The Caped Crusader has been one of the core characters in the DC universe since its humble beginnings. The company’s name even comes from Detective Comics, which is the title where Batman was created and continues to be featured in. When it came time to cross over into other artistic forms, the World’s Greatest Detective was a natural fit for the cinema. Bruce Wayne did not possess any superpowers, but he did have the sleuthing abilities of Sherlock Holmes, the fighting skills of Bruce Lee, and the gadgets of James Bond. These elements have helped launch Batman into one of the most successful superhero franchises in Hollywood history.
Lewis Wilson starred in Batman (1943), a 15-part serial that had Batman and Robin struggling to bring down a Japanese spy ring. The leader of this evil organization, Dr. Tito Dakak, needs radium to power his death ray and only our dynamic duo can stop him.
Not only would Wilson be the first actor to play a live-action Batman, he would also be the first actor to portray any of DC Comics' superheroes in live-action production. The character had only been created four years earlier and it would take another five years before Superman would hit the big screen. Wilson was only 23 when he secured the role, making him the youngest actor to play Batman/Bruce Wayne on screen. This serial would be Wilson’s first feature role and would remain one of his only major credits.
Robert Lowery starred in Batman and Robin (1949). In this serial, Professor Hammil has created a machine that can control any motor vehicle within a 50-mile radius. When the Wizard steals the invention for his own evil plans, it is up to Batman and Robin to retrieve the device. For 15 episodes, the dynamic duo attempt to track down the Wizard and stop him from acquiring the diamonds needed to power this powerful machine.
Lowery had an extensive resume before being cast here. He was a trained singer and dancer who started out in Slats Randall's orchestra before moving to Hollywood. By the time Robert passed away of a heart attack at the age of 58, he had 126 films and 55 television shows under his belt. He would be the second man to put on the cowl and play Batman, but he was not the first choice. His costume in the film was made for Kirk Alyn, who had a larger build and wound up playing Superman instead. Despite having a costume that did not quite fit, it was Lowery’s animated image of Batman that was used in the opening credits of the 1976 film, The Pink Panther Strikes Again.
Adam West starred in the TV series Batman (1966-1968). This campy take on the Batman mythology only ran for three season, but aired 120 episodes. For the first half of its run, it aired two nights a week. This allowed for cliffhanger endings on Wednesday nights and the conclusion episodes that wrapped things up to air Thursdays at the same bat time and same bat channel (ABC). When the show was reduced to only one airing a week, the episodes were often standalone stories. However, the use of Batman’s rogue gallery of villains was used till the end of its run. The villains were a huge factor in the success of the series.
West also starred in the first official full-length movie for the superhero, Batman (1966). The script was originally for the pilot episode, but they ended up giving it a larger budget and filmed it for the big screen. It hit theatres between season one and two. The Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and Penguin join to form the United Underworld and hatch a scheme to take over the world. It is up to Batman and Robin to take down these criminal masterminds and save the day.
When West began acting in 1954, he used his real name, Will. After moving to Hollywood in 1959, he created the stage name Adam West because he liked the way it sounded. He worked consistently as an actor for years, but being cast as Batman would turn him into a star and pop culture icon. It was his role in a Nestlé Quick commercial that caught the attention of producer William Dozier and ultimately got him the role for the series. Although West was able to continue acting after the series ended, he struggled to break away from being typecast. In the end, he found that embracing his role of Batman and his own iconic status led to success. He was often called upon to voice the Caped Crusader in animated form and frequently made guest appearances as himself in both cartoons and live-action shows.
Michael Keaton starred in Batman (1989), the film that brought the Dark Knight attitude back into the franchise. This movie retells the origin of Batman as Bruce Wayne works in the shadows and attempts to clean up the city. Meanwhile, the Joker uses his chemistry background to take over the underworld and bring Gotham to its knees.
Keaton reprised the role in Batman Returns (1992). In this sequel, our hero faces off against the Penguin and corrupt businessman Max Schreck. These villains attempt to rule over Gotham and make Batman look like the bad guy. To make things more complicated for our hero, Selina Kyle is gallivanting around the city as Catwoman and she has a score to settle with Schreck.
