From humble beginnings as a bat-themed vigilante swinging across rooftops and fighting rainbow monsters with his definitely underage sidekick, he’s eventually morphed into the poster child for the dark and gritty superhero, the yin to Superman’s yang and one of the best known fictional characters the world has ever known.
And that means there are a lot of Batmen out there, jumping from comic to screen to big screen to game in a never-ending cycle, or at least until the public gets sick of him. So while this isn’t every version of Batman ever (otherwise we’d be here until the heat death of the universe), here’s Every Major* Adaptation Of Batman, Ranked From Worst To Best.
*mostly leaving out video games, plus movies where Batman is more just part of the ensemble.
17. Adam West (1966)
It doesn’t matter all that much that Adam West’s Batman comes off the worst. The 1966 Batman and Robin series never tried to paint the caped crusader as anything more than a spandex-clad goof with precisely one combat move (though a host of sound effect title cards) and a multitude of absurdly situational gadgets. He gets some points for carrying honest-to-goodness Bat Shark Repellent around for that one time he was attacked by a shark, but most other Batmen would’ve just whacked the thing on the nose in one of 300 different ways, so even that’s kind of pointless.
Adam West isn’t exactly a physical powerhouse either, with his all-too-snug outfit making it pretty clear that this Batman is a tad further from the peak of human perfection than you’d expect from the defender of Gotham. His villains aren’t much better, wearing an assortment of bargain bin outfits and sticking the dynamic duo into ineffective deathtraps on a literal weekly basis. Or just, you know, challenging the Dark Knight to surfing competitions.
Adam West’s version of Batman is all fumbling, tongue-in-cheek camp nonsense. And sure, he’s not the version of Batman you’d want on your Justice League… but that was never what they were going for. WHAM!
The Bat-Best: Bat-Dancing.
The Bat-Worst: …Bat-Dancing?
16. David Mazouz (Gotham)
So, again, this is pretty unfair. David Mazouz’s version of the young Bruce Wayne isn’t even Batman yet, and probably won’t be for a good few years. He still ranks above Adam West – because anyone could defeat that version armed with only a pool noodle and a cardboard cut-out of Catwoman in a seductive pose – but that’s as good as it gets.
Young Bruce gets some props for trying in spite of his young age, already showing signs of being pretty great at martial arts, acrobatics and business acumen, with certain other skills starting to show themselves as the series goes on. This version of Bruce is also shown to be pretty smart for his age, probably the result of that time his parents were murdered and he was forced to grow up a bit. It’s not the best version of Batman we’ve ever seen, because it wasn’t meant to be. For the first time, we’re getting a greatly extended look into what life was like for Bruce Wayne following his parents’ deaths, but before he wandered up onto that mountaintop to return as a brutally efficient vigilante. This means his backstory is going to be elongated to ridiculous proportions (sort of like Gotham in general), but it’s still some unexplored territory.
The Bat-Best: We get to see lil’ Bruce hunting for his parents’ killer.
15. 1940s Film Serial Batman
Wartime Batman clearly had more on his plate than gimmicky villains, as his first ever cinematic debut had him and Robin working for the government as secret agents. Secret agents with camp outfits and a cave, just like in real 1943.
We can forgive some of the more lacking aspects, since this was the first time Batman was ever seen on the big screen and no one had a clue how to make a superhero suit look as good as it does in a comic book. It also introduced a few features that would become mainstays for the DC universe, including the Batcave hidden behind a clock and a version of Alfred with a mustache and a trim figure, both of which he’d been lacking up until then.
Still, the whole ‘secret agents working for the government’ thing doesn’t quite add up to Batman’s MO, and once again his years of training have given him the ability to sock generic henchmen in the jaw and nothing else. Their fearsome villain is sinister Japanese smuggler ‘Tito Daka’, because this was over half a century before you could use your smartphone to google authentic Japanese names. He was no Joker, and the Dynamic Duo suffered from such a low prop budget that they couldn’t even be shown in anything more than a regular black Cadillac and some very obvious pajamas.
The Bat-Best: That iconic clock entrance.
14. Super Friends Batman
It’s not the most sanitized version of Batman we’ve ever seen, but it comes pretty close. Not quite the Dark Knight, sole defender of Gotham against mass-murderers while coping with the specter of his dead parents, this version is more of a generic crime-fighter with a radio presenter voice and unshakable morals that he’s only too happy to pass onto impressionable children.
