Bat Battle: Who's The Best Movie Batman?

Michael Keaton. Christian Bale. Val Kilmer. George Clooney. Even, yes, Adam West (he did a Batman film during the TV show's run). All of them have donned the bat-ears, the billowy cape, and the pointy gloves for one movie or another, to varying levels of success. Some became fan favorites; others, The Batmen We Do Not Speak Of.

We've gone back through all the batfilms and watched them exhaustively-even Batman & Robin, so that should tell you how seriously we took it. Examining criteria as diverse as ass-kicking ability, scoring tail, and homoerotic undertones, we crunch the numbers to give you the Best Movie Batman Ever (so far).


#5. ADAM WEST - Batman: The Movie (1966)

Coolness of Costume
In a word: dignified. That's what Adam West's Batman isn't. Tiny little nubbin bat-ears, a bat emblem that looks like it's slid halfway down his sallow, pectorally-absent chest, and a cape so wrinkled it makes one wonder if Batman had a long layover in Houston with his costume bunched up in his carry-on.

The worst offense, though, has to be the painted-on eyebrows. The point of Batman's costume is to strike fear in the hearts of criminals, not to make them wonder why he always looks surprised to see them, like he recognizes them from high school or something. "Tom... Tom Franklin? You son of a bitch, get over here, you!"

Also, we didn't bother to include a picture of Batman's bat-package (you're welcome), but let's just say '60s Batman's genital-hugging blue satin panties don't leave a lot to the imagination. Ignorant as to whether or not Adam West is circumcised? Anybody who watched Batman: The Movie can't, unfortunately, say the same.

Ass-Kicking Ability
BatWest fights like someone having a stroke. To be fair, Batman: The Movie's supposed to be campy. To once again be unfair, it looks like they didn't so much choreograph their fights as just run around flailing their arms like the set just caught on fire:

[whistling] Man, let that in. BatWest just got his ass handed to him there by a quacking Burgess Meredith with a pillow under his tuxedo. That's the point in your crime-fighting career where you just need to stop and frankly assess some things that might have gotten away from you. If BatWest had to fight a six-year-old girl on crutches, frankly, it could go either way.

Those Wonderful Toys
BatWest had the Batmobile, the Batcopter, the Batcycle, and the Batcave. But whatever-every Batman has those. What puts BatWest's bat-gadgets head and shoulders above any other movie Batman's gadgets was his magical utility belt, which housed roughly 60 billion bat-themed doohickeys that could be pulled out in any situation whatsoever. Need something soldered? Batblowtorch! Getting gassed by the Penguin? Anti-Penguin gas pills! Want a sandwich sliced? Batlaser! Motherfucker even had Bat-shark repellent on hand:

Smoothness with the Ladies
BatWest must have realized how not macho he looked running around in tight satin panties, and so overcompensated with his alter ego Bruce Wayne, swinging '60s bachelor. The sly grin, slicked-back hair, and ascot (right) combine to make him look like the guest star on an all-sexual predator episode of The Love Boat. Come. And. Get it, ladies.

Plus, if the tell-all autobiographies written by the cast are to be believed, Adam West spent the majority of the TV series and motion picture getting drunk, doing drugs, and attempting to nail any co-star with a pulse and a vagina. Whether or not this was a good thing or a bad thing depends, we suppose, on your stance on this sort of behavior and whose autobiography you're reading.

Robin "helps out" (i.e., gets kidnapped every 10 minutes), and Commissioner Gordon and Irish stereotype Chief "Bless Me Shamrocks" O'Hara could be counted on to be useless enough to need Batman's assistance on pretty much every single crime committed in Gotham City. Take a breath mint from the Commissioner's desk without asking, and he'd be leaping across his office to the Batphone to get some help cracking the case.

Homoerotic Subtext?
BatWest got around that whole "living (and fighting crime in his underpants) with a minor" thing by having Aunt Harriet move in with them, presumably to keep an eye out for any shenanigans of the homosexual variety. Having said that, they managed to hide secret identities and a vast underground cave fortress with a helicopter pad from her, meaning she was either pretty liberal about the whole thing or had the observational skills of a particularily stupid earthworm.

#4. GEORGE CLOONEY - Batman & Robin (1997)

Ability to Kick Ass
BatClooney, with assists from Robin (Chris O'Donnell) and Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone), does battle here with Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a supervillain whose sole superpower is the ability to turn water into ice, making him about as menacing as the cube-making feature in your refrigerator; and Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman), a supervillainess who can grow plants and make men fall in love with her (essentially, the superpowers of an attractive woman with a garden).

