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Every Live-Action Batman Movie Villain Ranked From Worst To Best

When you go to a "Batman" movie, you come for Batman, yes, but you also come for the villains. After so many live-action "Batman" titles over the years, many of the character's most iconic foes from the comics have been translated to the big screen. Figures like the Joker or Catwoman, among many others, haven't always been perfectly realized on the big screen, but they've consistently gathered people's attention and often sparked as much admiration from moviegoers as the actors playing Batman.

However, which of the Caped Crusader's baddies are the best, and which ones deserve to be locked away in Arkham and never heard from again? Ranking the various foes in the live-action "Batman" movies from worst to best does make you realize the absolute nadir of antagonists this superhero has contended with. However, it also gives us a greater appreciation for the better qualities that defined some of the most iconic comic book movie villains in history. It's time to get serious and find out which of "Batman" villains are really the cat's meow. (Warning — there are major spoilers below.)

22. Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face

The strangest thing about Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face is how it sounds like perfect casting on the page. Jones is a master at steel-eyed, stern authority figures. Having him play a quiet but determined version of Two-Face straight out of the comics could've been incredible — a perfect blend of source material and actor on par with Christopher Reeve's Superman. Unfortunately, "Batman Forever" opted to interpret this casting not through what Jones does best or through Two-Face's comic book incarnation but through trying to recapture the magic of Jack Nicholson's Joker.

Thus, Two-Face in "Batman Forever" is a constantly mugging and loud creation that plays as an off-brand version of the Joker rather than someone formidable or fun. It's an especially bad choice for Jones, who's rarely ever played someone this lively. Turns out, there's a reason Jones is usually the straight man in his performances — going this stylized doesn't work at all. More than anything else, his work on-screen is uncomfortable to watch, and he doesn't get any better once he engages in generic banter with Jim Carrey's version of the Riddler. In the end, Jones' work as Two-Face constantly baffles the viewer into wondering how such a surefire mixture of performer and fictional character could've gone this haywire.

21. Jim Carrey as the Riddler

Sometimes, casting a big-name actor for a comic book movie villain role can end up being a boon to the part. A character that previously could've just faded into being a forgettable caricature suddenly gets jolted by the presence of a sizeable personality and lots of commitment. But the opposite effect can occur too. Sometimes, an especially notable actor can overwhelm the entire stage. This leaves a villain just being a rehash of familiar tics and quibbles from the performer's prior work rather than something new and exciting. Such was the tragic case for Jim Carrey's take on the Riddler in "Batman Forever."

Cast hot off a trio of box office smash hits in 1994, Carrey would seem, on paper, to have the energy and manic presence needed to portray this eccentric Batman adversary. In execution, though, director Joel Schumacher just let Carrey run wild. There's nothing methodical to Carrey's Riddler nor is there much in the way of comical lines that couldn't have just been handed over to his lead character in "The Mask." The interpretation of the Riddler here isn't someone menacing or even enjoyably campy but rather a hodgepodge of the roles that had launched Carrey to stardom. Even worse, his rapport with fellow "Batman Forever" baddie Two-Face just isn't very entertaining. In nearly every respect, Carrey's Riddler is the worst-case scenario for a big-name actor taking on a famous comic book character.

20. Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy

Like other 1990s "Batman" movie villains, Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy from "Batman & Robin" was evocative of prior foes in the series. On the one hand, her transformation from a subdued nerdy worker to a more outgoing supervillain mirrors the origin story of the Riddler in "Batman Forever" while her femme fatale persona is channeling the vibes of Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman from "Batman Returns." In the process of combining so many earlier Batman foes, not to mention getting overwhelmed by fellow "Batman & Robin" baddie Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy struggled to create much of a distinct presence. 

Points to Thurman for understanding the kind of movie she was in and vamping up every line and delivering some over-the-top body language. She's evoking the spirit of great drag performers rather than exclusively catering to the cis-het male gaze, which is an intriguing detail reflecting the unique creative ambitions of Joel Schumacher's "Batman" titles. Unfortunately, that unique quality can only take the character so far. There's just not enough to the character, either in terms of menace or personality, to make her extremely memorable. The moments where "Batman & Robin" attempts to depict her ability to control plants are also underwhelming visually. If only Thurman's Poison Ivy could've escaped the shadows of the supervillains she was evoking.

