The fictional superhero character Batman dates back to 1939 when he first appeared 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 very popular with readers and was adopted as the book title the following year. Its first motion picture appearance was in the 1943 film Batman and it has remained a fan favourite ever since.
Batman is the brave and powerful alter ego of Bruce Wayne, a wealthy American business mogul, philanthropist, and subtle womanizer. After witnessing his parents being killed as a child, he vowed to seek revenge against all criminals throughout his life. Batman possesses no unnatural powers like most superheroes, but possesses the highest level of physical and intellectual abilities and arms himself with an extraordinary arsenal of weapons, utilizing the vast wealth at his disposal. He adopts this bat-inspired persona 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 first appearing in the late 1930s, Batman has been adapted for various media including film, radio, television and video games and has become a pop culture icon. Interestingly, various Hollywood actors have taken turns bringing this character to life from generation to generation. Some 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 campaigned for animated adaptations of this popular character. Here’s a rundown of our favorite Holywood actors who once played Batman in a movie.
All Actors Who 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 actor in the first Batman film, Batman (1943), which was produced as a 15-episode black-and-white series. Also cast in the film were Douglas Croft, who played Robin the boy wonder, and J. Carrol Naish, who played the villainous Dr. Tito Daka played.
Lewis Wilson was 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 in August 2000 at the age of 80.
Robert Lowery (1913 – 1971)
After the success of the first Batman film, Columbia Pictures ordered a sequel Batman and Robin (1949) with a new actor, Robert Lowery, playing the role of Batman. It was also a 15-episode series, which also starred Lowery as Johnny Duncan, Robin, Leonard Penn, who played the villain character from The Wizard, and Jane Adams, who played Bruce Wayne’s love interest, Vick Vale.
Beyond his role as Batman, Robert Lowery has appeared in many other films and TV shows and his acting career spanning three decades. He died of chronic heart failure in December 1971.
Adam West (1928 – 2017)
Batman: The Movie (1966) was the first full-length play adapting the Batman character. Adam West reprized the role of Batman in this film, having previously played the role in a television series of the same name. Other members of the original TV cast also reprized their roles in the film, 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 film.
Playing the role of Batman was a pivotal moment in Adam West’s career spanning more than 6 years. Much later in his career, he lent his voice to the same role in two of Batman’s animated films Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and Batman vs. Two-Face (2017). West died in June 2017 at the age of 88 after a brief battle with leukemia.
From the late 1980s, Warner Bros. Entertainment was able to build a very successful franchise based on the Batman character. The film Batman (1989), directed by Michael Keaton, was the first of what became a very successful film series. Also joining the cast of the film are Jack Nicholson, who played the role of 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 performer, and so many viewers were skeptical of his ability to pull off a serious role. He gave a brilliant performance in the film which turned out to be a box office and critical success. Keaton’s Batman was also one of the highest-grossing films of 1989. He reprized his starring role as Batman in the film 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. Existing actor Michael Keaton had decided not to return to the role due to creative differences. Alongside Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones 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 while also receiving multiple awards including 3 Oscar nominations. The talented actor was nominated for a 1996 MTV Movie Award for Most Desirable Male. However, Kilmer did not return for the next Batman film as he felt the film’s focus had shifted from Batman to the villains.
Batman & Robin (1997), the fourth installment of the initial Batman series, had George Clooney in the title character. The film’s star-studded cast also included Arnold Schwarzenegger as 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 had an average performance at the box office, and it didn’t achieve as much commercial success as the previous installments. It is the lowest-grossing Batman live-action film to date. It was also a critical failure and is considered one of the worst films ever made.
Batman & Robin (1997) received 11 Razzie nominations, including one for Worst Screen Couple for George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell. Due to the negative response, Warner Bros. canceled a planned sequel to Batman Unchained that 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 film was a successful attempt to bring the Batman character back to the big screen after a long hiatus. Joining the main cast are Liam Neeson as Ra’s al Ghul supervillain, 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 chronicled an impressive box office outing and also garnered critical acclaim. As expected, this film helped restore the Batman character to its original glory in mainstream culture. Christian Bale has also reprized his role as Batman in two sequels, The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), both of which were much more successful than the original film . The two sequels were box office monsters, each grossing over $1 billion 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 launch as Batman, the role was taken over by fellow Hollywood star Ben Affleck. Affleck’s first appearance as Batman was in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), in which he reunited with fellow superhero Superman, portrayed by Henry Cavill. The film is a sequel to the Superman-centric film Man of Steel (2013) and the second part of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film.
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice made a strong debut and also set a few records at the box office. However, performance faltered in the weeks that followed, and while the film made a sizeable profit, it did not live up to expectations. The film also received negative reviews from critics.
Ben Affleck had a second try as Batman in Justice League (2017), the fifth installment in the DCEU and a sequel to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). The film, like its predecessor, features a star-studded cast with Henry Cavill 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 of all time, with a production budget of around $300 million. However, the film fell far short of expectations at the box office. Its box office underperforming and it remains one of the lowest-grossing films of the DC Extended Universe. It was also met with mixed reviews from critics. The film didn’t win any major awards, although Ben Affleck was nominated for Favorite Movie Actor at the 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).