Under The Cowl1 of 12
It's rare for a legend to take on a new, potentially definitive form - even rarer for one event to signal two such titanic shifts. But that's what happened this week when the first image of longtime Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy in a live-action version of the role - as a Kingdom Come-inspired Bruce Wayne, complete with exo-skeleton - for CW's "Crisis On Infinite Earths" TV crossover.
Conroy's shift to live-action will precede another new live Batman's debut, with Robert Pattinson set to don the cape and cowl in director Matt Reeves' The Batman.
With a new live-action era of Batman burgeoning on TV and in film, we're now counting down the defining Batman performances - and number one shouldn't shock you.
10. George Clooney2 of 12
It's impossible to say George Clooney's performance as Batman in Batman & Robin isn't iconic - if only as an example of how not to play the Caped Crusader.
Clooney's sleepy, ego-driven performance came just before he broke through as a major box office star, and was saddled by a toy-selling attempt at recapturing the camp of the 1960s TV series rather than a full-fledged film.
Like Batman & Robin itself, the worst crime of Clooney's performance is that it's ultimately just kinda boring - and when you're one half of the Dynamic Duo, that just doesn't cut it.
9. Robert Lowery3 of 12
Robert Lowery was not actually the first actor to portray Batman on the big screen - that honor goes to Lewis Wilson. However Lowery's turn as Batman in The New Adventures of Batman & Robin holds up better than his predecessor's six years earlier.
A modern release for The New Adventures of Batman & Robin and a treatment from RiffTrax have brought Lowery's Batman back into the public conscience, though he doesn't permeate as strongly as most of the actors who have embodied the role in subsequent decades.
8. Val Kilmer4 of 12
Val Kilmer had the unenviable task of following Michael Keaton as Batman in Batman Forever - a movie that, while not as good as the two films that immediately preceded it, isn't quite the trainwreck that became of its sequel.
Kilmer's turn as Batman came at the height of his Hollywood stardom, and also at the height of his well-reported massive ego. Despite not being willing to go out on a limb for his performance, however, Kilmer was a serviceable enough Batman, and perhaps an even better Bruce Wayne.
7. Diedrich Bader5 of 12
It's hard to follow up Kevin Conroy's iconic voice performance as Batman, but Diedrich Bader embodied a very different version of the character - one grounded in the tradition of Super Friends and the 1960s Batman show.
Despite the obvious comparisons, Batman: The Brave & The Bold had more of a focus on all-ages adventure and a much deeper bench of DC Universe knowledge than many of its predecessors, positioning Bader's authoritative and outspoken Batman as the hub of a funner, friendlier Gotham City than in many other adaptations.
6. Olan Soule6 of 12
Olan Soule isn't exactly a household name, but odds are, if you heard his voice, you'd immediately think of Batman.
Before Kevin Conroy became the definitive Batman voice actor, Olan Soule owned the role of the Dark Knight Detective in Super Friends and several of its various spin-offs.
Soule even voiced Batman in the famed animated crossover with Scooby-Doo, and in Filmation's Batman animated series before moving over to Hanna-Barbera with the role, becoming the defining voice of Batman for most of the 70s and 80s.
5. Ben Affleck7 of 12
Despite a predictable online backlash, fans immediately latched onto Ben Affleck's performance as Batman as one of the high points of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
More than anything, Affleck presented a vision of Batman heavily influenced by the disaffected, jaded Batman of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, something that not even Christian Bale accurately channeled.
Affleck showed a more human, heroic side of the Caped Crusader in 2017's Justice League - but it seems Affleck will never get to cut loose in his own Batman solo movie, having now officially departed the role with Robert Pattinson set to be the new Dark Knight.
4. Michael Keaton8 of 12
Fans who think comic book movie casting controversies are a modern problem probably weren't aware of the stir caused by the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman all the way back in the 80s.
Primarily known as a comedic actor, director Tim Burton saw something in Keaton after working with him on Beetlejuice that led him to cast Keaton in 1989's Batman.
Despite outcry at the time that casting a comedian as Batman would lead to a rehash of the campy 60s show, Keaton owned the roles of both Batman and Bruce Wayne, setting the gold standard for live action Batman performances that all subsequent actors would be compared to.
3. Christian Bale9 of 12
Christian Bale was not a major star when he landed the role of Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, but fans everywhere quickly learned his name.
From the moment he hoisted the crooked Detective Flass and snarled "Swear to me!" it was clear that Bale's Batman was a major departure from George Clooney and Val Kilmer's increasingly silly portrayals of the late 90s, and even Michael Keaton's more serious but far less gritty take.
Bale's performance received some notoriety for his extremely affected growl and for taking a bit of a back seat to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight, but even despite these criticisms, Bale's Batman was the closest fans have come to seeing the modern comic book Batman on the big screen yet.
2. Adam West10 of 12
Like many of the most iconic Batman castings, the late Adam West's performance is somewhat controversial. Fans either love or hate the tongue-in-cheek campiness of West's performance and the show it came from, with little room for indifference.
No matter which camp you fall in, West's wry portrayal of Batman is undoubtedly the most influential live action performance on this list. His subtle, self-aware humor affected perceptions of Batman for decades and even influenced the direction of the comic books of the 60s.
And though Batman has come a long way from the "Biff! Bang! Pow!" of Batman, West is still synonymous with the character and even the very idea of the Caped Crusader - a fact proved by the tremendous response to his recent death.
1. Kevin Conroy11 of 12
Though his performance has only ever extended to Batman's voice, Kevin Conroy's take on both Bruce Wayne and his cowled alter ego in Batman: The Animated Series remains the definitive take on the Dark Knight, having voiced the character consistently in animated series, movies, and video games for almost 25 years.
Conroy's Batman is as iconic as superhero performances get - you can't hear his voice without picturing Batman, or even see Batman without hearing his voice. Like the animated series that launched his career, Conroy remains the truest Batman in the hearts of many fans.
And now he's taking his role to a whole new level, appearing as a live-action Kingdom Come-inspired retired Bruce Wayne in CW's upcoming "Crisis On Infinite Earths" TV crossover.
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