The DC Extended Universe is continuing to grow and expand. While the shared cinematic world is developing, its tone is something especially worth noting. Instead of the lighthearted and quippy style of superhero movies established by Marvel, DC has adopted the Christopher Nolan approach of being more dark and brooding when it comes to heroes. This decision makes a lot of sense when looking at how successful the Dark Knight Trilogy was and in considering the darkness of many characters in it (a child watching his parents die, an alien finding his place in a confusing world, a group of fugitives hired to viciously kill others for the government, etc.).
Even before Nolan and the start of the DCEU though, DC films explored darker and more serious territory. After several decades of exploring the origins of DC characters, comic writers turned towards darker storylines and many of these issues have been used as inspiration for DC movies throughout the entirety of the DC brand. Where Marvel is more fun and family friendly, DC separates itself by bringing mature and often haunting scenes of real world grit and truth to the big screen. This is creatively different and something to applaud in DC. By witnessing the horror that many heroes and villains endure, we can further understand them as well-rounded characters. Therefore, it’s time to count down CBR’s top 15 most disturbing moments in DC movies.
** SPOILER WARNING: Multiple SPOILERS for various DC films, including Wonder Woman. **
15 DESTRUCTION OF METROPOLIS
Though many claim to love Man of Steel, it was still a divisive start to the DCEU. Though character development was solid and Henry Cavill was a convincing Superman, many still claim that the movie was devoid of hope, primarily because of its third act. By the end of Man of Steel, all of Metropolis, Smallville, and a lot of surrounding area had been torn up from the ground and killed hundreds of innocent civilians.
In a post-9/11 world, depiction of such horrific terror in such a realistically shot manner was unsettling to say the least. Many hardcore fans, despite their love for Man of Steel, can understand that this action-packed finale may have been a bit too much for a good amount of viewers.
14 GRANNY’S PEACH TEA
There were countless disturbing aspects of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor (mostly about how miscast he was). However, the whimsical comedy and cynicism that Eisenberg tried to simultaneously entertain was astonishingly bad and cringe-worthy. Perhaps the most horrible example of this was when the character put a mason jar of (what is implied to be) his urine on the stand as a beverage for Senator Finch.
This discomfort of this scene comes via multiple fronts. Firstly is the fact that Luthor actually insults and degrades Finch on such a personal and disgusting degree. Secondly is the fact that the immediate aftermath of this is an explosion in the Capital shows, which proves that Eisenberg’s Luthor is troubled in many ways; this sadistic joke before the big boom is one mere example of it.
13 THE PARADE SEQUENCE/TIED-UP POLICE OFFICERS
The Dark Knight is often cited as many fans’ all-time favorite superhero film because of its striking realism. The film portrays crime and vigilantism in a truthful and honest way, not sugar-coating any part of organized crime or vengeful justice. Continuing the theme of disturbed villains, Heath Ledger’s Joker provides a compelling and sadistic foil to Christian Bale’s Batman, which is apparent during the parade scene.
The Joker kidnapped and tied up roughly a dozen police officers (being used in the police commissioner’s funeral procession) and replaced them with his own cronies. When Bruce Wayne discovers these tied-up officers, viewers felt pits in their stomachs, recognizing the truly capable and evil nature of the Joker and that whatever his next scheme was would end disastrously.
12 DIANA KILLS THE GENERAL
Wonder Woman certainly was one of the more hopeful superhero movies to be produced by DC in recent years. However, there are still countless brutal scenes of violence; one in particular is worth including on this list. Throughout the entire film, Diana is trying to track down and kill Ares, the literal god of war. She believes he is secretly German General Ludendorff.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Diana impales the General with her god-killing sword and expects the first World War to cease. However, it doesn’t. When it is revealed that Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) is actually Ares, the moment in which Diana kills Ludendorff becomes far scarier, as a character who represents optimistic solutions and justice has just murdered a man in cold blood, despite his being a mass-murderer himself.
