The Dark Knight has fought a countless number of villains over the years, constantly defending Gotham City in film, TV, comics and video games. Some of them push Bruce to his limits while others just prove to be the most resilient threats he’s ever faced. Before we get started, let’s address the clown in the room. The Joker is obviously the most notorious Batman villain, so we won’t be including him in our list because it’s just too easy to praise the Clown Prince of Crime. From romantic interests to the most mentally challenging enemies of all time, let’s take a look at the ten best Batman villains from the Caped Crusader’s rogues gallery.
10. Talia al Ghul
Talia al Ghul easily proves that one of Batman’s greatest weaknesses is the women he finds himself attracted to. Marion Cotillard’s role in The Dark Knight Rises was hidden as a secret villain for the final chapter in the trilogy and her mastermind plan to finish her father’s work pushed Batman and Gotham to the edge. In a loose adaptation of the Knightfall storyline, Cotillard’s Talia sought to vanquish Batman for killing her father Ra’s al Ghul and wipe Gotham from the face of the planet with a nuclear bomb. Sure, these are standard villain plans – but it’s the way she fools Bruce into believing that she’s an ally that makes her so dangerous. She maneuvered her way to the top of the Wayne Industries board before creating a fake romantic chemistry with the billionaire playboy Bat. Her seduction truly pulled the wool over Bruce’s eyes, since he was not expecting to be betrayed in the final battle for Gotham’s soul. While her plan to destroy the city ultimately failed she did manage to kill Bruce’s Batman, in a sense. Luckily the mantle was passed to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Robin Blake – it’s just a shame we never got to see him suit up as Nightwing.
9. The Penguin
The Penguin is one of the most enduring villains in Gotham City and has taken on a number of different styles over the years. From a pompous over-the-top gangster in the 1966 Adam West series, to the vicious go-getter in Fox’s Gotham played by Robin Lord Taylor. He’s a dastardly opponent, constantly managing weapons deals or trying to become Gotham’s top crime lord. While he isn’t always a physical match for Batman, his taste for gadgets, guns and the occasional weaponized umbrella often gives him the upper hand in a fight. Obviously we can’t discuss The Penguin without praising Danny DeVito, who provided a truly chilling version of Oswald Cobblepot in Batman Returns. His plans to make Gotham his own showed that he’s no joke. Plus, when was the last time you saw a villain bite someone’s nose off in a big screen comic book movie? Iconic.
8. The Riddler
The Riddler is definitely one of Batman’s weirder villains, but don’t let Edward Nygma’s playful riddles fool you – he’s still incredibly deadly when he wants to be. Sure, Jim Carrey’s spandex version might be a little silly, but it perfectly showed off Nygma’s inventive side when it comes to his dastardly plots. But surprisingly, the most impressive version of the villain comes from Fox’s Gotham series – played by Cory Michael Smith. The split-personality between Nygma and The Riddler was a fascinating dynamic to play with, and the way the two battled added a psychotically fun dose to the show. We can’t wait to see what Paul Dano brings to the role in next year’s The Batman.
Yes, the Man of Steel counts as a Batman villain! The heroic duo’s conflict was obviously one of the driving forces of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – and it explored how a vigilante with no actual superpowers could hold his own against Superman himself. The answer? An incredible armored suit and a whole chunk of kryptonite. But it’s the destructive collateral damage caused by Superman that really drives Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne. That introduction scene which shows the destruction caused by Clark’s fight with Zod, instantly nails the divide between the two heroes. Seeing Bruce run head first into the carnage as a building falls from the sky was genuinely quite harrowing, especially as he tries to help the survivors. Superman might insist he’s a force for good, but it’s no wonder Batman wanted to kill him after witnessing the devastating consequences of the Kryptonian’s abilities on the innocent civilians. Obviously because the pair eventually become Super-Friends and help defend the world from Steppenwolf – Clark doesn’t rank higher on our list.
6. Harley Quinn
Okay, so we included Harley Quinn but not the Joker – but the way she’s been able to stand on her own two feet away from the Clown Prince of Crime is nothing short of brilliant. While Margot Robbie’s Harleen was a little two-dimensional in the Suicide Squad theatrical cut, Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey developed her further than just being defined by the Joker. The fun sense of anarchy that she brings to Gotham City kept the film moving at a million miles an hour in the best way possible. But it also explored her psyche and how her own independence motivated her, aside from that egg sandwich of course. She hasn’t really scrapped with Batman aside from a brief car chase in Suicide Squad, but we’re not complaining – what makes Harley fun is being grounded in the Gotham underworld rather than locked up in Arkham or Belle Reve. She’ll next pop up in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, which is quickly becoming one of our most anticipated releases.
