One of the most pressing concerns that we as a species confront in the twenty-first century is who is the greatest Batman actor of all time. Even as existential threats loom on all fronts and AI threatens to transform art as we know it to a mechanical process of copying, the question of who best represented the Dark Knight on-screen nags at us all.
While I’m kind of joking, Batman is such an iconic character that genuinely means something to so many, making the question of who played him best not all that insignificant. When we polled our dear readers on the best Batman movie, it transpired that 31% of you grew up on the Christopher Nolan films because “The Dark Knight” took the top spot with ease.
Now, “The Flash” is set to bring back Michael Keaton, the original cinematic Batman, and give those of us in our mid-30s a shot of nostalgia strong enough to catapult us across the multiverse. But whether Keaton’s return will be enough to appeal to the current generation of movie-goers remains to be seen. This got us thinking about this nagging question of who the best on-screen Batman is.
We here at /Film have previously ranked the best Batman movies and argued passionately (and correctly) that Michael Keaton remains the best Batman. Alas, we are but a few lone voices amid the discourse on these contentious issues. This is why we turned to you, the fans, to weigh in and give us your views on the best actor to ever don the cape and cowl. And to do so, we used the rigorously scientific method of a Twitter poll.
The results are in…
Before we get into the numbers, we should preface this by pointing out the controversial choice to leave some names off our list of possible choices for the best Batman. Val Kilmer, Adam West, and the late great Kevin Conroy were all absent from this poll, as was George Clooney (but that was more of an act of mercy for the poor guy on our part). Instead, we offered a choice between arguably the actors most familiar to modern audiences — and yes, Michael Keaton counts due to him being the first to ever do it and his highly-publicized return in “The Flash.”
Now, the results are in. One thousand and fifty-seven of you responded to our poll, resulting in the proper and correct outcome of Keaton taking the win. With 37.6% of the vote, the man who fronted both Tim Burton Batman movies, 1989’s “Batman” and 1992’s “Batman Returns,” came out on top. But Christian Bale wasn’t far behind. In fact, it was uncomfortably close, with Bale nabbing 36.5% of the vote and proving that he and Christopher Nolan’s movies maintain their vaunted status in popular culture.
Meanwhile, our current Batman, Robert Pattinson, came in with a comparatively meager 15%. But considering he’s been only been in one movie and doesn’t have the benefit of nostalgia propelling him yet, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Ben Affleck, on the other hand, received a paltry 10.9%, suggesting ending his run as the Caped Crusader wasn’t all that much of a missed opportunity after all.
Bale was good, Keaton was better
Would adding Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Adam West, or Kevin Conroy to our choices have made a difference in this poll? Perhaps. But what matters here is that a majority of voters made the smart choice and put Michael Keaton right where he deserves to be. Christian Bale was a great Batman and arguably an even better Bruce Wayne. Christopher Nolan did an undeniably stellar job of rebooting the Batman franchise after “Batman & Robin” almost killed it off for good, and Bale was a big part of that effort. But Michael Keaton is, as far as I and 37.6% of the Twitter users who voted are concerned, untouchable.
The reasons why Keaton deserves that top spot are too numerous to list in their entirety. Suffice it to say that no one made both Batman and Bruce Wayne as interesting, fascinatingly odd, and convincingly troubled as the veteran star. Back when fans were outraged at Keaton being cast in “Batman,” Tim Burton correctly saw that his leading man had exactly the right kind of offbeat energy to convince us all that he was crazy enough to spend his nights traversing Gotham rooftops accosting criminals.
And that’s to say nothing of the absolute seismic effect “Batman” had on the film industry as a whole, making obscene amounts of money (especially for Jack Nicholson) and establishing a blueprint for superhero movies that remains relevant to this day.
While I’m personally a bit worried about “The Flash” bringing back Keaton’s Batman, I’m also exhilarated at the prospect of seeing my childhood hero back on-screen. And judging by this poll, so are a lot of you. So I offer my sincere congratulations on picking the right option and vindicating all of us ’80s and ’90s kids in our steadfast belief that Keaton remains the best Batman of all time.