What makes a good Batman villain? It’s a difficult question to answer, both because he has so many, and also because they vary greatly in quality (hello there, Kite Man). I would argue that unlike a Bond villain, Batman villains need to have grounded motivations, since they usually have to don costumes and personas that would render them nonsensical if they behaved like Ernst Stavros Blofeld. With the release of The Batman, I will undertake the Herculean task of ranking all of the live action cinematic Batman villains from worst to best. Let’s see where Paul Dano’s Riddler winds up.
Batman Villains from Worst to Best
Jim Carrey’s Riddler – Batman Forever
The Mask, in negative form.
Tom Hardy’s Bane – The Dark Knight Rises
That voice, why?! Also, I had to think for too long to remember why he wanted to destroy Gotham, oh yeah, he was doing it for Liam Neeson’s daughter, that’s it.
Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face – Batman Forever
The role was originally intended for Billy Dee Williams who played Dent in the Burton films, but Joel Schumacher insisted on Jones, and as much as I love Tommy, I think it might have been better with Lando. Also, he probably should have just shot Batman instead of flipping for it. Just sayin’.
Henry Cavil’s Superman – Batman v Superman
Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy – Batman and Robin
Only behind Mr. Freeze because of the lack of puns.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze – Batman and Robin
Is the movie good? No, but I will never not quote Victor Fries whenever it gets a bit chilly outside.
Jack Nicholson’s The Joker – Batman
Decent outing for the character, although I’m not too sure how much acting was needed.
Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face, The Dark Knight
The pendulum swung too quickly from white knight to deranged lunatic, but my biggest complaint is that he received so little screen time. He could have had a much bigger arc in the third film in lieu of rehashing the League of Shadows plotline.
Danny DeVito’s Penguin, Batman Returns
Has anyone ever been more correctly shaped for a comic book role?
Liam Neeson’s Ras al Ghul, Batman Begins
The mentor turned antagonist was a great way to reintroduce the franchise, even if he was somewhat upstaged by his partner in crime.
Marion Cottilard’s Talia al Ghul, The Dark Knight Rises
The most Bond villain-esque of the Batman villains. Alternate title for the movie, From the Pit, With Love.
Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow, Batman Begins
Murphy looks like a deranged psychologist in his normal life. A+ casting. No notes.
Colin Farrel’s Penguin, The Batman
I still am not sure this isn’t some elaborate lie.
Paul Dano’s The Riddler, The Batman
Managed to actually tell riddles, be scary, and also a sad-sack. Dano played the radicalized internet terrorist with deftness, knowing when to bend and when to break at the right moments.
Heath Ledger’s Joker, The Dark Knight
The definitive live action Joker. Better by miles than Phoenix, Nicholson, and Leto combined. The weird tongue mannerisms and the chaotic movement painted a picture of a man who truly wanted nothing more than to see how far he could push humanity to the brink.
John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone, The Batman
Regular mob bosses shouldn’t pose that much of a threat to Batman, but Turturro’s Falcone dealt a crushing blow to Bruce Wayne in the latest cinematic outing, revealing that Thomas Wayne was not fully the man that Bruce thought him to be. Turturro also delivered a calm and cool Godfather like performance that made the tension all the more palpable when he tried to strangle selina kyle on the floor of his office. If Turturro doesn’t get to play another mafioso type character it will be a crying shame.
Ranking is hard, as is reviewing, but in analyzing Batman villains, I have come away with the opinion that even if Matt Reeve’s The Batman might not be the best Batman film, it has the best offering of villains of any Batflick. Long live Pattman.