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Every Real Life Criminal That Inspired The Batman’s Riddler

Though The Batman‘s version of the Riddler is a fresh and interesting take on the villain, there are a number of real-life criminals whose actions mirror those of the fictional character in Matt Reeves’ movie. Matt Reeves’ The Batman established a new version of the titular vigilante, telling the grounded story of a dark, gritty Gotham City torn apart by corruption and conspiracy. With Robert Pattinson stepping in to be the latest actor to don the iconic cape and cowl, The Batman proved to be hugely successful, achieving both critical acclaim and box office success.

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Part of the charm of The Batman was the way its setting and characters were written to be as realistic as possible. In the place of the usual fantastical action set pieces that characterize modern superhero movies, The Batman‘s story was meticulously created using plausible elements and realistic motivations, making it feel more akin to a noir thriller than a superhero movie. Though this led to slower pacing and less action than some had hoped for, it was undoubtedly one of The Batman‘s greatest strengths, contributing massively to the film’s success.

Related: Why The Riddler Looks So Different In The Batman


The Batman made use of a number of key characters from the Batman mythos, with appearances from several supporting characters including both traditional Batman villains and allies. The film’s main antagonist, however, is Paul Dano’s Riddler – a careful and calculating serial killer who is carrying out a murderous crusade against some of Gotham’s most powerful figures. The Batman‘s story revolves around Pattinson’s Dark Knight attempting to find and apprehend the Riddler, being forced to solve puzzles and uncover the deep-rooted conspiracy that grips the city in the process. In keeping with the film’s grounded tone, Dano’s Riddler was inspired by real-life criminals: from specific aspects of his plan to the general behavior he employs, there are many real criminals that bear a striking similarity to The Batman‘s villain.


The Zodiac Killer

The most obvious inspiration for The Batman‘s Riddler is the Zodiac Killer, a real-life serial killer who taunted the police while committing multiple murders in the late 1960s. In fact, it’s no secret that the Zodiac Killer inspired The Batman‘s Riddler, as director Matt Reeves spoke at length about the ways in which the real-life unsolved case informed the characterization of Dano’s villain. One of the most obvious ways in which The Batman‘s Riddler was inspired by the Zodiac Killer is the villain’s manner of communicating with those attempting to catch him via codes and ciphers. The Zodiac Killer is characterized by their willingness to offer clues to the police in the form of puzzles, and that’s something that the Riddler does throughout The Batman. However, there is one key difference between the Riddler and the Zodiac Killer: The Batman‘s Riddler is caught and imprisoned for his crimes, whereas the Zodiac Killer was never captured or identified.


Jack The Ripper

Another killer who is well-known for his methods of taunting the police is Jack the Ripper, the unidentified serial killer who roamed the streets of Victorian-era London committing violent murders. Though he didn’t use riddles like the Riddler in The Batman as a form of taunting the law, he did supposedly write letters to newspapers and the police to share details of his crimes and apparent intentions for future murders. Due to the time period in which Jack the Ripper operated, the investigation into the murders was ultimately fruitless, but the use of letters to publicize the killings made the Ripper one of the most notorious killers of all time, and the tone of the letters and apparent enjoyment the Ripper gleaned from murder isn’t dissimilar to The Batman‘s Riddler.


BTK (Dennis Rader)

One more modern serial killer bears a striking resemblance to The Batman‘s Riddler, both in his methods of contacting the police and in his methods of killing his victims. Dennis Rader, also identified by the name BTK (“Bind, torture, kill“). BTK is a real-life killer responsible for a total of 10 murders that took place between the years of 1974 and 1991, and – much like the Zodiac Killer, Jack the Ripper, and the Riddler – he also had a habit of taunting the police with details of his crimes. Much like the Riddler, BTK sought to inspire an element of panic and fear in his communications with the police, and even at one point demanded that his crimes be revealed to the public. Though he managed to evade capture for some time, BTK was eventually identified as Dennis Rader and captured. He also shares one other similarity with the Riddler: the nature of his murders made use of various methods of restraining his victims. Several of the Riddler’s murders in The Batman involve restraining people and exerting control over them, which was also one of Rader’s main methods, drawing another similarity between the real-life killer and The Batman‘s villain.


Related: The Batman: Why Matt Reeves’ Movie Uses Riddler’s Original Name

Rodney Alcala

Rodney Alcala is also known as the Dating Game Killer, owing to the fact that he appeared on the game show of the same name during his spree. During his appearance, he seemed to allude to his crimes, which again is akin to the way that the Riddler taunts Gotham while carrying out his own plan. The sadistic nature of Alcala’s crimes and his callous treatment of his victims are also similar to the characterization of the Riddler in The Batman. Alcala was found guilty of nine murders, although it is believed that he may have had over 100 victims in total.

Golden State Killer

One final criminal that may have also inspired The Batman‘s Riddler and the clues he leaves for detectives is the Golden State Killer, a serial killer responsible for a spate of murders and assaults in the ’70s and ’80s. Joseph James DeAngelo is known by a number of monikers, but the most common is the Golden State Killer. Responsible for a truly staggering amount of heinous crimes, DeAngelo was another criminal who would repeatedly taunt and threaten law enforcement officials with details of his crimes or clues as to what he might do next – and like the Riddler, he was eventually caught and will spend the rest of his life behind bars. The fear that DeAngelo inspired through his actions proved to be just one more real-life example of the tactics employed by the Riddler in The Batman.


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