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The Definitive Ranking of Batman and Superman’s Cinematic Enemies Before They Fight Each Other

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Later this month, two of America’s most iconic comic book characters come face to face on the big screen for the very first time in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And while we don’t know exactly what makes these two classic heroes come to blows, we know we’re in for a little rockem’, sockem’ goodness when the Dark Knight Detective tries to hold his own against the Last Son of Krypton.

But before this proverbial battle of the titans commences it’s important to look back at the foes each of them has vanquished in previous big screen adaptations. Not counting the respective film serials that both characters featured in during the 1940s, Batman has appeared in 8 live action feature films with Superman close behind with 6. Some of these films featured multiple villains (not including henchmen) for our heroes to handle, so the question remains: which of these baddies is the ultimate antagonist before Batman and Superman tussle with each other?

Let’s count it down!

22. Ross Webster

Played by: Robert Vaughnross-webster-600x300

Appeared In: Superman III (1983)

Evil Plot: Use the world’s greatest supercomputer to control the world economy and rake in all the money.

Iconic Line:  “I ask you to kill Superman, and you’re telling me you couldn’t even do that one, simple thing.”

Let’s get one things straight: Ross Webster is merely a substitute for Lex Luthor when they couldn’t get Gene Hackman to sign on the dotted line for this film. Sure, his epic computer can launch missiles and shoot Kryptonite lasers to keep Superman at bay, but there’s no substitute for the real thing when it comes to enigmatic billionaires seeking world domination.

21. Nuclear Man

Played by: Mark Pillownuclearman

Appeared In: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Evil Plot: To kill Superman.

Iconic Line: “Destroy Superman.”

In all honesty, every single thing about Superman IV is a disaster and by all accounts Nuclear Man in all of his shitty glory should have been at the very bottom of this list, but he gets points for not just being another billionaire who wants to take over the world. Instead, he’s simply created by a billionaire who wants to take over the world. It’s truly a fine distinction. Plus, he’s got some wicked nails that can give Superman the flu when scratched by them. Vicious indeed

20. Mr. Freeze

Played by: Arnold Schwarzeneggerarnold-schwarzenegger-as-mr-freeze-dr-victor

Appeared In: Batman & Robin (1997)

Evil Plot: To freeze a bunch of shit and steal diamonds to freeze more shit to steal money to use to cure his frozen wife’s illness.

Iconic Line: “You’re not sending me to the cooler!”

It’s tempting to blame The Governator for how terrible this character came across in this equally terrible movie, but in reality not even Meryl Streep could have done that godawful screenplay justice. With immortal lines like, “Let’s kick some ice!” it’s impossible to take this villain seriously and the less we talk about it the better.

19. Two-Face

Played by: Tommy Lee Jonesbatmanforevertwoface

Appeared In: Batman Forever (1995)

Evil Plot: Good old fashioned revenge on Batman.

Iconic Line: “You could say we’re of two minds on the subject.”

Tommy Lee Jones is a genius when it comes to acting but something went very, very wrong here. Perhaps Director Joel Schumacher lead him astray or maybe he thought anything was fine when it comes to a comic book movie, but no matter which way you slice it, Jones is so painfully over-the-top here that its hard to watch. And even if the performance wasn’t a factor it’s hard to imagine anyone being intimidated by a villain with a half neon pink face.

18. Poison Ivy

Played by: Uma Thurmanuma-thurman-poison-ivy-500x250

Appeared In: Batman & Robin (1997)

Evil Plot: To overrun the Earth with mutated plants and share that hellscape Earth with Mr. Freeze because humans are too mean to plants. Duh.

Iconic Line: “Men, the most absurd of God’s creatures. We give you life… and we can take it away just as easily.”

Like Mr. Freeze, this big screen debut of the Poison Ivy character was destined for failure due to one of the worst screenplays of all time. Uma Thurman vamps it up to the best of her ability though and there’s something stupidly endearing about it, but when it comes to being a worthwhile villain to Batman, she isn’t nearly up to snuff.

17. Gus Gorman

Played by: Richard Pryorsuperman-3-richard-pryor

Appeared In: Superman III (1983)

Evil Plot: Help Ross Webster build a supercomputer that will make him rich beyond his wildest dreams.

Iconic Line: “I don’t want to go to jail because there are robbers and rapers and rapers who rape robbers.”

So obviously the villains from the later Christopher Reeves’ Superman films are terrible but what gives Gus Gorman a slight edge is: 1. He’s played by Richard Fucking Pryor! and 2. He creates a synthetic Kryptonite that turns the Man of Steel evil and prompts the most bizarre fight in a Superman movie ever – Superman vs. Himself!

16. Lex Luthor

Played By: Kevin SpaceyKevin-Spacey-Lex-Luthor-Superman-Man-of-Steel-Zack-Snyder

Appeared In: Superman Returns (2006)

Evil Plot: Use Kryptonian crystals to build a new continent on Earth AKA the ultimate real estate deal.

