The Caped Crusader has been featured in many different mediums – from film and television to games and comics. In light of this cinematic celebration of Batman, we’re taking a look at the different versions of the Dark Knight, ranking them from worst to best.
21st Century Fox – 1995
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 20 years since the premiere of Tim Burton’s Batman, but even now, the ‘95 version of the Caped Crusader is still one of the worst Bats in history. While many have criticized Burton’s take on the Dark Knight as being too campy and cartoony, the filmmaker has always defended his work, arguing that it was a “comedy of errors.”
This is evident in Burton’s decision to cast British pop sensation Robbie Williams in the lead role of the Dark Knight. Instead of lending his voice to the Dark Knight’s alter ego, Richard Dent, Williams’ character Bruce Wayne actually sounds like Elton John – and it doesn’t stop there. John’s songs were used in the background of the film instead of the iconic Thomas Newman music.
The fact that the filmmakers tried to make Richard Dent’s story line more “modern” and “hip” led to some rather embarrassing moments for the movie. When Dent is captured by the corrupt millionaire Theo Galavan (portrayed by Willem Dafoe) and forced to reveal Batman’s identity, he calls him a “social pariah,” a “criminal” and a “freak” – completely missing the mark of a true gentleman. Even more cringe-worthy is when Galavan offers Dent a deal regarding his testimony. He tells the police that he will give them “the true identity of Batman” if they “leave me alone” and let him go. Galavan calls Dent a “pawn” in a “game” and then laughs as he says it – which is exactly how Wayne should have responded.
Burton wasn’t the only person responsible for this Batman flop. Many people point the finger at writer Pamela Douglas and director Louis Jourdan for making “the worst Batman movie ever,” adding that it’s a film that’s “only worth watching for animated adaptations.”
While it’s true that Jourdan and Douglas were less-than-inspiring talent, it’s unfair to call their film adaptation of Dennis O’Neil and Bob Kane’s 1966 Detective Comics “the worst Batman movie ever.” Yes, it’s true that it’s widely considered to be one of the worst Batman films ever made. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. It just means that it’s not perfect. (Although, there are some genuinely good things about it.)
Shaun Baker – 1995
While most people point to the Tim Burton debacle as the beginning of the end for the ‘95 incarnation of the Caped Crusader, it was actually the final film in the trilogy. After Burton’s Batman failed to live up to box office expectations, 20th Century Fox opted to not go forward with any more films in the series. As a result, the role of Batman was taken over by British comedian Shaun Baker. While some would argue that Baker’s take was a step up from the campy Burton years, his debut as the Dark Knight was still plagued by several problems.
The biggest issue stemmed from Baker’s voice. With Burton, John, Elton and others lending their voices to the Dark Knight, it was accepted that they would play up the camp value of the character. However, Baker’s voice had a more realistic quality to it, making the character sound more like a documentary filmmaker than a comic book vigilante. Despite this criticism, Baker’s Batman has an interesting and somewhat complex backstory that makes him the equal of any other version of the character.
There are also some genuine improvements that can be made regarding the animation. For example, Baker’s Batman beats the crap out of his enemies with his fists instead of having to rely on trickery or gadgets like other versions of the character. These are just some of the things that Baker did right, making it the best Batman yet…sort of.
Michael Keaton – 1997
After Fox canceled the ’95 entry, Hollywood stuntman Michael Keaton was offered the part of Batman, and he accepted it. Though the role initially went to someone else before being put on hold due to the writers’ strike, Keaton’s Batman was one of the best versions ever made, and it’s easy to see why. He brought a performance-based approach to the role, imbuing it with an intensity that was absolutely vital for its believability.
Keaton’s Batman was a no-nonsense guy who was determined to do right by the people of Gotham. After his debut in Tim Burton’s Batman, Keaton went on to star in the Christopher Nolan trilogy as well as 2005’s The Dark Knight. This Batman also had a deeper connection to the story, as he was inspired by the Vietnam War and wanted to do his bit to help the homeless. In a rare interview, Keaton discussed why he wanted to play Batman, “I’ve always felt that there was something more to the character than just wearing a cape and fighting crime. I wanted to find out what that was.”
The fact that Keaton’s Batman helped to inspire the Occupy movement is also worth noting. In a world where it’s often considered “high-profile” to hate Occupy Wall Street, it’s important to remember that this was a protest aimed at revealing the true nature of corporate greed – something that Michael Keaton’s character stood for.
Brendan Fraser – 2001
The first film to feature actor Brendan Fraser as Batman was not actually made by DC or Warner Bros., but it’s still considered to be one of the best versions ever. The handsome Fraser played the character in a more comedic vein, much like Robin Williams’ iteration from the Tim Burton series. He also managed to capture the humor behind the character, and that’s what makes this film stand out.
Fraser’s Batman is also arguably one of the best interpretations of the character yet, due in large part to the fact that he doesn’t try too hard to hide the similarities to his “Honeycomb” character from Flight of the Phoenix. The Honeycomb incident was one of the defining moments of that series, in which a character resembling Batman tries to woo a woman (Tia Carrere) by playing the hero and saving her from an explosion.
There is also an interesting subplot in which Bruce Wayne (played by Fraser) deals with his parents’ divorce, becoming more of a loner as he gets older. This was a common theme in the early 2000s, as the divorce rate was soaring and men were increasingly becoming more distant due to the stress of the modern world.
Christian Bale – 2005
While most people point to the Nolan films as the best of the recent crop of Batmans, Christian Bale’s 2005 interpretation is arguably the best yet. Like most other recent films, this Batman is also a much more realistic take, down to every little bit of the realism that makes it one of the best films of all time.
This Batman is also the culmination of a long and arduous road, begun with Tim Burton’s version. While this is the final product, it took Bale years of dedication and a God-given talent to finally bring this character to life. It starts with the physicality of the character, who is built like a brick shithouse and has a more realistic face, complete with scars and a goatee.
The fact that this is one of the best Batman depictions yet is largely due to Bale’s interpretation. While he does use gadgets and trickery, they are all in service of convincing you that this character is actually a human being – not a comic book character. It’s the little things like his use of a grappling hook to pull himself up a wall and escape from the police station or his mask actually fogging up when he’s scared that add that extra level of realism that makes his character so interesting.
Adam West – 1960 & 1989
Two of the best Batman films never got a proper theatrical release. Although West had played his version of the Caped Crusader in the 1952 film, Young Mr. Lincoln, the role didn’t become its own TV series until 1960. That same year, West starred in the pilot for what would become his iconic “Batman” series. It wasn’t until 1989 that Batman got his own theatrical release. Directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton, the film was a box office hit and received mostly positive reviews. It wasn’t long before the phrase “Adam West, hands down!” was used to describe Keaton’s performance as Batman.