Page last updated at 07:18 GMT, Wednesday, 15 June 2005 08:18 UK

The many faces of Batman

To mark the UK release of Batman Begins on Thursday, the BBC News website looks back at the long and chequered big-screen history of the classic comic-book crimefighter.

The Batman (1943), Batman and Robin (1949)

The Caped Crusader's screen debut came in a 1943 film serial, just four years after the character first appeared in comic-book form. Lewis Wilson became the first actor to portray Batman, with Douglas Croft as sidekick Robin.

This low-budget outing proved a humble launchpad for Batman as a cinema hero, but did at least extend familiarity with the character and start the ball rolling.

A series of sequels entitled Batman and Robin followed in 1949, with the eponymous heroes played by Robert Lowery and Johnny Duncan.

Batman (1966)

Batman (1966)
Our heroes take to the seas in the Batboat

Almost two decades passed before Batman returned to cinemas in a spin-off from a popular new TV series.

Legend has it that the character's resurrection was thanks in part to fan Hugh Hefner, when the Playboy entrepreneur invited friends - including TV executives - to come and re-watch the original 40s films at his mansion.

Revelling in the opportunity to depict the heroic twosome in colour, this lively new adventure came with a garish colour scheme and scaled new heights of camp cheesiness.

Adam West was Batman and Burt Ward was a rather hyperactive Robin, with the pair pitted against no fewer than four of the comic book's nastiest villains.

In the film, the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler and Catwoman conspired to steal a weapon capable of turning humans into piles of dust. Batman brought a fine array of hardware with him this time - including the Batmobile, Batcopter and shark-repellent Batspray.

Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)

The success of fellow crimefighter Superman in a 1978 movie made a return for Batman more likely. But script and casting wrangles meant that attempts to reinvigorate the franchise amounted to a series of false starts during the 1980s.

Michael Keaton as Batman
Michael Keaton played Batman twice - in Tim Burton's 1989 and 1992 films

The project finally came to fruition just before the end of the decade, with actor Michael Keaton defying many doubters as Batman and the notoriously offbeat Tim Burton directing.

Burton made Gotham a shadowy, hi-rise metropolis which was just as bleak in the few daylight scenes.

Virtually the only element harking back to Batman's previous outing was the presence of the Joker, played with demented glee by a Golden Globe-nominated Jack Nicholson.

The film's box-office success made a sequel inevitable. Batman Returns managed to be even darker, with a look that was often virtually black-and-white and the creepy pairing of Danny DeVito as The Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.

Batman Forever (1995), Batman and Robin (1997)

Val Kilmer (left) and Chris O'Donnell
Val Kilmer was the Caped Crusader in 1995's Batman Forever

Director Joel Schumacher took the reins and imposed another Bat-makeover.

Gotham was daubed with an abundance of multi-coloured neon, and leading man Val Kilmer played it very straight.

Robin made a comeback in the guise of Chris O'Donnell while heavyweight classic baddies The Riddler and Harvey Two-Face were played by Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones, both determined to out-ham the other.

Fans had mixed feelings towards Schumacher's take on the character, with the Batsuit's rubber nipples a key cause for concern.

More controversial still was the lavish 1997 follow-up, Batman and Robin.

Chris O'Donnell (left) and George Clooney
George Clooney donned the famous Batsuit for 1997's lavish follow-up

With the frivolity factor raised further, it had even less restrained visual design, a simplistic plot and close-ups of the heroes' rubber-clad backsides in the opening sequence.

Neither Arnold Schwarzenegger as chief enemy Mr Freeze or Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl won many fans, and critics were savage.

Kilmer didn't reprise the role, so the Batsuit was worn this time by George Clooney, who still regularly voices his dissatisfaction with the film.

Batman Begins (2005)

For the latest Batman film, director Christopher Nolan takes the unusual approach of focusing his film almost exclusively on Batman's origins, showing us in detail how and why he got his name, look and gadgetry.

The very dark tone matches that of Tim Burton's films, but this time there's a grittier, real-world edge to it, stifling the deliberately fantastical comic-book feel that traditionally comes with superhero tales.

Katie Holmes and Christian Bale in Batman Begins
Eight years on and Christian Bale is the comic-book crimefighter

And Nolan seems to target an older audience than recent Batman efforts.

Whilst villains have dominated most previous Batman outings, here they play second fiddle, still causing considerable mayhem but without the traditional flamboyance.

The Scarecrow and Ra's Al Ghul are the thoroughly unpleasant characters threatening Gotham - battling it out with a brooding, athletic Batman, played by Christian Bale.

The film's open ending doesn't merely suggest a sequel is inevitable, but points to the identity of its primary bad guy - a returning favourite.

In pictures - Batman Begins premiere
12 Jun 05 |  In Pictures

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