On second thought, Val Kilmer was the best Batman, says Joel Schumacher


Image Credit: Everett Collection

Asking Joel Schumacher about his Batman films must be like asking Steve Bartman about the Chicago Cubs. But the director, who was blamed for nearly killing the franchise after 1997’s Batman & Robin, seemed to have a healthy perspective when an IFC.com reporter brought it up during press for his latest film, Trespass, with Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman. “I’m responsible for everything. I said, ‘yes’ and I took it on,” he said. “It’s not my favorite movie I’ve ever made, but I’m proud of my cast and I’m proud of all the artists who worked on it. I take full responsibility for Batman & Robin.”

Schumacher is much prouder of his first Batman film, 1995’s Batman Forever. “For me, Val Kilmer was the best Batman,” he said. “I thought he looked great in the costume, and I thought he brought a depth to the role. I thought the relationship between Val and Nicole Kidman was very sexy.”

Wait! What? Rewind. “For me, Val Kilmer was the best Batman”?! I’m not stunned by the suggestion that Kilmer was great in the role — a lot of fans would’ve liked to see more of him as the Caped Crusader. But if you recall, Schumacher and Kilmer parted ways on ugly terms. How ugly? Well, there were reports of a physical on-set confrontation. And then there was this:

“Val is the most psychologically troubled human being I’ve ever worked with. The tools I used working with him — tools of communication, of patience and understanding — were the tools I use on my 5-year-old godson. Val is not just high-strung. I think he needs help.”
— Joel Schumacher, Premiere, April 1997

Schumacher was thrilled when Warner Bros. released Kilmer from his Batman contract to star in The Saint instead, so it’s somewhat a surprise to hear him complement Kilmer’s performance at all. Then again, is this the director’s way of shifting focus on the one Batman movie he made that didn’t reek? Batman Forever, with Nicole Kidman, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris O’Donnell, isn’t the embarrassing spectacle that the George Clooney-starring Batman & Robin became.

What do you make of Schumacher’s revised opinion of Kilmer’s work? And is Batman Forever an overlooked morsel of comic-book pulp? How does Kilmer’s performance rank against the other modern Batmen? Vote below.

Read more:
The Knight Shift: The men behind the mask
10 Superhero Projects Gone Wrong gallery
Christian Bale: The hero Batman deserved and needed

Comments (113 total) Add your comment
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  • Rusty

    Your opening analogy doesn’t make any sense. And man, give poor Bartman a break already.

    • LOL

      Schumacher is a hack.

      • ned

        He didn’t take away anything about what it was like to work with Kilmer in that statement, he just said he gave a great performance. Both can be true at the same time.

    • hob

      Hey what about Adam West? And while we’re at it, what about Lewis Wilson, the first man to play Batman in the movie serials in 1943.

      • Brett

        “Modern” Batmen. As in, more recently than 40 plus years ago. And George Clooney was the best Bruce Wayne/Batman. Horrible movie, but best performance. Val Kil;mer was the blandest Batman, and can never be forgiven for the line, “It’s the car, right? Chicks dig the car.”

      • hob

        I guess I can see Lewis Wilson being excluded, but Adam West is what most of us grew up with, so I think he qualifies as “modern.”

      • ZXQYV

        There’s an important name missing from the poll: Kevin Conroy.

    • Teena donett

      They are all the same because they where a mask! its time for a black or chinese batman. Like Idris Elba and robin Chris brown!! Batgirl leila Lopez Miss Universe.

  • Alex

    Bale. End of story.

    • Darren

      Nope, not end of story. There is no doubt Bale’s movies have been much much better, But Bale’s hilariously bad Clint Eastwood Batman voice really knocks down his individual performance

      • Brock

        End of story, yes. Bale, and it’s not even a contest.

      • Elle

        Honestly, as much as I like the Chris Nolan Batman movies, to me, Christian Bale has been sort of the weak link in all of them. I thought Michael Keaton was a very compelling Batman and I still think both of his movies hold up well. Val Kilmer really nailed the suave Bruce Wayne and Bruce’s inner turmoil and I think he would have fared well in another film with a better script. If I had to pick one, i’d probably pick Michael Keaton.

      • Bob R

        Darren is correct

      • Fingerlakes Dave

        I’m with Elle. Michael Keaton, with Val Kilmer a close second.

      • mike

        George Clooney. Yes, the movie he was in sucked, but not because of him. Clooney is still the best Batman, unfortunately in the worst movie.

      • The Pittsburgh Kid

        Michael Keaton was the best Batman, Bale the best Wayne.

