We're living in a time when superhero content is being churned out at an unprecedented rate, but few characters are able to whip up excitement among fans quite like The Batman.


By now, everyone knows the story of how billionaire Bruce Wayne was orphaned as a child, leading him to wage a one-man war on crime in his adult years, centred around the dangerous and corrupt city of Gotham.

In total, nine actors have portrayed Batman in films given a full cinematic release, with the tone varying wildly depending on their individual performances and the filmmakers they're paired up with.

The character's adventures started out camp and comedic in tone with 1966's Batman starring Adam West, a style which was briefly revisited in the late '90s under director Joel Schumacher.

However, it has since become clear that audiences prefer their Batman stories to be dark and gritty, with the three most recent live-action movies sticking closely to the blueprint laid out by director Christopher Nolan and his star, Christian Bale.

The future of Batman on the big screen is looking bright, with two distinct versions of the character set to co-exist in DC Comics blockbusters from Warner Bros.

On the one hand, viewers can look forward to more from Robert Pattinson's brooding, tortured Bruce Wayne, who is confirmed to be returning in an untitled sequel to this last year's mega-hit The Batman.

Meanwhile, in a surprise move, Michael Keaton is returning to portray his version of the Dark Knight – who hasn't been seen since 1992's Batman Returns – in at least two new blockbusters set in the DC Extended Universe: The Flash and Batgirl.

The former movie is also expected to feature a brief reprisal for Ben Affleck's Batman, who fans quickly warmed to after initial casting outrage passed, but seemingly won't play a major role in future DC projects.

In anticipation of everything still to come, we're offering an overview of every Batman actor to play the character in a cinematically released film, as well as our official ranking from worst to best of each version of the character.

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All the Batman actors in film order

Robert Pattinson and Jeffrey Wright in The Batman
Warner Bros / Jonathan Olley / DC Comics

Nine actors have played Batman on the big screen since the 1960s. Here's the complete list of Batman actors, organised according to the start of their tenure in the role:

  • Adam West – Batman (1966)
  • Michael Keaton – Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)
  • Kevin Conroy – Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
  • Val Kilmer – Batman Forever (1995)
  • George Clooney – Batman & Robin (1997)
  • Christian Bale – Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  • Ben Affleck – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Suicide Squad (2016), Justice League (2017), Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
  • Will Arnett – The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
  • Robert Pattinson – The Batman (2022)

Of this group, West is the only one to have also played Batman in live-action on television (in the show which directly preceded the movie), although archive footage of Michael Keaton's Batman is used in the short-lived 2002 series Birds of Prey.

Conroy went on to reprise the role in numerous television shows, straight-to-DVD movies and video games, including fan-favourites Batman: The Animated Series and the Arkham trilogy.

Other actors to play Bruce Wayne include David Mazouz (Gotham), Iain Glen (Titans) and Warren Christie (Batwoman), while Dante Pereira-Olson portrayed the character as a child in 2019's Joker.

All the Batman actors: ranked

George Clooney

George Clooney plays Batman in Batman & Robin
George Clooney plays Batman in Batman & Robin SEAC

You probably saw this one coming. Joel Schumacher's 1997 flop Batman & Robin remains infamous among comic book fans for its stunning butchery of the source material, which repulsed audiences to such an extent that the entire franchise was canned for almost a decade. In the centre of this storm was then-rising star George Clooney, who had been garnering plenty of buzz around Hollywood from his performance on medical drama ER and early film projects.

Clooney was unquestionably miscast in this role, likely because executives were still figuring out where his considerable acting talent is best put to use. In the end, he crafted an extremely successful career primarily from dramas, thrillers and comedies, rather than becoming the action star that perhaps some expected at the time. Clooney himself has been first to poke fun at this early misstep, telling Howard Stern it "physically hurts" him to go back and watch it.

Val Kilmer

Val Kilmer plays Batman in Batman Forever
Val Kilmer plays Batman in Batman Forever SEAC

It's easy to forget that Top Gun: Maverick star Val Kilmer donned the cape and cowl for 1995's Batman Forever, taking the reins from an outgoing Michael Keaton. That's partly because the film itself was a critical dud, best remembered for a behind-the-scenes feud which ended with Tommy Lee Jones telling Jim Carrey: "I cannot sanction your buffoonery." Never has there been a more savage putdown.

But with all due respect to Kilmer, another big reason is that his take on Bruce Wayne is just a bit dull. If Clooney's Batman cheesed it up far too much, this version goes in the polar opposite direction, being so stoic and flat as to detract any palpable chemistry from his co-stars. Kilmer would later admit that he had little interest in the character, hence why he never reprised the role, and that lack of enthusiasm is sadly visible on-screen.

Adam West

Adam West in Batman (1966)
Adam West in Batman (1966) SEAC

A spin-off from the television series of the same name, Adam West's distinct take on Batman still holds a fond place in the heart of viewers around the world. Why is he celebrated for what Clooney is lambasted for? Well, for starters, this series came out during the height of the Comics Code Authority, a regulatory body that greatly restricted what comic book writers could include in their stories. Therefore, at the time, Batman was a somewhat lighter character even on the printed page.

