Bruce Waynes Ranked by How Well They Hide Being Batman

Good luck hiding those iconic jawlines.

batman bruce wayne
Image by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Image by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

In the early days of Detective Comics, the costumed heroes that galloped through their pages invented the modern notion of a secret identity. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest would have never been as compelling if we hadn't also seen them attempting to live normal civilian lives, hiding their cool powers and gadgets behind the disguise of the everyday man. We all know that Gotham's richest bachelor Bruce Wayne fights crime dressed as a bat, and the Daily Planet's nerdiest reporter is actually faster than a speeding bullet, but in their worlds, those are their best-kept secrets.

Batman has been a star of cinema for nearly six decades (even longer if you count the pre-show serials of the 1940s), and almost every Batman movie revolves around the constant struggle of keeping his Batman and Bruce Wayne identities separate. But, not all Batmen are created equal, and some are much better at hiding their true faces than others.

There was only one thing for us to do: rank them. For this, we're sticking to live-action movie Bruces (sorry to LEGO Batman and the sad young star of Fox's Gotham), exploring everything from Adam West's feature debut as the hero he played on television to Robert Pattinson's newest take on the Dark Knight. How well do cinema's Bruce Waynes hide that they're actually Batman? If you met any of these Bruce Waynes, would you feel like you'd seen the lower half of their face somewhere before, under a cowl perhaps? Or would you buy their rich pretty boy act grappling-hook, line, and sinker?

batman forever val kilmer
Warner Bros.

7. Val Kilmer (Batman Forever)

If this was merely a ranking of Batman performances, then Val Kilmer would be sitting toward the top, no question. (Say what you want about his caped crusader—your "but his voice" gripes have no effect on me.) But unfortunately, for as much stoic charm, resourcefulness, and good entrances that Kilmer brings to his one-and-done role, he has one lethal give: his gorgeous, remarkable lips. That, and he literally yells "I'm Batman!" during the big circus-crashing scene, which, even among the chaos that Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face provokes, the proclamation should have definitely been audible by at least a few people nearby, but whatever. You're telling me that all these people—Nicole Kidman's psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian, Jim Carrey's Edward Nygma/Riddler, etc.—have met Bruce Wayne then his half-masked alter ego and didn't immediately think, Oh, I've definitely seen THOSE big pillowy lips somewhere before? You would need to be face blind not to pick up on this, or just… in a Hollywood movie. Val Kilmer's Bruce Wayne sneakiness: Zero stars. —Leanne Butkovic

batman adam west burt ward

6. Adam West (Batman: The Movie)

Out of all of these actors, Adam West inarguably has the most hours logged playing both Batman and Bruce Wayne, thanks to ABC's television series broadcast from 1966-1968. Between the first and second seasons of the show 20th Century Fox released a companion movie, wherein West and his co-star Burt Ward, who played Dick Grayson a.k.a. Robin, have to stop Gotham's four most nefarious criminals—the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, and Catwoman—from destroying the United World Organization's Security Council. To lure Batman into their trap, the villains kidnap Bruce Wayne, thinking that surely Batman would come to save Gotham's most famous millionaire. Bruce quickly fights his way out of their clutches and escapes, and if we were any of those four supervillains we'd be mighty suspicious of how some basic rich guy learned to fight so much like their arch nemesis. —Emma Stefansky

batman v superman ben affleck
Warner Bros.

5. Ben Affleck (Batman v. Superman, Justice League)

If we were assessing sneakiness on the basis of costume alone, Batfleck would take the cake. In director Zack Snyder's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and the subsequent Justice League, in either its original or Snyder-approved form, Batman looks like anyone could be under that suit, particularly the bulky version he designs for his big confrontation with his Kryptonian rival. The press photos are comical for how much they don't really look like Affleck is under there. But sneakiness is more than an outfit. In Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne does a good deal of spying, thieving, and tiptoeing around, but he's not particularly skilled at it. He's almost always getting caught, and in one scene Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman swipes some important LexCorp data from right under his nose and then later returns it to him without him even noticing. Affleck remains an underrated Bruce Wayne, but he should work on his sleuthing as much as he works on his biceps. —Dan Jackson

batman & robin george clooney
Warner Bros.

