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Smartest Decisions Made In DC Movies

Superheroes don't only inspire us because they're stronger, or faster, or — in the case of Batman — richer than we are. We love superheroes because they make decisions that the average person wouldn't necessarily have the moral fortitude or presence of mind to make. Superheroes plan ahead, they make hard choices, and they do the things that we can only hope we'd have the guts to do if we had the fate of entire worlds in our hands.

We can never learn to level a building with laser vision, but we can learn to improve our thoughts and actions. Stories about superheroes solving problems with their unattainable powers can't teach us nearly as much as stories in which they use their minds. When we ask ourselves, "What would Wonder Woman do?" the answer isn't usually going to be "swing a sword at it." It's far more likely that she'd do something clever or compassionate, and these are habits we can emulate.

In our list of the smartest decisions made by characters in DC movies, we're highlighting occasions on which someone learns from their mistakes, stays one step ahead of an adversary, brings exactly the right tool for the job, or maybe realizes that what they needed was inside them all along. Characters often make their best decisions toward the climaxes of their stories, so beware that we will be spoiling a few finales.

Superman tricks Zod into depowering himself

As incredibly powerful as he is, even Superman occasionally meets his physical match. Luckily, he's got brains to match his brawn. In the 1980 film "Superman II," reporter Lois Lane finally learns that Superman is actually her friend and colleague Clark Kent, and they begin to explore their romantic relationship more seriously. To that end, Superman chooses to live out the rest of his life as a mortal, using a special chamber in his Fortress of Solitude to relinquish his powers irrevocably. (Or so we're told.)

At the same time, three Kryptonian criminals — Ursa, Non, and the power-mad General Zod — are freed from an extra-dimensional prison. With no Superman to oppose them, they easily conquer the Earth. Clark eventually finds the means to restore his powers, but he's still no match for three heartless killers with strength and abilities equal to his own. However, they do have one weakness he lacks: arrogance.

In a final effort to defeat his Kryptonian foes, Superman leads them back to his Fortress, where he "accidentally" reveals the existence of the de-powering chamber. His foes insist that he step inside and remove his powers again — which is exactly what Superman planned for them to do. Before this battle, Superman has secretly inverted the de-powering the device so that it floods the rest of the Fortress with its power-sapping rays while he remains safely unaffected in the chamber. Finally having the upper hand, Superman easily defeats his weakened opponents.

Batman records Penguin's incriminating rant

In 1992's "Batman Returns," Oswald Cobblepot (aka the Penguin) emerges from the sewers of Gotham to reclaim his birthright as one of the city's elites. With the support of industrialist Max Shreck, Cobblepot launches a campaign for the Mayor's office while simultaneously waging a secret war on Batman with the help of his loyal henchmen from the Red Triangle Circus Gang.

During one confrontations, members of the Red Triangle capture and reverse-engineer some of Batman's technology, allowing them to access and booby-trap the Batmobile. The next time Batman gets in the driver's seat, Penguin takes remote control of the heavily-armed hot rod. The criminal then takes it for a joyride around the city, terrorizing civilians along the way to further his aim of turning the public against the Dark Knight.

As Batman scrambles to regain control, he's forced to listen to Cobblepot ranting about his contempt for the people of Gotham over the car's communication system. Thinking quickly, Batman loads a writable CD into his stereo and begins recording Cobblepot's raving. Batman manages to destroy the device that let the Penguin commandeer his ride, but only after some serious damage to his own reputation.

Luckily, two can play at this game. During Cobblepot's next campaign speech, Batman taps into his audio feed and broadcasts samples of his nasty monologue instead. The city turns on Cobblepot immediately, and his political hopes end with the push of a button. (Imagine if this worked in real life!)

Batman comes prepared to his battle with Two-Face

Batman famously has no superpowers, but he has a near-superhuman knack for knowing exactly what tools he'll need in his utility belt on any given outing. In the 1995 film "Batman Forever," colorful villains Two-Face and the Riddler team up for a city-wide crime spree. Two-Face is the former Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent, one of Batman's allies in his war on crime. After one side of his face is horribly scarred by acid, Dent develops a split personality that drives him to a life of crime. When the two sides of his mind are in conflict, Two-Face flips a two-headed silver dollar with one scratched-up face to determine whether he will choose mercy or violence.