Coolness of Costume
BatClooney abandons the yellow Batsymbol and somber blacks, adopting a showy silver look not unlike a crime-fighting tuna fish. Improvements abound in the cowl region, which trades in the cumbersome ceramic headpiece of earlier incarnations for a large-nosed latex rubber mask, meaning Batman can now blow his nose in-costume and possesses peripheral vision of at least an inch on either side. Watch out, criminals standing very slightly to his left or right!

Also worth noting: Against all reason and decency, the Batsuit now features nipples, possibly as part of some new Bat-lactation feature. (Theory: They squirt Gatorade when he's thirsty?)

Those Wonderful Toys

Mr. Freeze uses his only superpower to turn the floor into an ice rink just as Batman and Robin are about to apprehend him. Luckily, our crimefighters yell "Batskates!", at which point, yes, Batskates pop out of their boots and they proceed to play ice hockey with Mr. Freeze's hockey stick-toting goons. Observant Batman fans might notice that being able to make things appear suddenly from the recesses of his body isn't Batman's power; it's Inspector Gadget's (or, failing that, Richard Gere's).

Elsewhere, BatClooney and Robin pull out Batsurfboards and surf down a building, which is actually more ridiculous than Bat-shark repellent, in that it actually manages to break the laws of physics with its brute idiocy.

Smoothness with the Ladies
BatClooney briefly engages in a competitive romantic rivalry with Robin over who gets to date Poison Ivy first, but since they're both under her love potion spell, it's hard to count. Otherwise, Batman & Robin seems more preoccupied with getting Robin some action with the newly arrived Batgirl than scoring anything for the Dark Knight. Lots of lonely nights home alone for BatClooney, it seems: No wonder he had the time to invent the Batskates.

BatClooney sees no problems whatsoever with suiting Chris O'Donnell and Alicia Silverstone up in benippled costumes and enlisting the idiots in his war on crime, despite the fact that no right-thinking person would trust Chris O'Donnell or Alicia Silverstone to lick stamps without turning purple and asphyxiating themselves.

Homoerotic Subtext?
See "Batnipples; casting smoldering looks at one another while having."

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#3. VAL KILMER - Batman Forever (1995)

Ability to Kick Ass
Substantial. Until Christian Bale came along, as unbelievable as this sounds, BatKilmer was probably the only Batman to have bothered lifting a few goddamn weights. So he acquits himself well here, punching, kicking, and rope-swinging around about 200 times more ass-kickingly than Adam "Let's Tilt the Camera on Its Side So I Can Climb Up Buildings" West and Michael "I Can't Really Move in This Thing, So I'll Just Stand Here and Glower with a Poopy-Face" Keaton.

So it's unfortunate, but not really his fault, that the film elects to pit him against 120-pound man-child Jim Carrey and senior citizen Tommy Lee Jones, either of whom anyone in the audience for Batman Forever could probably take in a fight.

Coolness of Costume
BatKilmer starts Forever sporting probably the best of the Batsuits from the original movie franchise, keeping the black tones and yellow bat symbol of the Keaton era, yet improving upon them through the new outfit's improved mobility (Batman can actually kick things now without falling over) and the new actor's actual muscles (Val works out).

Towards the end of the movie, though, as if sensing the audience's growing boredom, BatKilmer shows up inexplicably in the Clooney model, all silver-colored and ridiculous, as if to say, "Hey, check it out! Now you can buy two toys!"

Rogues Gallery
Batman Forever officially marks the point where Batman's villains were deemed more interesting than Batman himself. They consequently stop making any kind of sense, existing only as a rickety vehicle for ham-fisted acting on the part of whichever name-brand celebrity they'd managed to land for the movie-in this case, Carrey and Jones, who swallow unspeakably vast amounts of scenery without bothering to chew.

When you're able to compare Forever to its previous installment, Batman Returns-a film where Danny Devito crams handfuls of raw fish into his mouth while sitting among penguins with missiles strapped to their backs in a sewer-and think, "You know, Forever is really where the villains became too campy," that's saying something.

Smoothness with the Ladies
BatKilmer takes a few spoonfuls of pants-sugar from Nicole Kidman in Forever, who plays Dr. Chase Meridian, a smoking-hot Gotham City psychiatrist who harbors an unhealthy sexual obsession with the Dark Knight. Perhaps due to the logistical problems of Val tapping the good doctor while in costume, Dr. Chase becomes one in a seemingly endless series of love interests from the original franchise to whom Batman gleefully reveals his secret identity for a booty call.