Iconic Line: “Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don’t share their power with mankind. No, I don’t want to be a god. I just want to bring fire to the people. And… I want my cut.”

The Superman Returns iteration of the Lex Luthor character is clearly meant to be a loving homage to Gene Hackman’s classic portrayal of Superman’s arch nemesis, but it all comes across a little too hammy to be truly menacing. Although if more villains had Parker Posey as their Girl Friday I’d be more inclined to give them a boost on this list.

15. The Riddler

Played By: Jim Carreybatmanforeverridd

Appeared in: Batman Forever (1995)

Evil Plot: Take revenge on Bruce Wayne for firing him and stealing the knowledge of everyone in Gotham City. No big deal.

Iconic Line: “Riddle me this, riddle me that, who’s afraid of the big, black bat?”

As evidenced by this list, the villains of the  Joel Schumacher-directed Batman films didn’t exactly get it right but the one who almost works is Jim Carrey’s interpretation of The Riddler. Both brilliant and deranged, this character has some serious potential as a foe to Batman and this particular screenplay gave us a nice taste of that but ultimately the overdose of comedy tossed in dilutes the threat and makes the character closer to camp than a truly formidable villain.

14. Talia Al Ghul

Played By: Marion CotillardMiranda-tate-is-talia-al-ghul-and-shes-the-main-villain-not-bane

Appeared In: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Evil Plot: Complete her father’s work by destroying Gotham City.

Iconic Line: “You see, it’s the slow knife… the knife that takes its time, the knife that waits years without forgetting, then slips quietly between the bones… that’s the knife that cuts deepest.”

The films of Christopher Nolan’s epic Dark Knight Trilogy are absolutely jam-packed with villains of every variety and they each carry with them a gravitas not seen in the previous Batman films. And while Marion Cotillard is one of my favorite actresses working today, her character of Talia Al Ghul comes in a little too late in the picture to be truly memorable.

13. Scarecrow

Played By: Cillian Murphybatman-begins-scarecrow-screencaps-dr-jonathan-crane-scarecrow-13222096-1022-420

Appeared In: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Evil Plot: Creating fear in victims to reign supreme in Gotham’s underworld.

Iconic Line: “Would you like to see my mask?”

Although Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow never really gets to take center stage as the main villain in any of the films in The Dark Knight Trilogy, that doesn’t mean he didn’t make an impact. That horrific mask and the things he can do with that gas of his are the stuff of nightmares, but at the end of the day we can’t forget that in Batman Begins he is ultimately defeated by Katie Holmes with a taser. Not exactly the stuff of legend.

12. Ra’s Al Ghul

Played By: Liam Neesonras-al-ghul-batman-begins

Appeared In: Batman Begins (2005)

Evil Plot: Destroy Gotham City so that it can start from scratch to be less corrupt and terrible.

Iconic Line: “Tomorrow the world will watch in horror as its greatest city destroys itself.”

Oh, Christopher Nolan got our asses good on this one. Batman Begins was promoted with the notion of Ra’s Al Ghul being played by Ken Watanabe who is killed early on in the film when Bruce Wayne completes his training with the League of Shadows. But imagine our surprise when we learn that Bruce’s mentor (the guy who basically teaches him everything he knows) is the real Ra’s Al Ghul! Liam Neeson turns on the evil real nice once he finally gets the chance but as with his daughter, the third act reveal doesn’t give us a ton of quality time with him, which is a shame.

11. General Zod

Played By: Michael ShannonMan_of_Steel_38067

Appeared In: Man of Steel (2013)

Evil Plot: Remake Earth into a New Krypton.

Iconic Line: “I WILL FIND HIM!!”

While Michael Shannon’s Zod can’t really compete with the character’s first depiction on the big screen, he gets the chance to unleash the biggest can of whupass that we’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. Some people were repelled by the insane level of destruction and mayhem caused by Zod’s battle with Superman, but my inner child relished every single second of it. And who better to play a hot tempered zealot than Michael Shannon who absolutely nails the part?

10. The Villains of Batman: The Movie!

Played By: Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, and Lee Meriwetherlee-meriwether-batman-villains-620

Appeared In: Batman: The Movie (1966)

Evil Plot: Hold dehydrated members of the United Nations Security Council ransom for boatloads of money.

Iconic Line: “How was I to know they’d have a can of shark-repellent Batspray handy?” –  The Penguin

Ok so I’m cheating a little bit by clumping this four together into one but honestly – how can someone compare them against each other? It’s hard enough comparing them with everyone else on this list! This film version of the popular 60s television series certainly isn’t as serious as the Batman/Superman films that followed it but these colorful renditions of the characters are iconic and rightfully kick off the Top Ten of this list.

9. Catwoman

Played By: Anne HathawayFilm_Review_Dark_Knight_Rises-085d2-4549

Appeared In: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Evil Plot: Honestly, she’s just living her life.