11 BRUCE’S RECOVERY IN PRISON
Adding another Christopher Nolan moment to this list, The Dark Knight Rises boasts its fair share of gritty and disturbing moments. One of the most significant parts of the film is when Bruce Wayne is in the prison pit where Bane and Talia al Ghul grew up. Bruce’s back has been broken and he is completely helpless, but that's just the beginning.
Wayne, feeling the need to return to Gotham and help his city, tries to leave far too quickly. The entire sequence in which the prison doctor tries to repair Bruce’s back and when Bruce falls from his climb continuously show an iconic character of capability being reduced to nothing. This shows the audience the humanity of Batman and, in gory detail, shows what he goes through to achieve justice.
10 CREATION OF DOOMSDAY
Anything involving the mutilation of corpses is already frightening enough. However, adding the blood oath and devotion of an oddball Lex Luthor creates a truly disturbing moment in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Luthor decides to pin man versus god, but quickly realizes that he may need to call in reinforcements that serve his more nefarious purpose. By using the deceased General Zod and Kryptonian technology, Doomsday is born.
Using this dead body with the blood oath and high-tech machinery, the screenwriters of BvS really created something that was memorable in terms of villain origins, but also something that was a bit sickening. The process of creating this Frankenstein’s monster of more drastic proportions was truly appalling and certainly disturbing in the worst possible way.
9 JACK NAPIER FALLS INTO CHEMICALS
Frankly, most aspects of the Joker are quite disturbing. However, one question not often addressed is how the Clown Prince of Crime became the sadist we know him to be. Though leaving the villain’s origins a mystery is enticing, Tim Burton’s Batman did an equally impressive job of depicting an origin as terrible as the character.
When mobster Jack Napier falls into a pool of horrible looking chemicals, audiences were immediately repulsed. This moment of terror felt like it was straight out of a horror movie, depicting a man who was about to endure immense pain beyond belief. This graphic portrayal of Jack becoming the Joker is a memorable one that is sure to haunt viewers and remind them that the Joker is someone as disturbing as his origin.
8 TALIA AL GHUL STABS BRUCE
One of the most impactful twists in the history of DC movies was when Miranda Tate (played by Marion Cotillard) revealed herself to actually be Talia al Ghul. After opening a partnership with Bruce and seducing him on a personal level, Talia had really gotten in close and even drew in fans to believe that she wasn’t actually a pre-existing character. However, just when we though we were right, Nolan tricked us.
Talia literally stabbed Bruce in the back (or actually more towards his side, but you get what we mean) in a gory and sadistic fashion. Bruce Wayne was already weak from the injuries he suffered at the hands of Bane, but this trick, in addition to the damage it does, truly surpasses any act of villainy Bane committed.
7 THE SEDUCTION OF HARLEY QUINN
Falling for your therapist is one thing, but being a therapist and falling for you patient (who also happens to be a deranged lunatic) is another. When Dr. Harleen Quinzel is initially presented in Suicide Squad, Margot Robbie presents audiences with a pulled-together and sophisticated medical practitioner.
However, it’s not too long afterwards we see Harleen become seduced by the Joker’s manipulative mind and evil ways. She slowly falls for his boldness and trickery, giving into his ways. Eventually, the abusive Joker forces her to love him forever and resorts to medical experimentation. Tied down to a table, Harleen Quinzel truly becomes Harley Quinn and is never the same afterwards, showing the dark transformation that results from her affection towards the Clown Prince of Crime.
6 PENGUIN BITE
Once Tim Burton succeeded in making a great Batman origin story, he followed it up with a sequel that was truly the Tim Burton show. Though nowadays we associate Tim Burton with a darker and quirkier tone, Batman Returns proved to be one of the best showcases of his style. Including a far darker and weirder Gotham with stranger set designs and gorier action, the sequel was truly “different” in every sense of the word.