      • mscisluv

        I’d have to agree that Christian Bale is probably the best Wayne, though not the best Batman (the voice really detracts from the whole character).

      • Brett

        Bale’s Batman looked like his face was being squeezed through a toothpaste tube in the first film’s costume, and his attempt at a menacing voice was ridiculous and eventually, unintelligible. By “The Dark Knight,” he got so out of breath trying to do that voice that he sounded like he was about to have a stroke during his last conversation with the Joker. He gets the “playboy” Bruce Wayne down okay, but he’s not given us a lot of depth in his performance. Clooney had the depth and charm as Bruce Wayne AND as Batman. THAT”S “end of story.”

      • Dan

        @Brock. No. You’re wrong. End of Story. Thx.

    • kate middleton

      The Nolan movies are BY FAR the best Batman movies….but I’m not sure if Bale is necessarily the best Batman or it’s just that those movies are so good.

      • tracy bluth

        I agree. And I still think Michael Keaton is the best Batman.

    • meme

      Michael Keaton. End of story.

  • DFT

    Actually, Batman Forever isn’t that great either. It looks pretty good compared to B&R, but it basically has the same campy tone and hyper-over-the-top approach.

    • Brock

      Labreque neither said nor implied Batman Forever was “great.” Saying Batman Forever “isn’t the embarrassing spectacle” Batman & Robin became is a pretty backhanded compliment.

    • Tori

      I loved Batman Forever! It’s my favourite one. Val Kilmer is the best, too.

      • Erick

        We have a hyperabundance of dirt-cheap, low-quality food, a relhtuss postindustrial economy that encourages people to work ever longer hours at ever more sedentary jobs, and a long cultural tradition of recreational eating. If you wanted to design a society expressly to produce an obesity epidemic, you couldn’t do much better than the United States in the 21st century.

    • Shamus N.

      It was still better than Batman Returns, though, which was also campy and over-the-top.

  • LOL

    America loves crap.

    • abadstroller

      Everywhere I see you, “LOL”, you say the same thing…just wondering….

      • Yeah

        It’s getting old and pointless now.

      • LOL

        It isn’t getting as tiring as America’s love for crap is.

    • LOL

      Batman needs a reboot, maybe with Vin Diesel or Paul Walker as Bruce Wayne, with the visionary Justin Lin directing.

      • Bonnie B

        Paul Walker? Really? That’s as funny as Christian Bales’ Batman voice.

      • Andrew Red

        Yeah, The Bat and the Furious, c’mon give me a break.

    • Dan

      Because the bulk of films made in other countries around the world are SO SO good. Poor deluded soul.

      • LOL

        I am an American, so it is America I am concerned with. I don’t care what people in other countries like or don’t like, I don’t have a dog in that fight.

  • Krystal

    I dig Micael Keaton but Bale looks the part

    • Mike

      Michael Keaton best Batman. Christan Bale best Bruce Wayne.

  • Bethany

    Christian Bale. There is no contest. Michael Keaton comes in second.

  • McProphet

    Christian Bale makes the best Bruce Wayne, Michael Keaton made the best Batman. Period.

  • Mike P

    Why does anyone trust Joel Schumacher’s opinion? He ruined the Batman series with Batman and Robin!

  • Katie

    I LOVED Batman Forever, and I definitely think that of all the batmen (pre re-boot, of course), that Val Kilmer was the best one. Michael Keaton is laughable as a true action star/playboy, and we all know what happened with George Klooney.
    And frankly, Christian Bale shouldn’t even be included in this poll, because Batman Beyond is so much better, he’s not even in the same league.

  • Jason

    I’m in the minority, but I always thought Kilmer was the best Batman…

    • will


    • Elle

      I think Val Kilmer did very well with Bruce’s truly disturbed grief and emotional dynsfunction. And he’s probably the most classicaly handsome so he played the suave playboy very well. I still prefer Michael Keaton because I just feel like he brought a different level of uniqueness to the character. I like Christian Bale but I don’t think he’s the one that makes those movies good. The Dark Knight, to me, was the movie it was due to Heath Ledger and Gary oldman. Bruce was just along for the ride in that movie.

  • David

    Bale and Keaton are the only ones worth mentioning. Bale wins by nailing down both Bruce and Batman.

  • taylor

    I thought Val Kilmer was awesome as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Very underrated, should have done more.

  • Rich

    Hey Baby, you want some Adam West penis?

  • Bobby


  • Crys

    Keaton wins hands down. Bale is good. The other two… ummm didn’t even watch the movies.

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