Actors have been taking shots at Bat characters for nearly fifty years now, longer if you count the serials. Below is the list of the ten greatest cast actors and the characters they played.
“OMG, Heath Ledger so better be number one or I’m going to lay a smack down.” – The Internet
Heath Ledger isn’t on this list. Frankly, I’m tired of talking about how great he was as the Joker. We all know and we all agree, it’s inspired. He won the Oscar.
10. Burgess Meredith as The Penguin-Batman: The Movie
The 60s Batman series was stupid. There, I said it. The fact an entire generation used this as its reference to what Batman was makes me hate baby boomers even more. But Burgess Meredith? Try reading a comic featuring the Penguin and not hearing that man’s voice. Meredith was sly and devilish but regal. Riddler and Joker and Freeze were psychopaths. Penguin was a businessman who didn’t have time for your shit. Nearly fifty years ago, Burgess Meredith got that.
9. Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent–Batman
We’ve had two actors take their shot at Two-Face. Aaron Eckhart played it dashing and then devastatingly deadly. Tommy Lee Jones. . . well Tommy wore a suit that was half purple tiger, so I can’t hate completely. But, imagine if we got Billy Dee Williams to sit in the make up chair and play what I believe to be the greatest rogue in the gallery. Two-Face played by Williams would be like Lando struggling against crazy evil Lando. Half burnt face, half sweet ass mustache, works every time. Alas, it was not in the cards and we never got the Two-Face we were promised. But props must be given to Burton and company for having the foresight to plant that seed.
8. Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow
–Batman Begins & The Dark Knight
The inclusion on the Scarecrow is one of the greatest hallmarks of the Nolan films. Scarecrow is used in such an acute way that he makes Batman Begins basically the anti-Spider-Man 3. Not every villain needs to force your hero to battle him in a literal arena as well as an emotional one! Sometimes a bad guy is just a guy. Cillian Murphy was the perfect face for such a role, with his steely eyes that let you know that he was not some grand diabolical architect, he’s nuts. Bringing back Murphy for a brief moment in The Dark Knight established something no other hero film has, that not every villain needs an earth shattering fight to the finish for the soul of the city. Sometimes a bad guy just needs to get his ass beat.
7. Jack Nicholson as The Joker-Batman
Caesar Romero made joker a cackling crime boss. Heath Ledger made him a psychopath. Jack made the Joker a gentleman; a Joker who enjoys the finer things in life-like museums and Prince and parades. The balance between goofy and lethal was never more equal than when Jack played the part. Jack taught us that the only way to truly get through a devastating professional set back was to shoot your best friend point-blank. Also, “money, money, money–who ya love?”
6. Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon
–Batman Begins & The Dark Knight
First, it must be said that the casting of Gary Oldman was an odd move. Though Oldman is cinemas greatest chameleon since Lon Chaney, he in no way exudes the manly swagger that’s been vested in James Gordon for decades. A more accurate physical depiction of the character would have been Dennis Quaid, who was originally eyed for the role. Oldman seems to know this and instead spins us a Gordon who is a bit scrawny but with veins made of rusty nails. After the grand chase of The Dark Knight, when Gordon is revealed to be alive, he’s sporting a bulky vest that doesn’t look quite right. This Jim Gordon is no grand action hero, but he will be if he needs to. There’s also the accent. Traditionally, Jim Gordon is a Gotham transplant from some other metropolis, it’s never said. What Oldman does is create a hybrid accent, Boston by way of Brooklyn. It makes him sound so average, so meek, so easily underestimated.
5. Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman in damn near everything
There have been many faces of Batman but there will only ever be one voice of Batman. I am part of a generation that believes the true DC canon does not belong to the comics or the movies, it belongs to animation. Kevin Conroy has voiced the cartoon Batman over one hundred thousand times. I made that last part up because I don’t want to do the math, but it’s gotta be close. The greatest thing about Kevin Conroy being Batman is that his voice transcends the DC shows we consider “canon.” Conroy voiced the caped crusader in the compilation film Batman: Gotham Knight, the cartoon adaptation of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and the video game Batman Arkham Asylum. I also wish he was my Dad.
4. Frank Gorshin as The Riddler-Batman: The Movie (1966)
I’m not sure what Frank Gorshin was trying to accomplish as the Riddler, but you have to give him credit. Every time the green-clad rogue showed up in the 1960s Batman series it was like watching cartoon jazz. It was a mean threshold to cross realizing that the Riddler was actually a reserved methodical guy. We will get in screaming matches over which Bruce Wayne actor was truest to the comic but lets commend a guy who created something new. Gorshin was actually able to put his stamp on the Batman legacy twice before he passed away in 2005. He voiced the villain Hugo Strange in one of the many animated Batman series. It’s weird as fuck.
3. Michael Keaton as Batman-Batman & Batman Returns
Below are the top 5 reasons Michael Keaton is the best Batman ever and everyone else can suck it.
- In Batman Returns, Keaton answered the long standing question “what does Bruce Wayne do when he’s not Batman?” The answer: He broods until he can be Batman again.
- Michael Keaton physically spun a remix off a compact disc. Science says that’s impossible. Point: Keaton.
- Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and especially Christian Bale got famous being serious actors in serious* movies. Michael Keaton became famous acting in Mr. Mom, Johnny Dangerously, and Beetlejuice.
- Any Bruce Wayne who sleeps in a bed is a bitch.
- Batman would never kill someone, but he doesn’t have to save them either. And it’s not his fault if he spins the Batmobile on a giant inner pivot and you’re suddenly in the way of its jet engine.
*Top Secret and Real Genius did not make Val Kilmer a star. Thunderheart made Val Kilmer a star.
2. Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth
–Batman Begins & The Dark Knight
We previously hailed Sir Michael’s place in comic book history in Earth’s Mightiest Decade (Plug!), but since I love talking Michael Caine almost as much as I love talking Batman, lets ride this bitch till the sun comes up. Bale comes up short on emotion. In Batman Begins, young Bruce Wayne churns out more emotion than Bale did over two movies. Where this might cripple most movies, Nolan slips in sweet and subtle Michael Caine to literally feed us feeling. We look to Alfred to know how to react. He is the fish out of water, he is us. I am Michael Caine and that feels really cool.
1. Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman-Batman Returns
Since I already stated we’re taking Heath Ledger out of the running for a place on this list, I can make the following statement: Michelle Pfeiffer delivers the best acting in a Batman movie. Break the movie down and she technically plays three roles throughout the film. First she’s the adorable spinster Selina Kyle, who then becomes a literal sex kitten, who must then play the adorable spinster even though she’s really a sex kitten in disguise. Watch the movie, every single level is there. Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is subtle and fun and over the top when she needs to be. It is simply a top-notch performance.