Dress for the job you want, not the job you have they say. Which is why I’m sitting here in a black rubber condom slowly melting away because dammit I will be the next Batman! There is no movie suit cooler than the Batsuit: A costume that has been on the big screen for more years than you’ve been alive. But throughout the decades, the suit has evolved and changed with the times. So which suit is still the best then? Which combination of rubber, foam latex and the sheer hate-sweat of the actor trapped inside has managed to endure and become iconic over the years.
As the official and fully qualified Batmanologist of this site, that’s a question that I’m more than qualified to answer. In as many words as possible, because I’m about to wax lyrical on the subject. Also the doors are locked and I spiked your drink with a mild paralytic agent. You’re going nowhere as I kick this feature off.
I can’t believe they were being serial – Batman (1943 serial), Batman and Robin (1949 serial)
Have you ever been invited to a costume party at the last minute, and decided to craft a fancy getup from the contents of your rubbish bin? Because that’s the feeling that I get whenever I see the monstrosities that actors Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowrey wore in 1943 and 1949 respectively. Choosing the worst batsuit between these two is the equivalent of asking which eyeball you’d like to introduce to a blowtorch.
Both options are painful and blinding, reminders of a Hollywood industry that would cut any corner possible to save a few bucks if they could and crank out as many movies as possible before the well ran dry. At least Lowrey had a nice cape, which is something I guess?
Ice to meet you – Batman & Robin (1997)
Sweet Bill Finger, is there any redeeming factor in 1997’s Batman and Robin? No, none at all. While Batman Forever was at least a balanced mix of camp and seriousness for a mid-90s generation, Batman and Robin ran wild with its kid-friendly themes and created something that had people cringing themselves out of space and time whenever they saw it. It doesn’t help either that the final costumes worn in Batman and Robin were a case of recycled rubber.
Specifically, the Sonar Suit from Batman Forever which had been repainted with a blue tint and silver highlights for the final climatic scene against Mr Freeze, Bane and Poison Ivy. And it just looks awful, 90s decadence at its worst and most garish in a film where Batman brandished a bat-credit card in his belt.
Pure West – Batman (1966)
Adam West’s Batman costume is a case of design being so bad, it’s actually good. Those weird eyebrows, the tiny logo and satin cape. A pair of tights that were perhaps a tad bit too confining for the man himself, a suit which didn’t exactly flatter the actually formidable physique that contained West. And yet, no other actor could make this costume work as well as West could.
It’s campy to the extreme, yet somehow eternally iconic and a fantastic example of its age when TV was a lot less serious. Pure West, and the best batsuit according to Geoff at least.
Blue Steel – Batman & Robin (1997)
Poor George Clooney. His involvement in Batman and Robin should have been a defining moment in his career. Instead, it was a critical bomb that he still hands out refunds to whenever a fan complains of wasting their cash on a ticket to go see the flick back in 1997. Clooney’s stiff rubber costume wasn’t exactly original stuff either, but rather a blue-tinted version of the Panther suit from Batman Forever.
Not a bad costume by any stretch, but sloppy seconds that smell vaguely of Val Kilmer’s hate don’t count for much on this list.
Sonar or far – Batman Forever (1995)
Near the end of Batman Forever, Bruce Wayne’s collection of hawt rubber had all but been destroyed, leaving him only one prototype suit to wear into battle: The Sonar batsuit. Beyond a wrist-mounted grappling hook, sonar vision and action figure tie-ins, I’ve got no idea what made this costume so special in the world of that film.
But outside of it? I adore it actually. Fun fact: Alien artist H.R Giger did some concept art for Batman Forever at the behest of director Joel Schumacher, and his designs were utterly mental of course. Giger’s signature biological bend towards the bizarre may not have been used in Batman Forever, but his influence was certainly felt in the Sonar suit, a costume which oozes traces of his signature design flair. Many Batman costumes are recognisable, but only the Sonar suit is an example of blending madness with style.
Owl by myself no longer – Justice League (2017)
Look, I don’t care what anyone says: I like this suit. Yes, it happens to look a helluva lot like the Owlman costume from director Zack Snyder’s other comic book movie, Watchmen. But brush that comparison aside and you’ve still got something that looks original for the Batman. It’s still able to barely contain Ben Affleck’s sheer bulkiness, but it oozes coolness and I can’t wait to see it in action. Also, adding goggles to everything makes it cooler. Scientific fact.
Nice outfit – Justice League (2017)
Ben Affleck’s first turn as the caped crusader resulted in a Batsuit that was incredibly faithful to the core comic book material. Perhaps even the most faithful so far. And while the Justice League suit looks almost identical, there are plenty of differences present. A sharper cowl, some more armour and several tweaks to the Kevlar patter. It’s a fantastic suit, but the BvS costume is still the original and best in comparison. I do like those sharper ears however.