Iconic Line: “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us”

I’m not gonna lie, I debated with myself long and hard about whether or not to even include Anne Hathaway’s rendition of Catwoman/Selina Kyle on this list. Is she really a villain? I mean sure, she steals a lot of shit and runs with some shady characters but in the end she ends up fighting alongside Batman against Bane and Talia Al Ghul! So even though she’s not a tried and true villain to the core, when she is “bad” she’s a delight to watch.

8. Bane

Played By: Tom HardyTom-Hardy-as-Bane-in-The-Dark-Knight-Rises

Appeared In: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Evil Plot: Help Talia complete her father’s work of destroying Gotham City.

Iconic Line: “We will destroy Gotham and then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die.”

We may not be able to understand 90% of what he says but Tom Hardy’s Bane is a terrifying antagonist for Batman. Built like a brick house and showing no signs of remorse for anything, we actually believe at times that this will be the guy who finally defeats Batman. And actually he does so by breaking Batman’s back and resigning him to months of torture and pain in a pit somewhere in Asia. Not too shabby for a lesser known bad guy.

7. The Penguin

Played By: Danny DeVito1whus6722lvghfekyd3f53p88-danny-devito-at-70-still-a-colossus-of-the-film-industry-jpeg-175990

Appeared In: Batman Returns (1992)

Evil Plot: Rule over Gotham by running for Mayor and then when that fails – destroy the city with rocket launching penguins.

Iconic Line: “You don’t really think you’ll win, do you?”

Danny DeVito’s portrayal of The Penguin is pure Tim Burton and a glowing example of the uniqueness that he brought to the series. Grotesque, witty, and at times sympathetic, The Penguin is a sort of miracle of oddity at a time when superhero movies were pretty straight-laced.

6. Two-Face

Played By: Aaron Eckharttdkr-wchb-1

Appeared In: The Dark Knight (2008)

Evil Plot: Taking justice into his own hands and seeking revenge on Batman and Gordon.

Iconic Line: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

When it comes to dramatic falls from grace the story of Harvey Dent is practically Shakespearean. Sworn to defend justice no matter what and then pushed to darkness by the very man responsible for killing his fiance, Dent is a fully fleshed out and fascinating character in the hands of Christopher Nolan. If anything, it’s just a shame we didn’t get to see more of him.

5. Lex Luthor

Played By: Gene Hackmanlexhackman

Appeared In: Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Evil Plot: World dominating real estate schemes.

Iconic Line: “There’s a strong streak of good in you, Superman. But then nobody’s perfect… almost nobody.”

Gene Hackman is an acting legend and his portrayal of Superman’s arch rival is memorable for it’s incredible wit and ambitious schemes. Many consider this to be the definitive depiction of Luthor but I actually tend to prefer Michael Rosenbaum’s version on TV’s Smallville. That being said though, I can’t resist cracking a smile anytime Hackman’s Luthor appears on screen in these flicks.

4. General Zod

Played By: Terrence StampMovieBeards-Superman2-Zod

Appeared In: Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980)

Evil Plot: Conquer the world with brute strength.

Iconic Line: “Kneel before Zod!”

The Christopher Reeve Superman films aren’t really known for having physically formidable enemies for Supes to grapple with, but the one great exception to that is of course, the definitive General Zod played by Terrence Stamp. This guy doesn’t suffer fools and oozes with evil in every single thing he does. In all of the people on this list there is almost no one that I would fear more.

3. Catwoman

Played By: Michelle PfeifferMichelle-Pfeiffer-Final-e1403294943414

Appeared In: Batman Returns (1992)

Evil Plot: Aid The Penguin in framing Batman as a bad guy.

Iconic Line: “Meow.”

Has a sexier character than Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman ever existed? No. The answer is definitely no. From the costume to the attitude and her skills with a whip she is an absolutely perfect foil to Batman who I wish had gotten a chance to appear in one of the sequels if not her own spinoff.

 

2. The Joker

Played By: Jack Nicholsonjokerjack

Appeared In: Batman (1989)

Evil Plot: A good old fashioned crime spree while conquering the Gotham mob world.

Iconic Line: “Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

Jack Nicholson is a national treasure and the pairing of him and the role of The Joker is easily one of most perfect casting coups of all time. His portrayal is charming, funny, scary, and perfect. I mean hell, this is the guy who killed Batman’s parents – how could he not be one of the best? In fact, I never thought we’d see a better villain for Batman on movie screens until another Joker came along…

The-Joker-the-joker-30677826-1533-805

1. The Joker

Played By: Heath Ledger

Appeared In: The Dark Knight (2008)

Evil Plot: Causing pure chaos.

Iconic Line: “Why so serious?”

A lot of characters on this list are iconic but Ledger’s version of The Joker is something even more than that. It has transcended to a place of such prominence in our popular culture that he now exists as something more than just the character on the screen. And although Ledger tragically passed before the full impact of his portrayal could be felt, the memory of that performance will exist as long as movies exist.

And now that this is out of the way let’s see how Batman and Superman do against each other? Oh and don’t forget a new Lex Luthor and Doomsday on top of that!

 

About Matt DeGroot

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