Batman is, perhaps, the only comic book super hero that has a Rogue’s Gallery almost as popular as he is. Yes, Superman has Lex Luthor and Doomsday. Spider-Man has The Green Goblin and Kingpin. But Batman has dozens of antagonists: The Joker, The Penguin, Two-Face, The Riddler, Catwoman, Bane, Mr. Freeze, The Court of Owls, The Condiment King and more. Batman has come face to face with a variety of criminals, all vying for his attention and the attribute of being “the best.” Obviously, The Joker is the best but that is not to discredit any of Batman’s other foes. Batman has appeared in 10 live-action films thus far (not including Suicide Squad or animated films). In those films, he has faced a wide-array of his most well-known villains.
10) Catwoman – The Dark Knight Rises
Fans were concerned when Anne Hathaway was cast as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Worries were unfounded though as Hathaway absolutely killed it with her performance. Hathaway’s Catwoman was sharp, sexy, biting and vulnerable. She gave new levels to one of Batman’s most classic villains.
9) Lex Luthor – Batman v Superman and Justice League
In BVS, Lex Luthor was neurotic, paranoid and kind of annoying. But! There were glimpses of what could have been in a few of his scenes. Jesse Eisenberg didn’t do a great job at portraying Luthor in BVS, but he did do a good job of portraying him in the Justice League post-credit scene. Sadly, it looks like we probably won’t be seeing him in any future installments.
8) Doomsday – Batman v Superman
Yes, he looked like a bad CGI version of a Ninja Turtle. No, he wasn’t actually all that intimidating. But in Batman v Superman, he killed Superman and Batman had to be saved by Wonder Woman. So we had to include him at the top of the list.
7) Ra’s Al Ghul – Batman Begins
When your mentor becomes one of your most hated adversaries, you won’t kill him…but you don’t have to save him. Which is basically killing him. Ra’s Al Ghul and Bruce Wayne have a bit of a love/hate relationship with each other. Ghul actually trained Bruce Wayne in his formative years. But when he tasked Wayne with the job of executing a criminal, Bruce refused. Their relationship would never be the same again.
6) Bane – The Dark Knight Rises
There was probably no topping Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight. To director Christopher Nolan’s credit, he didn’t try to top, or even replicate The Joker. He created a character that was completely different, both in physicality and in motivation. Bane became a legend in the pantheon of Batman lore back in the ’90s, during the comic arc called Knightfall. In that series, he broke Batman’s back, paralyzing him for a time. That scene was adapted for the screen in The Dark Knight Rises.
5) Two-Face – The Dark Knight
Harvey Dent was a bit overshadowed in The Dark Knight, because of Heath Ledger’s Joker performance. But in the context of the story, Dent was actually kind of the main character. He was Gotham’s White Knight, a decent man in an indecent time. Then the explosion turned Harvey Dent into Two-Face, both in appearance and in mentality. Dent’s words proved to be prophetic when he stated that “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
4) Catwoman – Batman Returns
Michelle Pfeiffer truly gave the standout performance in Tim Burton’s 1992 film, Batman Returns. She encompassed everything that Catwoman was about. She was tough and agile and sexy and smart, but she also offered a vulnerability. Pfeiffer’s chemistry with Batman actor Michael Keaton to this day crackles on the screen. Her complex relationship with Batman makes her more than a villain, but definitely not a hero.
3) The Penguin – Batman Returns
The best Batman villains are the most sympathetic ones. Danny DeVito portrayed Oswald Cobblepot in Batman Returns, and he absolutely nailed the role. He was born to play The Penguin. Somehow The Penguin is both the biggest villain of Batman Returns and its most sympathetic figure. Penguin was a monster, but he was a monster that was created, not born. His circumstances led to him becoming the villain that he turned into. Really, Penguin’s parents were the main villains of Batman Returns.
2) The Joker – Batman ‘89
What Jack Nicholson brought to the table in Tim Burton’s Batman ’89 cannot be overlooked. He, perhaps single-handedly, turned the tide over in favor of Batman after the casting of Michael Keaton was announced. Fans were outraged when Keaton was cast as Batman, but they all breathed a collective sigh of relief when it was revealed that Nicholson would be playing Joker. When the movie was finally released, audiences were captivated. Jack Nicholson’s Joker was funny, scary, sarcastic, sardonic and psychotic. Joker was full-on-Jack in the best possible ways. Now, even 30 years after the film’s release, Jack Nicholson is still one of the best movie bad guys of all time, and not just in Batman films either.
1) The Joker – The Dark Knight
But for as good as Nicholson was as The Joker, nobody could, can or will ever compare to Heath Ledger’s take on the “Clown Prince of Crime.” Like when Keaton was cast as Batman, fans flipped when Ledger was announced as The Joker. And then they saw pictures. Then they saw the trailer. Then Heath Ledger died. And then they saw the movie. And it was the single-most captivating performance in any Batman movie, past, present or future. Heath Ledger’s Joker has got to go down as one of the greatest film villains of all time. He encompassed everything that The Joker represented — chaos, anarchy and, most importantly, jokes. Heath Ledger, with this performance, silenced all critics in one stunning final performance.