Geeks logo

Holy Robins, Batman! Ranking the Live-Action Boy Wonders So Far [Updated]

With ‘Titans’ and ‘Gotham Knights’ over, let's look at the sidekicks who’ve graced our screens

By Monita MohanPublished 11 months ago 11 min read
1
Robin over the years (Credits: Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Max)

Dick Grayson - aka Robin - has been around for almost as long as his mentor Batman, but is often ignored in live-action adaptations. Admittedly, the Caped Crusader is the more charismatic figure and the Boy Wonder has usually been cast as the sillier, campier inclusion to attract younger audiences, but Grayson, in his guise as Robin and later as Nightwing, has always had his fans.

After a prolonged absence from our screens, a live-action Robin returned to television in the Titans series. Under the umbrella of Berlanti Productions (creators of The CWVerse), Brenton Thwaites debuted his take on the character on the now-erstwhile streaming service DC Universe.

Following Grayson's run as Batman's sidekick in the comics, other characters took his place, notably Jason Todd (the second Robin) and Tim Drake (Robin #3). We have now had our first live-action Jason Todd (Curran Walters) and the first Tim Drake, played by Jay Lycurgo in the last two seasons of the show. Plus, ‘Gotham Knights’ debuted the out-of-continuity Robin, Carrie Kelley, played by Navia Robinson.

With the Arrowverse over, DC’s Max shows ended, and the current DC Extended Universe approaching its swan song, it’ll be a while till we see the next live-action Robin (in ‘Batman: Brave and the Bold’). While we wait, let’s rank the live-action Robins we have seen so far.

9. Johnny Duncan in ‘Batman and Robin’ (1949)

Johnny Duncan as Robin in the other 'Batman and Robin' (Credit: Columbia Pictures)

Batman and Robin made their on-screen debuts in 1943 film serials, and then again in 1949. The films themselves were one continuous plot-driven story about a mysterious figure named Wizard wreaking havoc on Gotham. Batman and Robin are on the case, and for some reason so are Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Johnny Duncan’s Grayson is devoid of personality, little more than an audience stand-in. One would classify him more as a wingman and driver rather than a detective, following Wayne’s orders and getting the job done. He is better at following through with their plans than the previous incarnation of Robin in 1943 (more on that later) but also ends up needing to be rescued on several occasions. Because the serial makes him Batman’s lookout, Duncan is sidelined for an inordinate amount of time. The trouble is, this version of Batman is a little too smart, able to think so many steps ahead that we never get a sense of Grayson’s contributions to their plans. We don’t really get to know his character, which is why he is languishing at the bottom of these rankings.

8. Navia Robinson in ‘Gotham Knights (2023)

Navia Robinson as Carrie Kelley -- Photo: Amanda Mazonkey/The CW

Robinson’s low-ranking position in this list is not a mark against her—she did her best with the material she was given, but in a show that imbued its characters with so much development and depth, Robinson’s Carrie Kelley didn’t get her due. She’s the only one in the main cast of characters who has superhero experience, having been a sidekick to Batman, yet she’s never at the forefront of their investigations or their fights. Granted, Carrie is very young, but she deserved to have much more gravitas than she was given.

It didn’t help that Carrie’s story was often separate from the rest of the characters—she’s got a life, as well as a secret identity, and she needs to juggle those while aiding a group of fugitives in hiding. Robinson does well in the character interaction, especially the empathetic qualities of Carrie, but her curtailed screen time did her no favours. Had Carrie explored the grief she felt over the loss of her mentor, her storyline may have felt more in line with the main one.

Carrie shouldn’t have been superfluous to the plot, yet it did come across that way. It’s most unfortunate that Robinson won’t be able to develop the character since ‘Gotham Knights’ was unceremoniously cancelled after only one season. But, Carrie is often forgotten as the first female Robin (the only female Robin?), and seeing her make the jump to live-action seals the deal. Plus, Carrie is a girl of colour in the show, which is another great move for representation.

7. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

JGL as John Blake, the closest Christopher Nolan came to including Robin (Credit: Warner Bros.)

For all intents and purposes, Gordon-Levitt’s Robin, John Blake, isn’t quite like the other Robins on the list. He’s not Batman’s sidekick, in fact, they hardly know each other. Robin isn’t his codename, it’s his unused legal name, and there’s nary a circus in sight. But, like Grayson in the comics, he is an orphan, and like Tim Drake (the aforementioned third comic book Robin), Blake unearths Batman’s secret identity, and he neither threatens Bruce with it nor uses it to his advantage. He’s a good cop, a rarity in Gotham even after the Dent Act.

You show 'em, Robin... I mean, John (Credit: Warner Bros.)

