When people think of the differences between DC and Marvel, the gritty violence of DC is usually one of the first things to come to mind. Fans of DC’s film adaptations have frequently praised the company’s more grounded, realistic take on classic superhero stories.
While Man of Steel and Batman v Superman are somewhat polarizing, they both have die-hard fans. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy is often cited as the best example of the ideals that the DC films strive toward.
However, sometimes they go a little too far. Sometimes, even if the moment is warranted, the DC movies go to extreme and unexpected lengths. This dates back well before the extended universe, too.
Man of Steel was far from the first DC feature to be criticized for its mass destruction or its bleak tone. This list is all about ranking the most violent, uncomfortable, extreme DC movie moments to date. For our purposes, we’re only counting films based on properties from the main DC universe, not Vertigo or other offshoots that are always geared toward adults.
Here are the 15 Most Violent Scenes In DC Movies, Ranked.
15 The Pencil Trick In The Dark Knight
This is the moment when it becomes immediately clear that audiences have no idea what to expect from this incarnation of The Joker. After The Dark Knight opening shows off his ruthless planning skills, this is our proper introduction to the character.
The scene hinges on Ledger’s chaotic, devil-may-care performance. When he simply states “how about a magic trick?” it knocks the audience for a loop. The best thing about this moment, though, is that we don’t actually see anything happen.
The concept of the gag is disturbing enough that we don’t need to actually see it displayed. The pencil is upright on the table, then the face is slammed down onto it and when he falls to the floor, the pencil is gone. It’s all right there and it’s gross enough without showing a single drop of blood.
14 The Destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel
Remember when the destruction of Metropolis was everyone’s major issue with the DCEU? That changed with the release of Batman v Superman— a film that for whatever faults it might have, did try to deal with the fallout of this damage as realistically as possible.
This is because it’s insanely drastic. While it’s not Superman’s fault that Zod and the other Kryptonians are invading Earth, he’s right in the middle of fights that nearly level both his hometown and the city of Metropolis.
While visually exciting, the total chaos in Man of Steel is definitely unexpected for a Superman movie. It’s a shock to the system to go from a movie like Superman Returns, where Superman doesn’t throw a single punch, to a movie where he brings a building down on General Zod in the span of seven years.
13 Bane Breaking Batman’s Back in The Dark Knight Rises
From the moment The Dark Knight Rises was announced, this is the scene that fans had been waiting for. DC’s Knightfall event is unique for being a huge, huge storyline that’s defined by a single moment.
Over a thousand pages of material and the number one takeaway is that Bane cripples the Dark Knight. He walks into his home when Bruce has already been weakened to the point that he can barely stand, then beats him and snaps his back. Things play out differently in Rises, but the intent is the same.
Bane is all about making Batman feel desperate and ultimately helpless because, to him, this is true victory. He wants to match wits with Batman, and he’s the rare villain who wishes to take Batman in a fair fight but, ultimately, he wants to leave him feeling like a victim.
12 Dr. Poison and General Ludendorff Test Their New Poison in Wonder Woman
Easily the lightest DCEU movie to date, Wonder Woman does not have as many shockingly violent or disturbing scenes to choose from. However, there are a few.
If one has to choose, it will be the scene in which Dr. Poison and General Ludendorff test their new gas on a room full of unsuspecting people, people who are supposed to be their allies. It’s such an unexpectedly grotesque moment, but it’s also twistedly funny. This combination is always endearing, especially in a movie like this, where it’s so unexpected.
While it’s unsettling, it’s also a great old-school villain moment, as both parties take a moment to break out laughing over what they’ve just done, even as the screams begin to rise from the room behind them.
This mix of modern edge with old-fashioned heroics is definitely one of the key elements in Wonder Woman’s overall success.
11 Ra’s al Ghul’s Death in Batman Begins
Ra’s al Ghul doesn’t just die in Batman Begins, he explodes. Bruce spends the bulk of the film establishing his one rule. Many of the early flashbacks show that, for a long time, his natural instinct was to kill in order to take revenge, as he had planned to kill the man who shot his parents until that moment was robbed from him.