19. Lee Meriwether as Catwoman

In a movie with four supervillains, somebody was going to have to end up as the weakest of the bunch. Unfortunately, in the case of the 1966 feature "Batman," this dubious distinction goes to Lee Meriwether as Catwoman. Partially, this isn't her fault. This film featured a quartet of baddies (including Joker, Riddler, and the Penguin), all of whom had appeared in the original "Batman" TV show and featured their small-screen performers reprising their roles ... except for Catwoman. Julie Newmar, the original performer of the character, couldn't appear in this feature film, and Meriwether had to take over the part.

Meriwether isn't necessarily bad in the role nor is Catwoman as written here an especially egregious character. The only problem is that Meriwether is playing off a trio of actors who've sunk their teeth into their respective villain roles for multiple years. Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, and Cesar Romero had honed their craft as these comic book baddies, whereas Meriwether was a newcomer trying to balance out her ambitions for the part with what Newmar had established. Her newness to this world informed a vaguely defined performance that got overshadowed by her more experienced co-stars. Though nobody would claim Lee Meriwether's Catwoman as an especially awful comic book movie villain, she also, unfortunately, ended up being the weakest big-screen iteration of Catwoman in any live-action "Batman" flick.

18. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze

The Joel Schumacher "Batman" movies tend to get a bum rap. They're not perfect, but they also tend to get judged against metrics that aren't conscious of what these features are aiming for. These are campy productions with a capital "C" — they're meant to be over-the-top and goofy. If a Bat-Credit Card gag registers as ridiculous, that's because it's supposed to be! Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze in "Batman & Robin" is a good example of this, with the character getting lambasted for not being menacing enough when the fact that the role consists of the Terminator making Fozzie Bear-level puns about ice should make it clear that this incarnation of Mr. Freeze was never meant to make you quiver in your boots.

Unfortunately, misconceptions over the interpretation of Mr. Freeze don't excuse grave flaws in the character. For one thing, the repetitive nature of this blue baddie undercuts its attempts at camp, which is supposed to be unpredictable and constantly coming up with new transgressive material. Schwarzenegger's committed to the role, but his casting is a bit too on the nose. This guy was always delivering schlocky puns in his 1990s action fare, so it's not a surprise to see him do it here. Juxtaposing the corny lines with a more dramatic and unexpected performer could've taken this villain to the next level. Mr. Freeze is a bit misunderstood as a "Batman" movie villain, but he's still a messy creation.

17. Marion Cotillard as Talia al Ghul

Shortly after scoring her first Oscar nomination, Marion Cotillard managed to work with Christopher Nolan for the first time on the film "Inception." Their creative collaborations would continue with "The Dark Knight Rises," where Cotillard would be initially portraying the wealthy Miranda Tate. Though she and Bruce Wayne appear to be into each other, it's later revealed that Tate is the movie's principal antagonist, Talia al Ghul, the daughter of "Batman Begins" antagonist Ra's al Ghul. From there, Talia attempts to detonate a bomb to destroy Gotham City, only to perish in the process.

This role gives Cotillard a lot to work with, but it may be too much. Though the performer equips herself admirably to the various twists and turns, there's never enough screen time to make each disparate part of Talia feel like a well-rounded character. As a result, the eventual evil heel turn doesn't quite land with an impact while her character also ends up getting overshadowed by her fellow "Dark Knight Rises" foe, Bane. There are certainly intriguing aspects to the character, many of them thanks to the finer touches of Cotillard's performances, but Talia al Ghul is one villain that could've benefited from either streamlining or more room to breathe.

16. Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone

Much like Christopher Walken's Max Shreck in "Batman Returns," Tom Wilkinson's Carmine Falcone in "Batman Begins" has the problem of being the grounded villain while being surrounded by much more oversized baddies. He's an important figure in the plot of "Batman Begins" — the initial villain of the feature since he's a major crime boss and responsible for the death of Joe Chill, the murderer of Bruce Wayne's parents. However, he eventually diminishes in importance when his cohort, the Scarecrow, betrays him and drives him insane through the use of fear gas.

Falcone doesn't have the flashy costume or expansive screen time that defines so many other Batman villains. However, he's still played by a gifted actor, Tom Wilkinson, who effectively portrays the character as hailing from a classical gangster film rather than a conventional superhero feature. His eventual fall at the hands of Scarecrow also cleverly subverts audience expectations over who the main villain of the story will be, all while successfully establishing the menacing power of Scarecrow. Falcone isn't as endlessly quotable or memorably menacing as the best villains in this franchise, but he's still got enough unique and interesting facets to ensure he isn't disposable.

15. Liam Neeson as Ra's al Ghul

Before he redefined his career with "Taken," Liam Neeson portrayed "Batman Begins" adversary Ra's al Ghul, a character who originally poses as a friendly ally to Bruce Wayne named Henri Ducard. However, he eventually reveals his true goals — as well as his real identity — once the film's climax arrives. An actor of Neeson's stature comes off as convincing no matter what side of Ra's he's portraying. If there's one thing holding the character back, though, it's the attempts to abruptly connect his plans to destroy Gotham into the death of Wayne's parents.

Just having a friend betray him and be a murderous baddie should be enough to provide emotional stakes for Batman's confrontations with Ra's. Throwing in a nebulous way to tie this character into the childhood trauma of our beloved superhero just feels like too much. Plus, whitewashing the character isn't great and puts an unfortunate stain on this adversary. But otherwise, this version of Ra's is a perfectly fine figure to serve as the final foe of "Batman Begins," especially since Neeson's reliably commanding screen presence is put to great use. As a whole, playing against type served this performer and "Batman Begins" well.

14. Frank Gorshin as the Riddler

There's a very specific aesthetic you had to adhere to if you were going to be a Batman baddie in the Adam West era. The 1966 feature film adaptation of this iteration of the superhero, "Batman," nicely epitomized the oversized and campy traits necessary for a villain to thrive in this domain. Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, reprising his role from the original TV show, is more than familiar with the trappings that define the best antagonists for this version of Batman. In particular, Gorshin knows how to chew the scenery on every bit of hammy dialogue he's handed. 

Some actors might stumble over themselves trying to deliver Riddler's lines — "That miserable waddling mountebank of a bird? He couldn't finish a bag of popcorn!" — with maximum energy. Gorshin, however, does it effortlessly. Having "Batman" feature a quartet of villains who are predominantly always hanging around one another does mean there's little opportunity for Gorshin's Riddler to get the solo spotlight. However, even in this ensemble setting, this version of the Riddler proves plenty entertaining and a microcosm of the qualities that made this particular take on Batman baddies so fun.

13. Christopher Walken as Max Shreck

Pour one out for Christopher Walken in "Batman Returns" as Max Shreck, as he had to register as a villainous presence in a comic book movie featuring Michelle Pfieffer's sultry femme fatale Catwoman and Danny DeVito's go-for-broke Penguin. Walken still gave it his all, though, and both his performance and the screenplay smartly rooted his wickedness in something closer to tangible reality. Shreck isn't a supervillain plotting to take over the world but rather an example of how the wealthy don't care about people in lower economic classes. This is a manipulative man who wouldn't be out of place on Wall Street in any era.

Walken's everyday approach to villainy is an intriguing choice, but it proves especially interesting once DeVito's Penguin recruits him for his villainous plot. There's an amusing dynamic as Shreck's more mundane manifestation of evil grapples with working alongside a dude who's all too happy to bite people's noses off. Two very different modes of supervillainy have collided here and emphasizing the contrasts allows Shreck to have a presence despite being a more understated creation in a movie packed with overt weirdos. Credit for this feat must also go to Walken's performance. A man famous for his brilliant dialogue deliveries, Walken makes sure that audiences never think of the words "poontang" the same way ever again. He's not an all-time great Batman villain, but Walken as Shreck is still a solidly realized foe.