In the film's climax, Two-Face has Batman, his new sidekick Robin, and psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian at gunpoint on the edge of a deadly precipice. Two-Face could easily shoot all three — and he's about to — but Batman reminds him that he shouldn't make such a serious decision without flipping for it. Two-Face agrees and flips his signature coin, but Batman has planned for this and throws a handful of identical coins into the air at the same time. This sends Two-Face into a panic as he scrambles to catch the right coin, invaluable to him as the only dependable counsel since his injury. But in his effort, he loses his balance and plummets to the pit of spikes at the bottom of the Riddler's island lair.

Robin wears protection on his date with Poison Ivy

1997's "Batman & Robin" sees the dynamic duo pitted against criminal masterminds Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze. While Freeze is quite outspoken about his malicious aims, Poison Ivy employs weaponized pheromones to keep her opponents entranced and confused about her intentions. When her wiles aren't enough to remove obstacles from her path, she's not above siccing her brutish sidekick Bane on her enemies or dispatching them herself using her deadly, venomous kiss.

Both Batman and Robin fall under Ivy's spell, but the less experienced, more insecure junior partner is far more vulnerable to her charms. Robin becomes convinced that he can win Ivy's affections by supplanting Batman as Gotham's top costumed crime-fighter. Only a heartfelt speech from Batman about the spirit of trust, teamwork, and family keeps Robin from rushing to Ivy's side without thinking things through.

Before the film's final battle, Robin accepts an invitation to Ivy's secret lair, where she attempts to seduce him. Robin negotiates: He says he'll kiss her in exchange for the details of her and Mr. Freeze's plans for the city. Ivy agrees and spills the specifics, then kisses him, certain this will kill him in seconds. Robin, however, turns the tables, revealing that he's worn a protective layer of plastic over his lips to keep him safe from her deadly kiss. Ivy ends up getting the drop on him moments later, anyway, but this precaution still saves his life.

The people of Gotham confound the Joker's social experiment

In the 2008 film "The Dark Knight," the Joker sets a trap for two ferries on the Gotham River as part of a public demonstration of humanity's innate ugliness. One ferry is full of ordinary citizens fleeing the Joker's rampage in the city. The other is a prison transport full of condemned criminals. In the cargo hold of each ferry is a powerful explosive device — plus the remote detonator for the other ferry's bomb. Joker announces that whichever group destroys the other will be allowed to live. If neither uses their detonator by midnight, Joker will blow up both boats. 

Aboard the commuter ferry, the passengers hold an election and choose (by a significant margin) to destroy the prison transport, but no individual aboard the civilian boat is willing to actually pull the trigger and commit mass murder. Aboard the prison transport, the prisoners are not given a vote, but one prisoner convinces an official to hand him the detonator so he can do what no one else wants to.

The official assumes the man will pull the trigger without qualms simply because he's a criminal, sparing everyone else the terrible choice. Instead, the prisoner tosses the detonator overboard, refusing to participate in the atrocity. This comes as a total surprise to the Joker, who truly believed one group would kill the other. He is defeated by Batman before he can trigger both bombs, but it's because of the wisdom and mercy of ordinary people that no one is killed.

Wonder Woman leaves Themyscria

In 2017's "Wonder Woman," Princess Diana lives a charmed, peaceful life on the hidden island paradise of Themyscira. For hundreds of years, she and her fellow Amazons train for battle in case the god Ares ever returns to Earth to stoke the flames of endless war. In 1918, the sprawling First World War finds its way to Themyscira, stranding American pilot Steve Trevor on its shores.

To Diana, Steve's description of a "war without end" sounds like the work of Ares, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta, decrees that none of the Amazons may interfere in the conflicts of "man's world." This doesn't sit well with Diana, nor with Steve, who shares the personal maxim, "When you see something wrong in the world, you can do nothing or you can do something." Diana chooses to do something.

Disobeying her mother's orders, Diana steals a set of god-forged weapons and armor from Themyscira's arsenal, frees Steve, and prepares to set sail for Europe and return him to the front lines. When confronted by her mother, who warns her that leaving the island means never coming home again, Diana stands firm in her decision to help bring peace to a world on the brink of annihilation, even if it means being banished from her home. Diana isn't quite correct about Ares' involvement in causing World War I, but she still plays a role in ending the war, to say nothing of the countless lives she saves during her later tenure as Wonder Woman. "Do something," indeed.

Billy Batson shares his power

The 2019 film "Shazam!" centers around teenager Billy Batson, who is gifted superpowers by Shazam, the last of the Council of Wizards. By speaking the wizard's name (which he eventually takes as his own), Billy can transform at will into a stylized adult version of himself with powers comparable to Superman's. The Wizard sees Billy as a truly good person — someone worthy of carrying his powers, protecting the Earth, and restoring the Council. But Billy doesn't exactly behave accordingly, using his powers selfishly and taking his foster family for granted.

