Batman Through the Years

Batman Through the Years: Christian Bale, George Clooney and Others Who’ve Played the Dark Knight

As “The Dark Knight Rises”  hits theaters, we look back at five actors who — for better or worse — donned the cowl and brought the DC superhero to life.

Adam West (‘Batman’ TV Series, 1966-68)


Adam West and his TV show’s campy vision of the caped crusader made an indelible impact on the pop culture psyche. Full of onomatopoeia and kitschy catch phrases, the show — and West — remain in the cultural lexicon more than 40 years after the ABC series ended. Holy legacy, Batman.

Michael Keaton (‘Batman,’ ‘Batman Returns,’ 1989-92)


Michael Keaton’s take on the hero was considered dark and brooding at the time, though Tim Burton recently called his Batman films downright cheery compared to the Christopher Nolan trilogy.
“The coolest thing from the get-go is that he doesn’t have superpowers, there are no magical things,” Keaton said of the character in a 2011 interview. “The movie was different from what had come before. The discussion from the get-go was to do a hero that was based in the psychological.”

Val Kilmer (‘Batman Forever,’ 1995)


Brooding and boasting a jaw line worthy of the cowl, Val Kilmer took the Batman mantle from Michael Keaton in Batman Forever. The series took a critical turn for the worse with this addition, directed by Joel Schumacher. (The batsuit nipples didn’t help matters.)
Despite its shortcomings, Kilmer revealed at Comic-Con 2012 he has fond memories of shooting the film.
“The cast was pretty amazing, and we spent a lot of time hanging out,” Kilmer said. “So I got to know some pretty interesting people. It was sad, though, because Jim Carrey had just lost his father and I lost my father right before I did Tombstone. So we talked quite a bit.”

George Clooney (‘Batman & Robin,’ 1997)


No man to wear the batsuit has repudiated it quite like George Clooney. But who can blame him? Batman & Robin was reviled by fans and critics alike and continues to be mocked to this day. Clooney called the film and those like it “a waste of money” in 2002. More recently, Clooney has softened his stance on the role, acknowledging the film was the biggest break of his career.
“With hindsight it’s easy to look back at this and go, ‘Woah, that was really shit and I was really bad in it,’” Clooney said in 2011. “The truth is, my phone rang, and the head of Warner Bros. said ‘Come into my office, you are going to play Batman in a Batman film’ and I said ‘Yeah!’

Christian Bale (Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman’ Trilogy, 2005-12)


Demonstrating an obsessive dedication not unlike the character he plays, Christian Bale famously gained roughly 100 pounds for his role in Batman Begins. The Christopher Nolan-directed film would relaunch the character and set the stage for the $1 billion-grosser The Dark Knight.
After wrapping on The Dark Knight Rises, Bale said it was “the end of that Batman era.”