One notable difference in Batman Returns was Danny DeVito’s performance as the Penguin. Rather than establish the Penguin as a mobster or organized crime affiliate, he is a truly creepy weirdo that kidnaps children. This disturbing take on the character can be exemplified perfectly in one scene of the movie: the villain bites off another character’s nose for laughing at him.
5 THE BIRTH OF TWO-FACE
In one of The Dark Knight’s most intense moments, D.A. Harvey Dent loses his girlfriend Rachel Dawes, the one thing in the world that really means something to him. At the same time, Dent’s face is half charred off because of the explosion that killed his betrothed. When it is revealed that Dent’s face has been so deeply burned, the result was something frightfully unsettling.
The singed tendons and charred veins on the face of Aaron Eckhart create a terribly real depiction of a burn victim. Not to mention, the torture being suffered by Eckhart’s character is represented in that pained face. The scene in which we first see Dent’s burned face is truly a memorable (and graphic) one as it shows the toll taken by ruthless criminals and how lives can really be ruined.
4 BATMAN KILLS THUGS
When the DCEU was launched with Man of Steel, viewers assumed that future films in the cinematic universe would be dark. However, turning the already dark Batman into a horrific killing machine may have been a little bit much. During one of the most memorable and nightmare-inducing scenes of Batman v. Superman, the Caped Crusader beats down and violently assaults many criminals in a beaten down Gotham household.
This depiction of Bruce Wayne/Batman shows a very mature and gory scene that was unexpected by many viewers. Any Batman fan knows that the hero does not kill, given the murder of his parents when he was a child. So when Zack Snyder established this hostile and downright murderous Dark Knight, many fans felt disturbed and taken aback by this terrifying new rendition of the character.
3 SELINA KYLE’S TRANSFORMATION
Throughout all of Tim Burton’s movies, there are a few noticeable disturbing moments. It can be argued that the single most memorable and traumatizing of all these scenes is Selina Kyle’s transformation into Catwoman in 1992’s Batman Returns. After being pushed from a ten story building to the ground below by an evil Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer’s character is seemingly dead on the ground.
However, in the creepiest and most disturbing of fashions, several street cats begin crawling on her and biting. Eventually, after a moment of apparent cat magic, the character is resuscitated and has become Catwoman. The almost zombie-like resurrection of Kyle is unnerving and different than many comic book iterations of the character. However, the disturbing factor certainly sticks as many fans still appreciate the scene to this day.
2 JOKER AND HARLEY: CHEMICAL BATH
Two of the most disturbing fictional characters ever created are the Joker and Harley Quinn. The two are devilish, evil souls who only compliment one another’s bad deeds. However, a scene that shows the pure craziness of the couple is one of the most bizarre and memorable from Suicide Squad.
When the Clown Prince of Crime convinces his psychologist to jump into a pool of mysterious chemicals, proving her affection for him, she barely hesitates. Dropping a couple stories from the catwalk above, Dr. Harleen Quinzel finalizes her transformation into Harley Quinn. Then, recognizing that he truly cares for her, the Joker jumps into the same chemicals right after. The two then linger in the tub, bathing and celebrating their undying and insane love for one another.
1 SCARECROW VISIONS
Though there were countless understandable contenders, Batman Begins really boasts the single most disturbing sequence in any DC movie over the past few decades. Beginning the new era of DC movies, Christopher Nolan crafts a darker and more realistic Batman with darker and more realistic villains. Of the villains in the film’s first installment, Jonathan Crane creates real life nightmares.
Using his Scarecrow technology, Dr. Crane haunts criminals into insanity, then drawing them into his experiments. Bruce Wayne, acting as Batman, is later exposed to the Scarecrow gas as well, weakening him. These scenes, displaying the worst fears of the gas’ victims, are terrifying and present a horror angle to the superhero origin film. The scenes force viewers to look away from fright and permanently remember what is arguably the most disturbing part of any DC movie.
Do you agree with our list? Let us know your most disturbing DC movie moments in the comments!