Everyone has a favorite Batman. More accurately, everyone has a preference between Michael Keaton and Christian Bale. But a new actor will be appearing as Batman this week in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Does Ben Affleck have a chance at becoming your new favorite Batman? That will be much clearer after we all get a chance to actually see the movie.
Keaton and Bale weren’t the only Batmen before Affleck though. They’re just clearly the best two so far. But there have been a number of other guys to put on the cape and cowl. Who are they? how were they as Batman, and what has their career been like outside of Batman? Let’s start with a wild card.
Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Arkham Series
Yes it’s animation, but it still counts. Conroy has been voicing Batman and Bruce Wayne in animated TV shows, movies, and video games for almost 30 years. And he’s done a great job. No, he’s not the first person you think of when you think Batman, but he has to be mentioned.
This incarnation of Batman is known for its absolute cheesiness. It’s fun to watch just how bad this old TV show was for a few episodes but then it just gets sad. Adam West does not make for a very imposing Batman. He’s had a great run as himself on Family Guy, playing himself as the crazy mayor.
Batman, Batman Returns
After a long absence, Batman returned to prominence in Tim Burton’s Batman and its sequel Batman Returns. Burton would hire the star of his last movie, Michael Keaton, to play the superhero. A strange choice at the time as Keaton was known for comedies like Night Shift, Mr. Mom, and Burton’s Beetlejuice. But Keaton really nailed the loner genius aspect of Bruce Wayne and made for a nice Batman.
After Keaton left the series, he had a lackluster couple of decades but he’s now starred in the last two Best Picture winners, 2014’s Birdman and 2015’s Spotlight. I think he’s doing alright without Batman.
Keaton and director Tim Burton would leave the franchise after Batman Returns but Hollywood wasn’t done with Batman. They replaced Keaton with Val Kilmer, a young actor who wan’t quite A-List yet. Before Batman Forever he was best known as Iceman in Top Gun, Jim Morrison in The Doors, and Doc Holliday in Tombstone. He had hoped adding Batman to his resume would make him a star.
Kilmer wasn’t bad in the role but the movie had a ton of problems. Kilmer decided not to return for the sequel and director Joel Schumacher didn’t want him back. After playing Batman, Kilmer’s career wouldn’t really go anywhere. Although I will never not laugh at his performance in MacGruber.
Batman & Robin
Another 90’s Batman movie, another Batman. This time they hired TV actor George Clooney to play Batman. Interesting decision to hire a guy whose only movie credits were a small romantic comedy and a little watched Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino collaboration. Did it work? The movie is one of the worst things ever made but it still made money. But it was so bad they canceled a potential sequel.
So Clooney’s career never recovered, right? He could not conceivably come back from this black mark on his resume. That’s not exactly how it happened.
Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
Almost ten years after Batman & Robin, Hollywood hoped most of the stink on the franchise had dissipated. The young and talented Christopher Nolan to write and direct an origin story for Batman, something we had yet to see on the big screen. Former child actor Christian Bale was chosen to play the young Bruce Wayne/Batman. Was it wise to not bring in any star power when rebooting Batman?
In 2000, Bale had a breakout performance in American Psycho. But Bale could not build on that performance and ended up appearing in poorly reviewed movies like Equilibrium and Reign of Fire. Batman was just what Bale needed and Batman needed Bale. Batman Begins was fantastic and it led to two of the most anticipated movies in history. Bale didn’t waste his new fame and has been nominated for three Oscars since first appearing as Batman.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
So we don’t know how Affleck will do in the role. The movie isn’t out yet. But we should give Ben the benefit of the doubt here. He was introduced to us playing dumb bullies in Dazed and Confused and Mallrats. But a few years later he would win an Oscar for his screenplay for Good Will Hunting. But then he became a joke and even played a superhero in one of the worst superhero movies ever made, 2003’s Daredevil (which is still much better than Batman & Robin).
Affleck turned his career around by putting himself behind the camera, directing three good films including 2012’s Best Picture winner Argo. Affleck is in the business of making good movies now. I don’t think he would agree to play Batman if he didn’t think it would be good. He even brought Argo writer Chris Terrio to make sure of it.