Julien Neaves, Editor
In all of comics no superhero has a better rogues gallery than Batman. And yes, he is a superhero even without super powers. Feel free to @ me on that. Spider-Man’s villain roster is pretty good, but he takes second place to the Caped Crusader’s colourful collection of crazed criminals. Holy alliteration Batman!
Last month new photos were released for the villains in the latest Dark Knight film The Batman, namely Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin. And I thought to myself: “Self, why don’t you a list ranking all the Batman Movie villains?” And Self agreed, so here we are.
Now a few ground rules: only villains from live action films; only modern films will be considered, so nothing before 1989 Batman; only main Batman films, so nothing from the DCEU; and only top-billed, major villains. With that out of the way and a SPOILER ALERT let’s suit up, fire up the Batmobile, and head out into the night to serve up some justice! And I hope I do justice (yeah, the segue needs some work) to my ranking of all 15 Batman movie villains:
15 Bane (Batman & Robin version)
To take one of the most intelligent and most formidable Batman villains and turn him into a big, brainless, grunting moron is just disrespectful. Add that to the fact that this would have been many people’s introduction to the character and you add the proverbial insult to injury. I will not waste any more time on this giant waste of a bad guy.
#14 Talia al Ghul
Now I like Marion Cotillard as an actress and I enjoyed her in Inception. But in The Dark Knight Rises the entire hook of her character was the twist that she was actually not wealthy philanthropist Miranda Tate, but vengeful League of Shadows leader Talia al Ghul and daughter of the Batman Begins main villain. And, despite the best attempts by the producers to hide this, pretty much everyone figured it out, leaving the revelation to fall flat. Maybe if she was revealed much earlier and had time to spread her villainy it would have been better, but in the end we barely got a villain out of her. And her death scene, instead of being poignant, was laughably bad.
#13 Mr Freeze
People have been talking about how bad Arnold’s Mr Freeze was for years, so I will not spend time doing that here. Suffice to say the character is composed entirely of cheesy acting and painful ice puns. If you want the best presentation of Mr Freeze then check out the iconic Batman: The Animated Series episode Heart of Ice.
#12 Poison Ivy
Batman & Robin messed up both Bane and Mr Freeze, so their version of Poison Ivy did not have much hope. Uma Thurman’s take on the super-powered plant-controlling seductress is very silly and her attempts at sexual innuendo were just embarrassing. Anybody got any weed killer?
#11 Two-Face (Batman Forever version)
Poor Tommy Lee Jones. The man is an Academy Award-winning actor and has delivered some top tier performances in his career. Batman Forever’s Harvey Two-Face is not one of them. If you look past the stupid looking make-up (which is not easy) you will find Two-Face is just a shouting, snarling, manic character who is not really schizophrenic but just wild, unhinged and tiresome. Both TLJ and Two-Face deserved better.
#10 The Riddler
Now Jim Carey’s Riddler was easily the best thing about Batman Forever. Sure he isn’t very comic accurate, but Carrey’s madcap performance was funny and entertaining throughout. Alrighty then?
#9 Ra’s al Ghul
Like his aforementioned daughter Ra’s al Ghul was only revealed as the main villain (and to be alive) in the third act. But Liam Neeson was class throughout both as mentor and bad guy, and his interactions with Christian Bale make for some of the most interesting scenes in the film. Director Christopher Nolan ditched the whole immortality angle, though, which would not have worked in his more grounded take on the world of the Dark Knight.
#8 Max Shreck
This is the one entry on the list that is not a character from the comics. But I included ruthless businessman Max Shreck for two reasons: one, I wanted 15 villains as I like round-ish numbers; and two, Christopher Walken’s scenery-chewing performance is simply delightful. Whether he is pushing secretaries out of windows, negotiating with Penguin, or wondering why the hell Bruce Wayne is dressed like Batman, Shreck was more fun than a barrel of corrupt suits.
#7 The Scarecrow
Do you know Cillian Murphy? Yeah that dude doesn’t need a mask to be creepy, and as Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow in the Dark Knight Trilogy he was even scarier without his bag head disguise. Add that to his literal nightmare-fuel inducing fear toxin and some disturbing imagery, and you had a quite a unique second-tier bad guy. And he held down the villain fort well until Ra’s reveal.
#6 Two-Face (The Dark Knight version)
Harvey Dent didn’t die a hero but lived long enough to see himself become a villain. And of this entire list he is one of the most sympathetic characters. He is not driven by greed or chaos but grief which turned into bloody vengeance. And while his horrific look made him hard to look at, Aaron Eckhart’s sterling performance made it hard to look away.
#5 The Penguin
Danny DeVito completely disappears into the role of the deformed, power-hungry and licentious Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin. A much darker take on the character than most people were used to, this Penguin was odd, gross, and creepy, which is how director Tim Burton rolls. He was quite the memorable villain (gotta love those trick umbrellas) but loses points for his ridiculous penguin army. Dude, just because they call you “The Penguin” does not mean you have to use actual penguins in your plot.
#4 Bane (The Dark Knight Rises version)
I’m not the biggest fan of The Dark Knight Rises and I found it a major disappointment after the masterpiece that was The Dark Knight. But one thing I did enjoy was Tom Hardy’s Bane with his distinctive look and odd way of speaking. And yes, his abilities, aesthetic, and origins are not comic accurate, but a super roided-up wrestler-looking dude would not have worked in the aforementioned grounded Dark Knight universe. Character changes aside, this Bane was still both a physical and tactical threat to Batman and did the most damage to Gotham of any villain. And even though we knew it was coming, it was still difficult seeing them reenact the scene from the comics where he “broke the Bat.” Too bad Bane got taken out like a punk.
#3 The Joker (Batman 1989 version)
1989 Joker at number three? You must be joking. Do I look like I’m joking? I loved Jack Nicholson’s take on the clown prince of crime. He was like a one man carnival of dark humour and insanity. Every single scene he appears in is filled with colour and manic energy.
Nicholson received top billing in the film and he is the main draw despite great performances from Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger. And for a long time he and Mark Hamill’s animated Joker were the definitive depictions of the iconic comic villain, but then another fella came along. But we’ll get to him soon.
#2 Catwoman (Batman Returns version)
When I think Catwoman I think Michelle Pfeiffer. The actress purrrfectly (I did warn you) embodies the traits of this villain and sometime anti-hero. She is just so sexy, powerful and lethal, and felt like she was pulled straight from the comic book page. Her fight/flirtation with Batman was hot enough to burn down Gotham City Hall.
Though she was not as much of a threat as Shreck or Penguin, she was the more memorable villain and has the strongest legacy. And the legacy remains intact in the face of Anne Hathaway’s okay Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises (she was a full anti-hero there, hence her omission from this list) and that Halle Berry Razzie-award winning disaster.
#1 The Joker (The Dark Knight version)
Take your mind back to early 2008. You hear the announcement that Heath Ledger, the pretty boy from 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale, is going to be playing The Joker in The Dark Knight. I imagine you would have thought: “What the hell are they thinking?!” But then the film came out and Ledger blew everyone away with a master work of a performance. And then you thought: “How could I have been so wrong?!”
Every tic, lick of the lips, movement, word and line delivery is acting perfection and immediately iconic. He took the comic character and put his own spin on it, and it worked spectacularly. The late Ledger put his all in this role, and as an agent of chaos he delivered not just the best Batman movie villain, but one of the best villains of all time! And he was well deserving of his posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. There was really no else who could have been number one.
So that’s my list. Who are your Top 5 Batman Movie Villains? For my ranking of the Top 9 Spider-Man Movie Villains you can click here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.