The Best Performances of Michael Keaton

Having turned 60, Michael Keaton remains one of our more underappreciated actors. While his career isn’t as red hot now as it once was, he continues to work consistently and has made memorable appearances in “The Other Guys” and “Toy Story 3,” and he made a strong directorial debut with “The Merry Gentleman.” But after all these years, people still see him as a comedy actor. How dare we forget that he’s as powerful a dramatic actor as he is a comedic one, and he has proven this to be the truth several times over.

The following are my picks for the best performances Keaton has given to date, and I’m more than convinced there are many great ones left in him.

Batman/Batman Returns

Christian Bale may own the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman today, but as good as he is he will never beat Keaton’s emotionally rich portrayal of the playboy/superhero. While many at the time felt Keaton was wrong for the part, he surprised the doubters by lending a deep dark pathos to Wayne that makes his Batman all the more human than you would expect. Many will say he was upstaged by the villains portrayed by Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer, but he more than held his own with them and brought strong emotional layers to his character that looks collected on the outside but still deals with emotional scars that will never fully heal.


Yes, I am among those who would love to see a sequel to Tim Burton’s 1988 film. Keaton let his creativity run wild in bringing the bio-exorcist to hilarious life, and it’s hard to think of anyone who could have been better as Beetlejuice. His performance, on a scare of 1 to 10, starts right at 11 and never loses its manic energy for a second. Keaton who have trapped himself this way, but he keeps it up all the way to the very end.

Clean and Sober

It still feels criminal that Keaton never got the Oscar nomination he so deserved for Best Actor in “Clean and Sober.” As drug addict Daryl Poynter, he is utterly believable, realistic, and he never stoops to those grand dramatic outbursts that beg for Academy Award consideration. Poynter is not an entirely sympathetic character as he keeps lying to himself about his problems, but Keaton makes us care about him in his quest to put his life back together.


One of the most underrated comedies of all time has Keaton playing four different versions of his character Doug Kinney who decides to clone himself. His performance can be seen as a mere special effect, but he makes us forget that computer trickery allowed him to be in the same room with himself. Keaton is hilarious fun as he makes each clone distinct from the other, and its fun watching him and director Harold Ramis examine the possibilities of being in different places at the same darn time.

Gung Ho

One of my personal favorites not just of Keaton’s but of director Ron Howard’s as well. As Hunt Stevenson, Keaton shows the sincerity and lack thereof in saving his hometown from becoming a ghost town by getting the Japanese to reopen the auto factory there. This could have been one of those cheesy and manipulative feel good movies of the 80s, but Keaton brings honesty to his performance and makes you want to join him in saving the town he loves.

Happy Birthday Michael! You still don’t look a day over 40!

See also:

Michael Keaton Talks about Creating “Beetlejuice” at American Cinematheque

Michael Keaton on How he Got Into “Batman”

Michael Keaton on his most challenging movie, “Multiplicity”

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