In that respect, Ra’s al Ghul’s death is somewhat unexpected, even if we were certainly used to seeing villains die in comic book movies by the time Batman Begins was released.
Batman tells Ra’s that he’s not going to kill him, but that he doesn’t need to save him either. That’s kind of the same thing as killing him, though. Leaping out of a train with only one person in it, moments before it crashes and explodes, that’s pretty much killing them, Batman.
However, in this respect it shows that the hero's moral compass is still developing. Ra's death might be a major contributor toin why Batman is so stern about this rule in The Dark Knight.
10 Rachel’s Death in The Dark Knight
Rachel’s death is easily one of the most powerful moments in The Dark Knight. She’s on the phone with Harvey and, from the moment she wakes up in that warehouse, it becomes obvious what is going to happen.
Just knowing that Harvey isn’t going to die because he’s going to become Two-Face alone keys us in on Rachel’s fate. The way the moment is handled is gutting. Early in the film, Harvey asks her to marry him and she doesn’t give a clear answer.
Here, knowing that people are going to rescue the one who is more important, Rachel very clearly expresses that she already knows she is going to die, but that her answer is yes. The fact that Rachel dies without thinking anyone is coming for her, without knowing that Batman only rescues Harvey because he was given the wrong address, makes it that much more haunting.
9 Baby Penguin Eating a Cat in Batman Returns
This moment in Batman Returns comes out of nowhere, just minutes into the movie. A baby Penguin, locked in a cage, reaches a flipper out and sucks a poor cat in. Over the chomping sounds, the camera pans to his parents as they decide what to do.
This is the moment that sets the tone for the entire film: it’s bizarre, quirky, and morbid as anything. This is a Batman movie where the credits play over an attempt to drown an infant. Batman Returns is a work of old-school gothic horror and viewers either go along for the ride, or don’t.
The movie is campy and stylized in equal doses, but it’s that jet-black sense of humor running throughout that makes this often forgotten but no less shocking moment possible.
8 Slipknot’s Death in Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad, despite its title, is somehow a less nihilistic movie than Batman v Superman, but it’s still pretty much as violent as you would expect.
The only reason it doesn’t appear much on this list is because most of the violence is inflicted on the strange tar zombies that make up the bulk of the film’s enemies. However, then there’s this scene, in which a member of the Squad is killed for the sole purpose of demonstrating that the members of the Squad can be killed.
Slipknot had barely more than a single line before his death and still managed to clearly stand his ground as the member we could easily live without. Not only does he have the least screen-time, his first line is punching a woman and shrugging it off with “she had a mouth.”
The thing that makes his death uncomfortable has to be the shot of his body just lingering in the air as the Squad are forced to press forward.
7 Batman Blows Up One of Penguin’s Thugs in Batman Returns
If there’s anything else that Batman Returns is known for other than being morbid, it’s that Batman kills a lot of people.
Ben Affleck was far from the first movie version of Batman to take a life, as demonstrated in this scene where Keaton’s caped crusader straps a bomb to one of Penguin’s thugs and drops him down a well. Maybe the creepiest thing about the scene, though, is the wide and wholly unsettling grin that breaks across Batman’s face as he does this.
As a fun note for horror fans out there: the Penguin thug in this scene (Andrew Byrniarski) also plays Leatherface in the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as well as its prequel. He also plays Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Guest, but that’s only for the really die-hard Byrniarski fans, assuming they’re out there.
6 El Diablo Murders his Wife and Child in Suicide Squad
El Diablo is definitely one of the more interesting members of the Suicide Squad. Easily their most powerful member— he’s on a team with Captain Boomerang, after all— Diablo has vowed never to use his powers again.
The only problem with this mentality is that he doesn’t have terrific control over his abilities. They kind of just take over whenever he gets angry, and he gets angry a lot.
His tragic backstory, though, is that he once lost control and burned his own house down, with his wife and daughter inside. This has to be the most uncomfortably dark scene in Suicide Squad, to the point that even a murderer like Harley is disgusted by it when she finds out.
Showing this moment in any great detail would probably be way too much, but the little we do see is haunting enough.
