Robin is the answer to Batman’s woes. From a strategic and a narrative driven standpoint, Dick Grayson was born out of necessity. As Batman scribe Bill Finger admitted, “Batman was a combination of Douglas Fairbanks and Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had his Watson. The thing that bothered me was that Batman didn’t have anyone to talk to.”
Enter the Boy Wonder. As a companion for Bruce Wayne and a surrogate son, Dick Grayson served as a counterpoint and a younger reflection of Batman’s own shortcomings. As fellow orphans, Batman and Robin bonded over the ineffable suffering of their childhood. Boy Wonder didn’t just provide conversation for Batman, he offered him salvation and freedom from his self-sustained misery. Since the Dynamic Duo first appeared in DC Comics, Robin has evolved into many different personas: the rogue, the hero, and the child across the identities of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Damian Wayne and more. In surveying his many iterations, both live-action and animated, we endeavor to select the best of the best.
Here is Every Adaptation of Robin, Ranked From Worst to Best:
Honorable Mention: Joseph Gordon Levitt – The Dark Knight Rises
Robin John Blake. What might have been.
Make no mistake: Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Robin is far from the worst on record. Unfortunately, due to his seconds of screen time in the Batcave, we felt it unfair to vault him above actors who spent months inhabiting the beloved role. Still, when the Wayne Enterprises secretary referred to John Blake by his legal name, Christopher Nolan seemed to be enhancing the Batman mythology. Armed with the coordinates to the Batcave and spelunking equipment to boot, Blake swings into the caverns beneath Wayne manor and finds himself atop a fast-rising platform. He has the keys to the kingdom, and as Hans Zimmer’s signature drums and brass swelled, many fans were convinced Joseph Gordon-Levitt would factor into the follow-up movie.
Alas, the Robin reveal was simply a parting gift from Nolan to his fans before leaving the DC universe behind. Though we would have liked to see more of Levitt as the Boy Wonder, the closing shot of The Dark Knight Rises closed out the trilogy with class.
15. Chris O’Donnell – Batman Forever/Batman & Robin
There’s a reason Robin hasn’t received a live-action adaptation since 1997. Despite being a talented actor in his own right, Chris O’Donnell’s grating, obnoxious and petulant take on Dick Grayson banished the Boy Wonder back to the world of animation. The Scent of a Woman star isn’t entirely to blame, because he starred in two of the most widely-panned Batman movies on record (Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin are templates for what not to do in franchise building).
Cast opposite Val Kilmer’s stoic Bruce Wayne, this live-action Robin deserves a disciplinary beat down. He wears an earring, pressures Bruce into assigning him a team name, steals the Batmobile and disrespectfully calls the beloved Butler “Al.” These sins don’t even include the flagrant absurdities in Batman & Robin, like the time Boy Blunder pushes Batman around for infringing on his space with Poison Ivy. Robin is an orphan, sure, but he’s not a bastard. All in all, Chris O’Donnell deserved better as Dick Grayson. Here’s hoping the next live-action Robin lives up to expectations.
14. Johnny Duncan – Batman and Robin Serial
Now this was the Dick Grayson of DC Comics: polite, respectful of Bruce Wayne, and duty-bound to the max. Johnny Duncan channeled that subservience in his 1949 portrayal of Robin, and Columbia Pictures gave him ample screen time in their 15-chapter movie serial, dedicating several full episodes to Robin’s heroism. Though far from a menacing figure, Duncan’s Boy Wonder excelled in espionage and crafty-thinking, even using his cape for particularly creative means. While he may not be the most thrilling or memorable version of Robin, Duncan helped lay the groundwork for future adaptations, particularly Burt Ward’s just a few years later.
As for the actor himself, Duncan lived to a ripe old age, passing away earlier this year at the age of 92. Though he commandeered a little-remembered period in the Caped Crusader’s history, Duncan wielded his Boy Wonder powers and signed many an autograph at movie conventions around the world. Having joined the Batman & Robin serial at just twenty-six years of age, Duncan enjoyed the role of Robin for over sixty years.
13. Douglas Croft – Batman (1949)
When he first set foot in the Batcave, Douglas Croft was just seventeen years old. As a plucky, gangly adolescent with a curly mop of hair, Croft was truly the Boy Wonder. He’s so phenomenally young in this version that you have to wonder how much he can actually contribute to the safety of Gotham. Regardless, Bruce knows how to put this Robin to work, ordering him to fake being a paperboy as part of a larger decoy. Let’s face it: this Robin had to pay his dues.