12. Burgess Meredith as the Penguin

The first live-action movie take on the Penguin, Burgess Meredith lends something deliciously delightful to his performance of one of the baddies in 1966's "Batman:" unflinching ridiculousness. Often squawking like the birds he's named after and bickering with a clown without a hint of self-aware irony, the Penguin is a goofy character. However, he fits right in with a movie where Batman manages to find something on his belt to ward off a hungry shark. Plus, he's portrayed by Meredith, an actor who would eventually score multiple Oscar nominations. An actor of this caliber has no problem striking the right tone for this character, and he has no issue just leaping into the inherent silliness of the proceedings. Meredith is such a delight in his work as the Penguin that it's no wonder he became impactful enough to almost score a cameo as the father of Danny DeVito's iteration of the villain in "Batman Returns."

11. Tom Hardy as Bane

What an interesting creation Bane is. Largely an original concoction divorced from who Bane was in the comics, writer/director Christopher Nolan opted to go the suave intellectual route for an imposing physical villain. It's an intriguing decision that may not be faithful to the source material but proves once again that fidelity isn't the same thing as quality storytelling. Bane makes for an entertaining foe in "The Dark Knight Rises," and it's especially fun how different he is from the preceding main adversaries in this trilogy of "Batman" films. Rather than emulate the past, Nolan's commitment to something new allows Bane to take on a life of his own.

It's also enjoyable how much life Tom Hardy gives the character in his performance, particularly in his nonchalant line deliveries, such as Bane's "what a lovely voice" comment upon hearing a small child sing the National Anthem. There are contradictions to this guy who can snap anybody's neck with his pinky finger, which make him all the more interesting to watch. The only real downside to Bane is how he peters out of the movie once Talia al Ghul is revealed to be the real evil mastermind behind the feature. The expansive plot of "The Dark Knight Rises" eventually loses track of Bane, but up to that point, he's one of Batman's stronger movie villains.

10. Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow

Part of the genius of "Batman Begins" was subverting how the previous "Batman" movies shined so much of the spotlight on flashy villains. Rather than casting famous faces as equally iconic comic book baddies, Christopher Nolan instead went for lesser-known but thematically relevant foes for this version of Batman to duke it out with. This included Cillian Murphy as the first live-action take on Jonathan Crane, aka the Scarecrow.

The Scarecrow didn't reinvent the comic book movie villain wheel, but he provided plenty of memorably scary imagery, and Murphy's performance was consistently interesting. Best of all though is that Scarecrow wasn't limited to just "Batman Begins." This guy managed to make small appearances in the next two "Dark Knight" trilogy installments, with his "Dark Knight Rises" cameo as a warped judge being especially funny. Rarely have comic book movies translated how villains can just show up in recurring roles in the comics as effectively as Murphy's Scarecrow. This character was a departure from the norms of "Batman" baddies in all the right ways.

9. Colin Farrell as the Penguin

The version of Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin, seen in "The Batman" is only beginning his ascent to becoming both a Gotham City crime lord and an iconic Batman baddie. Existing mostly on the fringes of "The Batman," this incarnation of the Penguin still leaves an impact thanks to the extremely committed performance of Colin Farrell. Hidden under layers of makeup and prosthetics, Farrell opts to play the Penguin less like a grounded villain or Danny DeVito's enjoyably grotesque take on the character and more like an over-the-top noir villain straight out of Andre De Toth's 1954 film "Crime Wave." Dropping plenty of memorable flourishes into his dialogue deliveries, Farrell presents a pleasingly oversized, but not distractingly caricatured, vision of the Penguin — one that functions well in the plot he inhabits while proving intriguing enough to make you want to see where this character goes next. 

