Throughout Batman’s illustrious 80-year history we have seen him change, evolve, adapted, and expanded in brilliant ways. Each creator, writer, and artist putting their imprint on the long legacy of The Dark Knight and his entire world, telling their stories in unique and exciting ways. Though the Detective Comics and Batman runs are considered to be the canon of this character, there have many amazing adaptations over the years that are some of the best showings of Batman. These adaptions have played a special part in his 80-year legacy, being the gateway points for many fans over the generations to be introduced to this character and really start to dive into the world of Batman. I will be ranking my Top 5 Batman Adaptations over his 80-year legacy, based on impact, quality, accuracy, and overall story and respect of the Batman mythos. This article will focus only on adaptations and so excluding the various Batmen of the comics, because that in itself could be a whole separate article. I will also only be looking Film and Television for the sake of consistency, games such as Arkham and Telltale won’t be factored in.
#1 – Batman 66’
Both honorable mentions were unique in their own right and provided different things to the legacy of Batman, with the first one being Batman 66’. This show was such an important part of the legacy of batman as it was essentially a proof of concept. Though much more humorous and campy, than the rest on this list, this show proved that superheroes and particularly Batman could operate in the live-action mainstream. The show was stylized and fun, and will forever be remembered for its contribution to Batman as a whole.
#2 – Beware the Batman
The second honorable mention might be slightly controversial for many but what this show tried to accomplish was something great but failed as this show was more of an interest to Batman purists and adults as opposed to kids which were the target audience. That show is Beware the Batman. Beware the Batman was an amazing show that only lasted one season and was a stark difference from every other film or tv adaptation we had ever seen. This was a show without any of the characters that you would expect, instead it focused on characters more obscure for the general audience. We got to see characters such as Professor Pyg and Mister Toad albeit much more tamed for the kid audience. As well as Magpie, Humpty Dumpty, Anarky, Lady Shiva and others. This was a story of Batman forming the outsiders, something never put to screen in any format before. As a long time reader of Batman and these characters, it was refreshing to see these lesser known characters on screen. If this show had come out now on DC’s streaming service, except targeted for adults; it could have truly been one of the best Batman adaptations we’d have seen.
Now on to my personal Top 5 Batman Adaptations
#5 – The Batman
Perhaps another slightly controversial choice for its high rank, but in my opinion The Batman is one of the better adaptations of this character we’ve seen. Coming off the heels of juggernauts such as Batman the Animated Series and Batman Beyond, and so it was not given a fair chance by many due to its more lighter tone and more cartoonish appearance. In reality though The Batman was a faithful adaptation of the character, we followed his journey from year 3 as The Caped Crusader, when the show began, all the way to his joining of the Justice League. This show explored many of Batman’s more detective aspects especially in earlier seasons. Unlike Bruce Timm’s Batman the Animated Series, which was more grounded in terms of tech; in The Batman, we got to see Batman use various gadgets, suits, and other technology in his arsenal throughout the series.
What made The Batman special was his journey, which we follow through five seasons. We get to see Batman as a loner in his early days having the GCPD on constantly on his tail. Two seasons in we saw Batgirl introduced, followed by Robin in season 4, and then the Justice League in season 5. All while we saw Bruce grow as a leader and a better Batman over the years. The show featured pretty much all of his rogues gallery except some of the ones Nolan was using such as Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul. The Batman featured a more serious undertone in the first two seasons with darker stories and deeper character arcs. With a young Batgirl introduced in the third season the show naturally became lighter but still had certain more serious episodes and stories. But before season 4 the network become CW 4Kids, and we were brought about the introduction of Robin and the show was made to be slightly campier, as to appeal to even more kids and the younger audience. Even so, The Batman didn’t lose its luster, and Bruce’s overall arc was wrapped up well with him being a member of the Justice League balancing his role as a leaguer and the protector of Gotham.
#4 – Batman (1989)
In a time where the latter two Christopher Reeve’ Superman films almost ended the superhero film genre as a whole, Tim Burton released his Batman film. Just like Superman (1978), changed the landscape for what can be expected from a live action super hero film, Batman revitalized superhero films for the modern era. With Michael Keaton at the helm as The Caped Crusader and Jack Nicholson opposite as the Clown Prince of Crime, this was a star-studded superhero event. Burton provided a grittier and darker superhero film, which was unheard of the time, but also did a great job balancing the seriousness with a certain campy charm, and a highly stylized Gotham City that allowed the film to distance itself from reality. With the light-hearted Superman films and the campier Silver Age of comics coming to a close; grittier and darker stories such as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns started changing the landscape for comics and comic readers alike. Batman 89’ was also a big proponent of this change in landscape.
