Over 80 years of stories have made Batman one of the most enduring characters in pop culture history. In that time, the Dark Knight has also been the subject of more big-screen adaptations than any other superhero to date, starring in 11 live-action movies and counting. The Batman is the latest take on the character, with 2023’s The Flash set to bring back two other Caped Crusaders for a time-shattering adventure through the multiverse that will then lead into HBO Max’s Batgirl, where the Dark Knight will play a supporting role.
As much as we love seeing Batman in theaters, not all of these movies have been entirely successful. The same goes for the actors who’ve starred in these films. Every Batman fan has a favorite big-screen Dark Knight, one performer who they feel perfectly encapsulates all of the qualities that make the World’s Greatest Detective such a great character.
But who is the best live-action movie Batman of all time? The Den of Geek staff and you, the readers, have voted and the results are now in! But before we jump into our official ranking, a little housekeeping: to keep things tidy, we only considered those actors who have played Batman in live-action, full-length theatrical films. That means this ranking doesn’t include Lewis Wilson or Robert Lowery, stars of the Batman serials of the 1940s; TV Bruce Waynes played by Iain Glen and David Mazouz; or the animated character voiced by Kevin Conroy.
And here we go:
7. George Clooney
Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies still get a bad rap almost three decades later, often derided as two of the worst superhero films ever made. All that despite the fact that no other version of the Dark Knight’s story (besides Adam West’s Batman) has so brazenly adapted a key aspect of the character that’s been there since the late 1930s: the inherent campiness of the Caped Crusader’s world. Here’s this rich weirdo dressed in tights, carrying gadgets that are all named “Bat-something,” and we’re not allowed to poke a little fun? Or at least acknowledge that some of this is kind of silly?
It’s true that Batman & Robin isn’t a very good movie, and ’90s medical drama heartthrob George Clooney was a particularly uncharismatic Batman. He doesn’t look very comfortable delivering the groan-inducing lines meant to hammer home this Bat-comedy’s many gags, but Clooney’s performance also marks the last time an actor even attempted to take the road less traveled. Every leading man since Clooney has dove into the character’s dark side, focusing on Bruce’s scarred past and Batman’s inevitably doomed future. But Batman & Robin doesn’t really care about any of that. For one chilly night only, it’s a party in Gotham City and Clooney is the guest of honor. At the very least, Clooney’s turn is an interesting mess worth experiencing once in your life. – John Saavedra
6. Val Kilmer
Val Kilmer doesn’t like Batman Forever very much. He even called it “so bad it’s almost good” in his recent memoir. But that disposition probably existed well before he had hindsight to look back on the movie. The shame of Kilmer’s casting is that in the mid-‘90s, and after fantastic work in movies like Tombstone (1993) and The Doors (1993), he appeared preternaturally perfect for playboy Bruce Wayne. And that’s obviously what director Joel Schumacher was going for.
Yet even though Kilmer’s resistance toward the role is visible whenever he’s in the 80-pound rubber suit, the actor still works pretty well as a dashing, if somewhat bland, Golden Age era Bruce Wayne whenever he’s out of it. His chemistry with Nicole Kidman is strong enough in a cheesy ‘40s matinee sort of way, with their attempts to out-smolder each other overcoming groaners like “hot entrance” and “the Bat-Signal is not a beeper.” And his patronizing rapport with his adopted adult son Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) carries those scenes.
In the movie’s better moments, he is the classic two-dimensional Batman of yesteryear. But his resentment toward character undercuts the performance as much as the nipples on the suit. – David Crow
5. Ben Affleck
No Bat-actor on this list got a rawer deal than Ben Affleck. A casting choice initially (and wrongfully) derided by a raging fan community, who then played the role in two troubled productions, and finally saw his solo movie ambitions (which he was set to direct and co-write) go right down the bat-tubes, Affleck had a rough ride as the Dark Knight. Sure, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and it may have featured the most brutal (even murderous!) Caped Crusader ever put on screen. And yes, Justice League was a mess of studio interference and competing directorial visions. But you know what? None of that was his fault. In fact, on paper, Affleck had what it takes to potentially become the greatest Batman of them all.
It was a stroke of brilliance to cast Affleck as an older, more world-weary Bruce Wayne who had already done the bulk of his crime fighting career long before Superman made his debut in the Metropolis of Man of Steel. Affleck’s more mature Bruce is perfectly suited to being the figurehead of a multi-billion dollar corporation. And as for his Batman, he got in terrific, superhero-worthy shape for the role, too. Affleck brought the chin and the build of the Batman: The Animated Series version of the character to live action, and in Justice League demonstrated how he could temper the grim rage on display in Batman v Superman with a wry sense of humor. Maybe he would have gotten a chance to really grow into the role if things hadn’t gone south for this vision of the DCEU. Sadly, we’ll probably never find out. – Mike Cecchini
4. Adam West
Nobody has put in more hours in the cape and cowl than Adam West. And yet, he might be the most polarizing figure on this list. But he’s also the most misunderstood. While the camp of the 1966 Batman TV series (and theatrical film) may not be to the taste of much of the modern audience, there are two important factors to consider when evaluating West as both Wayne and the Caped Crusader. The first, and perhaps most important, is that West absolutely understood the assignment. Batman was always intended as a comedy. An amplified send-up of superhero and comic book tropes of the time, and a countercultural nose-thumbing at authority. With that in mind, everything from West’s halting, deadpan delivery to the more outrageous moments like dancing the “Batusi” make much more sense. It takes a special kind of actor to know how to play that role completely straight in the face of all the surreal weirdness happening in every scene.
