Batman is one of the most iconic characters in comic book history. Especially in the DC Comics Universe, where he and Superman are the two most popular superheroes. We’ve seen Batman in numerous movies and adaptations, and one thing that always stands out in the movies – be it in a good or bad way – are the villains.
Here’s the ultimate list of all 18 main Batman movie villains, ranked from worst to best. I won’t include villains that are commonly associated with Batman in the comics but appear in movies where Batman isn’t the main protagonist (for instance, Jared Leto’s Joker in The Suicide Squad or any of the Justice League villains).
How Many Batman Movie Villains Are There?
The first Batman movie came out back in 1966, and in that movie alone, we had four iconic villains appearing. Over the years, there have been numerous adaptations, from the Michael Keaton/Tim Burton run to Batman vs. Superman in the DC Extended Universe. That means we’ve had a huge number of villains, so how many of them are there?
There have been over 35 different villains in all the Batman movies. Many characters have repeated roles in the movies, but different actors portray them (for instance, Robert Swenson’s & Tom Hardy’s Bane). The results are quite often very different.
Many villains appear in the movies, like Victor Zsazs, that didn’t have enough screen time, character development, or plot significance to be included on this list. Also, I won’t include Batman villains from the Suicide Squad or Justice League movies because Batman either doesn’t appear or isn’t the only lead protagonist in the movies.
Every Batman Movie Villain Ranked
Batman’s villains are almost as iconic as the hero himself. However, some of those villains flopped miserably on-screen, while the same character portrayed in another movie by another actor was delivered brilliantly. Without further ado, here’s a list of every major Batman movie villain ever.
19. United Underworld
The United Underworld is a criminal organization led by Batman’s most notorious enemies. The group was portrayed in the first Batman movie ever in 1966, based on a Batman TV show from the 60s. If you ask me, the show and the movie were tacky, goofy, and a bit weird.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that bad – it was incredibly funny to me when I first watched it, but if you’re looking for a serious Batman film like the ones Christopher Nolan made, you’re not getting it here.
The costumes are borderline horrible, and the acting is goofy – especially between Batman and Robin, who look like two kids playing dress-up. But, in all that, the main villains weren’t bad at all. Sure, they were over-the-top and funnier than threatening, but they worked in the movie’s concept.
The United Underworld consists of four iconic villains: Catwoman – played by the beautiful Lee Merriweather, Riddler – presented by Frank Gorshin, Joker – in an underappreciated version by Cesar Romero, and the funniest version of Penguin ever, starring Burgess Meredith.
Out of all of them, the Riddler got the short end of the stick for costume design. You just can’t take him seriously looking like one of the Bananas in Pyjamas, but the good part is – it’s not supposed to be serious.
18. Mr. Freeze – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Batman & Robin is definitely, by far, the worst Batman movie ever made. I’d go as far as saying it’s the worst superhero movie ever, but that’s an argument for another day. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze was just as bad as the movie, though. And, that’s hard for me to say because I love Arnie, and I love Mr. Freeze in the comics.
Freeze is a supervillain with a heartbreaking backstory. His real name was Dr. Victor Fries, a world-famous scientist who dedicated his life to finding a cure for a disease his wife contracted. Trying to save his wife from imminent death, Fries puts her into cryostasis, a state where you freeze a person alive to stop life functions while keeping them alive.
However, during his experiments trying to save her, an accident occurs that turns him into Mr. Freeze, a villain who can only survive in below-freezing conditions. Therefore, he creates a suit that keeps his body temperature at sub-zero, and he keeps going with the experiments to try and save his lady.
Unfortunately, that means doing anything in his power to achieve what he wants, even if that means jeopardizing Gotham City. He’s not evil, per se, but his love drives him to do horrible things.
Too bad that the character from the movie is so tacky and overall plain bad, with catchphrases like “Ice to meet you.” What the hell is that? He appears as threatening as a mouse in a snake cage, but hey: the entire movie sucks, so we can’t expect the main villain to be any better.
17. Bane – Robert Swenson
You guessed it – another villain from the horrible Batman & Robin movie is here. Bane is such a badass character in the comics, and seeing his portrayal in this movie is just hurtful. It’s not Robert Swenson’s fault, but the character was used more as a plot device rather than a real supervillain he is.
In the comics, Bane is one of the rare people that can go head-to-head with Batman (pun intended) in terms of intelligence. He outwits Bruce Wayne on several occasions and proves he’s a genius first and muscle second. However, in this version, he’s nothing more than a stupid pile of muscles you summon to know down doors or crush somebody’s head.
