The Riddler is one of Batman’s most legendary Gotham City foes, and here’s a look at every actor to play the iconic villain in live-action.
The Riddler is one of Batman’s most legendary Gotham City foes, and here’s a look at every actor to play the iconic villain in live-action. If there’s one member of The Caped Crusader’s rogues’ gallery that’s clearly his arch-nemesis, well, that’s the Joker. Still, the Riddler is definitely one of Batman’s worthiest opponents, with his intellect and strategy often proving a true match for The World’s Greatest Detective. Unlike the Joker, who usually thrives on chaos, the Riddler loves to plan his capers out step by step, toying with Batman and the GCPD along the way.
The Riddler, as his name makes clear right off the bat, also loves puzzles, and challenging Batman’s brains just as much as his considerable brawn. Batman’s ability to punch his way out of a fight is second to none, but in a battle against the Riddler, simply beating him down is often not enough to win the day. After all, leaving Riddler with a bloody face may be satisfying in the moment, but it isn’t going to save whatever victim he might be holding hostage as a contingency plan.
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As interesting an antagonist as the Riddler is though, he’s been played in live-action an oddly small number of times, at least when compared to the much more often used Joker and Catwoman. Each actor to play the Riddler in movies or on TV so far has brought something unique to the character that’s worth looking back, and in one case forward, at.
Frank Gorshin (1966 Batman TV Show & Movie)
Frank Gorshin got the honor of playing the Riddler onscreen for the first time in the classic 1960s Batman TV series starring Adam West as the titular hero. Gorshin also played the role in the companion 1966 movie. Fitting the over-the-top and campy tone of the show, Gorshin’s Riddler was very theatrical in the way he spoke and moved, and especially how he would excitedly announce his latest grand plan to whoever might be listening. It was a great performance in the often silly context of the show, and to his credit, Gorshin was fully capable of getting downright sinister when the scene called for it. Looks-wise, Gorshin’s Riddler sported the classic green jumpsuit with question marks on it, although he often neglected to wear his eye mask. Gorshin set the standard for Riddler portrayals and remains fondly remembered by many today.
John Astin (1966 Batman TV Show)
Here’s a Riddler actor many fans may not even recall playing the part. John Astin is best known for playing Gomez Addams on the classic kooky sitcom The Addams Family, but was hired to replace Frank Gorshin for a two-episode story during season 2 of the 1960s Batman TV show. His portrayal isn’t that different from Gorshin’s overall, although he does seem a bit less intense and a bit less exaggerated in his movements. Still, Astin was known for comedy, so he still made his Riddler suitably wacky. As for why he stepped in for this brief stint in the first place, accounts differ. According to Gorshin, he had a prior commitment during filming that he couldn’t get out of. According to producer William Dozier, Gorshin demanded a higher salary, and they replaced him as a result. Whatever the truth was, Gorshin returned later, so clearly things were worked out.
Jim Carrey (Batman Forever)
Jim Carrey‘s work as the Riddler in Joel Schumacher’s 1995 sequel Batman Forever is easily the most divisive live-action version of the character so far. Batman Forever was a box office hit, but the decades haven’t been kind to its reputation, with many fans lamenting the campy, 1960s-esque direction Schumacher took things after the two fairly dark and melancholy films by Tim Burton. For better or worse, Carrey brought the same comedic charisma and zaniness to the Riddler as he did to his other ’90s characters like Ace Ventura and the Mask, but in doing so, he’s actually even more over the top than Gorshin or Astin ever were. Carrey’s Riddler, while entertaining, doesn’t feel like much of a threat, and neither does Tommy Lee Jones’ cackling Two-Face for that matter. Notably, though, Batman Forever provided audiences with their first extended look at Edward Nygma prior to his fateful transformation.
Cory Michael Smith (Gotham TV Show)
The Riddler returned to live-action TV in 2014 for FOX’s Gotham, a show that really didn’t end up becoming what it was purportedly intended to be at the start. Initially pushed as a look at a young Jim Gordon and the trials of the GCPD before Batman, albeit with a young Bruce Wayne in the mix, Gotham eventually became a true ensemble show, and the city’s villains became both protagonists and antagonists, depending on the script. To be fair, this was partially due to how well these villains were cast, with Cory Michael Smith’s Edward Nygma being a clear standout. Smith pulled off the odd feat of being alternately sick and twisted enough to be scary, and complex and pitiful enough to be someone the audience sometimes rooted for. Gotham‘s Riddler was definitely the character at his most dangerous yet, brutally murdering multiple people onscreen.
Paul Dano (The Batman)
While The Batman is still a while away from soaring into theaters, the trailer and marketing so far have made Paul Dano’s Riddler look like the most unique version of the character to hit the screen to date. His look doesn’t at all resemble the classic green suit that even Gotham‘s Riddler rocked a version of from time to time, and his modus operandi, while still incorporating riddles, now seems much more Jigsaw-esque than before, and one almost expects him to ask Batman to play a game. Dano’s Riddler is said to function as a mysterious serial killer in Gotham, similar to the Zodiac Killer. This Riddler is much darker than average and looks to be quite a fearsome foe. Interestingly, he does appear to be targeting powerful, corrupt figures, so in that way he could eventually be seen as an antihero.
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