A small colony of famous actors have portrayed Bruce Wayne in live-action Batman movies – here’s why each of them hung up the cowl. Precious few heroes carry a movie legacy quite like Batman. The Caped Crusader sits alongside James Bond, Superman, and – in more recent years – Spider-Man as a near-constant presence in movie theaters, recast every few years to keep the franchise moving into the future. Though not as prolific as 007, casting a new Batman is a big deal, always making headlines across the world.
The Batman-tle currently belongs to Robert Pattinson, who will make his DC debut in 2022’s The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves. Though Pattinson promises to deliver a very different (read: ruthlessly brutal and liable to snap at any moment) interpretation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s comic book creation, he joins an elite club of actors. Pattinson is the seventh man to play Batman in a movie adaptation, following in the footsteps of Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale and Ben Affleck. note: The Ritual of Deception Movie
Though the length of Pattinson’s tenure remains to be seen, the Batman gig is a brief one for most. Whether due to studio shenanigans, creative concerns, or something else entirely, each Batman actor allowed a new generation to carry the torch for different reasons. note: Operation Prison Movie
Head toward the complete opposite end of Robert Pattinson’s spot on the superhero spectrum, then go a little bit further. There, you’ll find Adam West’s portrayal of Batman from the 1960s. Cast on the strength of a chocolate milk commercial (or so the story goes), Adam West landed the leading role for 20th Century Fox’s Batman TV series, which would run for 120 episodes between 1966 and 1968, and included a feature film between seasons 1 & 2. “Camp” is the word often thrown toward West’s not-so-Dark Knight, and it’s hard to argue. From the block-color costumes to the “pow” “bam” and “whack” combat balloons, sixties Batman’s cartoonish tone wasn’t to everyone’s taste… but could’ve been so much worse were it not for West’s natural charm and self-effacing good humor.
Adam West didn’t quit playing Bruce Wayne and his groovy alter ego. During its third season, Batman suffered a ratings slide and was cancelled by its network, ABC. Plans for a revival at NBC were then quashed because the original TV sets had already been destroyed, making a continuation financially unfeasible. Fortunately, West’s crime-fighting career didn’t end there. The actor lent his voice to numerous animated Batman releases, first in 1977’s The New Adventures of Batman, and finally in 2017’s posthumously-released Batman vs. Two-Face.
After Adam West’s overtly lighthearted portrayal, several decades passed before Batman returned to live-action, but the success of Richard Donner’s Superman made a Bat-blockbuster inevitable. The Dark Knight finally returned in 1989 with Tim Burton’s big-budget, considerably darker Batman movie. For the prestigious role, Burton cast his Beetlejuice actor, Michael Keaton – an unpopular choice at the time due to Keaton’s perception as a “comedic” actor. Those misgivings proved woefully misplaced, as Batman and Batman Returns (1992) saw Michael Keaton evolve into a brooding, tortured movie hero, while still retaining a slither of comic book silliness from Batman’s early years.
Tim Burton’s Batman Returns provided a more-than-worthy follow-up, and Keaton’s popularity was cemented. Alas, the actor wouldn’t return for a third outing. Despite pleasing DC fans, Batman Returns deeply upset the film’s sponsors, who hadn’t expected the sequel to go quite as dark as it did. With Warner Bros. angling for a lighter tone, Burton was replaced by Joel Schumacher, and existing plans for Batman 3 starring Michael Keaton were scrapped. As revealed by the actor himself, Keaton entertained continuing under Schumacher’s direction… until reading the proposed script for Batman Forever. He promptly decided it “sucked,” realized the franchise was heading in a direction he didn’t enjoy, and opted not to return. Like Adam West, Keaton wouldn’t stay away from Gotham forever. 30 years on from Batman Returns, Keaton reprises his role in both The Flash and Batgirl.
Thanks to Michael Keaton dodging a Batman Forever-shaped bullet, Joel Schumacher needed a new leading man, and cast Val Kilmer after seeing the actor in 1993 western, Tombstone. Not to everyone’s taste, perhaps, but Val Kilmer’s Batman isn’t without merit. The third cinematic Bruce Wayne fulfills the brief by striking a less intense note compared to his predecessor, and though there’s cheesy dialogue and trite melodrama in plentiful supply, that’s hardly Kilmer’s fault. Despite not being the worst thing about Batman Forever, however, Val Kilmer didn’t stick around for a sequel.
After performing at the box office (and keeping McDonald’s happy, presumably), Warner Bros. committed to a second Joel Schumacher Batman movie, continuing with Chris O’Donnell’s Robin and introducing Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. According to Schumacher’s recollection, Val Kilmer’s departure from Batman & Robin was a half-quit, half-got-fired situation. The director admits to enduring a poor working relationship with his top actor on Batman Forever, describing Kilmer’s behavior as “psychotic” (via Vulture). Kilmer, meanwhile, had other projects in the pipeline (The Saint, The Island of Dr. Moreau), so everyone was only too happy to part ways.