4. George Clooney (Batman & Robin)

Clooney's suave spin on Bruce Wayne is not that far off from his take on Danny Ocean, the dashing thief he played in Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's movies. Though the actor likes to now make self-deprecating jokes about his performance in Joel Schumacher's second candy-colored trip into the Bat-verse, he was actually an only mildly silly and mostly effective Wayne, laughing off questions about a possible engagement to his longtime girlfriend and showing off his new telescope. Yes, he carried around the much-derided Batcard ("Never leave the cave without it") and threw a party at the Botanical Garden where he invited his own alter-ego (and his sidekick) as a special guest, but there's a certain reckless genius at work in Clooney's approach to subterfuge. (Also, we have to give credit to Clooney's Batman for training Robin in how to use "rubber lips" to evade Poison Ivy's deadly kiss, one of the sneakier moves in the franchise's history.) —DJ

the batman robert pattinson
Warner Bros.

3. Robert Pattinson (The Batman)

The best way to hide that you're also Bruce Wayne, according to Robert Pattinson's Batman: Just become a recluse and rarely make an appearance as your true self. The Batman is a Batman-heavy movie. Matt Reeves' is not a film where Bruce goes out to galas and charms young ladies. Nope, the Pattz Bruce Wayne is hardly seen in public, so much so that when he does appear out of costume it takes a second for people to recognize who he is. Take, for instance, when he goes to the funeral for Gotham's murdered mayor. Sure, there are some people who immediately peg him, but when he converses with one of the angry residents attending, there's a moment of pause. It's a good strategy because if Pattinson's Bruce was out on the town he would probably have a hard time keeping his two selves separate. No one has that incredible jawline but Robert Pattinson. —Esther Zuckerman

the dark knight christian bale
Warner Bros.

2. Christian Bale (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises)

One of the best parts about Christian Bale's portrayal of Batman is his characterization of his alter ego Bruce Wayne as a rich gala-hopping playboy with a new lady on his arm every week. In Batman Begins, he buys a hotel just so he and his hot friends can swim in its fountain for the night. In The Dark Knight, he arrives at his own party fashionably late just to make a point to the girl he has a crush on. In The Dark Knight Rises, he uses his fame to find out information about Selina Kyle—while also flirting with her, of course. His secret identity turns out to be his best disguise: He saves a whole party of socialites from Ra's al Ghul by pretending to be drunk and belligerent, and he uses his ample funds to finance Harvey Dent's election prospects. Like any creature of the night, Bruce Wayne knows his best defense is hiding in plain sight. Who in their right minds would think the city's smarmiest rich kid would turn out to be the hero Gotham needs, let alone the one it deserves? —ES

batman michael keaton
Warner Bros.

1. Michael Keaton (Batman, Batman Returns)

The cagey, neurotic magic of Keaton's Bruce Wayne is right there in the scene where the enigmatic billionaire first introduces himself to Kim Basinger's glamorous photographer Vicki Vale and Robert Wuhl's smartass reporter Alexander Knox. As the two muckraking journalists wander through Wayne manor and joke about expensive-looking artifacts on display, Wayne sneaks up behind them, listens to their conversion, and then cuts right in, throwing them off with his off-kilter energy. "Bruce Wayne," he says to Vale. She looks him over and asks, "Are you sure?" "Yeah, this time," he mumbles. Could a man this fidgety really be the masked hero Batman? Director Tim Burton is clearly drawn to the melancholy core of the character and the world itself, crafting a vision of loneliness that's every bit as sensitive and strange as his similarly stylish fable Edward Scissorhands. In both the 1989 original and 1992's transcendentally odd Batman Returns, Keaton's performance is the key to why these movies work, a portrait of a man wrapping himself in a cloak of darkness he finds more comforting than his own skin. —DJ

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