Over the years, we have seen a few different characters take on the name of Robin. Dick Grayson is probably the most widely recognized and well-known of the bunch, but there have definitely been others. After Grayson’s appearance, we have also seen Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, and Damian Wayne step in as Batman’s sidekick.
There was one other that most people forget about: Carrie Kelley first showed up in Frank Miller’s graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Saved by Batman on his first night back from retirement, the 13-year-old spends her lunch money on a Robin outfit in hopes of becoming his partner. It’s only after she saves his life that he accepts her as Robin.
Her run as Robin is pretty short. By the second novel in the series, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Kelley has started calling herself Catgirl. And once we get to the third installment, The Dark Knight III: The Master Race, she becomes Batgirl and then Batwoman.
Because Miller’s graphic novels don’t take place in the DC Comic Universe proper, Kelley has always been considered a non-canon Robin. But that’s not stopping the CW from bringing her back for the upcoming TV series, Gotham Knights. Batwoman writers Natalie Abrams, James Stoteraux, and Chad Fiveash are producing and writing the new series.
The show will take place in a post-Bruce Wayne Gotham City, taking place after his murder. His adopted son, Turner Hayes, teams up with the children of his father’s enemies. They were wrongly framed for Batman’s death, and now they must fight to clear their names. Of course, with no Batman to protect Gotham, the city descends into danger and chaos. Hayes and his newly-assembled team of fugitives become the next generation of crime-fighting superheroes, the Gotham Knights.
Carrie Kelley will again be the female version of Robin for the series. It has been announced that Navia Robinson (of Raven’s Home fame) has been cast to play Kelley. Other characters appearing in the series include Harper Row, Duela Dent, and Stephanie Brown.
This will be the first time that Carrie Kelley is fully realized in a live-action project – which, I must say, is kind of surprising. However, it’s worth noting that, while Robin may be Batman’s most loyal sidekick from the last eighty-something years, he (and sometimes she!) hasn’t seen a lot of live-action action. We’ve seen 10 different actors play Batman across 13 live-action films and two TV series. Of those, Robin has only appeared in seven, and one of them only kind of counts. Two of them appeared in the same TV series.
I don’t know why, but Robin has always been one of my favorite superhero sidekicks. From Dick Grayson to Damian Wayne, they’re all pretty cool in my book. As for all those live-action projects, though, which one comes out on top as the best of the Caped Crusader’s young colleague?
7. Johnny Duncan in Batman and Robin (1949)
Johnny Duncan played Dick Grayson in Columbia’s second Batman serial, 1949’s Batman and Robin. And while his predecessor wasn’t much to speak of, Duncan’s depiction of the Boy Wonder manages to snag the spot for last place.
He portrayed the character for 15 chapters, as the Dynamic Duo faced off against the Wizard, a hooded mastermind who has stolen an electrical device he can use to control any motor vehicle. Hey, at least it’s better than the plot of 1943’s Batman.
We never really get a sense for Duncan’s Grayson/Robin, as the character spends most of his time as Batman’s lookout. And while he’s smart, we never really get to know much more about the character. He’s kind of a driver and wingman, more than he is a superhero sidekick.
6. Douglas Croft in Batman (1943)
Douglas Croft holds the title as the very first actor to ever portray a live-action Robin, thanks to Columbia’s 1943 serial Batman. He’s also the youngest actor to portray the Boy Wonder, taking the role at only 16 years old. It seems fitting, considering that the actor who played Batman, Lewis G. Wilson, was also the youngest to play an adult Batman at 23 years old.
Although he’s supposed to be Batman’s loyal crime-fighting sidekick, he feels more like an errand boy for Bruce Wayne. His sleuthing skills are kind of sub-par, especially when compared to later iterations of the character, though he does manage to rescue Batman more than a few times.
Unfortunately, the entire series is pretty questionable, in the, uh, racist sense. The 15 chapters pitted the Caped Crusader and his trusty sidekick against a Japanese Imperial spy. It’s steeped in the typical WWII-era overt racism that is best to avoid these days.
5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Whether or not Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s role in The Dark Knight Rises belongs on this list is debatable. But hey, we’ve had a severe lack of the Boy Wonder in live-action projects, so including JGL certainly can’t hurt.
Gordon-Levitt plays John Blake. We find out that his character’s legal first name is Robin, though he never goes by this name during the course of the movie. This is technically supposed to be an homage to Batman’s trusty sidekick since Robin doesn’t actually appear in the film. His last name is the same as Tim Drake, who does officially step in as Robin in the comics.
JGL’s Drake is a rare good cop, with morality, innate heroism, and idealism. He is a fellow orphan, like Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. I would have ranked him higher if he had officially slipped on the Boy Wonder suit.
4. Brenton Thwaites in Titans
Actor Brenton Thwaites fills the role of Dick Grayson in the TV series Titans, a live-action series based on the DC Comics team Teen Titans. He’s the former vigilante partner of Batman at this point, and he’s trying to distance himself from the Caped Crusader and his Robin persona. He’s kind of that reluctant leader archetype here.
He also spends a good bit of time blaming Bruce Wayne for stuff and losing his temper, so there’s that. I wouldn’t say that he’s as likable as previous versions of the character.
Regardless, he gets better as the series moves on. Unfortunately for our Robin ranking, Thwaites’ Dick Grayson doesn’t spend a ton of time as, well, Robin. We mostly see him as the Boy Wonder in flashbacks, and he soon becomes Nightwing.
3. Curran Walters in Titans
Once Brenton Thwaites’ Dick Grayson is no longer filling the role of Robin, Curran Walters steps in on Titans as Jason Todd. This is the first live-action representation of Todd. Walters’ Todd is a stark contrast to Thwaites’ Grayson, who clearly hated being Robin.
Sure, his arrogance can be… abrasive, but he is still charismatic enough to win people over. However, we see him becoming unnecessarily violent, which leads to Todd eventually becoming the villain Red Hood during season 3.
2. Chris O’Donnell in Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997)
Don’t get me wrong, here. I am in no way saying that Batman Forever or Batman and Robin are good. I am only ranking Chris O’Donnell’s portrayal of Robin. And to be honest, he doesn’t have a lot of competition. In fact, this actor was the first to fill the role of a live-action Robin in thirty years!
Regardless of the many issues with these movies, O’Donnell does a pretty great job. He brings a lot to the role that we hadn’t previously seen. For starters, the Batman franchise had taken on slightly darker themes by the ‘90s, and O’Donnell gave us a more mature, emotional, and angsty Dick Grayson. He also has plenty of screentime as Grayson first before becoming Robin, giving us more of the character’s persona outside the tights.
Unfortunately, O’Donnell’s performance as Robin was overshadowed by a weak script, Mr. Freeze’s lame one-liner jokes, and the now-infamous Batsuit nipples.
1. Burt Ward in Batman (1966)
I can’t imagine anyone being surprised that I would rank Burt Ward’s portrayal of Robin as the best. He’s got to be one of the most iconic Robins of all time. His boyish charm and whimsical, campy take on the character is just plain fun. He played the Boy Wonder for all three seasons of the TV series Batman, along with the 1966 spin-off film, Batman: The Movie.
The entire series is goofy and never takes itself too seriously, and Ward’s Robin fits right in. Together with Adam West as Batman/Bruce Wayne, they manage to bring those comic panels to life with a big KABLAM! But, in a wholesome, family-friendly kind of way. We rarely see Ward getting solo time – hey, the show is called Batman, after all – but he was still a force to be reckoned with. He was smart, despite having his intelligence underestimated by both villains and Batman himself. Even so, he manages to help Batman escape a number of scrapes just using his wits and agility.