It's a pretty good time to be a fan of DC Comics. Not only have the comics themselves been exciting and fresh, but DC's animated movies continue to impress. And there's a constant stream of new DC media via various television shows and movies. Of course, there is a lot of character overlap between these movies and TV shows. Fans of characters like Flash and Superman now get a chance to see those characters on the small screen and the big screen. This inevitably leads to arguments about which version of the character looks better.
You would think that the answer would always be that the movie versions look better. These are characters played by famous, award-winning actors and backed up by some of the biggest Hollywood budgets. However, there are times when the TV versions of these characters simply look better than their big-budget counterparts. Sometimes it comes down to costumes that simply look more comics accurate. At other times, it comes down to actors who look more comfortable in the role. This adds up to small screen versions of these characters that is much more iconic than anything in the DCEU. Don't believe us? Keep scrolling to find out.
15 BETTER: LEX LUTHOR
Batman v. Superman was a controversial movie on many levels. Controversies ranged from the grim and dark portrayal of Superman to the CGI cave troll monstrosity that was Darkseid. However, nothing was quite as controversial as Lex Luthor. Instead of giving us a cool and calculating businessman, Eisenberg gave us an utterly unhinged madman. What made it worse that that we already had a perfect live-action Lex Luthor way back in 2001.
On Smallville, Michael Rosenbaum played the character exactly as fans wanted.
He could be cold, cruel, and calculating, but he also displayed warmth and passion. In short, he captured all of the complexities of our favorite supervillain while also having pitch-perfect chemistry with Tom Welling’s Clark Kent. And did we mention he never sent anyone jars full of pee?
14 WORSE: DEATHSTROKE
A very controversial topic among DCEU fans is just how much Warner Bros. should crib from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And while much of the DCEU is darker and more different than the MCU, they weren’t afraid to borrow concepts like the post-credits scenes that set up other movies. And after Justice League, we get a glimpse of Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke.
It’s a brief glimpse because it’s a brief scene. However, we can’t help but notice that he looks much better in the role than Manu Bennett did in Arrow. Manganiello’s outfit is more comics accurate, and he imbues the role with the quiet menace of a world-class assassin. Compared to him, Bennett and his darker outfit mostly looks like he’s cosplaying as Solid Snake!
13 BETTER: JOKER
Let's be real: Joker (played by Jared Leto) was one of the biggest disappointments of Suicide Squad. First, he was barely in the movie, and his appearances were mostly confined to bizarre montages and flashbacks. Second, he barely looked like the Joker.
Leto came across like the only memo he got for the role was “goth Juggalo" and lastly, the cardinal sin, he just wasn't funny!
It's sad to say, but the Joker (or Jerome) on the Gotham show (played by Cameron Monaghan) actually runs circles around the award-winning Leto. He comes across as appropriately manic and unhinged, which is a step up from Leto's gangster clown. And this Joker only gets weirder as the show goes on, with his face starting to echo the scars of Scott Snyder's Joker (whose face has been completely cut off).
12 WORSE: AQUAMAN
One of the biggest things that made waves (so to speak) with Justice League was Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. He eschewed the sometimes too serious Aquaman persona of the comics for a kind of laid-back surfer dude performance. And while this may have sounded like it would be distracting, most people were too busy staring at Momoa’s completely ripped physique to complain too much!
It helps that we’ve never really had a great live-action Aquaman to compare him to. The closest we had was in Smallville, where the role was played by Alan Michael Ritchson. And before that, the WB filmed an Aquaman pilot starring Justin Hartley, and when the pilot was not ordered to series, Hartley got cast as Green Arrow instead. Both of these are fine actors in their own right, but they lacked the intimidating power of Momoa’s portrayal.
11 BETTER: SUPERMAN
Many people were turned off by the Superman that we got in movies like Batman v. Superman. While it’s difficult to imagine Henry Cavill turning anyone off, the truth was that his character was too dark. This applies to his costume (in which the bright colors of Superman are muddy and muted) and to his attitude (in which the character is a scowling, angry mess most of the time). This is why the Superman we see in the Supergirl television show was such a breath of fresh air.
Actor Tyler Hoechlin managed to bring both Clark Kent and Superman to vivid, vibrant life.
Not only does he fill the bright and colorful suit out nicely, but he has an air of warmth and genuine joy in all of his scenes. In a word, he’s Superman… and he does such a great job that you want him to come back immediately!
10 WORSE: WONDER WOMAN
The Wonder Woman television show was a genuine cultural phenomenon. It helped to bring the character of Wonder Woman to people all around the world who had never picked up a comic book. And Lynda Carter helped make the character real, imbuing even the silliest scenes with her unique blend of beauty and grace.
However, it’s no insult to Carter to say that Gal Gadot has become the most iconic version of Wonder Woman. Gadot manages to walk the perfect line regarding the paradox of Wonder Woman. As a sword-wielding, super-powered being, she makes for the perfect warrior. However, her humor and diplomacy also show her to be a perfect ambassador of peace. And even when the DCEU itself has struggled, Gadot’s Wonder Woman has been entertaining and inspirational.
9 BETTER: FLASH
The Justice League movie debuted to seriously mixed reviews. Some fans really enjoyed finally getting these heroes on-screen together, while others felt the movie was rushed and generic. However, one thing that most fans could agree on was how great The Flash was. Played by Ezra Miller, he brought in a lot of the humor that the DCEU was missing.
Unfortunately, he’s still only the second-greatest Flash -- it’s tough to top the performance of Grant Gustin on CW’s The Flash.