But here’s the other thing to consider. West would have been an equally effective Batman and Bruce Wayne if he had been contracted to play the character in a more traditional crime/adventure show or movie. Take a look at the Batman-adjacent Green Hornet TV series of the same era which starred Van Williams and Bruce Lee and was a comparatively serious take on masked crime fighting. It’s just as easy to imagine the tall, handsome, athletic West playing Batman in a version of the show that was a little less “Caped Crusader” and a little more “Dark Knight.” – MC
3. Robert Pattinson
Not since Michael Keaton has a Batman been this delightfully freakish. Robert Pattinson leans all the way into the weirder side of the Dark Knight, giving us the first version of the character in a long time that truly feels more comfortable behind the mask than as a billionaire playboy. Absent from Pattinson’s performance is any semblance of the smooth-talking charm of past Bruce Waynes. In fact, the Bruce part of his identity barely even registers. Even without the cowl, Pattinson treats us to the makeup-smeared face of a man who’s always having a Very Bad Day, no matter how many cathartic beatings he hands out at night. As director Matt Reeves intended, Pattinson brings to life a self-destructive Bruce who’s addicted to being Batman.
When the sun does finally go down in Gotham City, you’ll find few other actors on this list who can actually pull off a take on the vigilante that feels genuinely scary, especially in The Batman‘s opening minutes when the Bat-Signal in the sky has nervous criminals looking over their shoulders for the Boogeyman. Pattinson displays impressive physicality during his fight scenes too. He’s arguably the best brawler of the bunch.
Considering the actor is only one film in, it’s too early to give a final verdict on the Pattinson era of Batman. But his debut has us very excited to see what he might do next with the character. – JS
2. Michael Keaton (READER’S CHOICE)
When Michael Keaton first popped on the Batsuit, the on-screen blueprint for the Dark Knight, wasn’t especially, well, dark. Adam West had owned the role in the public consciousness since the ‘60s, which for Keaton was a blessing and a curse. When he was announced in the role, comic book fans went nuts, thinking he’d be another campy version of the character, since he was best known for comedies at the time. But that wasn’t the film he and director Tim Burton were making at all.
The collaboration between Keaton and Burton for Batman and Batman Returns was magnificent. Keaton was cast for his every man quality but also his slightly unhinged side — which helped fans and newcomers to understand why this billionaire industrialist also liked to dress up as a bat, cape and all. The actor is funny, but not camp. He’s strong and delivers the action elements in spades, but remains a plausible human. When he puts on the suit, he’s epic and larger than life. But when he’s Bruce Wayne, he’s flawed, tired, dutiful, yes dark, but also charming. He’s a Batman who truly makes you understand why he would want to put on a weird suit to fight crime in the first place. Keaton’s Batman also has empathy for his villains, sees himself in them (Burton’s films have excellent baddies played by a terrific cast, which doesn’t hurt). And his romance with Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is electric. Meow, indeed.
Keaton is the benchmark Batman. And all reinventions since have had big cowls to fill. – Rosie Fletcher
1. Christian Bale
Christian Bale never played a 1:1 approximation of the comic book Batman. He and Christopher Nolan were chasing different ghosts—such as imagining what it might actually look like to age and wither beneath the cowl. For some fans, that’s a dealbreaker, but in truth, it was just a new innovation added to what is still the best cinematic distillation of this character and his mythology on-screen.
Whereas most of the other great live-action Batmans tend to lean into the character’s weirdness, Bale and Nolan find in a finite setting the best articulation of his heroism and wounded aspirations. There’s a ferocity as great as Keaton or Pattinson to the character whenever he dons the mask and gets into character. But the construct of Batman is a way for Bale’s interpretation to channel that trauma, as opposed to wallow in it. And behind all that rage and voice modulation, there remains those haunted eyes, windows into a soul that’ll give its last breath not to feed a psychosis, but to save a city.
The performance is still the best representation of the “playboy” facade, but Bale also reveals Bruce’s better angels, from his bond with Alfred to his camaraderie with Gordon and Dent. And at the end of the day, it’s not his brooding melancholy which defines him but his noble determination. Thus the sorrow is all the greater when he stands in the ruins of his father’s house or as he stares up from the bottom of a pit; and the reclamation he finds is all the more satisfying after he climbs out. This is the first Batman audiences were more happy to see out of the cape than in it by trilogy’s end. – DC