Keaton would start a trend of casting established movie stars in the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne. He was mostly known for his comedic work and the news of him being cast in the movie did not go over well. Not only did Bob Kane, Sam Hamm, and Michael E. Uslan doubt the casting choice, but 50,000 letters were sent to protest the decision. Tim Burton, who had just directed Keaton in Beetlejuice, felt he was the only actor who could capture the overly obsessive and dark personality that draws a billionaire to fight crime in a Batsuit. He won fans over and was asked to come back for the sequel. He had not signed a contract securing his return, so he was able to negotiate approval of the script and more than doubled his salary. The Batsuit became a subject of much conversation. Keaton said that the inability to hear in the costume and his claustrophobia “made me go inward and that's how I wanted the character to be anyway, to be withdrawn." He also got a zipper added to the costume. (Going to the bathroom in the original outfit was a difficult process.) They wanted him back for a third installment of the franchise, but he was unhappy with where Joel Schumacher was taking the series. Keaton left the series and continued his successful acting career. Since he was 40 when filming Batman Returns, Keaton holds the record for being the oldest actor to play the character on screen and the first to play him more than once.
In Batman Forever (1995), the supervillains have a personal grudge against our hero. Two-Face blames him for his disfigurement and the Riddler has a vendetta against his former employer Bruce Wayne. When they team up to steal the intellect of Gotham, it will take Batman and Robin to stop their evil plans.
When Val Kilmer was cast to replace Michael Keaton, he had already established himself as a star that could do comedy, drama, and action. He was doing research for his role as Col. John Henry Patterson in The Ghost and the Darkness when he received the news that he was going to be the hero. In an eerie coincidence, he was specifically in a bat cave in Africa. He accepted the role without reading the script and dropped out of the film Johnny Mnemonic. Despite being the only blond actor to play the role, he was Bob Kane’s favorite actor to play the hero up to this point in time. Every Batman film has a story about his suit. For this production, the Batsuit was so heavy that Kilmer reportedly lost 5 lbs during the opening fight sequence. Kilmer enjoyed his time in the role, but he had a terrible relationship with Joel Schumacher during the filming process. When his commitment to filming The Saint interfered with the next Batman movie, it was decided to recast the role.
In Batman & Robin (1997), everything is thrown at our heroes. Mr. Freeze is threatening to send Gotham into an ice age if they don’t pay the ransom money he needs to find a cure for his dying wife. Poison Ivy wants to turn the city into a garden for her genetically altered plants and she brought Bane along for a little extra muscle. To make things more complicated, Alfred is dying from the same disease as Mr. Freeze’s wife. It will take the combined might of Batman, Robin, and Batgirl to save Gotham from these villains and their diabolical plans.
George Clooney had been acting for years, but he was only beginning to take off as a movie star when he was cast as Batman. Schumacher thought of George for the role after drawing the cowl on his face in an advertisement for the film From Dusk Till Dawn. When Clooney got the news, he immediately called his cousin, who was a huge Batman fan. Clooney is known around Hollywood for having a good sense of humor and being a practical joker on set. He visited his friends on the set of ER while wearing his full Batsuit. Of course, this costume was not easy to get out of and it is rumored that he purposely urinated while still wearing the outfit. Not to worry, Clooney and his stunt doubles went through 50 of the costumes by the time production wrapped. He was changing them like underwear anyway. For part of the filming, the suit's boot had to be removed because Clooney had to wear a cast after breaking his leg playing basketball. The reviews for the performance were not great, but the nipples on the costume were ridiculed even more. They have gone down in history as one of the worst design features ever. Clooney would move on to be one of the most influential people in Hollywood and later win an Oscar.
Batman Begins (2005) retells the origin of the hero. When Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed by a mugger, he seeks revenge. Wayne journeys around the world to study the criminal element. He crosses paths with Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Shadows, who show him how to fight evil. When he returns to Gotham, he creates Batman to be a symbol that strike fear into the criminal underworld and inspire hope for the citizens of Gotham.
In the The Dark Knight (2008), Harvey Dent is the new District Attorney in Gotham and he plans to take the city back from the criminal underworld that has overrun it. However, while Batman and Dent try to bring order and peace back to their city, the Joker is only interested in creating chaos. Beyond terrorizing the city, he wishes to push its heroes over the line they hold so dear.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) is the last installment of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy and it takes place eight years after the second film. Gotham has finally broken free from the criminal element and is prosperous once again. Batman has disappeared and Bruce Wayne is now a reclusive billionaire. That all changes when Bane shows up with the goal of destroying Gotham. Now Batman must rise again to save the city from total destruction. This time he is going to need the help of the cat burglar Selina Kyle.
Christian Bale is an Academy Award-winning actor who is known for the extreme lengths he will go to in order to portray a character. He became interested in playing Batman back in 2000 after a friend loaned him a copy of the graphic novel Arkham Asylum. When Christopher Nolan agreed with Bale’s choice of making the hero a rage-filled monster, a dream team was created. Bale was the first Brit to play the role and he was well aware of his role in representing an American icon. He made the choice to do promotional interviews for Batman Begins in an American accent instead of his natural Welsh accent. Before filming even began, he had to put a lot of work into getting physically prepared to play the Dark Knight. He had recently lost 63 lbs for his role in The Machinist and weighed only 120 lbs. He went on a six month exercise and diet program and bulked up to 220 lbs. He was then thought to have gained too much weight for the Caped Crusader and chiseled down 20 lbs.