5 Catwoman Kills Max Schreck in Batman Returns
To make its connections to old-school horror as clear as possible, Christopher Walken’s overarching antagonist in Batman Returns is named Max Schreck— the same name as the star of Nosferatu.
The highlight of the film is Michelle Pfeiffer’s mesmerizing performance as Catwoman, a character who has way more beef with Shreck in this movie than Penguin and Batman combined. After all, Schreck dropped her out a window and left her for dead. She’s perfectly entitled to a vendetta. The way she kills him, though, is so bizarre and amazing that it needs to be talked about more often.
She kills him with a taser kiss, basically. She electrocutes him and makes out with him at the same time, in a moment that’s weirdly reminiscent of the “wanna suck face?” scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4.
This is appropriate, because it feels exactly like a Freddy Krueger kill dropped into the middle of a superhero movie. Maybe the best thing about this moment is that Catwoman somehow survives it, while Shreck is completely burned to a crisp.
4 Superman’s Death in Batman v Superman
As tacked on as it felt in the initial viewings, Superman’s death might actually be one of the most organic moments in Batman v Superman. The entire film is prepping us for a world without Superman.
Everyone talks about how he’s not needed and Batman is hell-bent on killing him, all under the guise that the world cannot know how much they need a symbol like this until they no longer have it. While the film still has its flaws, there’s a message accompanying Superman’s sacrifice that comes through with relative clarity.
The death itself, though, is surprisingly gruesome. Superman and Doomsday kill each other in the same way. Each of them impales the other. To see Doomsday’s arm spike slowly drive into Superman’s chest is so unexpected, and is definitely one of the more shocking scenes in the character’s cinematic history.
3 Joker Torturing Harley in Suicide Squad
For those who criticize Suicide Squad for not accurately showing the more violent, twisted side of the relationship between Harley and the Joker, there’s one flashback where Joker rewards Harleen Quinzel for helping him escape by frying her brain until she becomes Harley Quinn.
He’s not looking for a lover or a sidekick, he’s looking for a victim. The fact that she insists that she can take it, after he’s already strapped her down against her will, doesn’t make it any less creepy. This moment of pure malice on the Joker’s part might actually be Leto’s best scene in the movie.
At the very least, this represents the twisted dynamic that Joker and Harley have in the comics, which doesn’t come across quite as clear in some other parts of the film.
2 Batman Killing People in Batman v Superman
As pointed out, Batman has taken lives on screen before. However, in Batman v Superman, he’s the Punisher in a cape. Stabbing people, shooting people, burning them alive, he’s not trying to subdue anyone. He’s letting the bodies hit the floor.
It recontextualizes his relationship with Superman. He’s not trying to break his “one rule” for this alien enemy. Instead, his arc in Batman v Superman is about a hunter chasing his white whale. He even calls himself a hunter.
Batman is being drawn into battle with an enemy that he actually has to work to kill, which is the key to both his frustration and his excitement in the film. The scene that best showcases his violent tendencies in the movie has to be the warehouse fight, which is an admittedly great display of the most savage Batman we’ve ever seen on the screen before.
1 Superman Snapping Zod’s Neck in Man of Steel
Everyone probably knew that Superman killing Zod in Man of Steel had to be number one for its sheer bluntness. In the moment, on his first day on the job, Superman’s backed into a corner and doesn’t know what else to do.
Zod’s not going to stop, he’s not going to be subdued or talked into leaving, and there’s not a prison on this planet that could hold him. However, this doesn’t make this extreme moment any less shocking. Superman is in pain as he sees Zod’s heat vision about to incinerate a whole family.
He decides that the only way he can stop this is to snap Zod’s neck even though, yes, he probably could have just clamped his hand over Zod’s eyes. It’s meant to represent the fact that Zod is never going to back down, presenting his death as the only option.
So Superman snaps his neck with a sickening crack, leading into a stunned silence before he breaks out in a lengthy scream. It’s an intense, emotional moment, and is the most violent DC scene to date.
Can you think of any other scenes in DC movies that are shockingly violent? Tell us about them in the comment section.