the best.

  5. Peter Weller put it down as aging Batman and the dark knight returns is my favorite batman film of all time! It makes all other DC Animated films seem just kinda average in comperison. The score by composer Christopher Drake really is what made this film and the above mentioned Weller.

  6. Henry,

    I apologize for taking this list too seriously but I have to argue with Will Arnett before Christian Bale. In your own words it’s the most “complete” performance. Bale brings depth to Bruce Wayne and Batman equally,and that’s only rivaled by Conroy. Right now it seems, because of every other film being “dark & gritty” the Dark Knight trilogy is the uncool pick. Hank, be on the right side of history. Bale’s performance does the most justice to the character and it’s campy in it’s own right – “nice coat”.

    Now this is a long shot but I hope one day Bale’s batman voice will be remarked for being campy and in-character on the side trajectory as the new found embracing of West’s Batman 66.

    1. I’d say Bale definitely deserves the #2 spot behind Kevin Conroy.

      TO CLARIFY I’m DEFINITELY NOT saying Henry is in this boat, but I feel like ranting about it anyway. It’s very stupid that Bale has been getting a lot of flack lately, especially from DCCU fanboys who have been saying Affleck will make Bale look like George Clooney. I understand that we shouldn’t always shit on a movie or performance before the film is actually out (I have hope for Affleck), but the idea that he is suddenly Batman God Tier is ridiculous, and even if he ends up being great that doesn’t devalue Bale’s performance in the slightest. /rant over

  7. While I have to disagree with Will Arnett completely, I’m happy with the acknowledgement of Diedrich Bader in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. I was worried the LT team didn’t know about it, and I’ve got a quote from Brett stuck in my head about “Batman The Animated Series is the only great Batman cartoon series”. Brave & The Bold’s fantastic, and Bader is superb in the role. Just watch the episode ‘Chill of the Night’ if you’re worried it’s too kiddy. It’s basically the team saying “right, screw you hater fanboys, we’re going to do a BTAS episode and make it better than anything that series ever did”… and did. With Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy.

    And I’m a complete convert to the ’60s series now. I thought it was campy nonsense, but instead it’s highly faithful to the ’60s era comics to the extent that they even adapted stories from the comics of the time. Plus they’re always in on the joke.

    I just got to the first Mr Freeze – holy s**t. A) I had no idea Freeze was German in the show, making Arnold Schwarzenegger’s casting make more sense, and B) before the Animated Series Freeze wasn’t a figure of tragedy, and yet the ’60s series actually makes him tragic! The campy fun don’t-take-this-seriously parody of Batman is the first instance of sympathy for Mr Freeze! I don’t get why he loves baseball, but still!

  8. I still think Keaton is a pretty terrible Batman/ Bruce Wayne. He’s a phenomenal actor, but the characterization of Bruce Wayne is so eclectic that one moment it seems like Burton wants him to be neurotic in a quirky-funny way, but at other times he just comes off as a psycho. It’s kind of reminiscent of ASM2 Peter, where his actions and emotions are never consistent enough to know who he is. At least Kilmer is very clearly a brooding Bruce Wayne who uses his wealth and charity in meaningful pursuits, rather than as a cover story (for instance, he takes an active role in running Wayne Enterprises). Then again I’d rather watch Batman Forever over Batman 89 or Returns any day of the week.

    Again, I love Keaton and all, but I despise those Burton Batman movies and Keaton himself was not a diamond in the rough thanks to bad writing and Burton not understanding the character.

    Not trying to pick at Henry or anything, I like that the Top 7s are back and this was an enjoyable (and surprising) read.

  9. Kevin Conroy is my #1 by far. I grew up in the Conroy era, when Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, various animated movies and Batman games were preeminent.

    Christian Bale has to be my #2 overall. His role helped bring Batman back to prominence on the big screen. I just wish The Dark Knight RIses wasn’t such a weak follow up to The Dark Knight. My opinion of course, but something about it felt off.

    #3 is Adam West. He was the first man to bring Batman to the masses in a meaningful way and if not for him I’m not sure if the Batman franchise would exist now.

    #4 is Michael Keaton mostly because of nostalgia. I LOVED Batman and Batman Returns when I was younger, but they don’t hold up as well. Though, I still consider them the two strongest Batman movies before the Christopher Nolan trilogy existed.

    #5 Would be a tie between Diedrich Bader and Rino Romano. I found both of their performances great and both shows were different takes on the current Batman. I’m curious what Henry’s opinion is on “The Batman”, since it was the only show I didn’t see him mention in this article.

    1. Since this is a Top 7 I think I’ll follow suit and try to come up with two more :P.

      #6 Val Kilmer just because he did a good job as a follow up to Michael Keaton.

      #7 James Woods. A bit of a cheat because he didn’t actually play Batman, but his portrayal as an alternate universe Batman named Owlman, in the animated film Justice League: Crisis, was great.

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