From Adam West To Christian Bale: The Evolution Of Batman

The many faces of Bruce Wayne, sorry, Batman.

The evolution of Batman.

“Batman has no limits!” The Caped Crusader has been portrayed by more actors than any other superhero in film history – with mixed results.

To celebrate his most recent portrayal in Batman: Gotham by Gaslight loaded is taking a looking back at some of the actors that have played the infamous hero, as well as the bat suits (and bat nipples) that changed with him over time.

But, who is the best Batman of them all? From his first tight-lycra look in 1943, to Ben Affleck’s morose ‘Man of Steel’ guise, join us as we take a look back over the years and decide for yourself!

Lewis G. Wilson: 1943

Wilson was the first (and youngest) actor ever to play Batman, but unfortuntaely also the least successful. At 23, he donned a long snout and flimsy ears that made him look completely unrecognisable in the 15-part 1943 Columbia serial Batman. Instead of battling familiar baddies from the comics, Wilson’s Batman fought a villainous Japanese spy who was attempting to turn the U.S. population into zombies. This was the 1940s after all…

Adam West: 1966-68

The man totting up the most hours in the Batcave was Adam West, his costume lightened in tone to parallel the comical television portrayal of the Caped Crusader. This campy vision of the caped crusader made an indelible impact on Batman pop culture. Full of kitschy catch phrases, West remained a cultural icon for more than 40 years and even turned down the chance to play James Bond off the back of the series.

Michael Keaton: 1989-1992

When director Tim Burton and Michael Keaton were announced for 1989’s Batman, fans went crazy, worried that their beloved superhero was going to get the Adam West treatment. However, Burton’s Batman surprised us all, introducing a totally different version of the Dark Knight. This suit introduced the grapple gun and also became the template for future designs. His 1992 look in Batman Returns saw major changes to the bat emblem and the suit, giving way to a less natural looking chest. The film, meanwhile, was pretty insane. If only we had known what was to come…

Val Kilmer: 1995

With Keaton walking away from the role of the Caped Crusader after reading the script for Batman Forever and Tim Burton moved into a producing role, the franchise took a step closer to the 1960s TV series. Joel Schumacher was hired as director with Val Kilmer brought in to serve as a solid, if slightly unspectacular incarnation of the character, too often overshadowed by Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones as villains The Riddler and Two Face. The Batsuit’s newly installed Bat nipples and the arrival of Christian O’Donnell as Robin hardly helped matters.

George Clooney: 1997

George Clooney’s movie career was just taking off when he was cast in 1997’s Batman & Robin, an instalment that Clooney would go on to joke ‘killed the franchise’. He joked but it kind of did. His appearance as Batman, however, brought about two more batsuits, a bluer one and an Arctic Suit with silver patches. We can all rest easy knowing that this did not dent Clooney’s career, of course.

Christian Bale: 2005-08

From Adam West to George Clooney, some might say Batman was destined to remain a joke, at least in live-action adaptations. But then came Christopher Nolan’s entry into the bat franchise, presenting a much darker version of Gotham’s Knight. Christian Bale famously gained roughly 100 pounds for his role in Batman Begins and 3 years later in The Dark Knight. Any excuse to eat ice cream, Christian!

Ben Affleck: 2016-present

Ben Affleck donned the cinematic ‘Man of Steel’ cape and cowl for the first time in Zack Snyder’s super-grey Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, where we got to see more of the man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne, a character who worked hard on his tech-building capabilities, as well his gym regime. Seriously, Bruce is looking buff. Bit of a miserable git though too. 

Will Arnett: 2017

Some might say this LEGO-made Batman who will go down in the history books as the funniest, freshest and cleverest take on the Caped Crusader. From his hilarious ‘dark’ lyrics, to helplessly attempting to hide his secret identity, Arnett’s Batman was a hit which succeeded in embracing audiences across the board.

Bruce Greenwood: 2018

Acclaimed for his performance in Batman: Under The Red Hood, Bruce Greenwood reprises his role as the voice of the Dark Knight in Batman: Gotham By Gaslight. This steampunk-esque take on the masked vigilante is sure to have everyone on the edge of the seats as he hunts down Jack the Ripper in turn-of-the-century Gotham City.

BATMAN: GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT – AVAILABLE NOW ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD AND ON BLU-RAY AND DVD FEBRUARY 5TH.

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Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.