In addition to bringing in both humor and drama, Gustin’s Flash also has a better suit: it looks streamlined and more comic accurate. Meanwhile, Miller’s suit looks too busy and cobbled-together -- much more like ersatz armor than a super-speedster suit should look. Maybe he’ll have a better look when (or if, at this point) his solo movie finally premieres.
8 WORSE: DEADSHOT
Deadshot (played by Will Smith) is widely considered one of the best parts of the Suicide Squad movie. Along with Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, he helped sell the movie even to fans who hated the other characters. As Deadshot, Smith perfectly channels menace, charm, and pathos, and it's tough not to take his side.
It also helps his performance that our previous live-action Deadshot was pretty disappointing. The character was played by Michael Rowe on Arrow, but he lacked the charm and personality of Smith, and he came across as just another quirky villain. To make things worse, he didn't have much of Deadshot's signature look...it looks like the costume department could only scrounge up a sad little eyepatch and then they just called it a day!
7 BETTER: JAMES GORDON
In an age of viral advertising, one of the weirdest things that got fans hyped about Justice League was a picture of J.K. Simmons looking absolutely ripped at the gym. It made fans hope we’d be seeing a different side of Commissioner Gordon, but when the movie debuted, Simmons played Gordon the way most movies do: a blend of actual seriousness and deadpan humor.
We hate to say it, but that super-ripped Simmons can’t really hold a candle to what Ben McKenzie has been doing on Gotham.
With McKenzie, we actually get a new look at Gordon from the days when he was a sexy rising star in the police department instead of a curmudgeonly boss. It’s very effective, and we’d go as far as to say Gotham is worth watching if only to see McKenzie and his interactions with Donal Logue’s Harvey Bullock.
6 WORSE: HARLEY QUINN
When you’re comparing the TV and movie versions of these characters, some of them are really hard to decide. Some, however, win by default. For example, the Harley Quinn of Suicide Squad is better than the Harley Quinn in Arrow. That’s mostly because almost no one saw Harley Quinn in Arrow!
This was from a deleted scene in the second season of Arrow. Cassidy Alexa provided the body for Harley while fan-favorite Tara Strong provided her voice. It’s a cool scene, but she’s given very little to say or do. Compared to this, Margot Robbie’s tour-de-force as the beautiful but insane Harley Quinn is going to win every single time. Maybe in the future, those pesky Legends of Tomorrow can run into the other Harley Quinn so we can get a better look!
5 BETTER: JIMMY OLSEN
The character of Jimmy Olsen was really wasted in Batman v. Superman. We say that because they not only squandered an opportunity to develop his character, but they actually wasted him with a gun.
You can be forgiven if you missed it, but Jimmy was supposed to be the cameraman at the beginning of the movie who is killed for his attempted espionage.
For all we know, that actor (Michael Cassidy) may have gone on to give us an amazing performance as Jimmy Olsen. In the meantime, we’ll have to stick to our reruns of Smallville. On that show, Aaron Ashmore played as Jimmy Olsen. Technically he played as two Jimmy Olsens -- that show was weird! However, he brought all of the enthusiasm and charm of the comic Jimmy to the screen and made each scene that he was in a bit more awesome.
4 WORSE: BATMAN
Adam West gave us the most iconic portrayal of Batman. For better or for worse, his brand of goofy slapstick helped define the Caped Crusader, and this was the first televised Batman that many fans grew up with. Ultimately, West helped to shape the character as well as the television landscape. However, Ben Affleck has actually given us the most definitive live-action Batman so far.
He can give us both the rage and the perspective of the Dark Knight Returns Batman while still bringing in some of the wit and humor of the Batman: The Animated Series Batman. While fans scoffed at the initial casting of “Batfleck,” he has ended up being one of the best parts of the DCEU, and we’ve got our fingers crossed they keep him onboard for more movies.
3 BETTER: AMANDA WALLER
Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis) started out strong in the Suicide Squad movie. She knows how to command a room, boss around criminals, and generally command a mixture of fear and respect. However, the movie sidelines her for most of the action, and it's tough to get over the “twist” that the Squad's only real mission is to rescue her.
Meanwhile, on Arrow, we had already seen a far superior Amanda Waller played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson.
She not only commands that same level of fear and respect, but she's also a fierce warrior in her own right, and she's not afraid to kill anyone that gets in her way. In every scene, she seems fully capable of putting heroes like Arrow in their place. This makes her that much scarier compared to Viola David simply trading quips with Bruce Wayne.
2 WORSE: CYBORG
Cyborg (played by Ray Fisher) was a controversial part of the Justice League movie. He didn't get a lot of character development and was mostly a walking plot device, but he at least managed to look pretty awesome in all his scenes. And you may not appreciate how awesome he looked until you see the Cyborg on Smallville.
Cyborg was one of many DC heroes that Smallville gave us a live-action version of. While they varied in terms of how cool they looked, the show really dropped the ball with Cyborg. The character was played by the late Lee Thompson Young. And while the actor brought a lot of personality to the role (much more than Fisher later would), we can't get over the fact that his fancy cybernetic outfit has been replaced by a gray hoodie. Even in a world of TV budgets, this is a remarkably cheap move!
1 BETTER: LOIS LANE
When you think about it, Amy Adams has had a pretty thankless role in the DCEU. She plays Lois Lane, who is one of the most important characters in DC history. However, she spends most of her time simply as a background player and muse for characters like Superman. As it turns out, we've had a better version of her for many years now.
The Smallville TV show introduced us to a version of this character that was played by Erica Durance who is basically everything Amy Adams is not: fierce, driven, and appropriately brunette.
Even in a show that was all about Clark Kent saving the people around him, she always managed to stand on her own two feet, and she remains one of the best parts of live-action DC history.