Many of the early Super Friends cartoons ended with the ‘villains’ being stopped via a peaceful conclusion, with everyone realizing that they were totally okay dudes to begin with. This already puts the whole thing at odds with Batman’s usual method of swinging through a window and hurling batarangs at anything with a pulse. We already get the vibe from the comics that Batman is only part of the Justice League grudgingly, knowing that he can get a lot more done relying on the world’s greatest heroes. Here, he’s totally okay with letting dead weight such as Marvin and Wendy join the team and hang around every mission, while not giving them any training that might make them slightly useful.
Essentially, this is Superman with a different color scheme, no powers and a vaguely animal-themed convertible. Great for teaching kids how to floss, but not quite the hero Gotham really needs.
The Bat-Best: It’s a really nice car.
The Bat-Worst: Batman and Robin demonstrate the Heimlich Maneuver, and it has to be seen to be believed.
13. George Clooney (Batman and Robin)
This list deals with the actual Batmen and not the media surrounding them, but George Clooney’s portrayal is a tough one. He spends most of his time either playing den mother to a whiny Chris O’Donnell, having his scenes stolen by Arnold Schwarzenegger or being totally upstaged by Michael Gogh’s Alfred. There’s also the fact that Batman and Robin was 900% terrible, mostly intended to sell truckloads of action figures and so far over the top it was practically in orbit.
The dreaded cowl returns, with slightly more flexibility than ever before yet still requiring Clooney to awkwardly swivel his entire body every time he wants to fight crime to his direct right or left…and then, that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to questionable costume choices. Props to this Batman for lugging around a whole load of gadgets, though; this guy has everything from bat-heaters to bat-skates to bat-convenient-plot-relevant-recording-devices. He’s also the first (and so far, only) live-action version of the caped crusader to let Batgirl join the team, sparing us the uncomfortable implications of seeing the heroic Caped Crusader smack the eye shadow right off Uma Thurman’s smug face.
He wasn’t quite the high point of the franchise, but at least George Clooney had the looks for Bruce Wayne the playboy. You could actually believe that Gotham’s most eligible bachelorettes would let this guy take them home.
The Bat-Best: Say what you will, but those bat-skates really did come in handy.
12. Michael Keaton (Batman, 1989)
We’re now well into big-budget film territory, which seems like an appropriate time to remind everyone that we’re talking about Batman. None of the adaptations beyond this point are truly bad, and many are so close that ranking is almost impossible. We’re just going ahead and doing it anyway, though!
Michael Keaton’s Batman wasn’t exactly what people were expecting, but he wasn’t a poor choice either. Most people seem pretty okay with his performance as Batman, with the look and feel of Tim Burton’s universe picking up the slack with its stellar score, excellent villain in the form of Jack Nicholson’s Joker and seedy, almost ethereal Gotham City.
Still, it was early days for cinematic Batman, leading to such tiny foibles as him not being able to turn his head while in costume. At all. This version of the Dark Knight is also fairly trigger-happy, clearly murdering scores of henchmen in painful ways without losing any sleep, including the Joker. There’s also the matter of his pathetic Batplane/wing/whatever, which despite being armed with twin machine guns, a targeting system and a perfect shot still utterly fails to nail the villain. And is then wrecked itself by one shot from a giant novelty pistol. That’s what you get when you outsource your gadgets to a sweatshop, Bruce.
The Bat-Best: “I’M BATMAN.”
The Bat-Worst: “You wanna get NUTS? COME ON!! Let’s get nuts…“
11. Val Kilmer (Batman Forever)
In terms of physicality, Val Kilmer is the most Batman-esque of the Clooney-Keaton-Kilmer trio. The guy was packing a bit of muscle and didn’t scrub up too badly as Bruce Wayne, even if he was a bit more of a blonde pretty boy than usual. Like Clooney, he also suffered the misfortune of stolen focus, this time from Chris O’Donnell (again) and a leotard-clad Jim Carey. As if anyone was going to compete with the Riddler dressed like a neon firework, accompanied by an overacting Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face.
The costume manages to keep the look of Keaton’s while making some minor improvements. That includes a more flexible neck, but still not quite to the normal level, meaning that this Dark Knight can only strike terror into crime directly in front of him, unless he wants to woodenly swivel at the waist like so many action figures.