5. Ra’s al Ghul
In recent years, Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins were introduced into the mainstream thanks to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. They provided a fascinating reason for trying to raze Gotham, as it had become so corrupted and filled to the brim with criminals. But Liam Neeson’s Ra’s was a brilliant enemy for this new Bruce Wayne. He taught him the skills he needed to be a hero and inadvertently transformed him into Gotham’s protector instead of its executioner. While comic readers saw the twist coming a mile away thanks to Neeson’s facial hair, it still worked like a treat when the so-called “Ducard” was revealed to be a puppet master hiding in plain sight. We also saw a version of the Demon’s Head in Arrow, where Matt Gable tried to groom Oliver Queen to become the next leader of the League. While he wasn’t quite as memorable as Liam Neeson, Arrow was still a great platform to explore the villain’s motivations of cleansing the world a little further.
We know what you’re thinking, Scarecrow? This high on our list? Make no mistake, Jonathan Crane is one of the most terrifying villains that have gone up against the Dark Knight. While he appeared on the Gotham show, we’re definitely focusing on Cillian Murphy’s nightmarish take on the character in Batman Begins. He was the perfect way of introducing Arkham Asylum into this world, but let’s face it, it’s the sack mask that makes him utterly horrifying once his fear gas is in play. The hallucinations it induced in his victims made our skin crawl as all the bugs fell out of the villain’s face. But it was great to see Batman battle a villain with his mind instead of his fists. Scarecrow was overshadowed by the Ra’s al Ghul reveal, but look at how devastating his fear gas was to Gotham – it nearly crippled the city. Don’t underestimate Scarecrow.
Like the two sides of his iconic coin, we’ve had two extremely different takes on Two-Face over the years. First, in Batman Forever played by Tommy Lee Jones, and later in The Dark Knight by Aaron Eckhart. While the Joel Schumacher films are often criticized, Batman Forever brings the camp silliness of Batman and his rogues gallery to life in a hilarious way – much like the Adam West series did. For that reason, we fondly look back on Tommy Lee Jones’ ham-fisted Two-Face. But it’s Aaron Eckhart’s brutal version that sticks in our minds. Whether it’s his visceral birth thanks to the Joker’s explosive plans, or his final confrontation with Batman and James Gordon – he’s a terrifying force of chaos. The scene that nails Two-Face perfectly is when he confronts Maroni in the car. Clearly, he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies – he’s just here to get justice for Rachel by following fate through his coin. It’s a shame Eckhart isn’t recognized more for his work in the role.
Selina Kyle is absolutely one of the most iconic Batman villains purely because of the will they/won’t they connection the duo have. There’s so much to say about what draws these two together, but nothing has got it so right like Batman Returns. The scene that nails it is the masked ball where all the guests are hiding their identities with flashy costumes, however Bruce and Selina are the only ones without a mask. The not-so-subtle subtext tells us that these civilian personas are their real masks. Maybe it’s down to the perfect dynamic between Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer, but they captured the essence of the Cat and the Bat perfectly. Anne Hathaway also provided us with an interesting modern take on the anti-hero, exploring her motivations and what Selina is really after: a clean slate. Also, can we show some love for the goggles that flipped up to make the classic cat ears? That was perfect. It’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for us with Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman and her costume. Place your bets on what it’ll look like in the comments!
Topping our list is the man who broke the bat. Bane. Fans have been astounded at what the notorious villain can do ever since the Vengeance of Bane storyline in 1993. But it’s during Batman #497 in where we were shown just how powerful he is. After freeing all the inmates from Arkham Asylum, Bane pushes Batman to his mental and physical limits as the Caped Crusader fights for three straight nights to restore order in the city. When he’s exhausted – Bane surprises him at Wayne Manor and beats him senseless before slamming him over his knee, breaking Bruce’s back. It’s something we saw adapted in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises as Tom Hardy’s intimidating brawler defeated Christian Bale in the sewers below the city.
This modern Bane plagued the Gotham underworld with his mysterious plans, ultimately causing Bruce to lose everything he had that helped him maintain his war on crime. Seeing Bane break Batman in live action was incredibly dramatic and really spoke to the gravitas of the character. We’ve seen other adaptations of the villain in live action, but none live up to Tom Hardy. The way he systematically dismantled Batman, the GCPD and the prison system in the film was a devastating display of power. Sure, it’s easy to make fun of Hardy’s voice now, but as a semi-realistic translation of a comic book villain? It’s excellent. Hopefully any future live-action versions of Bane also give him the spotlight he deserves.
Before we say goodbye, we’d also like to give an honorable mention to Joe Manganiello’s Deathstroke. While we never got to see him fight Batman in live-action, his costume was truly incredible. Hopefully the original end-credit scene from Justice League makes it into the Snyder Cut. But while we wait for Bruce Wayne’s return in Matt Reeves’ The Batman, tell us in the comments which cinematic villain is your favorite! Make sure you keep an eye on Heroic Hollywood for all the latest entertainment news, subscribe to the channel, and check out our other videos!