Commissioner Gordons, Ranked

The character of Commissioner Gordon — Batman's intermediary to the Gotham City police department — first appeared in Detective Comics #37 in May of 1939, notably the first appearance of Batman as well. (Incidentally, an issue of that comic rated in "fine/very fine, 7.0" condition by the Certified Guaranty Company sold at auction for $1.5 million in 2020.) Commissioner Gordon was, according to Batman's creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane, named after another 1930s comic book hero called The Whisperer, a character they were kind of modeling Batman on.

As with all comic book characters, Commissioner Gordon has gone through multiple iterations over the decades, sometimes becoming personally involved in Batman's cases, sometimes remaining wholly ignorant of what Batman is doing. Sometimes he is a deskbound pencil-pusher, while at others, he is a muscle-bound man of action. Sometimes, Jim Gordon is not even a commissioner yet, still out in the field doing detective work, as is the case with the most recent iteration of the character seen in Matt Reeves' "The Batman," currently in theaters. 

By my count, 32 different actors have played Commissioner Gordon across film and television, and that's to speak nothing of Batman video games. For the sake of brevity, and maintaining the sanity of both writer and reader, the following ranking will only include the Commissioners Gordon seen in theatrically-released feature films. 

8. J.K. Simmons, 'Justice League' (2017)

Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons, prior to the release of "Justice League" in 2017, began posting pictures of his workout routine, showing off some legitimately impressive guns. In interviews leading up to the film, fans were assured that his Commissioner Gordon would be a badass. It was disappointing, then, that the Commissioner had so little to do in the film; he mere had quiet conversations with the Justice League on a rooftop, and didn't once rip off his shirt to show off those guns he had been working on at the gym. Doubly upsetting was when director Zack Snyder was finally able to make his notorious four-hour cut of "Justice League" in 2021, Simmons' role didn't appear to be expanded considerably, leaving audiences doubly disappointed with the lack of Gordon guns. 

7. Héctor Elizondo, 'The Lego Batman Movie' (2017)

Héctor Elizondo is one of the most reliable character actors currently working, having appeared in films as early as 1963, and who frequently plays cops and detectives. Indeed, in 1975, Elizondo appeared in a film called "Report to the Commissioner" (the first film with Richard Gere, incidentally), although he did not play the commissioner. Elizondo has also played cops in "Cuba," "American Gigolo," The 1981 version of "The Fan," "Getting Even with Dad," "Perfect Alibi," and "Turbulence." Elizondo's appearance as Commissioner Gordon in "The Lego Batman Movie" was not the actor's first brush with Batman, as he voice the character of Bane in the 2003 animated film "Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman." 

Elizondo ranks low on this list merely because Commissioner Gordon had little to do in "The Lego Batman Movie." The film is so sprightly, however, that everyone involved will get a gold star by default.

6. Lyle Talbot, 'Batman and Robin' (1949)

Lyle Talbot began his film career back in 1932, right when sound was coming into vogue in Hollywood, and has always been a reliable character actor, as well as an advocate for actors' labor concerns; he once sat on the board of the Screen Actors Guild. Hipster Gen-Xers might recognize Talbot as a regular in the films in Edward D. Wood, Jr., having appeared in the classics "Glen or Glenda?," "Jail Bait," and "Plan 9 from Outer Space."

In the 1949 serial "Batman & Robin" there is no delight greater than watching the steely (and only slightly oily) Commissioner Gordon activating the bat-signal. Rather than a rooftop searchlight as in most iterations, in 1949, the bat-signal was a small tabletop device that Gordon wheeled to his office window before activation. Practically, this would only work if Batman was right across the way. I admire the earnest cheapness of the 1940s Batman serials which are played with stony-faced seriousness, but whose ridiculousness must be taken in stride with their very low budgets. Talbot was there to assure us this is a real crime drama, even if the bat-signal is little more than a flashlight.

5. Pat Hingle, 'Batman' (1989)

Pat Hingle's career began with "On the Waterfront" in 1954, and he worked pretty constantly up until his death in 2009. His Commissioner Gordon, as seen in Tim Burton's "Batman," was something of a pencil-pusher, more often seen in his tux and bowtie than in any sort of cliched cop uniform (although he would be seen wearing his hat and badge in subsequent sequels). This Commissioner Gordon was far more business-minded and had no established relationship with Batman. At the end of the 1989 film, he and Harvey Dent (Billy Dee Williams) were gifted a bat-signal, but there are no hushed rooftop conversations with Batman about what information the police have, and what Batman can do to help. 