He even talks like a caveman, and Poison Ivy is there to point him in a direction and say “go, boy,” to which he charges and breaks everything in his path. Come on. Bane is so much more than a buffoon like that.
Luckily for us Bane fans, this wasn’t the only version of Batman’s iconic supervillain portrayed on the big screen. The other version gave him justice, but we’ll get to that later on the list.
16. Catwoman – Anne Hathaway
It hurts me to put Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman this low on the list for several reasons. First, I love Anne and truly believe she’s one of the best actresses of this generation. Second, she wasn’t a bad Catwoman at all. She just fell into oblivion because of the other spectacular roles in the movie.
Hathaway’s Catwoman showed up in The Dark Knight Rises film, but she’s never referred to as Catwoman despite wearing the costume and, well, being Catwoman. Her name is Selina Kyle, and she fights the rich men in power that she believes are ruining Gotham City. I hated her costume, quite frankly, but that’s not the main problem.
My main problem with this version of the character is that she’s too much of an anti-hero and too little of a villain. She always does the right thing in the end. And, although they hook up in the comics several times – even getting engaged/married a few of those times – I disliked the romantic aspect of her relationship with Christian Bale’s Batman. There was just no chemistry.
I won’t delve too deep into Doomsday, as he’s not usually considered a Batman villain. However, he is one of the main antagonists in the movie Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, so he deserves mention on the list.
He is completely CGI’d, and although he looks terrifying, Doomsday in this movie looks nothing like the iconic Doomsday from DC Comics. The main Batman “villain,” or better said – enemy, in the movie is Superman, but seeing that Clark isn’t a bad guy, you can’t portray him as a villain. That’s why we got this CGI monster to take that mantle.
Doomsday eventually kills Superman, which would certify him as one of the most dangerous villains Batman ever faced in the movies. But, seeing that he’s just a plot device and not a real Batman villain, I can’t push myself to put Doomsday higher on this list.
14. Carmine Falcone
Carmine Falcone is evil but atrociously wealthy Gotham City resident that has the town held by the crotch in every way imaginable. Money means power, and Falcone has both in unlimited quantities. He flooded Gotham with drugs and violence, so naturally, Batman is out to stop him.
Carmine is a big Batman villain in the comics, but in Batman Begins, where Tom Wilkinson portrays him, his role isn’t that big, and we don’t get to see a lot of Falcone on screen. As for Wilkinson’s performance, it wasn’t bad, but I think Tom didn’t really catch the vibe that Falcone has in the comics.
He’s supposed to be intelligent, dark, and diabolical, but in the movie, he just feels like an old dude in a suit with tons of money trying to play god and failing miserably. Even IGN commented on Wilkinson’s performance as “a little bit over the top as Falcone.”
I agree with that wholeheartedly, and I hope we’ll get to see the character more deeply developed in one of the Batman projects in the future. It’s confirmed that John Turturro will play Falcone in the upcoming Robert Pattinson’s Batman film, so I hope we’ll see a better-written role for the Gotham City underground drug lord.
13. Poison Ivy – Uma Thurman
Batman & Robin movie had so many flaws, but one of them was simply having too many villains. You can’t develop characters fully when a dozen of them serve a similar role in the film, and I believe Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy suffered from that the most.
Poison Ivy was a prolific botanical chemistry student. However, after being injected with a poisonous plant, she becomes a superhuman with plant-controlling powers and poison that allows her to control anyone’s mind.
Thurman wasn’t bad – she wasn’t as sexy or seductive as Ivy should be. She displayed intelligence and was diabolical, but you don’t see all of the character’s aspects needed to connect with her. For instance, all she does is because she feels hatred towards humanity because of how it treats and destroys nature.
The movie merely glances over her motifs instead of emphasizing them simply because there was no time to do it in the same film where Batman fights both Bane and Mr. Freeze apart from her.
Ivy plans to make the world safer for plants and nature, even if that means killing off the entire humanity. The plot where he joins Mr. Freeze to do it makes no sense then, right? Well, it does if you’re watching Batman & Robin.
Be that as it may, Poison Ivy is an iconic character, and this is the only on-screen adaptation we have so far. Let’s hope DC’s future projects will give Ivy new life because we know she deserves it.