Gordon-Levitt plays the character as a naïve do-gooder, and despite his curtailed screen time, we are privy to his sleuthing skills, his morality, and his innate heroism. Blake doesn’t play favourites; he calls Commissioner Gordon out on the false image of Harvey Dent that he’s been peddling for nearly a decade, but that doesn’t mean he leaves his side when Bane is terrorizing his city. The trilogy ends with the hint that Bruce Wayne has passed his mantle on to Blake, and honestly, Gotham couldn’t be in better hands.

6. Douglas Croft in ‘Batman’ (1943)

Douglas Croft, the first on-screen Robin (Credit: Columbia Pictures)

Croft was the first actor to portray Batman’s sidekick on screen in the first Batman movie serials in 1943, contributing to the public image of the Dynamic Duo being inseparable. At age 16, he remains the only teenaged actor to play the young hero. The series is offensive and racist to the max (I deserve an award for skimming through it for this article!) and due to its plot-heavy focus, we get little in way of Dick Grayson’s personality. When Grayson is not in his ‘outfit’ (yup, that’s what he calls it in the film), he spends most of the time as Bruce Wayne’s errand boy. Unfortunately, this Robin’s sleuthing is sub-par and more often than not he’s caught taking his eye off the ball, leading to many an unfortunate kidnapping of friends and quarries. Honestly, he is a surprisingly negligent superhero, but at the same time is also refreshingly competent in a fight. Unlike most other Robins, Croft’s character is hardly ever in peril, instead, he rescues Batman more often than being rescued. In fact, he shows up Batman quite a bit when on missions - none of the other Robins can lay claim to that. I’m also certain Croft’s dialogue delivery has directly contributed to how the majority of our cinematic Dick Graysons speak. Unfortunately, Croft never had the chance to reprise his role. He served in the army during the Second World War, before passing away at the age of 38 in 1963.

5. Brenton Thwaites in ‘Titans’

Brenton Thwaites as Robin/Dick Grayson on Titans (Credit: Warner Bros.)

The second season of the show helped Thwaites get higher on this list – the character was allowed to let his hair down, smile more and actually lead his team. In the first season of Titans, Dick Grayson spent way too much time blaming Bruce Wayne/Batman for giving him a terrible childhood, losing his temper and being the general worst. He rescued Rachel Roth in the premiere and then kept looking for ways to dump her on his acquaintances, instead of taking care of her. The show took off to a rocky start and the need to make this Robin dark, gritty and edgy was a part of that reason.

Nightwing on Titans (Credit: Warner Bros.)

Once the Titans got together, Thwaites’ Robin edged closer to being a hero. His character took on a semblance of the charming persona from the comics in Episode 8 when Dick reunited with his old friend Donna Troy. The show, and Dick, got steadily better, but it continues to have its hiccups. Thwaites was Robin for a much shorter amount of time than the other live-action versions. He burned his suit in the fifth episode of the series, and we only saw Dick as Robin in flashbacks after that. The younger Robin was a much more fun character and beloved by his teammates, till a bad decision led to the death of one of his teammates in Season 2. Robin on Titans has suffered from contrived writing, but, now that Dick has bid farewell to his Robin mantle and settled into being Nightwing, we could see more of that comic book personality on the screen.

4. Curran Walters in ‘Titans’

Curran Walters as Robin/Jason Todd on Titans (Credit: Warner Bros.)

Curran Walters’ excitement at being the first live-action Jason Todd is infectious. From his introduction on the show, he’s been a scene-stealer. Walters’ Robin 2.0 is exuberant, irreverent, and completely besotted with being a superhero – his first appearance was to rescue his predecessor from certain death. Jason was a perfect foil to his idol Dick Grayson, who, in the show, hated being Robin. Jason’s the opposite. Or at least he was till the end of Season 2. The character suffered a couple of traumatic events which certainly took the spark away from being a Titan and a superhero. Walters’ performance in and out of the costume has been a winning formula for the show. His arrogance can be grating, but he is charismatic enough to win people over; just ask Hank Hall. He hated Jason on sight and then was willing to go to any lengths to rescue Jason from Deathstroke in the second season. Given how overstuffed Titans is, Jason hasn’t had as much screen time as he deserved, and his run as Robin has been far too short. The reason the character is lower on this list is because he is portrayed as being hyper-violent – in his spotlight episode, he unnecessarily attacked innocent police officers because of a personal grudge against the Gotham City Police Department. This, of course, feeds into Jason’s eventual evolution into the villain Red Hood, a character that will be debuting in the third season.

3. Chris O’Donnell in ‘Batman Forever’

Chris O'Donnell, the 90s Robin (Credit: Warner Bros.)