Indeed, the joys of the 1943 Batman serial are highlighted by the many on-screen moments between Bruce Wayne and his ward. While they spent plenty of time suited up and in pursuit of villains (in this case, Japanese criminals in Gotham associated with the attack on Pearl Harbor), audiences got to spend plenty of time with Dick Grayson sans mask. He chooses action over articulation, and for those rare moments of repose, young Douglas truly resembled the poster boy for MADtv.
12. Carrie Kelley
Frank Miller can do no wrong. In 1986, he gave Carrie Kelley the Robin suit in The Dark Knight Returns and empowered the 13 year-old girl to save Batman. Armed with a deadly slingshot, Carrie may look a bit like Velma of Scooby Doo lore, but she means business. While helping bring the Joker to justice, Carrie disarms the Clown Prince of Crime’s theme park bomb before taking on his crony, Fat Abner. Unfortunately, things don’t go terribly well for hefty Abe, who gets beheaded right before Carrie’s eyes. She cries for a second, sure, but after the shock dissipates, she gets her act back together and saves Batman from getting apprehended by the cops. In many ways, this female Robin is even tougher than the boys.
However committed she may be in Frank Miller’s Gotham City, Carrie Kelley has remained a non-canonical figure in the greater DC universe. Despite appearances in The New Batman Adventures, The Brave and the Bold, and Teen Titans Go!, Kelley is simply a fixture of Frank Miller’s universe that will likely never make it to the big leagues.
11. Lego Robin
Everyone has their favorite version of Robin, and it doesn’t always have to do with his personality. While Dick, Jason, Tim and Damian all have different attitudes and worldviews, Robins are often best defined by their costumes. In Lego Batman: The Videogame and its many sequels, Robin has a full costume wardrobe to choose from. Users can play as Dick Grayson, Damian Wayne, the vintage 1966 Robin, Tim Drake and more.
While we loved the video games, we’re thrilled to meet Michael Cera’s Robin in the upcoming The LEGO Batman Movie. By all accounts, this Dick Grayson appears to be the most puerile, rambunctious, and uh…flamboyant version yet. Indeed, the newly minted Robin rips his trousers off with the confidence of a Magic Mike frontman: “That’s better! Now I’m free, now I’m movin’! Come on, Batman, let’s get groovin’!” Slow down there, kid. When Alfred informs Bruce about his adopted son, the wealthy playboy simply responds, “I thought I was being sarcastic.” If the trailers are any indication, this could be the most fun-filled Robin since Burt Ward.
10. The Brave and the Bold
Batman was dubbed “Batsy,” and somewhere into his storied career, Robin earned the unenviable title of “Boy Blunder.” Of all the animated shows to apply that nickname, The Brave and the Bold did it best. By keeping Batman’s sidekick on the lighter side, this 2008 TV series kept its Robin highly unique. Though built with a brawnier frame and a Bruce Wayne-lite chin, this Robin was big in stature but fragile in spirit.
During a battle against Crazy Quilt, Robin arrives at the scene of the crime ready for a debriefing from the local police. To Robin’s great delight, an officer comes charging towards him for help, only to run past him in pursuit of Batman. This Robin wants desperately to be needed. Indeed, The Brave and the Bold hearkens back to the tried-and-true tone of the Adam West and Burd Ward series, where every moment of action was softened by an equal number of comedic beats and jokes. It’s a winning formula that drives Robin to prove himself in spite of Batman’s sterling reputation.
9. Early Animated Series
Just as Efrem Zimbalist Jr. became the voice of Alfred Pennyworth, actor Casey Kasem dominated the animation world as Robin. For over seventeen years, Kasem breathed life into Dick Grayson. It all started with the 1986 The Batman/Superman Hour, and the Robin-mania transitioned into the Hanna-Barbera era of animation. While Kasem was busy voicing Shaggy in Scooby Doo, he managed to work on seven DC Comics shows from 1975-1985. The Super Friends series had a variety of spinoffs, including The World’s Greatest Super Friends and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians, the final project Kasem would voice before Burt Ward took up the mantle in 1977.