12. Two-Face – Tommy Lee Jones
I’m putting this version of Two-Face so “high” on this list simply because I love the character and the Academy-award winner Tommy Lee Jones. Batman Forever was a bad movie to me, generally, but what they did to Harvey Dent is just horrible.
Harvey Dent was a lawyer that had a very bright future. He fought crime and injustice every step of the way, but after a courtroom incident involving acid burned off half of his face, Dent took on the Two-Face persona and developed a huge hatred towards Batman.
He feels that Batman should’ve stopped the incident before it happened, and he wants nothing else but revenge. So, what’s so wrong with Jones’ Two-Face?
First of all, the costume and make-up are atrocious. He looks more like a clown than a horrifying figure who had half of his face burned off with acid. Even his clothes are over the top, and I feel like the movie focuses more on appearance and decorating his “lair” than actually developing the character.
He just acts like a maniac the entire time, cackling, laughing hysterically for no apparent reason. When you look at the big picture, he virtually does nothing even to get himself close to Batman. Great actor, but poor execution of the character.
11. Talia Al Ghul – Marion Cotillard
Talia Al Ghul is the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul, the villain who trained Batman in Asia before deciding to destroy Gotham City. Batman beats and kills him, and Talia wants to avenge him, so she forms a master plan that includes careful infiltration and, of course, using a different identity.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a wealthy philanthropist who slowly but surely gets under Bruce Wayne’s skin, seduces him, and infiltrates Wayne enterprises to gain access to a reactor that could clean the entire city. However, it could also be used as a catastrophic nuclear weapon, and of course, Tate wants just that.
She operates from the shadows while Bane does most of her dirty work, as he’s the one that isolates the city and leads the attack out on the streets. He had been her protector ever since she was a child, and he’d do anything for her.
The whole reveal-thing where you learn that Tate is actually Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter was supposed to be a big surprise, but I feel like Nolan waited for a moment too long and gave us one too many hints before the eventual reveal. Most viewers realized where the plot was going mid-way through the film, so the dramatic reveal was quite disappointing.
Still, her plan and execution were great right until the very end, which grants her a spot on this list, just not as high as I thought it would be.
10. Ra’s Al Ghul – Ken Watanabe/Liam Neeson
Ra’s Al Ghul was the League of Assassins leader with headquarters in Asia. He was also Bruce Wayne’s mentor after he had left home to find himself and train to become Batman in the first place. In Batman Begins, Al Ghul is portrayed by Ken Watanabe (a decoy) and Liam Neeson, but he’s not revealed as the main villain until the film’s final act.
As I mentioned, Ra’s was Batman’s mentor in Asia, but he was presumed dead later, and Bruce Wayne returned home to Gotham City. It was only later revealed that Ra’s is the one pulling the strings to destroy Gotham, as he and his organization deemed the City corrupted and needed to be destroyed for the greater good of humankind.
Al Ghul plans to use Scarecrow’s Fear Toxin to poison Gotham’s water supplies and then use a big microwave emitter to turn the water into vapor and poison everybody in the city, virtually making them kill each other as he stands and watches.
However, Bruce manages to best his mentor and eventually kill him for good, putting him at Talia Al Ghul’s crosshair in The Dark Knight Rises.
9. Max Shreck – Christopher Walken
Max Shreck appears in the Batman Returns movie that has three main antagonists. Although one could say Max holds the most power of them all, his character somewhat fell into the second plan and doesn’t get as much love as Danny DeVito’s Penguin or Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman.
Shreck is a super-rich man with power in Gotham City that has an idea to make a plant that doesn’t provide but rather steals electricity from the entire Gotham City. That way, he’d have a monopoly over the energy market and hold the entire town in his hand. When the plan backfires, he turns to the Penguin to help him carry out the notorious plan.
Christopher Walken’s performance is just spectacular. The way he casually carries himself makes you love to hate the character. Especially near the beginning of the movie, where Pfeiffer, who worked as his secretary at the time, tells him: “It’s not like you can just kill me.” He answers: “Actually, It’s a lot like that.” and pushes her through the window.
One could argue that Shreck is actually the main villain in Batman Returns, but DeVito’s performance as Penguin was just too memorable.
8. The Riddler – Jim Carrey
There weren’t many highlights in Batman Forever, but Jim Carrey’s Riddler was definitely one of them. He’s probably a part of the reason why Tommy Lee Jones’s Two-Face feels so bleak and weak.
Carrey was flamboyant, quirky, and hilariously over-the-top. It wouldn’t work in any other Batman run, but Joel Schumacher moved away from Tim Burton’s dark, gothic Batman vibe and incorporated a more cartoon-like, vibrant take on Gotham City’s vigilante.