The release of this film allowed the general audience to see this new side of heroes and what could be accomplished when these characters are presented in a more serious fashion. Such as Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, this film also presented something that would also appeal to adults and keep then invested in the film. Though some of its sequels fall into the worst of the character’s history, this film was also the spawning point for another amazing adaptation, Batman the Animated Series. The legacy that Batman 89’ has provided for the character of Batman cannot be understated.
#3 – The Dark Knight Trilogy
Nolan took the character of Batman and presented him in a grounded and ultra-realistic way. Unlike Tim Burton’s Batman, Nolan made Batman believable, as if he could exist in our world. These films were much more character based and focused on deeper and darker themes. All the camp of the previous superhero films was stripped away for much smarter and thoughtful writing. With Christian Bale leading the way with an unforgettable performance as The Dark Knight and a stellar cast in all three films, this trilogy set the bar for superhero films and live action Batman adaptations to award winning levels. This trilogy wasn’t just a good Batman series but a collection of amazing films in general. The way Batman’s villains were presented from Heath Ledger’s Legendary performance, to Tom Hardy’s unique approach to Bane, and Liam Neeson’s calm and collected Ra’s al Ghul were near perfect and a joy for any Batman fan. The trilogy also featured many other prominent and titular characters such as Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, Jonathan Crane, and Selena Kyle.
This trilogy brought the world of Batman and superhero films as whole to the mainstream in ways unheard of and set the standard for what should be expected from a quality superhero film. This trilogy’s legacy is ingrained in pop culture and will be the standard for years to come. These films jump started many new fans’ interests in the Batman and comic book world, and got them to start reading deeper into the source material and looking into the many other amazing stories that Batman has been a part of over his 80-year legacy.
#2 – Zack Snyder’s Batman (DCEU)
Batman v Superman was the first introduction to this generation’s new live action Batman, and many fans, including myself, knew that there were massive shoes left to fill since the completion of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy in 2011. Once Batman v Superman released in theaters it was confirmed; this was the most near perfect Batman we had ever seen on the big screen. From his suit, to the gadgets, the brutality and the ferocity, the detective work, and overall will, this Batman was ripped straight out of the games and the comics. This was the most faithful adaption of this character, that still to this day, we’ve ever seen on the big screen. With Ben Affleck providing a powerful performance as this broken Batman at the end of his journey, we get to see the start of his redemption though it was cut short due to outside circumstances. The way Batman moves, fights, operates, is exactly how long-time readers and watchers have come to expect him to. Never before in live action have we seen Batman in such a comic accurate fashion.
Zack Snyder showed Batman in his most “Batman” self. Unlike previous entries where an ultra-realistic setting had offset the action that you would expect from Batman, or a semi-campy nature along with older technology limited his capabilities; with Batman v Superman we finally got to see Batman on the big screen in his true form and glory. Though there is divisiveness from fans as to Bruce’s motivations and arc, what cannot be denied is that in terms of gadgets, suit, and fighting this is the most comic accurate Batman in the history of live action so far. So, like previous members of the Top-5 this Batman has once again set the bar high for what can be expected of a live action Batman after seeing such a perfect outing of the character in Batman v Superman.
#1 – DCAU Batman
Perhaps the most perfect adaptation of this character we’ve seen in 80-year history. This Batman, created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and voiced by the legend himself Kevin Conroy, is universally considered to be the one of greatest Batman of all time and to some, such as myself, to be the greatest Batman of all time. From the beginning of his arc in the feature film Batman -Mask of The Phantasm all the way to end in the episode Epilogue of JLU, we follow the life of Bruce Wayne from beginning to end. This Batman was perfect for kids and adults alike with a perfect balance in story, themes, action and interest for all ages alike. This Batman is perfectly portrayed in almost every way, with a certain gravitas to this adaptation. We see his entire rogues’ gallery as well as follow Batman as he grows as a leader and a better Batman. This show had all the perfect aspects of Batman in one, from his detective nature, the mature themes and deeper episodes, and the overall aesthetic. Kevin Conroy as Batman as well as Mark Hamill as the Joker are the most perfectly casted voice actors for their respective roles. They both in opinion have given the greatest performances for each character in Batman’s 80-year history and are considered to be the definitive voices for them. This show also payed respect to many stories and comics of the past throughout its run but also provided some amazing stories for the Bat that we had never seen him in before. The journey that we follow Bruce on throughout the DCAU is one we’ve never seen before, through multiple shows and animated films, watching him grow and change. I don’t think we’ll ever see Batman in a long running-multi show format like this again. Batman the Animated Series and the DCAU were big catalysts for myself and countless others to start diving into the world of Batman. DCAU Batman took the best parts of Batman and put it into one, it is truly the greatest adaptation of this character we have ever seen.