In this sense, this Batman film and preceding television series encapsulate this era of the character, with West's portrayal of the vigilante being a perfect fit with the absurd plotting. It also helps that, in a far cry from both Kilmer and Clooney, West seemed to have a genuine passion for the role. He returned to voice the caped crusader in several animated projects throughout his career, with the last being 2017's Batman vs Two Face, which was released posthumously.

Will Arnett

The Lego Batman Movie
Will Arnett lends his voice to The Lego Batman Movie SEAC

The dulcet tones of US comedy star Will Arnett proved a perfect fit for the supporting role of Batman in 2014's The Lego Movie, but few could have expected just how well he would fare in a solo spin-off. As it stands, The Lego Batman Movie is right behind The Dark Knight on the list of most acclaimed films starring Gotham City's resident hero, with critics wooed by its sharp sense of humour and star-studded voice cast.

While the success of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy means we're unlikely to ever move away from "dark and gritty" Batman in live-action, it's refreshing to see this family friendly take lean into the zanier aspects of the character. Arnett does a stellar job in the lead role, retaining the faultless comic delivery he previously demonstrated on the likes of Arrested Development, while staying true to the spirit of the character.

Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton as Batman
Michael Keaton in Batman (1989) SEAC

Three decades on, Michael Keaton's first appearance in the Batsuit can still be considered a huge watershed moment in DC Comics history. Up to this point, West's campy take on the character was still best known to the general public, so Tim Burton's gothic reinvention seemed truly radical at the time – even if it was only bringing the screen portrayal closer in line with the source material.

Keaton succeeded at both aspects of the role, proving compelling as socialite Bruce Wayne and suitably intimidating as nocturnal vigilante Batman. His performance has an edge to it that is echoed through modern counterparts Bale, Affleck and Pattinson, which is perhaps why Warner Bros have decided to bring him back for their upcoming slate of DC films. If Keaton's recent work is any indication, it's going to be an epic return.

Kevin Conroy

Kevin Conroy attends presser for Batman Beyond 20th Anniversary
Kevin Conroy attends presser for Batman Beyond 20th Anniversary Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

It's a shame that 1993's Mask of the Phantasm went widely unnoticed by movie-goers when it was hastily dropped into cinemas, as Kevin Conroy is one Batman actor who deserves more mainstream recognition. Of course, avid fans will be well aware of the voice performer's storied history with the caped crusader, but he remains largely unknown to the vast majority who don't consume DC's animated output.

Conroy began his tenure back in 1992 with Batman: The Animated Series, which was a mammoth hit that spawned a theatrical feature-length spin-off in Mask of the Phantasm. Over dozens of later appearances, he enthralled viewers with his distinct, subtle performances as both Bruce Wayne and The Batman, with many fans passionately arguing that he captures the essence of the character better than anyone else – even his live-action peers. If you're yet to hear Conroy in the role, fix that pronto.

Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman
Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman SEAC

When news broke that Ben Affleck would be taking over the role of Batman in Zack Snyder's DC Extended Universe, the internet almost imploded from the sheer amount of hate directed at the actor by toxic fans. That's why it will never stop being funny that those very same fans are now begging to have Affleck reinstated in the role, as Warner Bros looks to shift focus back to Keaton and newcomer Robert Pattinson.

Those with an open mind wouldn't have been surprised to see Affleck excel as Bruce Wayne and his caped alter-ego, given how the actor had spent years reforming his image as both a serious dramatic actor and an Oscar-winning director. Snyder's Batman v Superman and Justice League remain divisive topics of conversation among comic book aficionados, but Affleck is considered a bright spot in both – even if he might have benefitted from stronger material.

Robert Pattinson

Robert Pattinson in The Batman
Robert Pattinson in The Batman SEAC

After a few false starts, DC fans got their first solo Batman film in a decade earlier this year and it proved more than worth the wait. Though Robert Pattinson was subjected to similar disdain after his initial casting in the movie, a mid-pandemic teaser trailer quickly silenced haters and stoked up enthusiasm. The Batman is arguably the most faithful adaptation of the character's modern comic book stories to date, bringing both the vigilante himself and his home of Gotham City to life in vivid form.

Pattinson's traumatised take on Bruce Wayne makes even Bale's version look like a barrel of laughs, with the addition of an internal monologue giving viewers a deeper insight into his twisted psyche. The only thing missing from Reeves' dark crime thriller is the duality of Wayne's personality, given how he lacks the polished socialite persona that has proven a useful tool in the comic books. Surely, that will emerge in the now-confirmed sequel, at which point Pattinson could be bumped up to the top spot.

Christian Bale

Christian Bale plays Batman in The Dark Knight Rises
Christian Bale plays Batman in The Dark Knight Rises SEAC

For our money, Christian Bale remains the greatest Batman on the silver screen. He and superstar director Christopher Nolan refined the blueprint set out by Burton and Keaton years earlier, bringing the Dark Knight crashing down to earth with a powerful thud. While Batman has always been one of DC's most popular heroes, this screen incarnation captured the attention of viewers like none before it, propelling the character to record box office and even Oscar gold (for the late Heath Ledger).

There's still room for debate on Bale's overly husky Batman voice, but his presence in the suit was certainly formidable, while his epic journey as Bruce Wayne proved highly compelling. From his origins with the League of Assassins to his greatest loss and final test, the Dark Knight trilogy charts a satisfying arc with no shortage of exhilarating moments along the way. We stand by our readers' 2020 verdict: Christian Bale is the best screen Batman.


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