The past 70-plus years have seen quite the variety of Batman portrayals on the big and small screens, but the most distinguishing feature you can use to tell them apart is the Batsuit. From a basic fabric costume stitched together for pennies on the dollar to a militarized tactical combat suit, Batman’s look has evolved over the decades. But which version did it best?
We took a look at the various live-action Batsuits through history, from the first-ever appearance of an actor as Batman in 1943 up to 2016’s versions worn by Ben Affleck. Now it’s up to you to vote on which Batsuit is the best. If you’re feeling nostalgic for the 1960s, Adam West’s getup might be your pick. For those of you who like your Batsuits with nipples, there’s always Joel Schumacher’s versions. And if you’re looking to take on a small army as the Batman, you’re going to want to pick one of the looks from Christian Bale’s wardrobe.
Get some background information on each of the various Batsuits below before voting in our poll. (Big thanks to Junkball Media for their insight into the history of Batman’s costumes, and to the Batman Wiki as well.)
- Batman (1943) – The first time Batman ever appeared on film was in this 15-chapter serial released by Columbia Pictures. Lewis Wilson donned what would become an iconic costume in order to bring the mythos of the Batman to life. Starting a long history of costume problems, this Batsuit had a separate cape and cowl, floppy ears, and misaligned eye holes. Despite all of these issues, the serial was so commercially successful that a second serial was produced a few years later.
- Batman and Robin (1949) – Robert Lowery starred as Batman in the follow-up movie serial, another 15-chapter installment of the live-action adventures of the title characters. With a new actor putting on the Batsuit, the costume underwent a slight design change from the original, a theme that would continue throughout the decades. This time around, the cowl was a bit more structured, the cape was lengthened, and the bat symbol was enlarged and outlined.
- Batman (1966) – Adam West’s iconic costume was the first to burst into color. It also mirrored the trend of the comics’ version of Batman which had eyebrows drawn on the cowl and the yellow oval around the bat symbol on the chest. Other changes included shorter ears, a molded cowl, and a costume that gave West more freedom of movement. It remains one of the most iconic Batsuits in history, though its design fit well with the series’ sense of fun that would largely be abandoned over the next 50 years.
Batman (1989) – Michael Keaton stepped into this iconic Batsuit designed by Bob Ringwood in Tim Burton’s first of two classic movies. Influenced by the Neal Adams era of the comics, it in turn influenced all future suits to come after it, especially since the change to a black suit just seemed to make more sense than the light blue coloration. It’s also infamous for having one molded piece for its head, neck, and shoulders, preventing Keaton from being able to turn his head. This Batsuit also had a sculpted chest plate, a more practical utility belt and sweet Nike boots to honor a marketing arrangement. The Bat-Emblem also had three points on the wings since Warner Bros. didn’t have the license to use the standard two-point emblem; that changed in the sequel.
- Batman Returns (1992) – Though the head mobility was still limited, this Batsuit was more angular and made a bit less bulky. What it gained in mobility it gave up in defense, especially when it came to cat claws. This suit also came with a glider built into the cape and more of an armored-plate look instead of sculpted musculature.
- Batman Forever (1995) – Joel Schumacher’s vision for the Batman is certainly a strange one, but to each their own. Val Kilmer stepped into not one but two Batsuits in this film. The first, dubbed the “Panther Suit” took on a stream-lined anatomical design, along with a black utility belt. The cowl was finally made more flexible, and, for some reason, nipples were added to the chest piece. When The Riddler destroyed the other Batsuits, Kilmer stepped into the “Sonar Suit”, a stylized iridescent version that came with eye covers that mimicked the comic version’s white eyes. The bat symbol was also molded directly onto the chest plate in this version. (It was also painted black and used for Christian Bale’s Batman Begins screen test.)
Batman & Robin (1997) – George Clooney also got to wear two suits in Schumacher’s follow-up film. The first, dubbed the “Clooney Suit” was much bluer in tone than previous Batsuits. The cape fastened to the outside of the collar, and the suit had a greater shine and an ultra-molded look to it. The secondary “Arctic Suit “ came with silver armor pieces and an enlarged bat symbol, plus the required nipples…and an exaggerated codpiece.
- Batman Begins (2005) – Christopher Nolan’s reboot starring Christian Bale rebooted the Batman from the ground up. The narrative did a great job at explaining the design, functionality, and materials that went into constructing the Batsuit, from memory-cloth cape to mass-produced cowl, spelunking utility belt to weaponized gauntlets. Despite being essentially a military combat suit, it did restrict Batman’s movement, which is why Bruce Wayne asked Lucius Fox to design a slimmer, more flexible suit. Also because Bale himself requested it.
- The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises (2008/2012) – The narrative again takes time to explain why Bruce wanted a more lightweight suit for mobility, which was achieved with multiple pieces of armor spread out over the body. The cowl is more of a motorcycle helmet and the cape is able to retract in compartments behind the shoulder blades. The previously discussed Sonar Suit gets a nod with this Batsuit’s white eyes when the “sonar vision” was engaged, temporarily. Though Bane essentially dismantled the Batsuit from cowl to Bat Boots in The Dark Knight Rises, the costume was the same design from the previous film, even when Batman eventually donned his back-up suit.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)– Designed by Michael Wilkinson for Zack Snyder’s DCCU version with Ben Affleck, there are actually three suits in this film. First is the black and grey costume we see Bruce wearing while brooding by his Batmobile. Designed with a leather cowl for maximum flexibility, the suit also allowed Affleck’s imposing physique to come through on screen. But when you’re going up against a Kryptonian god, you’re going to need a metal power suit complete with light-up eyes. (Trivia: This is the first Batsuit not to have a bat symbol.) A third version was also shown, a desert variant in which Batman has goggles and a trench coat.
Will one of the new versions take home the coveted spot of Best Live-Action Batman Costume ever? Or will one of the modern classics win the top spot? Vote below!
If you’ve got more to say about the state of superhero costumes, be sure to vote for the best live-action Spider-Man costume in our poll here. And for more of our recent articles on Batman, check them out at the links below:
- Why ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ Is the Best Batman Adaptation
- The 5 Best Batman Comics of All Time
- Why Batman’s Greatest Villain Is Batman
- Best Batman Cartoons Other Than ‘Batman: The Animated Series’
- Batman Movies Ranked from Worst to Best
- ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’: First Image Reveals Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy in Animated Movie