In the world of sci-fi films and TV, as in the world of the Highlander, there can be only one. William Shatner and Patrick Stewart may have nothing against each other personally, but that won’t stop Star Trek fans from coming to blows over who did a better job exploring the final frontier. Of course, that isn’t the only genre rivalry capable of igniting brawls at the comic shop. There’s also…
The Battleground: Even if you’ve never watched the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, you may still be familiar with its premise: A guy and two robots are silhouetted in the bottom right corner of the screen in front of a terrible B-movie, which they rip to shreds via a scornful running commentary. What non-fans may not be aware of is that the guy’s role was filled consecutively by two performers. The first was Joel Hodgson, who in 1988 helped create the show in its first incarnation on a local Minneapolis TV station. In 1993 Hodgson left the series and was replaced by Head Writer Mike Nelson, igniting message boards in what one fan site would later refer to as “The Great Joel Vs. Mike Flamewar of 1993.” (The robot puppets’ voice actors also changed over the course of the show, but those less visible transitions never generated as much controversy.) Nelson hosted the show until its conclusion in 1999.
The Case for Joel: Hodgson has the obvious advantage of having been MST3K’s first host, as well as having conceived the show’s original concept. Beyond that, he gave the impression of being more than just a snarky heckler; he also imbued his character with a subtly soothing, almost Zen-like onscreen presence (which may have been not an aesthetic choice so much as a consequence of having gone without sleep for four days prior to shooting the pilot). His decision to voluntarily leave the show while a feature film adaptation was in the works only reinforced his image of modest humility.
The Case for Mike: In contrast to Joel’s serene unflappability, Nelson came across as more of a bumbling, affable fool—a less admirable persona, perhaps, but potentially a funnier and more identifiable one. He was also with the show, whether behind the scenes or in front of the camera, for its full run, and appeared in the feature film when it finally did hit theaters, making him possibly a more appropriate face of the franchise.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?: As great as Joel and Mike both were, MST3K’s strength really lay in the off-beat cleverness of its premise and the collaborative talent of its writing team, neither of which would have vanished into thin air regardless of who was sitting next to the ‘bots. Although the series has ended, Hodgson and Nelson are both currently working on similar projects Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax, and if there’s no animosity between those two camps, shouldn’t we all really just relax… For Mystery Science Theater… 3000?
The Battleground: Every great hero needs a great villain, and it’s fitting that the dark, brooding Batman would be matched up against the cackling, gleefully sadistic Joker. Actors who take on this role are pretty much given carte blanche as far as scenery-chewing goes, leading to some of genre cinema’s most memorable performances.
The Case for Cesar Romero: Putting on the makeup for the campy live-action Batman TV series, as well as the 1966 feature film, Romero invested the character with the manic energy of a circus clown on a sugar high. Often overlooked in the shadow of his A-list successors, but beloved by fans of the old-school Batman.
The Case for Jack Nicholson: In keeping with his screen persona, Nicholson created a Joker whose off-beat dialogue and mannerisms could be both laugh-out-loud funny and, at times, shiver-inducingly creepy. An impressive feat, given that he spent almost all of his performance with his face constricted by prosthetic makeup effects.
The Case for Heath Ledger: If Nicholson’s Joker was creepy, Ledger’s was downright terrifying—yet without ever sacrificing the character’s infectious sense of amusement. He would apparently be the Academy’s favorite, since he earned The Dark Knight a Best Supporting Actor statuette.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?: We’re not saying all the Jokers were created equal, but when Ledger supporters are comparing Nicholson’s work to performing sex acts on service employees, things have gone too far. (Editor’s note: Besides, Mark Hamill rocks all their worlds.)
And speaking of the Dark Knight…
The Bat-tleground: Gotham City’s masked vigilante has been portrayed by five different actors in the seven Batman films that have been released since 1966. (For the sake of simplicity, this entry won’t include actors who played the Caped Crusader in serials, animated shows, etc. Sorry, Kevin Conroy.) Who was most worthy of gravely rasping “I’m Batman” to a terrified criminal? A quick run-through of the contenders:
The Case for Adam West: Lumpen and ridiculous—which is exactly how he was supposed to be. It’s hard to argue that West’s Batman isn’t successful in terms of its own farcical purposes.
