Batman v Superman: the movie smackdown
Two heroes (and 13 films) collide – who wins? We decide!
This Friday sees the release of Zack Snyder's long-awaited clash between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While it's unclear whether Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent will emerge victorious, we've decided to take a punt based on a thorough mathematical examination of their previous form, scoring each film out of 10 and then calculating the averages.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the black corner...
Tim Burton's Batman arrived at a time when superhero films were well out of fashion. Against the odds, the film was a box office giant, even after Jack Nicholson cashed his paycheque (reportedly somewhere between $50–$100 million in old money). It hasn't aged very well, particularly since Burton's really not comfortable as an action director, but its legacy is vital. 6/10
Batman Returns (1992)
Not only did Batman return, so too did Burton and Michael Keaton – for the last time – in this sequel which made the popular mistake of throwing too many characters into the mix (see also the next two films and Spider-Man 3). Last-minute rewrites left some gaping plot holes, its excellent cast is largely squandered and it's far too long. Bafflingly, Danny Devito stayed in character as the Penguin throughout the shoot, much to Michelle Pfeiffer's understandable concern. 5/10
Batman Forever (1995)
Val Kilmer donned the cape for the first of two sequels helmed by Joel Schumacher, alongside the tepid Chris O'Donnell as Robin. The notoriously difficult Kilmer managed to annoy the director (they didn't speak for weeks during filming) and much of the crew, while Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face) took exception to the casting of Jim Carrey as the Riddler, constantly berating the poor man on set. 5/10
Batman and Robin (1997)
This is where it all went wrong. George Clooney – back in the days when he was still finding his feet outside ER's operating theatre – took over from Kilmer (who opted instead to play The Saint, very much a sideways career move). The Batcave was now fit to burst with the addition of Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone, just awful) and the trio went up against Arnold Schwarzenegger's corny Mr Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. Schumacher, who has otherwise shown flair as a thriller director (see Falling Down and Phone Booth), shoots vast swathes of the film with a locked camera as though he's filming a school play. Add in the tiresome one-liners and hammy acting and this is only marginally more watchable than Superman's nadir (see later). 2/10
Batman Begins (2005)
It's hard to believe it's more than a decade since Christopher Nolan took 'the Batman' back to his roots for this do-over. The serious tone was a big gamble at the time but it paid off by birthing the Dark Knight trilogy. A cracking cast includes Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Rutger Hauer and Morgan Freeman. With such a wealth of talent behind it, Batman was in very safe hands indeed. 8/10
The Dark Knight (2008)
Nolan surpassed himself with this superior sequel which wisely avoided the pitfall of other superhero follow-ups by only introducing one new villain (see also Spider-Man 2). The film has been described as the Heat of superhero films, with tremendously physical stuntwork and one of the most lauded villains in the history of film. Heath Ledger is the only actor to win an Oscar for a superhero film (posthumously). 10/10
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The ever-fashionable Tom Hardy had the unenviable task of following on from the late Heath Ledger in this cap to the Dark Knight trilogy. Despite having to wear a mask which obscured his face and muffled his voice, Hardy proved a formidable villain as Bane, his immense size and strength contrasting nicely with Ledger's clumsy but psychotic Joker. 9/10
And in the red and blue corner...
Hot on the heels of Star Wars, Richard Donner's Superman became the first big budget superhero film and was a huge critical and commercial success. The film features some top 70s talent including Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and Marlon Brando as Superman's dad. Brando didn't bother to learn his lines but still pocketed a reputed $16 million for under two weeks' work. 8/10
Superman II (1980)
Work on the first sequel commenced while making the original film. But after falling out with the producers, directorship was passed from Richard Donner to Richard Lester, even though Donner had completed – by his estimate – 75% of the film. With a pause in production before Lester took over, much of the talent had to leave due to scheduling conflicts. Furthermore, in order to receive his director's credit, Lester had to reshoot some perfectly usable existing scenes in order to have helmed over the half the footage. It's remarkable, then, how coherent the final result is, although Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut – released in 2006 – is considered the superior version. 7/10
Superman III (1983)
Lester stayed on to direct the second sequel (he shot the whole of it this time). It suffers from a miscast Richard Pryor as irksome comic relief, and an underwhelming villain played by Richard Vaughn. 3/10
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Superman met his kryptonite in the form of legendary production outfit Cannon Films, who bought the rights to Superman films and reluctantly stumped up a measly $17 million budget for part four. The resulting disaster looks embarrassingly cheap, makes little narrative sense and represents a sad end to the late Christopher Reeve's time in the cape. 1/10
Superman Returns (2006)
X-Men director Bryan Singer left that franchise after part two (later to return) to helm this direct sequel to the first two Superman films more than a quarter of a century later. It features a good cast with Brandon Routh an effective Christopher Reeve lookalike, and Kevin Spacey a great choice for nemesis Lex Luthor. But the lacklustre script is bogged down with turgid melodrama and an irritatingly nagging Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth). 6/10
Man of Steel (2013)
Having turned Alan Moore's 'unfilmable' graphic novel Watchmen into a, er, film, Zack Snyder was a good choice to resurrect Superman for the modern age (again). Produced by Christopher Nolan, this reboot was very much an attempt to emulate the success of the Dark Knight trilogy, with heavyweight acting talent including Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne and Russell Crowe. Although it devolves into a dull, protracted mano a mano between Superman and General Zod, leads Henry Cavill and Amy Adams have great chemistry, and Snyder controls the cataclysmic action with aplomb. 7/10
And the winner is...
It was a close fight but thanks entirely to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, the Caped Crusader clambers to safety from the depths of Batman and Robin to score an average of 6/10. Alas, not even Superman can escape from the disaster of The Quest for Peace.