Throughout these early adaptations, Batman and Robin are two peas in a pod. Specifically in the Hanna-Barbera productions, the dynamic duo are shown together perhaps more than any other time in their animated history. After all, Batman and Robin experience everything together, even getting turned into vampires by the Voodoo Vampire of Africa. These are the ties that bind.
8. Recent DC Animated Films
We’ll be saving the best for last, but Robin has made an appearance in more than a few top tier animated movies. Despite the wide variety of plots and character lineups in the last decade of DC animation, Robin remains fairly consistent from film to film. The more recent movies may caricature the role of Robin, but at least in Justice League: The New Frontier, producer Bruce Timm let the Boy Wonder return to his vintage costume roots and wear the Dick Grayson classic.
Since Neil Patrick Harris took up the cause in Under the Red Hood, actor Sean Maher (Firefly) has become the go-to-guy for voicing the Dick Grayson of feature films and direct-to-DVD releases. The more recent Batman Unlimited movies have introduced Tim Drake into the fray, and the most recent Batman Unlimited: Mech vs Mutants gave Damien Wayne some much needed screen time. All in all, while Robin has been a fixture of DC’s growing filmography, his most seminal performances are not to be found in this cluster of content.
7. The Batman
The Batman made a bold move: in sidelining Robin for the first three seasons, the showrunners elected to nominate Batgirl as the sidekick du jour. This choice was one-part creative and another-mandatory, given the fact that the Boy Wonder was heavily featured in Teen Titans at the time. Nevertheless, as soon as the Cartoon Network show was taken off the air, Robin immediately arrived in the fourth season of The Batman.
The premiere episode delved right into the depths of Robin’s origin story. This edgy-looking, punked-out Dick Grayson (voiced by Evan Sabara) grieves the loss of his parents and holds himself accountable. Though these are the platitudes of Robin’s upbringing (and Bruce Wayne’s, for that matter), they resonated loudly in The Batman. In the “Artifacts” episode, the show restored gravitas to the animated world of the Dark Knight by imagining the future of 3027. In this dystopian snapshot, Dick Grayson goes by Nightwing and gets a taste of his bolder and braver future. The Batman only lasted one more season after Robin appeared, but the fifth series sent the Boy Wonder out on a high note.
6. Arkhamverse Robin
There is a season for everything. While the animation world long ago nailed their depiction of Robin, the Arkham games reimagined the role. Gone were the little Robin Hood booties and tights, replaced now by a chiseled, hulking and more physically imposing take on the character. More MMA fighter than Boy Wonder, the Tim Drake of the Arkhamverse is just a few decimals away from being able to beat up Batman himself.
Still, the brilliant video game series knew the aesthetic evolution was only the tip of the iceberg for Robin. With nuanced and layered stories from Arkham City to Arkham Knight, Boy Wonder plays an integral role in this grimy Gotham universe. Of course, while Drake nearly died at the hands of Scarecrow towards the end of Arkham Knight, the real (second) Robin stole the show. Jason Todd makes a grand re-entrance to Batman’s life, more fulminating and fearsome than ever before. This is Robin at his most desperate and dangerous.
5. Burt Ward – 1960s Batman
Burt Ward is the preeminent live-action Robin. By channeling all of the nuances Bill Finger instilled in Dick Grayson, Ward struck the balance between being Batman’s sidekick and still functioning as a smart, independent agent. While he wasn’t much for a helicopter pilot, nearly feeding the Caped Crusader to a famished shark, this mid-century Robin was a master of campy humor and a (relatively) sharp mind.
Beyond being the backup to Batman’s brawn (holy alliteration!), Robin brings his mental acuity to the battlefield. Quick on his feet and full of ideas, Robin responds with panache to each of Batman’s questions. “What’s yellow and writes?” asks Adam West’s Dark Knight. Robin exclaims, “A ballpoint banana!” Five points to Gryffindor.
At a later point in the 1966 Batman movie, Robin set up one of the best lines in the action-comedy romp. Impressed by Batman’s heroics, he asks, “You risked your life to save that riffraff in the bar?” Looking out into the ocean, as he is wont to do, Batman demurs, “They may be drinkers, Robin, but they’re also human beings and may be salvaged. I had to do it.”