Whoa, am I being controversial, or what? It’s a tough job separating O’Donnell’s performance from the films he was in, but he was quite a popular Robin after Batman Forever because his take on the character was an ideal 90s upgrade to the character. The comics and animated series had all taken on slightly darker themes by then, which paved the way for a mature, overwrought and emotional Dick Grayson in the film. O’Donnell’s Grayson is quintessentially cocky and self-confident, but only because he is trying to channel his grief into anger and action. He is Dick Grayson first and Robin later, which allows him to show off the character’s persona, be it through his single-minded vendetta against Two-Face, or his stylish acrobatics, which he uses even for housekeeping. Credit also goes to O’Donnell’s stunt team, especially former US Gymnastics Olympian Mitch Gaylord, all of whom brought Grayson’s comic book physicality to life on screen. That memorable ‘laundry’ scene in Batman Forever is a special favourite as it gave audiences an insight into Grayson’s agility and his innate independence (he also appears to have an extra right foot).

Grayson in the sequel-that-shall-not-be-named (Batman and Robin (1997) for those in the back) was the teenage rebel that many would have related to had the film not been such an epic mess. I know these two films get a bad rap, but O’Donnell infused them with a youthful energy that the overly broody Batman franchise needed. Think the impact of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man but in a B-grade MCU.

2. Jay Lycurgo in ‘Titans’ (2021-2023)

Photograph by Courtesy of HBO Max

Though Tim Drake is presumed to be white in the comics, casting a multiracial actor to play him on ‘Titans’ was a move that was a long time coming. And Jay Lycurgo is fantastic as Tim. He doesn’t become Robin, officially, till the end of the series, and dons his Robin suit for only three episodes, but Tim appears on the show as Robin, and he doesn’t need a suit to prove it.

The show captures Tim’s comic book introduction well, and that’s thanks to Lycurgo’s youthful exuberance in Season 3. He’s believable as the super-smart, super-dedicated Bat-fan who is broken-hearted over the death of his hero, Robin 2.0 while inveigling his way into the Titans with his persistent pestering of Dick Grayson. This version of Tim is not so young that he’s annoying, but he’s young enough to be endearing.

Lycurgo really comes to life in Season 4, as a slightly older Tim, who tries to battle his insecurities about his place on the team, while training to earn the Robin suit, and falling in love. It’s a lot, and he doesn’t have as much screen time, yet he steals the scene every time. What works with Lycurgo’s Robin is that he’s different from all the Dick Graysons that have come before, plus he’s different from Jason Todd.

Once Lycurgo is in the Robin suit, he really owns it. He takes a minute to get used to being a superhero, but he’s effortlessly cool when he’s comfortable in it. I really wish we’d had the chance to see this version of Robin spread his wings further.

1. Burt Ward in ‘Batman' (1966)

Probably the most iconic Robin of all time. #noregrets (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Undoubtedly THE Robin for all generations, Ward’s campy take on the character embodied the essence of comic book fun. It helped that he looked like he had stepped right off the page and into the hearts of fans. Unlike most other Grayson renditions, this character had an Aunt, Harriet, whose sole purpose was to worry about him and occasionally be at risk of finding out his secret identity. Ward’s Grayson almost never got any solo time, as he was hardly ever out of costume. Though a force to be reckoned with in a fight, his intelligence was often underestimated – by the villains and by Batman. He spent an inordinate amount of time in peril (there are Youtube supercuts to prove it) and was constantly being schooled by Batman on everything from patience to car safety and grammar, but this Robin got his fellow heroes out of a number of scrapes using just his wits and agility.

In the first season, he served as Batman’s greatest weakness, but when the studio got whiff of suspected gay undertones, the Dynamic Duo became less interdependent; but the pair’s camaraderie and chemistry continued to be the show’s winning ingredient. Most of this iconic series hasn’t aged all that well, with some of its sensibilities out of sync with the modern age, but Ward’s iconic catchphrases (‘Holy guacamole, Batman’ remains my favourite) and youthful exuberance have established him as the prototype for how future live-action Robins would look. As silly and over the top as his performance was, he and Adam West were the first introductions to the comic book characters for many and a mixture of enduring nostalgia and unbridled escapism propel Burt Ward to the top of our list.

Titans logo (Credit: Warner Bros.)

The Robins we’ve seen in live-action have been vast and varied, and recent versions have been as far removed as possible from the previous cheery iterations of the character. But at least we got a whole bunch of new Robins thanks to ‘Titans’ and ‘Gotham Knights’, including our first Robins played by actors of colour!

So, what did you think of our rankings? Controversial, or on point? Join the conversation and let us know.

superheroes
1

About the Creator

Monita Mohan

When not dreaming of a one-way trip to Coruscant, I'm usually staring at a blank page, hoping my articles write themselves.

Website: lightspeedwriter.wordpress.com

Twitter: @Monita_Mohan

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments (1)

Sign in to comment
  • Chloe Gilholy11 months ago

    Robin is a cool character.

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.