Every version of Catwoman ranked worst to best

Since debuting in 1940's Batman #1, Catwoman has been one of the most important characters in the Dark Knight's saga. She's been an enemy and an ally, a teammate and a lover, and they've even been married. With all that history, it's no surprise that she's stepped off the comics page and into live action more than any other Batman villain, including the Joker.

But much like Batman himself, Catwoman hasn't always had the best luck with those performances. So from iconic costumes and purr-fect portrayals all the way down to a weird fixation on having a woman get licked back to life by actual alleycats, here's every live-action Catwoman ranked from worst to best.

Halle Berry - Catwoman (2004)

Saying 2004's Catwoman isn't a very good movie is sort of like saying that being punched in the mouth isn't a very good breakfast. It's a film that fails on every conceivable level, from an insultingly bad plot that pits one of DC's most prominent female characters against evil makeup and a woman who's mad that she's starting to look old—because that's what women want to see in a heroine, right?—to a costume redesign that makes one of the most beautiful women in the world look like she lost a fight with a paper shredder.

And what isn't bad is just incomprehensible. Even if audiences were up for accepting that Patience Porter is meowed back to life by a badly animated CGI cat—which, if we're being honest with each other, isn't that much dumber than being bitten by a radioactive spider—it's a lot harder to deal with the movie's constant attempts to make her catlike in an excruciatingly literal sense. She hisses at dogs, orders a saucer of cream at a bar, and bats around a basketball like it's made of yarn before dunking on Benjamin Bratt. The only thing audiences should be happy about with this movie is that she didn't start scratching around in a litterbox, although It does make you wonder why Sharon Stone didn't just pull out a laser pointer to keep Catwoman distracted while she went through with her evil plan.

And the worst part? It could've worked. Despite the Golden Raspberry sitting on her shelf—which she had the sense of humor to accept in person—Berry also has an Academy Award, and is well acquainted with how to pull off a role in a blockbuster superhero movie. With some better material to work with, she could've pulled it off. Instead, we had a script that had at least 14 credited writers and a star that knew it was going to be a bad movie, meaning this thing was doomed from the start.

Anne Hathaway - The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises might be the most polarizing Batman film ever made. It's full of moments that are ridiculously unbelievable even by the standards of a franchise built around a science ninja detective who fights crime dressed like Dracula, asking viewers to be totally on board with stuff like a man recovering from a broken back while trapped in a very large hole, or literally every police officer in a city of ten million people also becoming trapped in a hole. Now that we're thinking about it, there are an awful lot of holes in this movie, especially including the ones in the plot.

Catwoman, a character who sometimes feels tacked onto a story that already includes Talia and Bane, suffers from just as much inconsistency as the rest of the film. Anne Hathaway brings a genuinely incredible intensity to the role, and she looks great in a costume that serves as a perfect 2012 update of Julie Newmar's classic 1966 Catwoman look. She even makes the mask look good, despite the fact that a set of night-vision goggles that slides back onto her head to look like little kitty cat ears sounds like it should be the goofiest thing in the world.

On the other hand, her entire motivation is that she wants a computer program called the Clean Slate that gives its user a … clean slate. Look, it's not the most imaginative name, but to be fair, this is a universe where a man dressed like a bat is named Batman, so at least it's on brand. The point is, it's never really explained why a master thief isn't capable of just getting a fake ID and leaving the country, and like a lot of things in this movie, the way she reflects Bruce Wayne's own desire to ditch his alter ego for good is a little bit on the nose. As good as Hathaway is, a Catwoman who doesn't want to be Catwoman is never going to be our favorite.

Camren Bicondova - Gotham (2014)

Here's the thing about Gotham: it's bananas. When it originally premiered, producers swore up and down that it wasn't going to be a Batman show, just a show that happened to star Commissioner Gordon, feature Bruce Wayne as a major character, and open with Thomas and Martha getting gunned down in Crime Alley. Cut to four seasons later, and we've got a show that's spiraled into something so buck wild that they're doing stories about the Court of Owls, the Order of St. Dumas, and straight up clones, with as many villains as they can cram in there.

As you might expect, Catwoman's been at the center of that madness since day one. Given her importance to the Batman mythos, it makes sense that they'd want to throw her in there, even if having an aspiring cat-themed villainess as the only witness to the Wayne murders is a next-level coincidence. At the same time, the way she's weaved her way into and out of Bruce Wayne's story is actually really interesting, finding herself allied with different factions as they fight for control of the city, but always looking out for herself.

At the end of the day, Camren Bicondova delivers pretty much everything you want from a teenage Selina Kyle. She's smart, tough, unrepentantly larcenous, and able to take down a gang of henchmen with some acrobatic whip-fighting. Also, and this is crucial, while she did get thrown out a window, she was not brought back to life with cat magic. You'd be surprised at how often that comes up.

Lee Meriwether - Batman: The Movie (1966)

Batman: The Movie is mostly remembered for its relentless and completely self-aware goofiness, and for good reason. This is, after all, the cinematic masterpiece that gave us Batman avoiding death with a can of Shark-Repellent Bat-Spray, a scene about the difficulties of getting rid of a bomb when you're surrounded by kissing couples and baby ducks, and a gang of villains who want to take over the world by turning international ambassadors into powder. With Lee Meriwether's performance, however, the movie takes a stab at weaving in the kind of plot that we almost never see with Batman and Catwoman, and winds up with one of the best scenes those two characters have ever had.

