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Christmas Gift Guide

Who's your favorite?

​8. Val Kilmer

8. Val Kilmer: Over before he began

7. George Clooney

7. George Clooney: Man in the nipple suit

6. Will Arnett

6. Will Arnett: He's far from plastic

5. Ben Affleck

5. Ben Affleck: Bulked up bat

4. Adam West

4. Adam West: Don't take him too seriously

3. Kevin Conroy

3. Kevin Conroy: Baddest badass

2. Christian Bale

2. Christian Bale: Critical darling

1. Michael Keaton

1. Michael Keaton: Bat champion

Since the cowled one's 1943 Hollywood debut, the character has been played in live-action and animated adventures by nearly two dozen actors.

Using a combination of box-office Bat stats, Metacritic-crunched Bat reviews and general Bat-judgment calls, we boiled down the list of Bat actors to the essentials: the eight performers whose names must be mentioned when telling the screen history of Batman. We then used those metrics to rank our chosen actors, from the merely important to the most iconic.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Bros.

Why he's essential: "Batman Forever."

If you starred in a live-action Batman blockbuster, you're automatically on this list, an exclusive club that numbers only five members. If you're Val Kilmer, who did an "excellent job" in your 1995 Bat film, you rank here, and not higher, because you are the "forgotten" Batman.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

"Batman Forever" outgrossed its predecessor, "Batman Returns," and outclassed its successor, "Batman & Robin."

And yet Kilmer got lost in part because he didn't stick around. He passed on a second Batman movie to make "The Saint." The move was the beginning of the end of his leading-man career.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

Why he's essential: "Batman & Robin."

Reminder: Not all impressions are good impressions, so when we argue Clooney made a mark in his lone Batcave appearance in 1997, this is not meant as a compliment. It's a nod to "Batman & Robin" being such a commercial and critical failure that it shut down the franchise for nearly 10 years.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

Director Joel Schumacher took most of the heat for the "campy," "incoherent" ode to codpieces and nipple-suits that failed to make back its $125 million budget at the domestic box office. But Clooney said he deserved blame, too, for "terribly destroy[ing] the part."

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

Why he's essential: He is Lego Batman.

The "Arrested Development" and "30 Rock" actor first made his Bat mark in 2014's "clever" and "funny" Oscar-nominated hit, "The Lego Movie."

Caption by / Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Arnett's mega-intense Batman made such an impression as a supporting character that he was awarded his own vehicle, "The Lego Batman Movie."

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

Why he's essential: He's here to stay.

You can carp about whether 2016's "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" is good -- most critics thought it was not -- but at the end of the day, it grossed nearly $900 million worldwide, more than enough to firm up plans for a string of "Batfleck" movies.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

According to Affleck, he is so consumed with playing his graying, bulked-up version of the hero that he has abandoned plans to direct the standalone film, "The Batman."

"It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require," he said.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

Why he's essential: He helped make Batman, Batman.

Lore has it that Gotham's finest was nearing comic-book cancellation before West donned the cowl in the 1966-1968 Emmy-nominated TV series, "Batman." It's an unlikely story, but the West iteration matters nonetheless: It made the character a "global superstar."

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

West's Batman was in sync with its times: a bright, poppy, peppy hero that its producers didn't take too seriously because, rightly and wrongly, comic book characters on the whole weren't taken seriously.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

Why he's essential: He is the master.

Since 1992, Conroy has worked almost exclusively as the grizzled voice of our hero in animated series, animated movies and video games. His signature line, "I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman," has made the character an icon all over again.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

Conroy has voiced Batman in two wide-release films, the beloved "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" and the controversial "Batman: The Killing Joke." He wasn't met with protest when he said: "My Batman is the baddest badass Batman."

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

Why he's essential: He elevated the Bat genre.

Bale was the first big-screen Batman after the Clooney debacle. Along with filmmaker Christopher Nolan, he grounded the character. And critics responded. Each of the three Bale movies, "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises," has a Metascore of 70 or greater. No other Batman movie tops 69.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

In addition to being the most critically acclaimed Batman star, Bale is also the most commercially successful, with his trilogy roughly grossing a combined $2.5 billion at the worldwide box office.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

Why he's essential: He virtually created today's Bat genre.

It's not easy to top Christian Bale at the Bat game, but Keaton gets the ultimate nod. Everything about today's Batman movies, if not modern superhero movies, begins with him. 1989's "Batman" was a smart bet that audiences were ready for the graphic-novel sensibility.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video

Keaton's two Batman movies, including 1992's "Batman Returns," cumulatively scored two Oscar nominations, grossed a then-whopping $677 million worldwide and scored uniformly strong critical reviews. They were on target, and they demonstrated the franchise's potential even when it subsequently stumbled.

Caption by / Photo by Warner Home Video
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