4. Teen Titans Robin
Robin is an integral part of the Teen Titans, so when Cartoon Network announced plans to feature him in their animated series, fans were elated. Boy Wonder had all the physical trappings we’ve come to expect, though in Teen Titans, he seemed to be an amalgamation of all the major Robins on record. Heroic and daring, this was Robin determined to make good on his training and become a true leader. Though he had the aesthetic of Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake rolled into one, a few hints throughout the show indicated that this Robin was the first one on record. The show ran 5 seasons and 65 episodes before cruelly getting the boot from Cartoon Network. It was an unexpected and unjust death for one of the best versions of Robin on the small screen.
Fast forward to 2013 and welcome the revival of Teen Titans in a fantastically different form. Smaller, brighter and louder, Teen Titans Go! is the difference between an ice cream sundae and a Warhead extreme sour slurpee. Both desserts are good, but one is designed to give you a brain freeze. Teen Titans Go! is Robin on steroids, with a wacky sense of humor and an energy level that’s bordering on overdrive. Though drastically different in tone and aesthetic, Teen Titans Go! has accrued 149 episodes and was recently green-lit for a fourth season. Cartoon Network won’t be clipping this Robin’s wings anytime soon, as evidenced by their own self-mockery for the first show’s abrupt cancellation.
3. Young Justice Robin
Young Justice, or: the one where Robin fights Batman and wins. To be fair, Batman (voiced by Bruce Greenwood) was possessed by Vandal Savage’s bio-nanotech chips, but that doesn’t take away from Robin’s fighting force. Indeed, the first season is a veritable fighting showcase for Dick Grayson (Jesse McCartney), who in Young Justice becomes the most confident and fearless of the animated Robins. Taking full advantage of his weapons arsenal, Grayson uses nunchucks, birdarangs and grappling hooks galore.
He even gets to fight out of his signature costume, taking down baddies in his red and yellow biker gear. As a warning of his imminent presence, this Robin also has a haunting laugh that precedes his arrival on the battlefield. While certainly a reminder of Grayson’s youthful persona, the laugh is equal parts comical and creepy, as it’s often the last thing his enemies hear before the attack. Though Dick Grayson would dominate the first season of Young Justice, Tim Drake would later take up the Robin mantle while Nightwing went to work.
2. DCAU Robin
DC aficionados had long hoped for Robin to earn the royal treatment, and Batman: The Animated Series reminded audiences of the character’s true value. Voiced by Loren Lester and supported by highly engrossing stories, the Boy Wonder came to life. In episodes like “Robin’s Reckoning”, the full weight of Dick Grayson’s dramatic past is revealed. When Tony Zucco, the killer of Dick’s parents (in this continuity), is discovered in Gotham, Batman shields his ward from the truth and pursues the criminal himself. Robin eventually catches on to his mentor’s chicanery and pursues Zucco himself with intent to kill. These moments, and the subsequent reconciliation between Batman and Robin, are at the heart of The Animated Series and Robin’s character development.
After the first show’s success, Bruce Timm returned with The New Batman Adventures. Having retired Dick Grayson and welcomed Tim Drake to the fold (voiced by Mathew Valencia), this new Robin was a mélange of new and old, with added elements of Jason Todd. Though the network was careful to avoid Robin’s death by crowbar, they pushed Tim Drake to dark corners as he battled Two-Face and fought to keep Batman above water. The DC Animated Universe is a hallmark time in Robin’s onscreen history.
1. Batman: Under the Red Hood
Arkham Knight upended the Jason Todd story in a delicious way, but Batman: Under the Red Hood is still the granddaddy of superhero reveals. Not only does Under the Red Hood feature the always awesome Neil Patrick Harris as Dick Grayson/Nightwing, it introduces the second Robin in truly shocking fashion. Before Red Hood (Jensen Ackles) removes his helmet, he cleverly exposes Batman atop a Gothic cathedral. Red Hood doesn’t just want revenge on Batman, he wants to fulfill it as the former sidekick of the Dark Knight himself: Jason Todd, the helpless victim of Joker’s malevolent attacks. It’s a revenge of the most intimate order.
When Todd pardons Batman, he does so with a killer caveat: shoot Joker and be free. Despite his desire to pacify Jason and end his arch enemy, the Caped Crusader adheres to his principles and declines the offer. It’s a moment that defines the Batman and Robin relationship, examining the extreme connection the duo shared and the tenuous relationship they built. The question remains: how soon can we see this story in live-action form?
Who is your favorite Robin? Let us know in the comments!
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