The fictional superhero character Batman dates back to the year 1939 when it was first featured in the comic book series Detective Comics #27. The character was originally created by comic book writer Bill Finger and collaboration artist Robert Kane. Batman became quite popular among readers and was adopted as a book title the following year. Its first appearance in a motion picture was in the 1943 film Batman and it has remained a fan’s favorite ever since.
Batman is the brave and powerful alter ego of Bruce Wayne, a wealthy American business mogul, philanthropist, and subtle womanizer. After witnessing the killing of his parents as a child, he swore an oath to dedicate his entire life in seeking vengeance against all criminals. Batman does not possess any unnatural powers like most superheroes but he is trained to the best level of physical and intellectual capabilities and also arms himself with an extraordinary arsenal of weaponry using the vast amount of wealth at his disposal. He assumes this bat-inspired persona in order to maintain his anonymity in society. Batman is also known by titles such as the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight and the World’s Greatest Detective.
Since its first appearance in the later 1930s, Batman has been adapted into various media such as film, radio, television, and video games and it has become a pop culture icon. Interestingly, different Hollywood actors have taken turns in bringing this character to life from generation to generation. A number of these actors only got to play the role once while some of them appeared in more than one Batman film. Several other actors have also lent their voices to animated adaptations of this beloved character. Here is a rundown of our favorite Holywood actors who have at one time or the other played Batman in a motion picture.
All Actors Who Have Played Batman In Movies
Lewis Wilson (1920 – 2000)
The first actor to ever play the role of Batman was Lewis Gilbert Wilson. He was the lead star of the first ever Batman film Batman (1943) which was produced as a black-and-white 15-part serial. Also on the film’s cast were Douglas Croft who played Robin, the Boy Wonder and J. Carrol Naish who played the villainous Dr. Tito Daka.
Lewis Wilson was still new to acting when he landed the role of Batman and it turned out to be the most significant role of his entire career. He died at age 80 in August 2000.
Robert Lowery (1913 – 1971)
Following the success of the first Batman film, Columbia pictures ordered for a sequel Batman and Robin (1949) with a new actor Robert Lowery playing the role of Batman. It was equally a 15-part serial and starring alongside Lowery were Johnny Duncan who played the role of Robin, Leonard Penn who played the villainous character of The Wizard as well as Jane Adams who played Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Vick Vale.
Beyond his role as Batman, Robert Lowery appeared in many other movies and TV shows and his acting career spanned over three decades. He died in December 1971 after suffering from chronic heart failure.
Adam West (1928 – 2017)
Batman: The Movie (1966) was the first full-length theatrical adaptation of the Batman character. Adam West reprised the role of Batman in this movie having earlier played the role in a television series of the same name. Other members of the original TV cast also reprised their roles in the movie including Burt Ward who played the role of Robin. However, the role of Catwoman, Batman’s love interest, was played by Lee Meriwether in the movie.
Playing the role of Batman was a defining moment in Adam West’s over 6-decade career. Much later in his career, he lent his voice to this same role in two animated Batman movies Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and Batman vs. Two-Face (2017). West died in June 2017 at age 88 after a brief battle with leukemia.
Starting from the late 1980s, Warner Bros. Entertainment was able to create a highly successful franchise based on the Batman character. The movie Batman (1989), headlined by Michael Keaton, was the first of what became a highly successful movie series. Also on the cast of the movie are Jack Nicholson who played the role of the supervillain Jack Napier / The Joker, Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale and Pat Hingle as Commissioner James Gordon.
Before landing the role of Batman, Michael Keaton had been typecast as a comedic actor and thus many watchers were skeptical over his ability to play a serious role. He rendered a brilliant performance in the movie which turned out to be a box-office hit and a critical success. Keaton’s Batman was also one of the highest-grossing movies of the year 1989. He reprised his lead role as Batman in film’s sequel Batman Returns (1992) which was also a critical and commercial success.
Val Kilmer replaced Michael Keaton as Batman in Batman Forever (1995), the third installment of the Batman series. The previous actor Michael Keaton had decided not to return to the role owing to creative differences. Starring alongside Kilmer in the movie were Tommy Lee Jones who played the supervillain Two-Face, Jim Carrey as The Riddler, another supervillain and Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian, Bruce Wayne’s love interest.
Val Kilmer’s Batman Forever (1995) was successful at the box office and it also earned several accolades including 3 Academy Award nominations. The talented actor was nominated for the 1996 MTV Movie Award for Most Desirable Male. However, Kilmer did not return for the next Batman movie because he felt that the attention of the film had shifted from Batman to the villains.
Batman & Robin (1997), the fourth installment of the initial Batman series, had George Clooney in the titular character. The film’s star-studded cast also included Arnold Schwarzenegger as the supervillain Mr. Freeze, Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, another supervillain, Chris O’Donnell as Robin, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl and Elle Macpherson as Julie Madison, Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend.
Batman & Robin recorded an average performance at the box office and it did not attain as much commercial success as the previous installments. It remains the lowest-grossing live-action Batman film to date. It was also a critical failure and is regarded as one of the worst films ever made.
Batman & Robin (1997) received 11 Razzie Award nominations including one for George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell as the Worst Screen Couple. Owing to the negative reception, Warner Bros. canceled a planned sequel Batman Unchained which was already in the works.
Christian Bale stands out among all the actors who have played Batman. His first appearance as the Caped Crusader was in Batman Begins (2005), a reboot of the initial Batman series of the 1980s and 1990s. The movie was a successful attempt at relaunching the Batman character on the big screen after a long hiatus. Starring alongside the lead star were Liam Neeson as supervillain “Ra’s al Ghul”, Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Wayne’s Butler and Gary Oldman as Commissioner James Gordon.
Batman Begins recorded an impressive box-office outing and also received critical acclaim. Just as expected, this movie helped restore the Batman character to its original glory in mainstream culture. Christian Bale also reprised his role as Batman in 2 sequels The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) both of which were much more successful than the initial movie. The two sequels were box office monsters as each of them grossed over one billion dollars at the global box office.
Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) all make up The Dark Knight Trilogy.
After Christian Bale’s successful run as Batman, the role was taken up by fellow Hollywood A-lister Ben Affleck. Affleck’s first appearance as Batman was in the superhero film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) in which he united with fellow superhero character Superman, portrayed by Henry Cavill. The film is a sequel to the Superman-centred film Man of Steel (2013) and the second installment of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) movie.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice made a strong debut and also set a couple of records at the box office. However, its performance waned in the weeks that followed and though the film turned a considerable profit, it did not meet up to expectations. The movie equally received negative reviews from critics.
Ben Affleck had a second attempt as Batman in Justice League (2017), the fifth installment in the DCEU and a sequel to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Just like its prequel, the film boasts of a star-studded cast with Henry Cavill reprising his role as Superman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Amy Adams as Lois Lane.
Ben Affleck’s Justice League is one of the most expensive films ever made with a production budget of about $300 million. However, the movie performed way below expectations at the box office. Its box-office performance was below par and it remains one of the lowest grossing movies of the DC Extended Universe. It was also met with mixed reviews by the critics. The movie did not win any major awards though Ben Affleck was nominated as the Favorite Movie Actor at 2018 Kids’ Choice Awards.
Affleck also had a cameo appearance as Batman in Suicide Squad (2016), the third installment in the DCEU. Other actors who have voiced the Batman character in animated films include Kevin Conroy in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) and Will Arnett in The Lego Batman Movie (2017).