The Case for Michael Keaton: Responsible for bringing a more serious version of the Dark Knight to the silver screen; could handle Batman’s gruff intimidation and gave Bruce Wayne an interesting touch of social awkwardness.
The Case for Val Kilmer: Dude’s jacked! Also, added a bit more cheeky self-confidence to the character without totally crossing over into camp territory.
The Case for George Clooney: Ummm… Look, the poor guy never had a chance.
The Case for Christian Bale: Totally convincing as an ass-kicking warrior, and did his best to make the character credible without winking at the audience.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?: No. Not with a nippled Batman, anyway.
The Battleground: Introduced by novelist Ian Fleming in his 1953 book Casino Royale and incarnated for the first time on the silver screen in 1962’s Dr. No, James Bond has achieved pop cultural icon status by being the man every 16-year-old boy in the world secretly believes he’ll grow up to be. This aristocratic, womanizing British spy (apparently based to a large extent on one somewhat less appealing fellow has so far appeared in 22 (officially sanctioned) films and, within those films, has been portrayed by six different actors.
The Case for Sean Connery: Connery introduced audiences to Bond, as well as to most of Bond’s trademark quirks and catchphrases. The novels were popular, but it wasn’t until the theatrical release of Dr. No that the public really got acquainted with the character’s unshakable self-confidence, rakish sense of humor and smoldering sex appeal. Every actor who followed has had to somehow adapt to the blueprint he laid out. We’ll forgive his blatantly not-English accent.
The Case for Anyone Else: Look, we’ve scoured the internet looking for a poll that put any of the Bond actors ahead of Connery, and… Okay, we founda few few, but the elder Scotsman is dominating the field. The other contenders have their charms, from Roger Moore’s tongue-in-cheek bemusement to Daniel Craig’s hard-boiled toughness, but it would be dishonest not to present this as a one-sided fight. This decision has nothing to do with us being too lazy to write six paragraphs for this entry.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?: However, what we really want to see is a movie that brings all these guys together. Think about it: The Bond actors (all six of whom are still alive) join forces to create an unstoppable spying superteam. Instead of MI6, they could call themselves—wait for it—MI007.
C’mon, admit it, you know this idea is awesome.
1. Kirk Vs. Picard
The Battleground: Star Trek: The Original Series had a fascinating premise that was full of potential: A 23rd-century starship, staffed by a diverse crew of humans and aliens and led by a hot-blooded captain named James T. Kirk (William Shatner), roams through space on a mission to explore alien planets. Its ratings, unfortunately, didn’t match up to its ambitions, keeping the show to a three-season run ending in 1969. However, the series became more popular in syndication, allowing the series’ universe to be expanded onto the silver screen and into several spinoff shows. Each spinoff usually centered around a spaceship with a new crew and a new leader; the most popular of these successors to Kirk was Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), who commanded the Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation from 1987 to 1994.
The Case for (Shatner’s) Kirk: There’s no subtle way to put this: Kirk’s just a manly dude. He takes on every aspect of his job with a confident swagger, whether he’s fighting mano-a-mano with a belligerent alien being or romancing a seductive alien being. This macho persona helped to carry the show during its rough early years, and was so distinctive that it became the foundation of pretty much all of Shatner’s subsequent roles, whether the actor was playing it straight or for laughs.
The Case for Picard: The thinking man’s Starfleet captain, Picard was more likely to be seen sipping Earl Grey at a diplomatic summit than brawling at the local cantina—a good thing, too, since during his tenure he had to deal with the Borg, a more daunting threat than most of those faced by Kirk. Picard’s intellectual, moral mindset also provided an even more appropriate frame for the series’ exploration of social and political issues. Finally, Patrick Stewart is an accomplished Shakespearean actor and has never starred in a sitcom based on a Twitter account.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?: “Kirk Vs. Picard” tops this list because fans have been discussing it for a very long time without coming to a consensus, and they haven’t been able to reach a consensus because they don’t really need to. TNG’s creators made Picard a dynamic, original character rather than an imitation of the man who had previously helmed the Enterprise, and so, rather than competing with each other, these two Starfleet captains complement each other, allowing the series to expand its own universe and deepen its commentary on ours. That’s the right way to continue a franchise—by standing on the shoulders of giants, not by killing a giant, cutting his face off and wearing it as a mask. Producers of today’s remakes and reboots would do well to take that lesson to heart.