Ranked lists on Batman are always fun, but what about the man behind the mask? So many have criticized and compared the various Batman performances of actors over the years, yet so few look to the Bruce Wayne portion. Batman, while awesome, is rather one-dimensional compared to the headspace one has to have to play Bruce Wayne. From worst to best, here’s a definitive ranking of the best Bruce Wayne performances based on the actors who played him in live action cinema.
George Clooney’s fleeting performance as Batman has never gotten a lot of love, and we can’t say his performance as Bruce Wayne is any better. Sure, he’s got the good looks, but there’s not much else to love about Clooney’s Wayne. His public persona is rather lacking, as evidenced by his television interview in Batman & Robin that he stumbled through in what feels like a Jeff Goldblum impersonation?
Now we know the scenes between George Clooney’s Wayne and Michael Gough’s Alfred have some appeal, but that’s more a product of Gough’s acting than anything. Most of the emotional weight in the scenes comes from Gough’s delivery, while Clooney’s Wayne has this smug smirk on his face seemingly inappropriate for a man so mentally scarred by the death of his parents that he’s been driven to vigilantism. Without question, he’s the gold standard for how not to play Bruce Wayne.
There’s an argument that can be made that the late Adam West may be the best Bruce Wayne of them all, but that’s not the case here. West’s performance ranks above Clooney because he represents the classic Batman to a “t”, and for all the Bat merchandising he did create he never went to the bank and got a credit card in his name.
Here’s the thing though, Adam West’s Bruce Wayne and Batman are practically identical. This makes it impossible to tell if the man is always on as Batman, or as Bruce Wayne. If it’s the latter, then it’s a damn good performance and worthy of a higher ranking on this list. Without a clear way of knowing, however, he’s gonna have to hang out near the bottom with George Clooney.
Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne, while leagues above the aforementioned performances, is still somewhat lacking compared to the three above him. Keaton’s Wayne has the brooding and anger down well enough, but can never really break out of that shell into the deeper personas of Bruce Wayne. He couldn’t even chill out long enough to have an honest conversation with Vicki, and ended up shoving her and telling her to “shut up.”
In truth, Michael Keaton’s Bruce is perfect for the actual Bruce. It’s a fine persona to have in the presence of Alfred, but a bit more problematic when dealing with the general public. After all, if the town’s billionaire is always acting tough and staring down supervillains out of costume, people might put two and two together as to who he really is. It worked for Keaton’s films, but is far from a perfect performance as Bruce Wayne.
Batman Forever may be one of the lesser films of the franchise, but Val Kilmer’s performance as Bruce Wayne was actually pretty solid. While the actor could never reach the same level of acclaim for the Batman portrayal of his predecessor, Kilmer struck a better balance between Wayne in private and Wayne in public than Keaton ever could.
The public persona of Kilmer’s Wayne is best showcased when he first met Edward Nygma. The professional nature, the boss-like attitude, the smile on his face despite his clear annoyance, that’s the Bruce he puts out there for people to see. Conversely, the argument with Robin in the Batcave is much more unrestrained and more honest. Kilmer never quite reaches the intensity or sadness of the character, however, so we can only give him so much credit.
There are certainly shades of Michael Keaton’s performance in Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, but he saves that for Alfred or people that piss him off. He’s capable of playing the billionaire Playboy rather well, but equally as capable of letting his gruff, no-nonsense personality show on a dime. The party scene between Clark and Bruce in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a great showcase of this, and exemplified the difference between Keaton and Affleck’s Wayne.
The conversation started with Affleck trying to quickly end things with who he thinks is just some journalist. He cracked a joke to justify his attention to Diana, which falls in line with his playboy persona. Once Clark started taking shots at Gotham and Batman though, Bruce flips the script and let him know he didn’t know what he was talking about. It’s a brilliant scene that should have everyone crossing their fingers he’ll return to the role.
Was there ever any question Christian Bale would top the list? His performance may have an unfair advantage considering he had three films to build his Bruce Wayne persona, but honestly, Batman Begins featured plenty of evidence he understood Batman’s secret identity from the jump. The plot presented a clear understanding that Bruce must maintain a certain public persona to keep from arousing suspicion about his life as Batman and executed it perfectly with the hotel scene.
Christian Bale’s performance doesn’t just take the #1 spot for publicly displaying his extreme wealth and fake carefree persona either. Bale’s Bruce almost appeared to be having fun, which ground to a halt after a chance reunion with Rachel Dawes. Bruce tried to keep the act up, but eventually dropped it and tried to show more of his true self to his old friend. It’s the epitome of what it means to play Bruce Wayne, thus deserving of the top spot.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course, so those with different ideas on where each Bruce Wayne falls and whether Bale’s performance surpasses even that of DC Comics‘ vision should share their thoughts in the comments below. For more on Batman, be sure to check in on the latest news regarding Matt Reeves’ solo film by visiting and bookmarking our what we know so far guide.
Which actor gave your favorite live action Bruce Wayne performance on film?