Definitely not hockey pads – The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Unlike every other costume on this list, Christian Bale’s ultimate batsuit is incredibly functional. It may not have the same level of theatricality that Kilmer’s Panther suit possesses or the sheer anger woven into the Kevlar that you’d find in Batfleck’s outfit, but it more than makes up for that with a real-world fabrication that allowed Bale to do things that previous Batman actors could only dream of: Move their neck, crouch and sit down inside the suit. And all of that added up to a costume that is easily iconic in its own distinct way.
Spelunkin’ stuff – Batman Begins (2005)
And yet, I still prefer the fact that Bale was pretty much a walking rubber tank in his first appearance as Batman. Originally designed as a Nomex infantry survival suit that happened to carry one hell of a price tag, Bale’s first costume is incredible. It has elements of military stealth and ninja influences present, but the beefy cowl also hints at a certain sensitivity and anger that defined his take on the character, with further nods all the way back to 1989’s Batman thanks to a gold belt that broke up an entirely black outfit.
And that cape. Man, if you had to describe it in one word, it’d be easy: Romantic.
Mr Mech-Manhandle – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
It’s no secret that Zack Snyder gets a lusty look in his eyes whenever you mention Frank Miller’s iconic The Dark Knight Returns. That depiction of a crustier Batman coming out of retirement essentially defined Batman V Superman’s Gotham icon, and Snyder paid homage to that landmark mini-series with an updated take on the mechanised warsuit that Batman wore in his final battle with the man of steel.
And what a suit it is. It’s brutal, savage in its execution of turning Superman’s face into ground beef, adding even more imposing bulk to a figure who happens to be terrifyingly massive already. The subtle upgrades to the design work wonders, creating something that blended the past and the future together into one mechnificent result.
Industrial Illusions – Batman Returns (1992)
Here’s an interesting fact: Warner Bros. initially considered the first Batman movie in 1989 to be one hell of a gambit, as they weren’t certain if the tag team of Tim Burton directing and Michael Keaton starring could produce a dark and gritty new take on the dark knight. They were wrong of course, with Batman cleaning up massively at the box office.
And for the sequel, Warner Bros. was more than happy to throw plenty of cash at Burton and Keaton to return. All of that extra dough and pre-production time resulted in Burton and his crew redesigning the batsuit entirely, layering on more industrial themes and art nouveau influences to show off the fact that the billionaire inside did happen to have access to all manner of assembly line technology to create his armour.
And the end result is a sleeker and smoother costume that kept close to the original and blazed its own path.
Sex Panther – Batman Forever (1995)
Yes, nipples. Go on, get it out of your system. Let me slowly applaud you for being the most original person around to point out something that has been so obvious for over two decades now, you are so clever for noticing this. That being said, Val Kilmer’s first batsuit is simply beautiful. Director Joel Schumacher ditched the industrial look of Batman Returns for a more muscled approach, akin to Roman and Greek armour.
But the slightly edgier enhancements just sparked on the big screen, with all of that black rubber being perfectly balanced by a gold symbol on the chest and a cowl that blended the organic nature of Keaton’s first mask with the industrial smoothness of his second. They call it the Panther suit, because sixty percent of the time it works every time on the big screen.
50 shades of Grey – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
I wish I was a fly on the wall when Ben Affleck saw the first reactions to his official reveal in costume as Batman, after months of having to keep quiet while uninformed fanboys waxed lyrical about how he’d be the worst Batman ever. Just about everybody who saw the image above for the first time, had the same reaction: WHOAH.
This was a burly Batman, a vigilant who had spent two decades trying to save Gotham City and had lost his way in the process. You could feel his weary nature in his posture, which happened to be wrapped in a layer of spandex and Kevlar that told a story of wars on the street and encounters with villains who left Bruce Wayne scarred and haunted. The most comic book accurate Batman costume ever made, Batfleck looks like he stepped out of the printed page and onto the big screen when he suited up for silver screen action.
Bat in black – Batman (1989)
But the best costume on this list doesn’t just look good. It owns the screen entirely whenever you see it. Michael Keaton’s original threads are still breath-taking, an example of timeless design even after almost thirty years. Simple in its design, there’s a world of small details that makes this costume a winner. The subtle textures present throughout the cape and cowl to reflect a more bat-like texture. The black armour strategically broken up by the bat-symbol and belt. Nike shoes repurposed into boots. That cape.
But what really makes this suit works, is that it creates a sense of tension and fear when in movement. The Batfleck suit above simply doesn’t have that level of theatricality that Keaton’s stiff performance has, an idea of movement that was augmented by Burton hiring experienced stage actors to give the costume the flair needed to make it look less like a man in a rubber outfit and more like a boogeyman in the night.
Sometimes you don’t need layers of segmented carbon fibre armour or intricate weaves of material to create a symbol. What really matters when you think about it, isn’t the suit but how it’s worn. That’s just my opinion of course. Which suit is your favourite that isn’t as cool as the 1989 costume?