8. John Turturro as Carmine Falcone

Though the marketing for "The Batman" primarily revolved around teasing new versions of Batman baddies the Riddler and the Penguin, a key adversary in the actual film was a new take on Carmine Falcone. Portrayed by John Turturro of "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou" fame, this iteration of the crime lord is the man covertly pulling the strings all across Gotham City. In fact, his fingerprints are basically all over every tragedy and horror that's occurred here. Smartly, Turturro's performance for "The Batman" opts to make Falcone someone who looks and acts unassuming while concealing lots of power and a disregard for human life. He doesn't call attention to his wickedness, which makes his sinister actions all the more disturbing. Though not as flashy as the greatest "Batman" movie villains, Falcone still makes for an appropriately intimidating foe to stimulate much of the brutal chaos of "The Batman."

7. Jack Nicholson as the Joker

We've had lots and lots of people inhabiting the part of the Joker in theatrically realized movies. The dude is so popular that he got his own solo film about his bloody origin story. But among the first actors to portray the Joker, you had Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's "Batman." From "The Shining" to "Terms of Endearment," Nicholson had made a career out of playing slimy men with a wild side. Given this experience, he was tailor-made to take on the role of the Clown Prince of Crime.

Throughout the film, Nicholson consistently conveys a distinctively unhinged yet darkly comical persona for his version of the Joker. He walks a fun, fine line — one that leaves audiences on the edge, wondering whether this guy will make them giggle or gasp next. Plus, nobody could make certain lines as entertaining as Nicholson. There's a reason pieces of dialogue like "where does he get those wonderful toys?" or "you're my number one guy!" are still beloved to this day, and it all comes down to Nicholson's delivery. Though not a totally unprecedented performance for this artist, the Joker was still quite the enjoyable turn from Jack Nicholson.

6. Cesar Romero as the Joker

Before Joaquin Phoenix, before Jared Leto, before Heath Ledger, even before Jack Nicholson, there was Cesar Romero's take on the Joker. Rather than someone who had the word "damaged" tattooed on his forehead, Romero's Joker was a lively fellow, a classical clown who was as determined to be consistently preposterous as he was at taking down the Caped Crusader. Serving as one of the antagonists of 1966's "Batman," Romero's Joker was an appropriately oversized and entertaining adversary. Not so much chewing the scenery as he was voraciously consuming it, the film's screenwriters gave Romero plenty of wacky material to work with, including scenes referencing "trick confetti" and featuring the Joker delivering orders to pirates. Though world's away from the grimly serious takes on this same comic book character that would dominate movie theaters in the 21st century, Romero's Joker is a reminder of how the Clown Prince of Crime can be just as effective as a fun villain.

5. Paul Dano as the Riddler

The most terrifying part of "The Batman's" incarnation of the Riddler (played by Paul Dano) is how he's not necessarily associated with any larger organization. He's not someone from the crime underworld of Gotham City, nor is he in cahoots with powerful entities like the League of Shadows. He's a total loose cannon, driven to madness by the trauma of his past, and now inflicting his pain on the rest of the world. 

Though not necessarily akin to classic versions of this supervillain, director Matt Reeves' interpretation of the character is still a fascinating creation — a deeply disturbed man evoking the Zodiac Killer in several ways, including his use of everyday greeting cards to communicate with Batman. Paul Dano delivers great work in the role, conveying such unbridled and uncontained fury even when the audience is just seeing him in a pre-recorded video message. The only real drawback to this particular "Batman" foe is the choice to give him the name Edward Nashton instead of Edward Nygma. When you're dealing with a guy who already walks around with a yellow question mark on his outfit, you should just go all the way and commit to his ludicrous name! 

4. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent

Heath Ledger's Joker gets a lot of love in discussions about "The Dark Knight" and rightfully so. However, he's not the only standout baddie in one of the all-time great comic book movies. Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face also proves to be a remarkable part of the feature, especially since he's a whole different kind of villain compared to the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime enters "The Dark Knight" a malevolent force, an embodiment of evil with no regard for human life. Eckhart's Dent, meanwhile, begins the film as a hopeful figure for Gotham City before tragically succumbing to nihilism and empty murderous revenge.

