It has been officially confirmed that Robert Pattinson is the newest Caped Crusader in the 2021 film The Batman, joining an elite club of Hollywood hunks who have donned the mask before him. But will Pattinson be able to rise to the challenge? Who’s to say—especially someone whose Batman knowledge is limited to The Dark Knight, and whose bias leans toward indie arthouse darlings with chiseled jawlines. Nevertheless, this writer rose to a challenge even greater than taking on one of the most iconic superheroes of all time: ranking all the prior Batmans, from most least good to probably very good, based solely on YouTube clips. As one of the Batmans probably said in one of the Batman movies I’ve never seen, “The night is dark and full of bats, old man, but the fire burns them all away.”
9. GEORGE CLOONEY, BATMAN & ROBIN (1997)
It was not until taking upon this endeavor that I became aware that George Clooney—Danny Ocean, silver fox, husband to Amal—was once a man of the bats himself. Batman & Robin is known, according to some thoroughly-researched listicles, as the worst Batman movie ever, and even Clooney himself admitted he “wasn’t good in it.” It’s true, he wasn’t; I honestly couldn’t even make it through this clip from the film involving fake ice and dinosaurs (?) Nevertheless, we must give Clooney credit for proving that some human beings can’t be good at everything, and that some Oscars does not a Batman make.
8. BEN AFFLECK, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), SUICIDE SQUAD (2016), and JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)
In the long tradition of established actors admitting they were bad at playing Batman, Ben Affleck, our most recent Batman, said he “couldn’t crack it.” I would venture to agree, though whichever guy is doing his stunts in this fight scene did a pretty good job at clearing out the room. Somehow, his distorted voice in this compilation titled “Ben Affleck Batman Voice” lacks the guttural sex appeal that Batman must possess. Even Will Arnett’s Lego Batman sounds more inviting—and believable. (But we’ll get to that.)
7. LEWIS G. WILSON, BATMAN (1943)
The first and youngest ever actor to play Batman, Lewis G. Wilson seems to be having a bit of a tough time pulling off stunts like climbing onto the window. Then again, this was before CGI and probably stunt doubles, so it’s probably unfair to even include him in this list. According to Den of Geek, “While he looked the part of the dashing playboy, his physique was more Danny DeVito as the Penguin. One critic described Wilson as ‘thick about the middle.’ Maybe that was why he wore his utility belt just below his chest.” Ouch! Critics also reportedly complained that his voice was too high and that he had a Boston accent, which, well, wouldn’t be the last time that was the case. For withstanding such cutting burns and trailblazing the path for Batmans ahead, we salute you, Lewis G. Wilson. Also, the clip I watched opened with the song “R.I.P.” by Migos and a picture of basketball player Stephen Curry next to a subscribe button before launching into the black-and-white film, so I’ve been thoroughly entertained.
6. ROBERT LOWERY, BATMAN & ROBIN (1949)
Lowery’s train-riding scene is as epic as it is fake, and for that, he is a classic Batman.
5. VAL KILMER, BATMAN FOREVER (1995)
Val Kilmer’s Batman sounds vaguely Trumpy in this intro clip, which centers on the Batmobile before the music halts and he says, “I’ll get drive-through.” This film seems to me the corniest of the bunch, but I can’t deny that watching Nicole Kidman feel up Kilmer’s bat pecs is an utter delight. Kilmer nails the vaguely misogynistic braggadocio endemic to this character, and for that, he must be commended.
4. ADAM WEST, BATMAN (1966), BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS (2016), BATMAN VS TWO-FACE (2017)
The late Adam West played Batman in the 1966 TV series and film, and returned for later spin-offs. This clip is a delightful compilation of vintage superhero high camp, with West capturing some of the joy that has been drained of such self-serious later adaptations. (As the Joker would say, “Why so serious?”) When West takes off the mask to embody Bruce Wayne, he dolls out such lines as “Should we give this matter further consideration over dinner tonight?” with butter-smooth delivery with the backdrop of some house jazz. Plus, he’s really good at multi-tasking. Who needs fake pecs when you have the pick-up artistry of Don Draper coupled with a non-profit worker’s save-the-world determination?
3. MICHAEL KEATON, BATMAN (1989), BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
In this clip, Michael Keaton violates the cardinal rule of male existence by asking Kim Basinger how much she weighs—which is totally something Batman would do. He also punches the chattering teeth out of Jack Nicholson as the Joker’s mouth, and who doesn’t get the heebie-jeebies from a cackling Jack Nicholson? I should probably sit down and watch this movie in full at some point.
2. WILL ARNETT, THE LEGO MOVIE (2014), THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017)
While these films technically aren’t Batman films, and Will Arnett doesn’t technically appear as Batman in full suit and mask, we at Interview have never been some for technicalities. Leaving Will Arnett off this list would be a true travesty, as he uses his signature husky droll to allow Batman’s inner comedic genius to shine. When his girlfriend introduces Batman as her boyfriend, he says “I’m Batman,” adding that they should hold their LEGO “hands” before crashing their LEGO vehicle into the sun. Also, apparently Arnett uses his Batman voice to order Chinese food. If I didn’t anticipate that I would get buckets of internet hate for it, I would probably put Arnett in the number one slot. Alas.
1. CHRISTIAN BALE, BATMAN BEGINS (2005), THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
Nevertheless, Christian Bale is the quintessential Batman to me, a very biased Batman consumer who can count The Dark Knight as the only Batman film ever seen in full. And yet, I would argue, one need not watch any other Batman film to understand why Bale fits the role like a spandex-tight bat suit. Not only does Bale possess a jawline that can cut the entire glass skyline of downtown Gotham—a crucial quality, indeed—but he embodies, as with his other roles, the charismatic douchebaggery of the dual character. Indeed, the name Batman is only a letter away from “Bateman,” the protagonist of 2000’s American Psycho who also too much money, unresolved childhood trauma, delights in scaring people, and suffers no legal consequences for his use of violence. That, and he’s annoyingly hot.