This prompts the question of why, if Batman's willing to take off his mask for any girl who wants to hit a mattress, he even bothers to wear a costume at all. If that's his priority here, surely "crime-fighting billionaire detective" is gonna rack a brother up more tail than "crazy dude in a flying rat outfit," right?

Alicia Silverstone's yet to be invited to the Batparty (see #4. George Clooney), but Forever sadly marks the introduction of The Great Unpleasantness: Chris O'Donnell, a veritable black hole of charisma who somehow convinced America he should be starring in films alongside Al Pacino and Gene Hackman-this despite a complete inability to speak dialogue without sounding like he'd just been hit in the skull with a plank of wood. O'Donnell's an actor, in short, who makes one long for the playful, layered nuance of a Keanu Reeves performance.

BatKilmer stumbles on Unpleasantness at the Gotham Circus while trying to put the moves on Dr. Chase by asking her out "rock-climbing"-because when you're a crime-fighting billionaire, dinner and a movie's out of the question, evidently. Two-Face (Jones) interrupts BatKilmer's mountain-scaling ("And then back to my place?") overture by holding the circus hostage for a reason that's probably stupid. O'Donnell's trapeze-tumbling parents help out by plummeting embarrassingly to their deaths.

In BatKilmer's mind, anybody who loses their parents must necessarily want to take up a life of dressing ridiculously and administering vigilante justice, and so offers Unpleasantness a job as Robin, his boy sidekick. To the audible groans of everyone who's just endured five minutes of O'Donnell's acting and now realizes they're about to be forced through another hour's worth, Unpleasantness accepts.

Homoerotic Subtext?
The post-Adam West, rebooted Batman franchise had so far wisely avoided homoeroticism simply by not including Robin in any of the movies. Batman Forever breaks from this reasonable choice, and so we get many scenes with Kilmer and O'Donnell casting smoldering looks at each other, presumably because they're furious, but possibly because, "damn it, when is that troublesome man gonna kiss me?"

#2. MICHAEL KEATON - Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)

Coolness of Costume
'80s Batman succeeds where his predecessor, '60s Batman, fails, trading in dance tights for a bodysuit with big plastic muscles all over it, sparing star Michael Keaton the need to actually develop any. Sadly, the costume's ceramic neck brace meant BatKeaton couldn't technically turn his head, with the unfortunate side effect that he could only fight crime taking place directly in front of him. This is a design flaw that probably gets circulated around the Gotham underground fairly quickly.

"I dunno about this drug deal, Fingers. What if the Batman attacks?" "We step two feet to his immediate left or right and he'll think we disappeared." "Ah, okay."

For all its mobility issues, though: no nipples. And at least the damn costume's black, not silver.

Ass-Kicking Ability
In the big final fight scene in Batman, our hero climbs to the top of a bell tower to fight three hulking goons so he can stop the Joker from putting the moves on Kim Basinger. As is the law with these sorts of movie fights, all of the three goons possess a different fighting style, each deadlier than the last: One's a ninja, one's a fistfighter, and the other's just this really humongous dude swinging a big metal chain around like a lunatic.

After beating up all three goons, BatKeaton makes short work of the Joker, pimp-slapping him around the bell tower and growling a lot of cold shit about how Joker killed his parents, so it's on:

BatKeaton might need elevations in his boots to look tall. Sure, he has to wear plastic muscles. But still: When it comes right down to it, he's a badass. Given that almost everything he does is scored to a fruity Prince song, that's saying something.

Those Wonderful Toys
In the scene mentioned above, where BatKeaton beats up three goons in a bell tower, we neglected to mention the coolest part: At one point, Ninja-Goon administers a Mortal Kombat-style flying kick to the Caped Crusader. BatKeaton picks him out of the air by extending a hidden metal plate from the palm of his glove (left), which connects with Ninja-Goon's genitals and sends him, crumpled and whimpering, to the ground.

That's right: BatKeaton invented a gadget whose only purpose is to hit you in the balls.

Additionally, BatKeaton's got a pretty sweet car that looks to be powered by an actual jet engine:

On the downside, trying to cut a tight corner with a car over 15 feet long can be tricky. When driving this Batmobile, you technically need to shoot out a Batarang and wrap it around a lamppost every time you want to make a hard right. Alternatively, you could just get out and walk.

Smoothness with the Ladies
For a short guy with no muscles, BatKeaton scores positively epic amounts of ass during his Bat-tenure in Batman and Batman Returns, including Kim Basinger and Michelle Pfeiffer in a catsuit. Must be that impressive wingspan on the cape.

