I have a good feeling that The Batman is about to show us a version of the Dark Knight unlike any interpretation that we have seen on the big screen before. That being said, I am sure that director Matt Reeves’ upcoming DC movie (due for a March 2022 release) will also feature fascinating twists on various other characters known to Gotham City, especially The Riddler.
The comic book villain, whose quite fitting real name is Edward Nygma, has enjoyed toying with the Caped Crusader ever since he was first dreamed up by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang in 1948. The puzzling foe has also inspired various interpretations in Batman movies and TV shows, each one more distinct than the last. Before Academy Award nominee Paul Dano’s new take makes his grand debut, let’s take a look at some of the funniest and most frightening onscreen versions of The Riddler so far.
Frank Gorshin (Batman, Batman: The Movie)
The first actor to ever portray The Riddler in a comic book adaptation (live-action or animated) was Frank Gorshin on the Adam West-led 1960s Batman TV show and its feature-length spin-off, which was released in theaters in 1966. The comedian would actually earn an Emmy nomination for his lively and (at times) wonderfully manic performance in the green suit, which would undeniably set an iron-clad precedent for the character that every actor to succeed him would strive to live up to.
Jim Carrey (Batman Forever)
One of the most essential examples of looking to Frank Gorshin for inspiration is Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. Joel Schumacher assumed directorial duties and Val Kilmer assumed the cowl for this film in which a Bruce Wayne-obsessed Edward Nygma teams up with Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) to drain Gotham City citizens' brains with his powerful invention. This goofy sequel has evolved into a bit of a guilty pleasure, but I can honestly say I derive pleasure from watching the Ace Ventura actor chew the scenery in a relentlessly maddening performance that make the film worth revisiting alone.
John Glover (Batman: The Animated Series)
Despite being a cartoon, Batman: The Animated Series is considered less cartoonish than the 1990s live action Batman movies and, fittingly, featured a more reserved and darker version of The Riddler. John Glover (also known for DC adaptations Batman & Robin, Smallville, Shazam!, and Lucifer) invokes a uniquely sinister playfulness when voicing Edward Nygma - a puzzle designer seeking revenge on his former employer in his first appearance on the Emmy-winning series.
Glover made a strong enough impression on fans to celebrate news that he and Batman voice actor, Kevin Conroy, will both reprise their roles for an upcoming audio drama that serves as a sequel to BTAS.
Robert Englund (The Batman)
The underrated, mid-to-late-2000s animated series, The Batman, has a much darker version of The Riddler, with the mere fact that he is voiced by iconic horror movie actor Robert Englund contributing much to that distinction.
This Edward Nygma (who almost resembles Marilyn Manson in full makeup) is, once again, out to get back at a man who ruined his career, and does so by filling his home with deadly traps. Imagine if the A Nightmare on Elm Street cast member played Jigsaw instead of Freddy Krueger, and then faced off against Batman. That describes this Riddler in a nutshell.
Matthew Gray Gubler (Batman: Assault On Arkham)
Imagine if Criminal Minds cast member Matthew Gray Gubler’s Dr. Spencer Reid had instead become a criminal himself, and that describes this Riddler perfectly for you. He is just about the funniest and most unusually likable character in the 2014 animated movie, Batman: Assault on Arkham, which is really more about the Suicide Squad than it is about Kevin Conroy’s Dark Knight.
However, the featured Task Force X members have no trouble voicing their personal dislike of the quippy and conceited villain, even after he promises he can help diffuse the bombs Amanda Waller (CCH Pounder) placed in their heads.
Cory Michael Smith (Gotham)
Watching characters slowly fulfill their destinies as Batman villains made Gotham a fun watch for fans, and Riddler’s evolution on the series was certainly no exception.
Played by Gotham cast member Cory Michael Smith, Edward Nygma’s origin is a fascinating one - having initially worked as a brilliant (but widely disliked) forensic scientist for the GCPD until unforeseen circumstances caused his murderous split personality to emerge and, eventually, take full control. It’s a character arc that more accurately resembles Two-Face, but is still a welcome reinterpretation for the drama that unfolds.
Dave Franco (Young Justice)
Speaking of welcome reinterpretations, Young Justice is an earnest take on the Teen Titans comics that most fans agree is one of the strongest DC TV shows ever conceived. The secret is how the animated series borrows classic hero and villain characteristics, but adds new features that lend brilliantly to the plot, and its Riddler is certainly no exception.
Voiced by Dave Franco, this Edward Nygma still loves to tease adversaries with clever wordplay, but mostly to make his bombastic acts of terrorism more fun for himself, making this take a bold balancing act between comedy and tragedy.
Jim Rash (Harley Quinn)
Now, if it is comedy that you really want from your Riddler, I highly recommend Harley Quinn on HBO Max, starring Kaley Cuoco as the Clown Princess of Crime. The fact that the hit animated series’ representation of Edward Nygma looks so much like the actor who plays him - Academy Award winner and former Community cast member Jim Rash - is already enough to earn a laugh. However, if you keep watching, I promise it only gets funnier from there when he becomes one of main antagonists of Season 2.
I also got quite a few laughs out of John Leguizamo’s vocal performance as The Riddler on the dramatic podcast Batman: The Audio Adventures, which is also exclusive to HBO Max subscribers. However, laughter is not what I am expecting from Paul Dano’s performance in The Batman. Honestly, as long as he invokes the same calculative, self-righteous traits the character is known for, I could not be more excited for it.
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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