Below are my own personal, hedonistic preferences and rankings. I just wanted to throw this out there. NOTE: These are based only on theatrical-released, live-action Batman movies.
Ranking the Batmen (from best to worst)
George Clooney: Yeah, I know Batman & Robin is a pretty bad movie, and isn’t the most realistic approach (or closest representation of the comics); however, he’s George effin’ Clooney! Dude has the acting chops to pull off this character and he definitely has the look of Bruce Wayne down pat. I truly believe his talent could be put to good use in the Batsuit in a better movie.
Adam West: Because he knows he’s in a comedy and he plays it straight; which, in turn, makes him hilarious. Had they taken an earnest approach back in 1966 he would’ve been just as worthy for the role.
Michael Keaton: Aside from the “You wanna get nuts!?” line, Keaton is pretty flat and monotone throughout his two turns as Batman. Though he can be a dramatic actor, he was known for his comedic roles at the time and it’s always been difficult to take his Batman seriously.
Lewis Wilson: He plays Batman and Bruce Wayne exactly as the characters were depicted in the Golden Age comics of the time, so he’s somewhat authentic. If only the production quality of his serial hadn’t be so low.
Robert Lowery: Though he’s stiff and stoic throughout all 15 chapters of the 1949 serial, Lowery at least has the sternness and seriousness of Batman.
Val Kilmer: Yes, Val Kilmer was actually a worse Batman than the two unknowns from the 1940s serials. Kilmer looks completely disinterested in this role; to say he’s phoning it in is being rather generous. It’s a shame because Kilmer actually is a good actor with decent range; he just didn’t have it here.
Jack Nicholson: I’m aware that Heath Ledger won an Oscar for his performance, but to me Jack Nicholson’s Joker is as close to a verbatim adaptation of the comics as we’ll ever see in live action (though I think Mark Hamill makes an even better Joker in the animated incarnations). Nicholson is both hilarious and insane – exactly what The Joker should be.
Heath Ledger: Twisted, disturbing, violent and intimidating. His Joker absolutely is a fantastic villain, but not a fantastic Joker per se.
Cesar Romero: He’s great since he takes the light-hearted, comedic approach and is genuinely funny. He could’ve easily handled Batman: The Movie as the sole villain.
Pretty much every actor to play this role in the live action films sucked. I know a lot of people love Burt Ward’s campy take on the character, though he strikes me as a naïve 8-year-old in a 20-year-old’s body. But at least he’s better than Chris O’Donnell, Douglas Croft, and John Duncan.
Much like Robin, none of the actresses that played this part really impressed me that much. They didn’t have much to work with, though, as they were each fairly shallow characters. Ann Hathaway was the closest to the comic book character, but her take was pretty boring. Contrast that with Michelle Pfeiffer who just hams it up. Of the three, Lee Meriwether had the most work to do as she also played a Russian journalist (a role within a role) who seduces Bruce Wayne (she’s also the best-looking of the three, IMHO).
I thought Danny DeVito was just a ham in the role and the character was too far removed from the comics. Burgess Meredith’s performance was more impressive, frankly.
Though Jim Carrey and Frank Gorshin are both pretty funny, they’re just playing a living breathing cartoon characters. Carrey was the only good thing about Batman Forever, though.
Aaron Eckhart, obviously (he should’ve been the sole villain in a separate film). Tommy Lee Jones has no idea what he’s doing.
Best Fight Scene
None. I was tempted to go with Batman vs. Bane at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, but it was kind of corny since they were essentially just two of the hundreds or thousands of fighters at the time. It’s also a pretty short fight scene. I was hoping for an epic Rocky-style battle where you don’t know if Batman will win, but that just didn’t happen. As corny as the perfectly-choreographed fights in The Matrix movies were, they would’ve worked perfectly in any of the Christopher Nolan films. Batman never really fights anyone that’s truly his equal (not in hand-to-hand combat, that is).
Best Chase Scene
Tie: The Gotham Police against Batman in both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Thrilling, suspenseful and yet pretty funny, too.
- “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb” from Batman: The Movie
- “So that’s what that feels like” from The Dark Knight Rises
- “I’ll get drive thru” from Batman Forever
- “Bob? Gun.” BLAM! from Batman (1989)
- “Bruce Wayne? Ha! That simpering idiot could never be Batman” from Batman (1943)
- “Excuse me. You ever dance with the devil by the pale moon light?” PUNCH! from Batman (1989)
- Every fight scene in Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949)
- Pretty much everything Jim Carrey says and does in Batman Forever
- Pretty much everything Jack Nicholson says and does in Batman (1989)
- Pretty much everything in Batman & Robin (1997) (but especially the Bat Credit Card)
Ranking the movies (from best to worst)
The Dark Knight: A brilliantly-told story that combines action, suspense and real-world symbolism. Overlong, convoluted and didactic, though.
Batman: The Movie: A two-hour big screen version of the campy TV show wouldn’t seem like it would work, but it does (and how!). Still funny and wonderful to look at today.
Batman (1989): Pretty campy in retrospect (which was not its intention), but works well for its dark look and tone. Plus Jack Nicholson is great.
The Dark Knight Rises: Full of plotholes, but they’re easy to overlook since it takes the same overall approach as the first two Christopher Nolan films. Lots of fun if you don’t think too hard about it.
Batman and Robin (1949): Lousy production qualities, but impressive story-telling techniques for its time.
Batman & Robin (1997): If you view it as a comedy it’s actually pretty hilarious and consistently entertaining.
Batman (1943): Though the quality is pretty abysmal by today’s standards, it’s worth a look as a pop culture and historical artifact.
Batman Forever: Too campy to take seriously, yet too serious to view as a comedy.
Batman Returns: Three letters say it all – WTF!