Every Live-Action Version Of Penguin Ranked Worst To Best

Few characters in Batman's rogues' gallery have the level of pedigree as Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. Penguin. The character first appeared on the pages of DC Comics in 1941 and went on to become one of the Caped Crusader's most used foes. The character's appeared in pretty much every iteration of the Dark Knight mythos, from animated properties to live-action films. 

While the character's exact motivations and background may differ ever so slightly, he's roughly the same across adaptations. He's the son of a wealthy family who becomes a key player in Gotham's underground criminal network. He's loaded, no doubt helped by the fact he controls the popular Iceberg Lounge, which is often a safe haven for the seediest of the city's criminals. 

The character also has the distinct honor of appearing in numerous live-action adaptations. While other members of Batman's coterie of supervillains still await their chance to shine in a non-animated setting, Penguin has four translations to pull from, but which is the best of them all? Here's every live-action iteration of Penguin, ranked.

4. Colin Farrell in 2022's The Batman

It's worth pointing out that Colin Farrell's interpretation of Penguin isn't bad by any means. It's just that in 2022's "The Batman," which runs for nearly three hours and contains a cavalcade of Batman's rogues, he just doesn't get as much time to shine as his other villainous cohorts.

In "The Batman," Penguin is a disfigured mob boss who also functions as Carmine Falcone's (John Turturro) right-hand man. He's arguably the most grounded take on the character found in a live-action property, as he could conceivably exist in the real world without any of the gadgets or aesthetics that tend to make up the character.

Farrell received a ton of praise for his performance, with many critics wishing he simply had more time to shine in the film. In "The Batman" review for Fanboys of the Universe, Colin Farrell receives the following, "While Farrell does a great job in the role, he doesn't really get a ton to do and is only a minor influence on the plot." Of course, that should be rectified in the near future. It's been reported Farrell will receive his own HBO Max original series centered on Penguin, so perhaps he'll get more time to develop in that series. For now, he's a good if not undercooked bird.

3. Robin Lord Taylor in Gotham

Meanwhile, Robin Lord Taylor's portrayal of the supervillain had the opposite problem. Instead of not having enough screentime, Taylor's Penguin had a chance to grow and evolve over the course of five seasons on Fox's "Gotham." As such, viewers had a chance to see him develop from a criminal underling into a crime boss who will undoubtedly give Batman trouble once he's all grown up. 

While fans may have differing opinions on villains' portrayals in "Gotham," Penguin is practically universally loved. He arguably gets the most time to develop, and he bears many of the trademarks that have come to be associated with the character, from his limp to his umbrella. The show may have centered on the journey of James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), but Oswald always managed to steal whatever scene he was in. As Marc Buxton wrote in one review for "Gotham" for Den of Geek, "And if we have learned anything for 'Gotham,' it's that more Penguin is always a good thing."

The only real problem is that it's hard to call this version the definitive Penguin when he doesn't fully embrace his moniker even by the show's end.

2. Burgess Meredith in 1966's Batman TV series

These days, a lot of people are quick to dismiss the 1960s "Batman" series. However, the camp was the point, and all of the actors understood the assignment perfectly, mainly when it came to Burgess Meredith's portrayal of Penguin.

The character is delightfully hammy and bears all of the trademarks associated with the character. He sports a signature purple top hot, monocle, and oversized cigar and is an effective ringleader to the various criminal happenings. In fact, he even makes an appearance alongside some of the other most popular Batman villains, like Joker (Cesar Romero) and Catwoman (Julie Newmar), in the movie based on the series. 

The portrayal took the character from someone seldom seen in the comics to a regular Gotham fixture. As evidence of the character's popularity, he went on to appear in 21 episodes of the series, nearly double of that as Frank Gorshin's Riddler. For a generation of viewers, Meredith was Penguin, but another came to take the throne.

1. Danny DeVito in Batman Returns

Danny DeVito arguably makes the longest-lasting impression as Penguin during his turn in "Batman Returns." The character goes from a charismatic crime lord to a disgusting mayoral candidate. The character manages to be both distinctly Penguin and distinctly Tim Burton with his pale skin, sunken eyes, and ravenous teeth. It may be the weirdest take on the character, but it's also the most quotable and memorable we've seen.

Raised by sewer penguins, this take on the character manages to evoke putrid disgust and sympathy. His backstory involves being abandoned as a baby, so at the end of the day, all he wants is a place to fit in. It leads to vile attempts to seduce women, and at one point, he bites the nose off of a man, yet plenty of people still manage to find a place in their hearts for him. 

Josh Wilding of ComicBookMovie.com perhaps put it best, writing, "The tour de force performances from the trio of Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Danny DeVito are nothing short of iconic." If only more comic book properties were willing to take such big swings with established characters, it could lead to another Penguin that continues to haunt people's dreams decades after the fact.