In terms of character, this Bruce Wayne struggles more than your average depiction, questioning his abilities and purpose as a crime-fighter and wondering if he should be putting all that infinite cash to a better use, like funding some orphanages or something. It doesn’t last long, but it’s still something not often seen in the unflappable Batman.
The Bat-Best: That slightly movable neck.
10. Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008)
Batman: The Brave and the Bold was meant to bring the Caped Crusader back to basics, which here means the silver age. The dark, seedy underbelly of Gotham City evaporated in favor of all-star team-ups, and Batman’s trademark brooding was swapped out for stern-faced one-liners.
It mostly worked, giving us a playful, almost parodic Batman who retained all his skills while showing us a sunnier side of the character, teaming up with practically all of DC’s great heroes. The stories could still be serious on occasion, but it all felt like a we’d traveled back in time a few decades to a more simpler time, when plots were stupid and everything was so colorful and fun it didn’t matter.
It’s far from the best version of Batman ever, but in the vein of Adam West’s version, this isn’t the modern, popular incarnation dangling criminals by their ankles in the pouring rain, known for his brutal methods and grey morals. This is simply a version from another time and place, an interpretation that comic book readers of the 1970s (or so) used to love. That’s not such a bad thing once in a while.
The Bat-Best: “The hammer of justice is unisex!”
9. Beware the Batman (2013)
Coming straight after The Brave and the Bold was Beware the Batman, a far darker incarnation that rendered everything in CGI and changed certain parts of Batman mythos, such as replacing Robin with DC comics character Katana.
The series didn’t make much of a mark due to not lasting all that long, but there’s still a lot to love about the version of Batman that we got. Portrayed as a relatively new crime-fighter, we see a rare and slightly incompetent side to Batman as he truly shows his inexperience. Not the engine of perfection we’re used to seeing, this Dark Knight is prone to mistakes both in combat and detective work, the consequences of which he then has to face up to later on. These mistakes aren’t constant – this is still a phenomenally skilled crime fighting vigilante- but we see his weaknesses more clearly than most versions of the character.
This does drag him down in some aspects, since this is still Batman we’re talking about and a lot of his fumbles are so awfully written they’ll have six-year-olds yelling at the screen in indignant fury. In the end, the show makes up for it with some slick fights that show exactly why you should beware the Batman. It might not be the most memorable version of the character, but it did try something new.
The Bat-Best: That’s one fine-looking Batsuit.
8. Injustice: Gods Among Us Batman
This will be one of the few video games that makes it onto the list, but it’s big news and pretty much mainstream, so here we go.
The Injustice version of Batman is twofold, with one from the main universe and one from the reality ruled by a despotic Superman. He gets some major props for being able to take on DC powerhouses in a straight fight and come out on top, depending on who’s controlling him, and the alternate Bats is the fearless leader of the resistance in a broken world.
And that’s where it all sort of falls down for many, since this version is a Mary Sue/Marty Stu of the highest order. As huge chunk of the game’s roster of fighters are part of the Bat-family or Bat-villains, Batman is the only character to get two story chapters to himself and he’s never presented as anything more than the incorruptible, courageous leader who everyone who isn’t evil admires and adores. It’s clear that the makers were capitalizing on his popularity, but the result was a tad too Bat-centric for most people’s tastes, especially when it derails Superman’s character in order to make Batman look better.
It’s still the Dark Knight you know and love, however, complete with scores of martial arts moves and more gadgets that you’ll know what to do with.
The Bat-Best: You can run your enemies over with the Batmobile, and it’s awesome.
7. Recent DC Animated Movies Batman
DC’s more recent animated movies have been loosely based on the New 52 from the comics, in which everyone is back to basics and Superman wore jeans for a few issues. This leaves Batman…pretty much the same, to be honest. The whole thing kicked off with Justice League: War, which showed the new JL meeting each other, repelling an attack by Darkseid and coming together to defend the Earth.
This Batman is more or less the one you know, having trained Dick Grayson as Robin and now working alone. He puts up a pretty impressive showing, avoiding being totally pummeled by Superman in their first meeting and eventually rescuing the Man of Steel from Darkseid’s ship using his skills in infiltration.
Since then, we’ve had a few purely Batman movies that have seen him tangling with the Court of Owls and reuniting with Damien Wayne, who becomes the latest Robin. Any Batman who can put up with Damien Wayne deserves some respect, but this version has gone above and beyond by taking down the aforementioned Court of Owls, proving himself an invaluable member of the Justice League and being voiced by Jason O’Mara. As Bat-voice actors go, he’s pretty great.
