The actors who have played Batman over the years have become synonymous with the caped crusader. And as great as many of these Batman actors have been in the role, some are certainly more memorable than others. It takes a good deal of hard work, charisma and box office prowess to make it to the point of becoming a Batman actor. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most memorable Batman actors over the last two decades.
The first actor to be cast as Batman was Michael Keaton, the cinematic superstar of the 1980s who helped make the first Batman movie (titled simply Batman) the highest grossing film of 1989. Tim Burton was selected to direct the film. Keaton then returned to play the part of Batman in the sequel, Batman Returns, three years later in 1992. With Burton in charge of both these projects, fans enjoyed the almost mythic quality of the movies while critics lauded them for aspiring to be more than merely ‘popcorn entertainment’.
Kilmer was the second actor to play the Caped Crusader. Michael Keaton declined to play the lead for a third time when Burton moved from the director’s chair to the position of producer. Joel Schumacher took over directorial duties but Keaton did not trust him to make a quality product in the end like the first two films. The film was titled Batman Forever. It also became the first film to introduce Batman’s famous sidekick, Robin, played by Chris O’Donnell. Though the film earned a fairly warm reception at the box-office, it was neither a fan nor a critical favorite as compared with the first two films.
One would think that George Clooney would be an ideal choice to play Batman, but fans and critics didn’t seem to be especially warm to the idea when he was cast as the lead in Batman and Robin in 1997. Maybe it was because they didn’t want to see him on equal footing with his sidekick, Robin, played again by Chris O’Donnell. Or maybe it was the fact that the franchise at this point had become too much of a caricature to be taken seriously. Whatever the reason, fans and critics gave the film a thumbs down, allowing the studio to barely recover the cost of making the film. The presence of Alicia Silverstone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Carrey didn’t seem to help much either. Many years later, Clooney admitted to being embarrassed by his work as Batman.
Eight years after the disappointing Batman and Robin, producers relaunched the franchise with Christian Bale in the lead role. But that wasn’t the only major difference. The franchise was entirely retooled to do away with the comic aspects of the earlier films. It became much more dark and complex, focusing on the origins of Batman and how he came to be the hero of Gotham City. The writers gave him an entire back story, replete with the murder of his parents and the subsequent fall into catastrophe, a thirst for revenge, and finally his rebirth as Batman. Bale is widely noted by critics as being an ideal choice to play Batman as he brings his signature brooding style to the role. Fans have also taken much more to the retooled Batman films, helping them go on to become worldwide blockbusters. Both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight have collectively grossed over a billion dollars, making it one of the most successful film series in cinematic history. Christian Bale deserves at least part of the credit for this astonishing feat.