Batman versus Superman showdown – who won in each era? – words Alexa Wang
From Marvel to DC, to the US presidential race, 2016 has seen surprising activity from old heroes and new villains. Particularly disturbing has been the meteoric rise of a seemingly impossible menace; we all know Donald Trump’s hair defies gravity, but astonishingly it seems his poll ratings have the same power.
Whether you’re Team Trump, Team Captain America or Team Iron Man, nobody cares: this year has seen two of the oldest heroes (established in the 1930s) going toe-to-toe. In March, Batman vilified himself by turning on his fellow DC Universe superhero. Not convinced that a flying, near-invincible being with destructive superpowers would benefit mankind, Bruce Wayne bowed to studio pressure and glove-slapped Clark Kent.
Sure, unlike Trump’s carefully configured hair, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is set to make one of the year’s biggest flops. Regardless, it has reignited the holy grail of debates: who would win in a fight in real Batman versus Superman showdown?
They may not have appeared together on screen until now, but the Dark Knight and ol’ laser eyes have been battling at the box office for decades. If we really want to find the ultimate victor, maybe we should see how the best Superman movies stack up against the best Batman movies.
The 60s and 70s: Batman v Superman
Batman (1966) should only be viewed as what it is: the Caped Crusader’s campest comedy.
The acting is either hilariously over-the-top or side-splittingly understated. The film ‘jumps the shark’ a decade before Happy Days, by introducing us to ‘Bat shark-repellent’.
When Superman hit the silver screen in 1978, audiences were promised they would “believe a man can fly.” Viewers probably knew the flying scenes were achieved with special effects, but they were the most convincing yet to be committed to film.
Christopher Reeve’s performance and John Williams’ score marked the film a roaring box office success. As the first big budget superhero movie (a concept Hollywood did not embrace easily), Superman only faced competition from sci-fi blockbusters like Star Wars.
Verdict: Batman is great fun, but Superman flies circles around it.
The 80s: Superman II-IV v Batman
After the success of Superman, Warner Bros made a sequel. And another. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseum.
Superman II was shot in tandem with the first, but director Richard Donner was fired before filming was completed. The end product is a mixed bag. Donner’s replacement took a slapstick approach, bringing Superman II closer to Batman (1966) territory.
Superman III went full comedy, enlisting stand-up legend Richard Pryor in a supporting role so large it was basically his movie. But like most Pryor movies, it wasn’t good. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace? Even worse.
By 1989, another Batman movie had been in development for almost a decade. What finally came out was a box office phenomenon, its release a huge cultural event.
Tim Burton’s Batman was far removed from its 1966 namesake. Michael Keaton brought a brooding intensity to the role, and though Jack Nicholson’s Joker is largely overlooked in favour of Heath Ledger’s turn twenty years later, his unhinged mania is equally effective.
Verdict: The one Batman film released in this era demolishes all three Superman movies combined.
The 00s: Superman Returns v The Dark Knight Series
Christopher Nolan’s Batman started promisingly enough. Batman Begins conquered the challenge of reestablishing Batman as a serious character, post-Bat Nipples and Mr. Freeze. Meanwhile The Dark Knight was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, winning two, including one for Heath Ledger’s deranged Joker. Essentially Heat with costumes, The Dark Knight works, justly revered as the one of history’s greatest superhero movies.
The less said about The Dark Knight Rises, the better.
Superman Returns is quaffable. Director Bryan Singer struck the right light/dark balance and paid tribute to the original. Nevertheless, the film was criticised as overlong, and for having Superman super-stalk his ex-girlfriend.
Verdict: Nolan’s franchise is the gold standard ‘gritty reboot’. Superman Returns cannot compete.
The 10s: Man of Steel v Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Following Nolan’s Batman, Warner Bros tried to repeat the process with Superman – the last character in need of a gritty reboot. He’s a simple farm boy trying to make good on his promise to save the world, not an angsty post-Twilight antihero with a messiah complex.
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel has a serious tone that makes Batman Begins look lighthearted, and Henry Cavill’s performance is almost impressively devoid of charisma. In a controversial move, Superman kills his nemesis along with countless civilians without acknowledging that this is bad.
Batman v Superman is even worse. Longer, more serious, and more murderous. Ben Affleck is passable, but Snyder’s Batman, like his Superman, is a cold blooded psychopath. Throw in a few dream sequences and bingo: one of the worst superhero movies of all time.
Verdict: A last-place tie for Batman, Superman and moviegoers everywhere.