Beyond finding the right muscle build for the character, Bale worked a lot on making Batman and Bruce Wayne have distinct voices. The gravelly voice was the center of much conversation. Although Bale would lose his voice three times during the filming of his first film, it was Nolan who made his voice even more gritty with some post-production sound editing. On the set, Bale’s trailer was labeled for Bruce Wayne rather his own name. The Batsuit became an integral part of this interpretation of the Dark Knight. In an attempt to get used to wearing the costume, Bale wore it the entire day he first tried it on for filming. Bale also credits the suit for being so uncomfortable that is helped him be in a foul mood whenever he had to wear it. A lot of the changes to the suit in the second film were made to help him be more comfortable. It was comprised of 200 pieces that allowed for great flexibility in movements and performance. It also gave him a reason not to gain as much weight since this Batman would be more agile in his fighting style. With three movies, Bale has played the hero more than any other actor. After filming, Bale got to keep the mask as a memento of his time on the project.
Geekdom (author) on July 20, 2013:
I am glad you enjoyed reading the hub. Thanks for the votes. I love how everybody is sticking up for George Clooney. He did get an undeserved bad rep in that film.
Geekdom (author) on July 20, 2013:
Nice. Thanks for sharing your story. Let's not forget about Johnny Dangerously. I loved that movie.
J Antonio Marcelino from Illinois, USA on July 19, 2013:
Interesting reading about the 1940s Batman actors. Are the 1940s serials worth a viewing?
"Bat Credit Card", fake lips and the Mr. Freeze one-liners. Still, I don't think it was Clooney's fault. Script and villain choices were just so odd. Even more so Batman Forever. Clooney could probably direct his own Batman film now and do a better job at it.
+1 Interesting, voted up
Jayfort on July 19, 2013:
I remember when they first announced the late 1980s Batman film. After years of putting the camp behind us, WB announced that Bill Murray was being discussed to play Batman/Bruce Wayne and Eddie Murphy to play Robin/Dick Grayson. The fanbase went ballistic. Then WB said, "No. We're going a different route." and said Michael Keaton. Until that time, Keaton was only known for his character Billy Blaze in Night Shift and Beetlejuice. Neither of which inspired much faith in the fans. When the first Batman trailers came out and we saw Keaton in Pacific Heights, we were relieved.
Geekdom (author) on July 19, 2013:
It is sad how a bad movie can ruin what could have been a great performance. Thanks for commenting.
Mike Robbers from London on July 18, 2013:
Nice idea and a great hub. George Clooney would be a much better Batman - and higher in any list - if it wasn't for the worst ever adaptation of all Batman movies.
Geekdom (author) on July 18, 2013:
I was working in a comic shop at the time of Keaton's casting. I was crazy to see how quickly people turned from haters to lovers. He is a great actor. Clooney did get stuck with the worst of the series. thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.
Keith Abt from The Garden State on July 18, 2013:
I remember the backlash to the news that Michael Keaton was going to play Batman. Fanboys in comic book stores around the world were like, "The guy from Johnny Dangerously? Are they CRAZY?" Hahaha. Then the movie came out and we all had to admit that hey, he did a pretty damn good job.
I felt sorry for George Clooney when "Batman & Robin" came out, because I thought that he had the potential to be a great Batman. Unfortunately he got stuck with the worst film of the series.
Geekdom (author) on July 17, 2013:
Krillco, Glad you found it informative. He is a great character.
Geekdom (author) on July 17, 2013:
Tom London, Thank You! I also am a big fan of the Adam West series. I liked the way it had fun with such a classic character.
William E Krill Jr from Hollidaysburg, PA on July 17, 2013:
As a fan of the Batman, thanks! Never knew of the earlier actors.
Tom London from London, United Kingdom on July 17, 2013:
Absolutely AMAZING article! Thank you so much for this!
Keaton was my all-time favorite Batman, but I do miss the times of Adam West. Whatever everybody says, it was a terrific funny little show.
Geekdom (author) on July 17, 2013:
Thanks! I love movie trivia. I always read IMDB trivia after watching a movie.
Jayfort on July 16, 2013:
Robert Lowery also played Governor Cuthbert H. Humphrey in McLintock! with starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara. Up and Interesting!