As for the Riddler, his real name is Ed Nygma (yes, E. Nygma). He was a brilliant scientist working at Wayne Enterprises who invented a device to revolutionize television. It was supposed to make it seem more real, a kind of virtual reality, and while Nygma did succeed, his device had major side effects – it sucked out the user’s brainwaves.
After some disappointment, Nygma decided to make a huge version of his device that would suck out the brainwaves of all Gotham City residents and transfer them into his brain, making him unmeasurably intelligent while leaving everybody else as drooling plants.
His love for Riddles, word games, and puzzles was ultimately his downfall. He loved leaving clues in Riddles about his upcoming crimes, and Batman takes more of a detective role to try and solve them.
He ultimately succeeds and stops the Riddler, but it was the first time we’ve seen Batman challenged intellectually, not physically. Carrey’s Riddler was, to say the least, astonishingly entertaining.
7. Penguin – Danny DeVito
Danny DeVito portrayed the Penguin in Batman Returns, and not only was he brilliant, but he gave us an even deeper character than the one we read about in the comics. He looks grotesque, terrifying, and I still remember he gave me nightmares when I was a kid.
Penguin’s real name is Oswald Cobblepot, and he has a tragic, dark backstory. He was abandoned as a child because of his hideous appearance, and it eventually led to him living underground in the Gotham sewers, raised by Penguins, where he now operates being a crime lord.
He teams up with Max Shreck to try and take over Gotham and serve as its mayor, but Batman stops them before their plan materializes.
Nevertheless, DeVito absolutely nailed the role of the sinister, umbrella-wielding villain. Behind all the grotesque and his horrible actions, you still feel kind of bad for him, knowing what his life looked like.
And, of course, let’s not forget the spectacular penguin army that the Penguin has. Yes, an army of adorable but deadly penguins. Whether you liked the movie or not, you can’t hate the penguins.
6. Catwoman – Michelle Pfeiffer
Many actresses gave their shot at portraying the Catwoman, but Michelle Pfeiffer’s version in Batman Returns takes the cake as the best Catwoman impersonation ever on the big screen. Pfeiffer nailed every aspect of the character – the sexy, the witty, the crazy, and the one you feel empathy towards despite her criminal actions.
Her real name is Selina Kyle, and she was a secretary of Max Shreck, another villain in the Batman Returns movie. Shreck tries to kill her by pushing her out the window, but she mysteriously survives, gaining somewhat cat-like abilities, reflexes, and skills.
She sets out for revenge and starts doing nasty stuff across Gotham, crossing paths with Batman along the way. Although she’s unstable and aggressive, she ultimately turns into an anti-hero, helping Batman deal with Shreck and Penguin.
Although Pfeiffer had a short run as Catwoman, many fans still only see her as the real deal, much like many see only Cristopher Reeve as Superman.
5. Scarecrow – Cillian Murphy
If there was ever a nightmare-inducing character in any Batman movie, it must be Scarecrow from Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. He’s also one of the rare characters besides Batman that appears in all the films. Although he played the biggest role in the first movie, Batman Begins, his run was spectacular every step of the way throughout the trilogy.
Portrayed by Cillian Murphy (best known for his role in Peaky Blinders), Scarecrow’s real name is Dr. Jonathan Crane. Crane is an expert psychologist who worked in the Arkham Asylum and specialized in studying fear and trauma. He developed the Fear Toxin and experimented on patients.
The sack-headed villain didn’t commit the crimes because of a lust for power, but rather in the name of research – his main goal was to “heal” fear completely, but his incredibly evil side sidetracked that goal – he just really loves tormenting people.
You see, the Fear toxin causes vivid hallucinations and nightmares consisting of your biggest fears. While Crane doesn’t have any supernatural powers, his knowledge in psychology paired with his evil intentions and the Fear Toxin made him a very formidable opponent. In fact, he was almost the one who managed to break Bruce Wayne psychologically.
Murphy played a spectacular role, bringing Scarecrow’s brilliance and maleficence to life in a delightfully scary performance. Although he appeared in all three movies in The Dark Knight trilogy, Scarecrow is still quite underappreciated, probably because he was never the main antagonist.
4. Two-Face – Aaron Eckhart
Over a decade after Tommy Lee Jones portrayed Harvey Dent in Batman Forever, Aaron Eckhart gave it his best to put some respect on the villain. And boy, did he do it. It probably has a lot to do with the movie and writing itself, but Eckhart was as magnificent as any other big name in The Dark Knight.
