1. Michael Keaton (1989-1992)
Just a slight lowering of the register, peppered with a modest seasoning of husky whisper. The key was moderation and emphasizing the deepened voice over that mild whisper. A good Batman voice is achieved through the proper balance of these two elements, the throaty whisper and the lowered register. Keaton was also abetted by screenwriters Sam Hamm (“Batman” ’89) and Daniel Waters (“Batman Begins”). The importance of this cannot be overstated: Batman’s slick mystique hinges on his “man of few words” flavor. When a cinematic Batman starts whisper-growling entire plot points (this applies to one lower-seeded Batman in particular), the audience has way too much time to effectively absorb the inherent stillness of that Bat-whisper, however severe or subtle that whisper may be. An aside: Keaton is by far the best Batman, and not just vocally. The Keaton Batman had a demented quality, specifically around the eyes, that leant real credence to the idea that this was a man who would dress like a bat for kicks.
2. Kevin Conroy (Theatrical Film: 1993, Other: 1992-Present)
Obviously, being a voice-over actor could give Conroy a bit of an competitive advantage over the other Batmen here, who occupied the character in voice and body. But, hey, I spotted him beneath the Pittsburgh Batman, didn’t I? If Conroy’s Bat-voice was really transcendent, he’d have run away with the W here, no? He started voicing Batman in the great “Batman: The Animated Series” in 1992, then he and show runners Paul Dini and Bruce Timm parlayed the success of that into 1993’s theatrical feature “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,” a great neo-noir that perfectly evoked the best visual sensibilities of the peak Bob Kane-Bill Finger ’40s comics, fusing it with the darker themes of DC editor Denny O’Neil’s ’70s Bat-output. Conroy’s pleasant Bruce Wayne affect gives us a starker contrast between the Wayne and Batman voices than any other actor here. He lends a steely abrasiveness and almost-metallic edge to the proceedings, his Batman more avenging cyborg than anything else.
3. Val Kilmer (1995)
To differentiate between his Batman and his Bruce Wayne, Doc Holiday imbued his billionaire playboy with… an off-putting, erratically present lisp. “Tell me doctor, do you like the thircuth?”, etc. Well, at least it’s a distinctive choice. The Bruce Wayne-as-Daffy Duck vocal approach leant more sheen to his underrate Bat-voice, which was clipped, deliberate, deep and lisp-free. He also sort of yelled the whole time while in cap and cowl, a marked departure from the more understated Keaton school of Bat-voice acting.
4. Adam West (Theatrical Film: 1966, Other: 1966-2005)
West gave Batman some Shatner-esque mid-speech pauses that only helped sell his iteration of the character’s intrinsic silliness. West, as has been proven incontrovertibly in the ensuing decades, can wrap his voice around a good turn of phrase with great mock self-seriousness. Also, no other Batman has ever come to a fight equipped with shark-repellent spray, so kudos to the West Batman for always being so prepared.
5. Ben Affleck (2016- )
I am loathe to concede this, but the Batfleck plan of disguising Bruce Wayne’s Bat-growl with a distorted voice box was actually a pretty clever wrinkle, courtesy of David Goyer and the resiliently critic- and fan-proof Zack Snyder. Batfleck also didn’t have to employ said robo-growl across sprawling paragraphs of shameless moralizing. This gave him brownie points when measured vocally against a certain someone (see below).
6. Will Arnett (2014- )
So obviously there has histrionic ally been very little continuous “Batman” canon carried over from project to project, even since Warners adopted the property. Hence, the impending “Lego Batman Movie” has nothing to do with the Snuder-Affleck Batman output. Or, looking at it another way, the Arnett Batman is just as valid, spinning around in a parallel plastic orbit. Arnett was an inspired vocal casting choice in Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s initial “Lego Movie” two years ago. Sure, the character’s “integrity” is challenged by appearing in a blatant series of toy commercials, but come on – even the dark, serious Batman movie where he shoots a bunch of folks in the face is a toy commercial! And anyway, the Arnett Bat-voice is about what you’d expect: a more intense and earnest riff on Arnett’s Gob character from “Arrested Development,” still packed with the earlier character’s arrogance and thickheadedness, the latter a new attribute to movie Batmen. It works fine, it’s just a very safe, expected choice that plays into pre-existing iterations of the Bat-voice. I’ll still follow said Bat-voice into “The Lego Batman Movie” and beyond, I’m just saying I’d like to see it stretched beyond its one-trick-pony trappings.
7. George Clooney (1997)
Clooney wasn’t particularly bad here, he he just didn’t do much of anything and fell victim to circumstances (starring in a hilariously bad Batman movie). He doesn’t actually disguise his George Clooney voice at all, rather, he employs the exact same voice for both identities, exhibiting a laziness symptomatic by a movie that his costar called “a toy commercial” (actual quote, watch the linked trailer). It’s too bad, because for all intents and purposes, Clooney would appear to be the most Batman-esque in real life among all these actors (even if Batfleck does have a Bat-cave).
8. Christian Bale (2005-2012)
Yeah yeah, I know you’re pissed about this. Spare me your vitriol though, until you’ve taken a gander at the damning evidence with fresh ears, four years removed from the disaster that was The Bale Bat-Whisper: “WHERE’S THE TRIGGER?” “I’M NOT WEARING HOCKEY PADS.” “THIS CITY [dramatic pause] JUST SHOWED YOU [dramatic pause] THAT IT’S FULL OF PEOPLE [dramatic pause] READY TO BELIEVE IN GOOOOOD.” “SOMEONE LIKE YOU. SOMEONE WHO’LL RATTLE THE CAGES.” Seriously, it’s just… He’s funnier than Arnett and West put together, and he’s supposed to be more bad-ass and “brooding” than a mash-up of Keaton and Conroy. EVERYTHING ELSE about the Bale Batman was so on-point that it’s a real bummer this one, crucial piece was so wrong. Bale had the physicality; he had the Bruce Wayne (albeit when supplied with good scripts, as he was with his first two Bat-outings); he had the charisma. The more you watch his movies, though, the more that voice just gets to you.