Unlike most Batman stories, this one focuses on an attempt to take out Bruce Wayne. Disguised as a Soviet reporter named Miss Kitka—a "charming acronym" that's short for Kitanya Ireyna Tatanya Kerenska Alisoff—Catwoman seduces Bruce into such a frothingly thirsty fervor that he starts quoting poetry at her, which is a side of Batman we don't usually get to see. She preys on him so expertly that she winds up being a blind spot for a detective who's usually so good at figuring things out that he knows Catwoman's involved in the plot because he was attacked at sea, and obviously C stands for Catwoman. When he finally does figure out who she is, the quiet heartbreak that plays across Batman's face—and the moment of shame and regret on Catwoman's—makes for one of the franchise's best moments.

It's worth noting that while she never appeared as Catwoman on the show, Meriwether did return to Batman as a character called Lisa Carson. In addition to being kidnapped by King Tut because he thought she was the reincarnated Cleopatra, she's also the one who invited Bruce Wayne into her apartment for an extremely innuendo-laden dessert of "milk and cookies."

Michelle Pfeiffer - Batman Returns (1992)

In all honesty, Batman Returns is a mess. Despite some of the best visuals of Tim Burton's directorial career and a few brilliant casting choices that include pitting Batman against Christopher Walken, the plot is so clearly stitched together from multiple drafts that it verges on being incomprehensible. It even lifts the idea of the Penguin running for mayor from a classic episode of the Batman TV show, and there's no way Burgess Meredith didn't do it better than Danny DeVito. One thing that we can all agree on, though, is that Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as Catwoman is justifiably iconic.

With an incredible costume designed by Mary Vogt, Pfeiffer's take on Selina Kyle is slinky, seductive, and far enough over the top that she fits right in with the rest of the movie. Small moments like jumping rope with her whip are awesome character bits, and even the costume's signature stitches, inspired by Burton's idea of a calico cat literally coming apart at the seams, work beautifully as a metaphor for the way Selina tears her life to shreds and then stitches it back together into something far more disturbing.

The only thing holding her back is, well, the movie around her. Catwoman's storyline is the most straightforward in the movie—lady gets thrown out of window by Christopher Walken, is licked back to life by cats, and sets out on a mission of petty larceny and revenge—but it also ticks off all the boxes on a checklist of "woman goes crazy" clichés in the process. On the other hand, Pfeiffer did legitimately put a live bird in her mouth during filming, and that's got to count for something.

Eartha Kitt - Batman (1966)

Of the three women who played Catwoman in the '60s, Eartha Kitt had the least amount of screen time, only appearing in a single half-hour adventure and a team-up with the Joker. She certainly made the most of it, though, turning in one of the most memorable performances in any medium.

Kitt is likely best known for being the singer of the only acceptable version of "Santa Baby," but when Julie Newmar left Batman after the second season, her purring voice and incredible presence made her a natural for the role. In the process, Kitt, a longtime activist whose comments protesting against the Vietnam War led her to be referred to as a "sadistic nymphomaniac" by the CIA, became the only black actor to appear as a Special Guest Villain on the show.

While it might've been an effort by producers to avoid controversy by having Batman linked to a black woman, Kitt's performance as Catwoman bore no trace of the romance that Newmar or Meriwether brought to the role. Instead, her Catwoman was unrepentantly, gloriously evil, and delighted in a plan to have Batgirl cut to pieces with a buzzsaw. It's exactly the kind of thrilling malice that Hollywood is still reluctant to give to women, and holds up better than most. It might even be what the CIA was watching when they came up with that description, because they certainly seemed to be getting their ideas from fiction rather than real life.

Julie Newmar - Batman (1966)

The secret about Catwoman's live-action performances is that there's never actually been a bad actress in the role—even Halle Berry's good, just not in that particular part. Julie Newmar, however, blows them all away, to the point where it's not even close.

Like all the best villains from Batman '66, Newmar was well aware that the bad guys were the ones who get to have fun, and her performance plays it up better than anyone's. Watch the clip above and check out how she splays on the staircase, flopping a mink stole over her head as a hat, and then effortlessly segues into the kind of alluring sexiness that could tempt even the most dauntless crimefighter into giving it all up. She's not just catlike in mannerisms, she's the kind of evil that has its roots in feline fickleness, shoving a cup off the counter just because it's there.

But through it all, there's a core to her performance that makes her believable, both as a silly villain who's in it for the fun of evil and a person grappling with her love for Batman. The near-confessions of her love—which was strong enough to almost, but not quite, lead her to give up on crime—played wonderfully off of West's straight-man caped crusader. It all comes together in a scene where Batman honestly considers running off with her, before her suggestion that they start fresh by killing Robin puts the brakes on that idea. That simple line is Newmar's Catwoman in a nutshell: as much as she might want to be good, and as much as Batman might want to get her there, she's always going to pick the most convenient and murderous path. And that makes for a great villain.