All the Best Batman Movie Villains, Ranked
Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?
Bruce Wayne has stared down countless enemies throughout the decades. And with a long-enduring presence in both pop culture and cinema, this has made for a wonderful cast of comically evil and downright shady villains across Batman’s many adaptations. From unhinged guys in clown makeup to femme fatales in cat costumes, the Dark Knight has seen it all, which raises the question: who among his many enemies deserves a seat in Brucey’s bad guy hall of fame? We’ve made it easy for you with our ranking of the 10 best Batman movie villains of all time.
10. Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman, Batman & Robin)
Arguably the best performance from director Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin was Uma Thurman’s take on evil botanist Dr. Pamela Isley, otherwise known as Poison Ivy. Who could forget THAT Halloween party sequence? We have yet to see another live-action Poison Ivy performance on screen (unless you count Peyton List’s stint on Gotham) and Thurman has definitely left huge shoes to fill. From nailing Ivy’s seductress arc sprinkling in just the right amount of weird and silly, her version of the villain was one for the books.
9. Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy, The Dark Knight trilogy)
Fun fact: there are several interesting clips of CIllian Murphy auditioning for the role of Batman online.
“I don’t believe I was close to landing that role. The only actor who was right for that part at that time, in my estimation, was Christian Bale, and he absolutely smashed it,” the Peaky Blinders actor said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter when recalling the almost-casting. “So, for me, it was just an experience, and then it turned into something else. It turned into that character, Scarecrow, and it turned into a working relationship with Chris. So I think back very, very fondly on that time, but I never, ever, ever considered myself Bruce Wayne material.”
And as interesting as it would have been to see Cillian under the cowl, his performance as Jonathan Crane speaks for itself. Although arguably almost cartoonish with the sack and weird voice distorter, Scarecrow was a consistent presence throughout Nolan’s trilogy—a feat in itself for Crane considering that Batman’s villains typically only stick around for one movie.
8. Joker (Jack Nicholson, Batman)
Some may point out that Jack Nicholson’s Joker was more of an extension of himself rather than a take on Batman’s greatest adversary, but one cannot deny that it was effective. From the dance sequence to Nicholson’s creepy but cartoonish grins, Batman ‘89 gave us an indelible iteration of the Joker. It was also the first version of the villain to actually have a name (Jack Napier) and an established connection to Bruce Wayne—in the most personal and ruthless way possible: in the 1989 film, it’s the Joker who was behind the killing of Bruce’s parents (a plot point that’s been exhaustively repeated in later versions). It’s in line with the theme of their odd symbiotic relationship, where one cannot exist without the other.
7. Penguin (Colin Farrell, The Batman)
Unlike other popular renditions of Oswald Cobblepot, Colin Farrell’s version of the infamous Penguin does not have any distinguishing features that make viewers immediately go, “That’s the Penguin!” and if anything, that worked to his advantage. Cunning and sly, Farrell’s Oz is the proprietor of a night club where some of Gotham’s sleaziest characters often hangout, bringing audiences into the grittier side of the city. Farrell is, of course, almost unrecognizable underneath all his makeup and prosthetics, and has several already-iconic scenes throughout the film, from his car chase with Robert Pattinson’s Batman to that hilarious bit where he laughs at both Batman and Jim Gordon for not realizing the Riddler’s hints were actually in Spanish.
6. The Riddler (Paul Dano, The Batman)
Another newcomer from Matt Reeves’ The Batman, Paul Dano’s performance as The Riddler was so good it just couldn’t be left out of this list. Just like other renditions of Edward Nygma, his signature move is leaving the Batman clues. And Dano’s version just takes this to a whole other level—the Riddler is a serial killer who leaves odd clues reminiscent of the antagonist in David Fincher’s Se7en. Like Farrell, Dano doesn’t don his character’s famous green suit—which would have allowed audiences to immediately know who he was playing—and again, because of that, it all works even better.
5. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight)
Christopher Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins is often rightfully recognized as the best in his trilogy for several reasons. Most people will immediately credit the late Heath Ledger’s stellar performance as the Joker—which is, of course, definitely among the reasons—but the same can be said for Aaron Eckhart and his version of good-guy-gone-bad Harvey Dent. Eckhart’s Dent begins his arc as an idealistic and crime-fighting district attorney who sees the world in black and white. As his arc progresses, he becomes the product of the corruption he so badly fought, in part thanks to Ledger’s Joker. He lived long enough to see himself become the villain, but died cementing himself as among the Bat’s best enemies.
4. Bane (Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises)
A lot of things have been said about Tom Hardy’s Bane, and most of them have to do with his voice. You either hate it or love it. Personally, I’m proud to say that I’m one of the latter, but I digress. Bane is a timeless superhero villain, not just because of how generally evil he is, but also because of his love of dropping sick lines as he’s pulling off the most menacing acts of villainy. Thanos has nothing on this bad guy, but maybe that’s just how it is when you were born in the darkness and molded by it, not having the opportunity to see light until you are a man, and by then the light is nothing to you but BLINDING. Bangers aside, Bane is also up there in terms of damage and kills. In The Dark Knight Rises, he destroyed a plane and laid siege to Gotham for almost half a year.
3. Penguin (Danny DeVito, Batman Returns)
With his grotesque features and signature umbrella, Danny DeVito’s Penguin is hands-down among the Caped Crusader’s most recognizable foes. If you give it some thought, his arc is both confusing and hilarious, but at the same time, it just makes sense—he’s a self-proclaimed sewer baby raised by a family of penguins who just wants to run for mayor despite having no related experience. Just a man with his umbrella gun and a dream, essentially.
Interestingly and funnily enough, DeVito apparently had some complaints about his rendition of Cobblepot. In an interview with Vulture, Batman Returns writer Daniel Waters shared, “We didn’t have any loyalty to past histories of the Catwoman or Penguin character either. We did absolutely our own thing. In my first draft, Danny DeVito’s complaint about Penguin was, ‘This is too much like a Danny DeVito character.’”
2. Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns)
Many have been called to wear the latex catsuit, but only one has stood the test of time and continues to stand out among the rest: Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s been over three decades since the release of Batman Returns, but no one has made a go at it quite like Pfeiffer, who perfectly executed that unassuming working girl turned femme fatale arc. From destroying her apartment and the remnants of her old life to hitting all the go-to villain crimes (burglary, kidnapping, and murder), and that iconic transformation (I, too, have been saved by cats), Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle remains unmatched. Sorry, Anne, Halle, and Zoe.
1. Joker (Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight)
Many have donned the persona of the Clown Prince of Crime, but none of them have ever quite hit the mark the way the late Heath Ledger iconically did in The Dark Knight. He even posthumously won an Oscar for his work, making him and Joaquin Phoenix the second pair of actors to win an Academy Award for playing the same character, right after Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro for The Godfather.
Several actors have worn the clown makeup and tried to have a go of the character since the film’s release in 2008, but the power of Ledger’s performance endures—and rightfully so. From that dreadful laugh (always immediately followed with a sinister grin) to his charisma and general chaos, Ledger’s performance stands out because his Joker was an enigma. Throughout the course of the film, he terrorizes his victims by asking them if they want to know how he got his scars. And each time, he tells a different story. It’s a testament to his erratic and unpredictable nature. We watch as he gleefully robs a bank, kills people, and blows things up, but out of all his stunts, his greatest feat was—of course—the creation of Two-Face.
We may never see anyone quite like Heath ledger again. Rest easy.
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