Before turning into a villain, Harvey was a great guy – a district attorney having Gotham City’s best interest in mind – a true hero of his time. But, as he once said – you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain. Unfortunately, that’s what happens to Dent.
In a courtroom incident involving an acid explosion, Batman can only save Harvey, or his spouse, Rachel Dawes. He eventually saves Dent, and Dawes dies, while Harvey suffers from gruesome injuries that burn off half of his face.
Struck with immense grief, Harvey turns evil and becomes Two-Face, teaming up with Joker to complete his revenge on Batman. He uses a coin flip to decide what’s justice, and he never stops himself to think if what he’s doing is right or wrong.
The ending of Harvey’s story is just as heartbreaking as his beginning, and although he turned into a villain, you can’t help yourself but feel bad for him. Even in his grief, his actions were not purely his own but rather an elaborate manipulation of the Joker.
3. Bane – Tom Hardy
As horrible as Robert Swenson’s Bane was, Tom Hardy’s version of the character in the Dark Knight Rises was so epic it obliterates all the bad from the Batman & Robin movie. Finally, we see Bane in a role where he isn’t just this dumb sack of muscles, talking like a gorilla.
In the comics, Bane is virtually as intelligent as Bruce Wayne, and he gives Batman a run for his money, not just physically but intellectually, too. While Hardy’s Bane isn’t exactly on that level, he’s shown as a smart guy with expertise in battle tactics. It also took him only a year to figure out Batman’s real identity, which others couldn’t do in a lifetime.
To add to it, his brutal physical force – deriving from horrible experiments done on him in the past – was almost enough to kill Bruce. He’s known as “the man who broke the bat” because he managed to break Batman’s spinal cord, sending him into a coma.
Bane was never the mastermind, though, as it is revealed that he was doing the bidding of Talia Al Ghul, who wanted to avenge her father’s death. Bane isolated Gotham City and prepared it for a nuclear bomb strike, all because he was Talia’s protector ever since she was a child.
In the end, his death is a bit disappointing, but you kind of feel bad for him in the emotional final act. He deserves to be this high on the list because Hardy nailed the part, and Bane was the villain who had done more damage to Batman and Gotham City physically, mentally, and financially.
2. Joker – Jack Nicholson
Although there have been several versions of Batman’s arch-nemesis, Jack Nicholson’s Joker is still the face of the notorious lunatic. Starring back in the 1989 Batman movie, Nicholson brought something unique to the Joker, and nobody could ever do it quite like him.
In this iteration, the Joker’s real name is Jack Napier, a worker and small criminal who made a huge mistake and slept with his boss’s wife. The boss wasn’t happy about it, as he planned a hired kill on Napier, after which he fell into a pool of chemicals. Jack survived, though, but got out of the pool disfigured, as his skin went entirely white, and he went crazy.
Even before the “accident,” he was a small criminal, but after he became the Joker, he just pushed it to another level. He kills everybody and anybody in his way with a smile – sometimes just for fun.
Jack Nicholson’s performance was absolutely brilliant. He had several awesome one-liners, sure, but the way he carried out Joker’s insanity, absolute apathy, and lust for chaos is the biggest reason why he’s almost at the top of this list. He would be on the top, hadn’t another movie Joker taken over the legendary status of the best Batman movie villain ever.
1. Joker – Heath Ledger
Finally, the greatest Batman movie villain of all time – Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight. There were several other villains in the movie, but Heath just completely took over and gave us the best comic-based movie role in history.
The writing is phenomenal, but what made Ledger such a legendary Joker is his performance and dedication to the character. The iconic, horrifying make-up? Heath made it himself. The disturbing, tongue flick? All Ledger.
After getting the part, Ledger closed himself in a hotel room for about forty days to get agitated and immerse into the role of the insane criminal. In the scene where Batman interrogates the Joker and starts beating him up, Ledger told Christian Bale to hit him as hard as possible, so his reactions would be natural.
And in the end, it was all worth it. Ledger went in a completely different direction from Nicholson, presenting a much darker version of the Joker, but that’s where his brilliance lies. He didn’t try to replicate someone else – Heath created a whole new character but used the same ingredients and source materials.
It’s the role that post-humously brought Ledger the Academy Award. He’s the key reason why The Dark Knight is the best DC movie of all time and probably will be forever.