Plus, unlike other Batmen (who refuse to get involved in relationships because it would distract from their war on crime), BatKeaton's all about the pussy: That crime stuff can just chill out for a night, he'll get to it tomorrow. He freely reveals his identity to his girlfriends, romances them with candle-lit meals at Wayne Manor, and then makes them watch him sleep upside-down after he's bedded them. That's a little creepy, admittedly, but one could argue that after you've managed to bed '80s-era Kim Basinger, you can pretty much go ahead and do any goddamn thing you'd like.

Rogues Gallery
Jack Nicholson as the Joker:

Can't argue with that.

Just Alfred the butler.

Homoerotic Subtext?
Just Alfred the butler.

And so that concludes our list, as you can see we've covered all of the ... oh, wait. Sorry. One more.

#1. CHRISTIAN BALE - Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008)

In a stunning upset, somehow Christian Bale has found his way to the top of our list.

Ability to Kick Ass
Unparalleled in the annals of Batdom. Moreso than any movie Batman before him, BatBale makes you believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he could probably kick your ass. Not only do we get an hour-long origin montage in Begins where Bruce Wayne treks up mountains and learns the deadly arts of the ninja, pretty much establishing his ass-kicking credentials from the outset...

...but you also get Christian Bale, who cranked enough steroids prior to Begins' filming that, no shit, the producers actually asked him to lose some muscle mass before they could start filming, since he was fucking enormous.

Some Batfans criticized Begins for its narrative choice of not really showing any of Batman's fights close up. You tend to see them from the criminal's perspective, like Batman was the monster in a horror movie:

Which, come on, sort of makes sense. Dude dresses up like a bat. If you can't make him a credibly terrifying presence in the eyes of the criminal element, he'd just end up looking like... well, like any of the other Batmen on this list. Did getting to see George Clooney beat up crooks make him a more credible ass-kicker than Christian Bale is here? Not really.

BatBale takes the ass-kicking round in a walk.

Those Wonderful Toys
Batmen Begins director Christopher Nolan takes the time to flesh out Batman's gadgets with a thoughtfulness never before seen in a movie about a guy in a batsuit punching crooks in the face, meaning we actually get a plausible explanation for the first time as to how Bruce Wayne manages to score all of his cool shit.

For the most part, Nolan's successful: It turns out Wayne Industries funds a ludicrously robust R&D department for military-grade gadgets, like grappling hooks, memory cloth, and indestructible bodysuits. All that's required of BatBale here is sneaking stuff out of the building under his shirt and buying some black spray paint on the way home.

It's still far from airtight, though. To use just one example, while out on a gadget shopping spree at Wayne Industries, BatBale spots the "Tumbler," described as a bridging vehicle. "During combat," explains Morgan Freeman, "two of these would jump over a river, towing cables." Hence the desert camo on the Tumbler, presumably: Gotta help our boys in the Middle East jump over all those rivers in the desert!

At least it explains why Wayne Industries never managed to sell any of this shit.

Coolness of Costume

BatBale's costume looks a bit more piecemeal than the others, if only because the movie takes the time to explain where he gets everything, which alone gives it coolness points. BatBale's wrist guards are of a slightly different design than the rest of his outfit, for instance, because they're spray-painted ninja gauntlets he got during his martial arts training, and are designed specifically to deflect swords. Let's hear BatClooney come up with an explanation that good for the nipples.

Other improvements: Costume not so shiny; Batman can now actually move his neck left and right; it's bullet-proof; it's electrocution-proof; his cape becomes a hang-glider; his Batears house a built-in cell phone; and, let's face it, it still looks pretty cool.

Smoothness with the Ladies
Has Katie Holmes give it up to him on a silver platter, but wrings his hands enough about it that by the time he decides he'd like to make something happen, she's already forgotten she even offered.

Despite this, we're giving it up to BatBale for not being the second Caped Crusader to eat Tom Cruise's table scraps (BatKilmer being the first with Nicole Kidman). Luckily, Holmes got unceremoniously booted from the sequel after her Cruise-related PR nightmare last year, and her character's now being played by the infinitely more capable Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Rogues Gallery
Not a lot going on in the villain department in Batman Begins; it's all about BatBale. As for The Dark Knight, let's just say that Heath Ledger's Joker makes most of the villains on this list look like cruel insults to the profession.

Homoerotic Subtext?
Only in the sense that we spent this movie wondering if BatBale liked us. You know, as more than friends.

We here at have explored the topic of Batman on more than one occasion. If you found this article enlightening, perhaps you would like this video showing why all the kids want Dark Knight action figures, or you can watch Commissioner Gordon confront Batman about his methods, with somewhat messy results. Also don't forget to check out our depiction of everyday objects if they were designed for Batman.

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