Eckhart plays both sides of this character with utter believability. As the story begins, Eckhart makes it seem possible that Dent could be the figure Gotham needs before shattering your heart once he goes over to the dark side after losing Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes). Christopher Nolan made a bold choice ending "The Dark Knight" with a confrontation between a handful of characters, including Eckhart's Dent, in a small attic-like space at night. However, the performances, especially Eckhart's, make the decision instantly understandable. You don't need a series of massive explosions when Eckhart can command the screen with his portrayal of a broken man. We've had many great "Batman" movie villains, but Eckhart's Two-Face registers as one of the few that comes off as truly tragic down to his bones.

3. Danny DeVito as the Penguin

Some "Batman" movie villains are restrained creations, ones steeped in realism and interested in reflecting the chaotic horrors of the modern world. Danny DeVito's take on Oswalt Cobblepot is not one these figures. He's more like something emerging from your nightmares — a rotund vengeful figure with rows of sharp teeth, draped in a raggedy onesie, and prone to fits of violent rage at the drop of a hat. It's not an exact translation of who the character is in the comics, but it's impossible to quibble about fidelity to the source material when DeVito is delivering an unhinged performance this entertaining. 

You never quite know where this version of the Penguin will go next, he's capable of anything and everything. DeVito throws himself into the madness with aplomb, and the sexual ferocity that defines so much of his work is appropriately spine-tingling. Best of all, the gothic production design and menacing nature of DeVito's acting ensure that this version of the Penguin doesn't just become a hodgepodge of over-the-top moments that don't add up too much. This character still functions as a suitable adversary for Michael Keaton's Batman and makes your skin crawl. Granted, the Penguin isn't a pretty picture, but like so many Dann DeVito performances, it's irresistibly committed to lunacy and unforgettable.

2. Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman

Tim Burton's take on the "Batman" mythos was always leaning on the dark and strange, so it's no surprise that his vision for Selina Kyle/Catwoman was suitably unorthodox. Like the best parts of his two "Batman" titles, though, this Catwoman is also entrancing. Portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer, this character commands the screen with the performer's presence and her unblinking dedication to depicting Catwoman as a femme fatale ramped up to 11. Adorned in a costume suggestive enough to suggest it would've given Hays Code censors a heart attack, Pfeiffer's work sparkles with sensuality and, even more so, an aggressive sense of agency. It often feels like this character could crack Gotham City in half just with one particularly fierce use of her whip.

Plus, this Catwoman has fun chemistry with Batman, one bursting with unspoken tension between the costumed crime-fighter and the costumed criminal. The overt sexuality in Catwoman also makes for a great contrast to her fellow "Batman Returns" baddie, the Penguin, as she embraces her desirability as a way to confront patriarchal structures while Penguin only wants to use his horny urges to objectify women. It's rare to find a PG-13 comic book movie that offers so much food for thought on how one of its characters utilizes the concept of sexuality, but it's just one of many achievements that Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman executes with as much ease as the actor whipping off four mannequin heads in one take.

1. Heath Ledger as the Joker

It's hard to figure out what else there is to say about Heath Ledger's Joker after all these years since "The Dark Knight" hit theaters. It's not that Ledger's iconic comic book villain doesn't offer lots to talk about, it's just that this character has inspired so much discussion and conversation already. However, like the best movie performances, Ledger's Oscar-winning work as the Joker manages to reveal new layers just when you think you've run out of things to talk about. For example, Ledger's Joker doesn't get enough credit for the character's moments of dark comedy, like his calm reply of "yeah" after getting asked if he really thinks he can threaten Gotham City's mobsters and take their money. 

Ledger's Joker could terrify you to your soul, but he lived up to the character being a clown in these moments of grim levity. It also remains eternally impressive how well Ledger conveyed this character as being someone solely defined as chaos. There's nothing else behind those eyes beyond a desire to watch everything around him crumble to dust. There's a good reason people can't stop talking about Heath Ledger's version of the Joker. The best Batman villain by a massive margin is someone so unnerving, so detailed, so idiosyncratic that you just can't get him out of your head.