In his superhero form, Billy does battle with Doctor Sivana, a cruel and greedy mastermind who gets his own powers from the demonic embodiments of the Seven Deadly Sins. When Sivana discovers Billy's true identity, he captures his five foster siblings and demands that Billy trade his powers for their lives. Realizing that Sivana is weaker when the Sins are separated from his body and remembering the Wizard's wish that he reform the Council, Billy chooses to split his power between himself and his brothers and sisters, creating an entire family of superheroes to overpower Sivana and his ghoulish cohort.

Billy's decision isn't only wise as a battle strategy, but also as a gesture of trust and respect in siblings who have been fighting on his behalf all along. He learns to share the spotlight and to put others before himself, demonstrating the kind spirit that the Wizard saw in him from the start.

Harley Quinn makes a bargain for her life (and then breaks it)

"Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" begins with the titular Ms. Quinn announcing that she and her longtime partner-in-crime, the Joker, are no longer an item. (Breaking up with the Joker would absolutely rank as one of the smartest decisions anyone's ever made in a DC movie, but alas, Harley is the dumpee this time around.) Soon, Harley learns that her connection with the Joker was the only thing deterring a small army of victims from seeking revenge on her for past abuses and destructive behavior. Now that she's no longer under his protection, they're all coming after her.

The most dangerous of Harley's enemies is Roman Sionis, a rich gangster who controls the East End of Gotham. Sionis captures Harley and plans to kill her and cut her face off, a fate she'd rather avoid. Moments before his henchmen start carving, Harley makes use of some information she overheard during her capture — Sionis is on the hunt for a missing diamond. Harley offers to find the diamond for him in exchange for her life, and Sionis accepts.

Harley's deal with Roman gives her the opportunity to find young pickpocket Cassandra Cain, who's swallowed the diamond in question. Harley grows attached to the kid, so she reneges on her deal and takes the fight to Roman instead — another wise decision. Only Harley Quinn could make our list by making two completely opposing choices.

Diana renounces her wish

In "Wonder Woman 1984," Diana unknowingly makes a wish on the ancient magical Dreamstone, which brings her lost love Steve Trevor back to life in the body of a stranger. Later, businessman Maxwell Lord gets his hands on the stone and then absorbs it into his own body, allowing him to grant peoples' wishes and take whatever payment he chooses in return.

Soon, Lord's power threatens to unravel society, as he utilizes a satellite broadcast to grant the wishes of every person on Earth simultaneously: In exchange, he takes from the masses the strength required to survive the stone's effects on his body. The only way to restore things to normal is for every single person who has made a wish on the stone (or Lord himself) to renounce it — including Diana. As much as it pains her, Diana decides she must say goodbye to the man she loves for a second time.

Not only is this an essential step in saving the world, but it's also the right thing to do for another reason — Steve has no right to be walking around in the body of another person in the first place. Since he doesn't have the power to return himself to the grave and the body to its rightful owner, Diana must do so in order to make things right — any other decision would be totally unconscionable. Shockingly, the film makes no reference whatsoever to the dark connotations of this unsanctioned body-jacking, but we're glad she did the right thing in the end.

Harley Quinn shoots the President of Corto Maltese

2021's "The Suicide Squad" places Harley Quinn in Corto Maltese, a Central-American island nation that has recently undergone a military coup. As a member of Task Force X — an expendable team of supervillains sent to do Uncle Sam's dirtiest work — Harley's been assigned to destroy a military research lab housing a weapon of mass destruction. While on the island, she is captured by its new President-General, Silvio Luna, who attempts to seduce Harley with the promise of a lavish, decadent lifestyle as a dictator's wife.

Harley, as it turns out, is completely onboard with this. It's about time someone treated her right for a change! Her enthusiasm evaporates, however, the moment she learns that Luna plans to kill the families of all his political enemies, including their children. Harley turns on a dime and shoots him in the back.

"Recently," explains Harley, "I made a promise to myself that the next time I got a boyfriend, I'd be on the lookout for red flags."

Listen, we're not saying that we endorse murdering would-be boyfriends or heads of state, but if you're Harley Quinn, cutting this mass-murderer out of your life (and everyone else's) is pretty much the smartest decision you could make. Harley's last relationship had a body count in the hundreds, and we applaud her self-awareness in preventing that from happening again. Plus, while she doesn't yet know it, this knee-jerk assassination eventually reunites her with Task Force X, with whom she helps return control of Corto Maltese to its people.