Leslie Grace was recently cast to play Gotham City’s most famous female crime fighter in her own solo Batgirl movie, which will be released exclusively on HBO Max in 2022. While she is the first non-white actress to play the character in a live-action movie, the singer and In the Heights cast member is the latest of several actresses who have played the tough-as-nails, vigilante alter ego of Commissioner James Gordon’s daughter, Barbara Gordon, in both DC movies and TV shows, with each one bringing something new to the role to be remembered for. Only time will tell how Grace’s portrayal will compare to the following six iconic and celebrated previous depictions of Batgirl, starting with the true originator of the character.
Yvonne Craig On Batman
Similar to how Harley Quinn was originally created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini specifically for Batman: The Animated Series in the early 1990s, Barbara Gordon was originally thought up by William Dozier, the producer of the old live-action Batman TV show, specifically for the classic series starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the Caped Crusaders. However, unlike Harley Quinn, Barbara Gordon also made her DC Comics debut simultaneously with her TV debut in 1967.
Despite the “Batgirl” moniker existing since 1961 when it was held by the mother of Kate Kane (a.k.a. Batwoman), Yvonne Craig had the rare honor of taking immediate ownership of the Barbara Gordon character without becoming a scrutinized subject of comparison like many performers do these days. Thus, the late actress’ witty, energetic performance is still widely considered the definitive portrayal of the character… in a live-action series, at least.
Melissa Gilbert, Tara Strong, And Stockard Channing On Batman: The Animated Series And Batman Beyond
Even with the heavy hitters leading the live-action Batman movies, many believe Kevin Conroy’s vocal performance is the definitive Dark Knight portrayal. The DC Animated Universe’s iteration of Batgirl is often given the same distinction for a more earnest and relatable vulnerable approach, but the credit does not go to just one actress.
Little House on the Prairie’s Melissa Gilbert first played Barbara Gordon on Batman: The Animated Series before Loki’s Tara Strong (also famous for voicing Harley Quinn after Arleen Sorkin) took over when the show was rebranded as The New Batman Adventures in 1997. She would reprise the character in many DC TV shows and movies, including Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker - a feature length spin-off of the futuristic Batman Beyond series, which cast Grease star Stockard Channing as a grown-up Barbara Gordon, now serving as GCPD Commissioner. This would not be the last time we saw Batgirl follow in her father’s footsteps.
Rosario Dawson In The LEGO Batman Movie
While Leslie Grace has the honor of being the first non-white actress to play Batgirl for a live-action movie, as previously established, the very first non-white portrayal of the character in any adaptation was performed by Geek Goddess and experienced DC voice actress Rosario Dawson. She stole the show as Barbara Gordon in The LEGO Batman Movie from 2017, and first portrayed her as a by-the-book Gotham City police commissioner before eventually accepting Batman’s (Will Arnett) vigilante philosophy and donning her iconic purple and yellow outfit.
Admittedly, director Chris McKay’s batty spin-off of 2014’s The LEGO Movie is meant to be a goofy deconstruction of Bruce Wayne’s alter ego and everything else in his world, and Rosario Dawson’s Barbara Gordon takes a few creative liberties. However, the film is one of the most hilarious superhero parodies, and Batgirl’s arc brings out a unique side of the character that lends to her legacy beautifully.
Savannah Welch On Titans
Barbara Gordon’s reign as the commissioner for the Gotham City Police Department would later be brought to live-action television on Titans Season 3 in 2021. However, we never see singer and actress Savannah Welch as Batgirl on the hit HBO Max exclusive series because her portrayal is based on a post-Batman: The Killing Joke Barbara (also known as Oracle) who was paralyzed from the waist down by Joker’s bullet.
However, never seeing Savannah Welch don the cape and cowl does absolutely nothing to detract from her refreshing depiction of a strong, mature, independent Barbara Gordon DC fans have been waiting to see. It certainly is an improvement on Dina Meyer’s performance on the short-lived Birds of Prey TV show, not that that was necessarily the actress’ fault, though.
Danielle Judovits On The Batman
On the other hand, some claim the Birds of Prey TV show (which aired on The CW when it was still called The WB in the early 2000s) deserves a second chance. On that note, a relatively well-liked animated series that sill deserves more love today is The Batman (not to be confused with Matt Reeves’ upcoming solo Batman movie), which saw a younger Bruce Wayne (Rino Romano) team up with a young Barbara Gordon even before Dick Grayson (Evan Sabara) comes into the picture.
The Batman’s Batgirl is played by veteran voice actress Danielle Judovits of Naruto and Sailor Moon fame, who brings a contemporary flair and irresistible spunk to the role that calls to mind Carrie Kelley (a.k.a. Robin from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns). Until Ariel Winter voiced Carrie/Robin in the two-part adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, Judovits’ Barbara Gordon was the closest we got to an onscreen depiction the fan favorite, instantly making her a winner in my book.
Briana Cuoco On Harley Quinn
Contemporary flair and irresistible spunk are also what make Batgirl so fun to watch on HBO Max’s animated Harley Quinn series. Interestingly, it is star Kaley Cuoco’s sister, Briana Cuoco, who plays Barbara Gordon this time and does so with the same level of enthusiasm and talent for wit.
The series traces Barbara Gordon’s modest evolution from aspiring crime fighter and die-hard Batfan to full-on crime fighter when she finally adopts the Batgirl moniker and starts a livestream blog of her adventures - which sounds very against the Batfamily rules, but it's clever enough to get a pass. What really makes Briana Cuoco’s portrayal stand-out is the close-knit portrayal of her relationship with her father, which I hope is depicted half as strongly in the new Batgirl movie.
For those wondering why I did not include Batgirl from Batman & Robin, first of all, that is not Barbara Gordon in the infamous 1997 sequel, but Alfred Pennyworth’s niece Barbara Wilson and, secondly, Alicia Silverstone would even agree that her performance does not hold a candle to any of the other depictions above. That being said, which Batgirl is the best and battiest in your book?
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Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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