Culture

Holy Cow! It's our best ever Batman countdown

As Robert Pattinson hits the big screen as the latest incarnation of Bruce Wayne, we rate all the actors to don the cape over the years.

photos: ALAMY

There have been some memorable portrayals of the Caped Crusader down the years – and for differing reasons. Ahead of the release of The Batman in cinemas, film critic Graeme Virtue has kindly ranked them.

9. Ben Affleck He does have a mighty chin but everything else about Affleck’s pained billionaire – who debuted in 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice before putting a super-team together in 2017’s Justice League – felt leaden and lifeless. The actor described it as “the worst experience” for him, and frankly it was no fun for us either.

8. Val Kilmer When Michael Keaton hung up the cowl after two films with Tim Burton, the hunky Kilmer was cast in 1995’s Batman Forever. Perhaps to differentiate himself from gurning villains the Riddler (Jim Carrey) and Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), the headline star went for a sort of sleepy disaffection. One Bat-dance was enough; Kilmer did not return for Batman and Robin.

7. George Clooney Poor George. The man surely born to play a rich playboy was hamstrung by almost every other aspect of 1997’s slapdash Batman and Robin, from the gaudy neon sets to a Batsuit with nipples. Clooney quickly reframed the backlash as a humbling tale of Hollywood hubris but he does have one unexpectedly moving scene, comforting loyal but ailing butler Alfred (Michael Gough).

6. Robert Pattinson Finding emo: in this week’s The Batman, Pattinson seems determined to be the most goth Bruce Wayne ever, knocking up DIY crime-fighting gear while listening to The Cure and Bauhaus. Writer-director Matt Reeves and his brooding star are apparently fishing for a trilogy so it will be intriguing to see if this gloomy take kickstarts a new mega-franchise or remains an intense one-off.

The Batman is in cinemas from March 4

5. Will Arnett Considering the other corporate brand involved, it makes sense that 2017’s computer-animated The Lego Batman Movie was all about building on pre-existing Batman lore. It pokes fun at every era of the Caped Crusader, from “KAPOW!” fight balloons to Christian Bale’s Batmobile. Holding it all together is Arnett as a hilariously stubborn poseur who growls his own hard-rock theme.

4. Michael Keaton Coming off the back of Burton’s spirited 1988 comedy Beetlejuice, Keaton was a contentious casting choice. But his off-kilter energy in 1989’s swooping Batman and 1992’s oddball Batman Returns reminded audiences that Bruce Wayne is as weird and obsessive as any of his flamboyant enemies. And – somehow – he’s back, man: Keaton is reprising the role in future blockbusters The Flash and Batgirl.

3. Kevin Conroy Kevin who? The name and face might not be instantly familiar to that many of you, but the exquisite intonation certainly will be. Conroy began his Bat-career in 1992 voicing the artfully noir-inflected Batman: The Animated Series. Thanks to an uninterrupted stream of animated spin-offs, direct-to-video movies and best-selling video games (plus a cameo in the Batwoman live-action TV series), he has easily played the Dark Knight more than anyone else. Staying in the shadows just adds to the mystique.

2. Christian Bale Bitumen forever: Bale’s brave decision to adopt a gravelly rasp to intimidate lowlifes while in the Batsuit has been subject to a great deal of mockery over the years. But the forceful star of Christopher Nolan’s sombre but wildly popular Dark Knight trilogy, which ran from 2005 to 2012, puts in three heroically committed performances, selling the physical side of a ninja-trained Caped Crusader while also dialling up Wayne’s vapid rich-boy persona when required.

1. Adam West Since his comics debut in 1940, Batman has always been about fear, with Bruce Wayne transforming himself into a symbol of the night to spook cowardly criminals. So why does West’s upbeat turn in the campy 1966 TV series and spin-off movie take the top spot? Simple. His suave, deadpan take on the character is so embedded in pop culture that every subsequent actor has gone dark and gritty to avoid any unflattering comparisons. He is the Batman who scares other Batmen, and you cannot get much more Batman than that.

Graeme Virtue is a film and TV critic@graemevirtue

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach local your vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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