Much hullabaloo has been made in the recent weeks, months and years as to where Ben Affleck does, has and will stack up in the overall Batman role sphere. Is he better than Christian Bale? Probably not. He’s got to be better than Michael Keaton, right? A push, maybe. Yeah, but he kicks Val Kilmer’s butt? Definitely. However, forget being caught up in the endless debate over Affleck’s position on Mt. Batmore, inevitably carved out of the wet walls of the Batcave. We’re here today to talk about the butler of all butlers, Albert Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth, and where his various portrayals in film and television stack up.
First, a little history about Alfred. As any comic book nerd will tell you, Albert hails from Great Britain, having been a highly skilled British Intelligence Operative, making him the perfect guardian to protect young Bruce Wayne from the cruelties of a dark Gotham City. Outside of being the most overqualified babysitter and tea-man in the world – from his expertise in domestic sciences to his proficiency with mechanical and computer systems – Alfred always had Batman’s back, even putting his emergency medical acumen to work numerous times to save Master Wayne’s life. So where do the representations of the legendary chamberlain stack up? Let’s find out.
5. Jeremy Irons
Films: Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
The latest enactment of Alfred left much to be desired. While his role is scant in the new DC universe picture, Irons does flex his proficiency with mechanical and computer operating systems, helping Batfleck out several times, such as taking control of the Batplane whilst Batman has to skydive smash through a wall to go kick some criminal butts. Irons certainly looked the part as an aged and tired Alfred, ready to give up the reins to his care of Wayne Manor, finding his role rather diminished as Master Bruce had aged gracefully into a Kryptonite induced mid-life crisis. However, there is hope yet for Mr. Irons with ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Justice League’ pictures in production, and the possibility of appearing in solo Batfleck movies, we could still see Irons and his Alfred ascend this list.
4. Michael Gough
Films: Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin
Gough carried nearly a decade’s worth of the Alfred torch, spanning the runs of Keaton, Kilmer, and lastly, George Clooney. Whilst Gough never portrayed the more tactical and eternally youthful former military man version of Alfred, Gough served his role as Batman’s foremost confidant in an ever-changing Gotham universe. The most dapper of this list, Gough seemed to always be there with a joke, or to light up a smoke when Master Wayne needed it most. Despite a heralded four film run, spanning three different Batmen, Gough’s finest hour, perhaps, might have been this 1990’s Diet Coke advert.
3. Alan Napier
TV Series: Batman
A throwback to the 1960s live action television series that any older American male can remember watching, spliced into the Saturday morning cartoons. Napier’s portrayal might well have been the most savvy in the pre-super-darkness era of Gotham. Napier’s lighthearted portrayal – before Batman got uber-techie – won hearts as Batman and Robin’s main man (servant). During a storied, three season, 120 episode run, Napier had the Batphone on lock down, always promptly answering and alerting Batman to the dangers of Gotham. Indubitably things got easier once they invented sonar tracking devices and advanced communication platforms, including computers, so it’s hard to say if Napier’s Alfred would have made it in the modern era.
2. Sean Pertwee
TV Series: Gotham
Pertwee makes a strong case for the title belt here, combatting his way onto the Alfred scene. The youngest Alfred to date, known for protecting the young Bruce Wayne in the immediate aftermath of his parent’s demise, Pertwee’s protective instincts for young Bruce and his knack for continuously felling the villains of Gotham come in handy, as Bruce has yet to fully realise or actualise his future as the bodyguard of Gotham. The ‘Gotham’ TV series has been praised as a hot new show from Fox, and it’s casting of Pertwee really delivers, from Wayne Manor brawls with former British Intelligence Operative pals (psychopaths), to always putting himself in harm’s way to shield Master Wayne from the lurking evils of Gotham’s craziest menaces.
1. Michael Caine
Films: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
Let’s be honest though, we all know Michael Caine is the greatest of all time when it comes to Alfred. Readily beside Christian Bale’s side through the best installment of the Batman franchise, his fame through association certainly buffers his ranking. Competent in (all too often) medical procedures, Alfred never wavers in his faith of Master Wayne as mainly a confidant and ally in his later years. Despite lacking the fighting ability other Alfreds reveal, Caine had perhaps the most quotable Alfred because he understood his role in Wayne’s life as a father figure better than any other. In ‘Batman Begins’, after the house burns down, Wayne belittles Alfred in a rough way saying: “why do you give a damn, Alfred? It’s not your family”. Caine replies in a manner representative of the Alfred who got it most, “I give a damn, because a good man once made me responsible for what was most precious to him in the whole world”. Beautiful, Michael.