Batman is a fictional comic superhero created in 1939 by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. The entertainment industry has made a number of attempts to portray this character on television and movie screens. This list summarizes my assessment and ranking of some of the actors who have taken on the role of millionaire Bruce Wayne by day and crime-fighter Batman by night.
In 1989, Keaton played the starring role in the first of the "Batman" movies, the highest grossing film that year. Three years later, Keaton was again the Caped Crusader in "Batman Returns," another box office success. Although Keaton's prior comedic roles made him somewhat of an unexpected choice for a superhero role, he played the darker side of Batman to near perfection, and hence rates as the best of the pack in my opinion.
Bale played the starring role in "Batman Begins" (2005) and its sequel, "The Dark Knight" (2008). Both of these movies were also very successful. "The Dark Knight" grossed over a billion dollars at the box office, worldwide. He will also star in the upcoming "The Dark Knight Rises," with a projected theatrical release date in July, 2012. The Batman portrayed by Christian Bale is the superhero who must rein in and control the savage beast within himself.
The Batman television series that I grew up with (via re-runs) originally aired from 1966 to 1968. During this span, 120 episodes were released. In 1966, a film based on the television show was also released. Adam West delivered a very campy portrayal of Batman who worked with his side-kick Robin (and occasionally Batgirl) battling a wide variety of colorful Gotham City villains. The fight scenes were pop-art POW!s, BAM!s, and ZONK!s, for instance, but I always tuned in at the same Bat-time on the same Bat-channel because I enjoyed watching the show.
In 1995, Michael Keaton bowed out of the Caped Crusader role and Val Kilmer took over for "Batman Forever," the third installment of the series. It was the first to introduce Batman's sidekick, Robin, played by Chris O'Donnell. Kilmer's portrayal of the Caped Crusader was much lighter. "Batman Forever" was successful, but critical reviews were mixed. Personally, I enjoyed the movie, but less so than the earlier ones. Batman creator Bob Kane, however, went on record as preferring Kilmer's Batman to all others.
In the 1997 film "Batman and Robin," George Clooney took over the starring role. Chris O'Donnell returned as Robin and Alicia Silverstone was introduced as Batgirl. This was the least successful of the series and was not generally well rated by critics. Clooney himself does not seem very proud of his role. The film's poor acceptance probably had more to do with Warner Brothers decision to make the film more family friendly than a poor acting performance by George. Their attempt to make the movie less depressing, more heroic, and more of a Wayne family affair, however, deeply affected his portrayal of the Dark Knight. For example, Clooney was the only one of the Batman actors not to alter his voice to suit his identity - his Batman sounds just like his Bruce Wayne. The George Clooney version of Batman, was not what fans wanted.
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