Pat Hingle essentially played the utilitarian Neil Hamilton version of the role, giving Batman a little bit of base information so that the story can begin, and no more unceremoniously than in "Batman & Robin," wherein Hingle appeared on a TV screen in the Batmobile to say "There's a new villain in town." That was a little embarrassing. 

4. Bob Hastings, "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" (1993)

Fans of "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm" are frequently the most passionate of defenders. "Phantasm," although critically lauded and a modest hit, is often left out of conversations about Batman movies, sometimes being dismissed as a lesser version of the canon (an observation, I must claim, is only based on anecdotal evidence). "Phantasm," however, is more than a footnote, telling a fascinating Batman origin story, as well as bringing the Bruce Timm animation style to the big screen. 

In "Phantasm," Commissioner Gordon — voiced by Bob Hastings — is a fiercely moral character whose trust in Batman is essentially the only thing keeping audiences from seeing the hero as a violent vigilante. We might know that Batman is a Good Guy, but it's not until he gets approval from an upstanding character like Hastings' Commissioner Gordon that our feelings are validated. Hastings, like most of the Gordons on this list, had a decades-long career prior to Commissioner Gordon. He provided the voice of a talking crow on "The Munsters," and might be best known for his role as an antagonist on "McHale's Navy."

3. Jeffrey Wright, 'The Batman' (2022)

Jeffrey Wright, you may be shocked to learn, does not yet have an Academy Award, although he did win a Tony for his role in "Angels in America: Perestroika" and a Golden Globe for the TV version of the same. He has also been involved in numerous pop projects, including James Bond (he was the most recent Felix Leiter), and "The Hunger Games." He has worked with some of the highest-profile directors in Hollywood, and yet always seems humble in interviews, and intense on-screen. He is a great actor. 

In "The Batman," his Commissioner Gordon — who is, in fact, not a commissioner yet — has the most intimate connection to Batman yet, allowing the caped crusader into crime scenes, and sneaking around at night doing investigations with him. He's like the Bouc to Batman's Poirot. Wright gives Gordon a lot of personality, although it is easy to see he was included so Batman would have someone to explain things to, making the audience privy to the mystery at hand. 

2. Gary Oldman, The 'Dark Knight' Trilogy (2005-2012)

Also not yet a commissioner, Jim Gordon as seen in "Batman Begins" represents an ordinary citizen's shock in realizing that Batman is kind of a required cog in a world gone mad. Oldman, like Wright, is a deeply committed professional who will sell whatever role he's occupying, be it a light, fluffy pop film or a deeply penetrating biopic. His performance as Jim Gordon is notable for how far away from Batman he is in terms of philosophy and confidence. This is a professional Gordon who is at a bit of a loss when it comes to the insanity of a Batman or a Joker, very much the same way most of us would be. The Batman films directed by Christopher Nolan, mind you, take place in a "real" world, and we need real people to occupy that world to accentuate how odd Batman really is. 

Oldman understood that about Gordon: he is the audience's connection back to the real world. As such, when it came time to drive the Batmobile in 2005's "Batman Begins," Gordon was not exhilarated but stressed out and confused. This Gordon is a blue-collar worker to remind the wealthy Batman that there are real people out there, not just a hobby of punching people. 

1. Neil Hamilton, 'Batman' (1966)

Neil Hamilton is Commissioner Gordon the same way Bela Lugosi is Dracula, or Errol Flynn is Robin Hood. He simply is the character. Every version of Commissioner Gordon we've had since Hamilton has been an homage to him or a deliberate departure. 

Hamilton's version of Commissioner Gordon, I admit, is not the most nuanced character. Indeed, he possesses whatever the opposite of nuance is. Demonstrativeness, perhaps. He is a cardboard cutout of a character who only serves to call Batman, and to speak in dry, dull police terms. He is befuddled by villains, and incapable of stopping crime without Batman. He is the archetypal helpless Gotham citizen, happy that those Caped Crusaders are on the job. In the 1966 feature film, and in the TV show on which it's based, Hamilton has to repeatedly recite what is essentially the same lines of dialogue over and over: There is crime afoot, and it's only thanks to Batman and Robin that we will sleep safe tonight. 

Adam West, Burt Ward, and most of the other actors on "Batman" could often display boredom on camera with how silly the show was becoming. Not Hamilton. Never Hamilton. He was always performing that silly dialogue as if he was reading it for the first time. Boldly professional, happy to be silly, and a perfect symbol for Gotham City, Neil Hamilton will always be my Commissioner Gordon.