The Bat-Best: See ‘putting up with Damien Wayne’ above.
6. The Batman (2004)
The Batman is the second long-running animated Batman series, and it gave us a slightly different take on many aspects of the mythos. The Joker is a long-haired monkey man, the Riddler is genuinely threatening and… well, everyone calls him ‘THE Batman’ instead of just ‘Batman’.
The show itself was pretty good and managed to get itself five seasons in the end. As for the actual Batman, he makes an impressive showing as voiced by Rino Romano in a more natural baritone, as opposed to a deliberately gravelly growl. It still works, though. The Dark Knight is also equipped with the ‘Bat-Wave’, a device that allows him to locate and stop crime with greater efficiency than ever before, and, like the Beware the Batman version, is relatively new as a crime-fighter and perhaps not as grumpy as the modern version.
The Batman wasn’t the most original version of the character we’ve ever seen, mostly focusing on changes made to villains and supporting characters. It’s still a decent continuation of the Animated Series version, however, and a worthy entry into the Bat-canon.
The Bat-Best: Basically, just this.
5. Lego Batman
He sings, he makes Bat-puns, he only works in black (or very dark grey) and he has incredible reflexes; this Batman is like no other. Probably because he’s made of Lego.
Debuting in The Lego Movie, Lego Batman and his exaggerated personality traits were one of the best parts of the entire movie, which is why he’s getting his own movie that will undoubtedly make humongous piles of cash for its ability to target every demographic at once.
This Batman has all the gadgets, including the Batwing, Batarangs and grappling hooks galore. His competency goes up and down depending on the scene – it takes him about 27 attempts to hit a button, yet the trailer for his own movie has him taking down almost his entire rogues gallery in one strike – but he’s still one of the most beloved adaptations of the Caped Crusader of all time- plus he apparently inhabits a universe in which every single other movie and TV series is totally canon. Wrap your head around that one.
This is a version that takes all those clichéd traits picked up over the years and mercilessly lampoons them, made far easier due to the fact that he has stubby plastic limbs and an ego so large it warrants its own feature film.
The Bat-Best: DARK…NESS! NO…PARENTS! …SUPER RICH! KINDA MAKES IT BETTER!
4. DCAU Batman
For many of us growing up, this was THE Batman. Starring in Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited and a few other movies, this version is in many ways definitive. Having clashed with the most iconic and enduring versions of his rogues gallery (including Mark Hamill as The Joker), teamed up with DC’s most famous heroes and voiced by Kevin Conroy, this is an adaptation of the Dark Knight almost on par with the comics themselves.
Sure, he’s slightly disproportionate like pretty much everyone on Justice League, and some of those Animated Series episodes have a tendency to lapse into really weird filler plots. That doesn’t change the fact that this is the Batman, grouchy but still capable of wit and levity, decked out with gadgets but intelligent enough to not have to rely on them all the time. He’s an unstoppable crime-fighting force and still a valid member of a super-powered ensemble, the normal guy prepared for any situation who could be running the place if he was a bit more of a people-person.
On top of all this, Kevin Conroy has one of the best natural Batman voices ever heard, gravelly without being too garbled or lacking in emotion. There’s a very good reason he’s back alongside Mark Hamill for The Killing Joke.
The Bat-Best: Batman would be the first ever being in existence to avoid Darkseid’s Omega Beams.
3. Christian Bale (Batman Begins Trilogy)
It’s pretty safe to say that Batman Begins changed the game in more ways than one. It was poles apart from the toyetic, campy Batman and Robin, giving us a version of Batman who could not only fight real-world crime, but we get to see exactly how he does it and where he gets all those wonderful toys.
For the first time, Bruce Wayne’s arduous ninja training is played out in live-action, showing us exactly how he learned the art of stealth, martial arts, throwing sharp objects and the proper usage of smoke bombs. He returns to Gotham and manages to procure himself genuinely thought-out Bat-gear; body armor, custom projectiles and a cape with an electrified glide function. This is Batman like we’ve never seen him before, fully kitted-out in a suit that sorta-maybe-kinda could exist in real life and all the more terrifying for it. The fact that he has no problems turning his head is also a major bonus.
Also, while the movies are gritty, we don’t start off with Bruce Wayne as the ultimate grouch; instead, we get to watch as a man with determination and dry wit is slowly broken down into a grizzled crime-fighter, steadily picking up new gadgets and toys along the way and even crossing into moral grey areas in the pursuit of justice. Christian Bale isn’t to everyone’s taste (particularly his ‘acute throat-disease’ Bat-voice), but his physicality and more realistic take on the Dark Knight deserve some massive props for how they changed both the character and the genre.
The Bat-Best: “I’M BATMAN.”
The Bat-Worst: “WHERZATRIGURRR??!! WHERIZZIIIIIT??”
Batfleck and Bat-Bale really deserve equal spots on this list, since they’re both great for somewhat different reasons. Batfleck gets the second spot purely because he’s more recent… though maybe he’s a bit closer to the comics? This one’s up to you. Spoilers ahead.
One of the best-received parts of Batman V Superman was Ben Affleck as Batman. After widespread fury at the initial casting announcement, they released that trailer, showing Batfleck clearing an entire room of thugs in a spectacularly brutal fashion and many of the dissenters were won over. Post-release, Jesse Eisenberg’s controversial Lex Luthor and Superman’s diminished role as a mopey neck-snapper has only bolstered Batfleck’s reputation to the point where people are now clamoring for his solo film.
Of course, there’s THAT big issue: this Batman is jaded enough from his many years on the job to casually murder bad guys – and yeah, if you toss a grenade into a corridor and they happen to not get out in time, it’s still murder. It’s a blatant slap in the face to Batman’s famous ethos of never taking a life or even using a gun, which riled a number of loyal fans and blighted an otherwise pretty dang perfect Batman. So, basically the same as Michael Keaton’s Batman, except people nowadays care more.
Batfleck has it all: a cool cave, a magnificent Batmobile, a badass Batwing, undeniable mastery of martial arts, a stack of cool tech, a smooth Bruce Wayne persona and a snarky and involved Alfred. He’s every great ingredient of previous Batmen mixed into one incredible package, with the added bonus that he’s been at this for a couple of decades and has an entire history full of rogues and Robins to explore.
Though the wanton murder might put off some of the purists, it’s at least integrated into the plot, with the post-BvS Bruce Wayne inspired by Superman’s life and death to change his methods and become a truer force for good… which we’ll hopefully be seeing more of in future DCEU movies.
The Bat-Best: You saw that warehouse fight, right? He was all like SMASH and they were all like BLAM BLAM and he was all like GRAAH NECK PUNCH and then…
1. Arkham Series Batman
We’ve mostly stayed away from video games on this list, but the Arkham series still deserves the top spot. There’s a very good reason that they’re regarded as some of the best games ever made, because for perhaps the first time, they let you BE the Batman, down to the tiniest details. The quality of the games might have tapered off somewhat in later installments, but they remain some of the best that consoles have to offer.
The game plants you in the shoes of the Dark Knight, playing through a plot that includes most of Batman’s most famous villains and lets you explore a full range of his abilities. You can bludgeon your way through the game with a plethora of combat moves, but also take the steady, stealthy approach, striking from the shadows and taking down foes without getting into an awesome kung-fu free-for-all. Okay, so it’s pretty obvious what most gamers will choose, but the main thing is that you get the option.
Batman is the world’s greatest detective, something often glossed over in adaptations, but here explored in detail with ‘detective vision’ which allows you to take a more cerebral approach to the game in solving puzzles and finding enemy weak points. In short, the Arkham series distills everything people love about Batman into a single character, and then hands you the controller. If this version of the Caped Crusader ends up flawed, it’s probably your fault.
The Bat-Best: Just play one of the games. Any one will do.
The Bat-Worst: Pirate the game and you’re punished with a totally incompetent hero. Also, shame on you.
–Flashpoint Batman, actually Thomas Wayne, whose approach to crime is more dual-wielding and high-caliber than his mainstream counterpart. Ramp the regular Batman’s grump factor up to the nines, and that’s pretty much what we get.
–The Dark Knight Returns Batman, an aged Bruce Wayne who returns to fight the Joker as a senior citizen with a new Robin. Best known for his fight with Superman, which is considerably more satisfying in the animated film.
-Terry McGinnis, from Batman Beyond but later integrated into the comics. He’s not strictly speaking THE Batman, but he is a Batman, with a slick, high-tech suit used to fight crime decades into the future.
Think the rankings need a re-shuffling? Let us know in the comments!