The Ten Spot: Top 10 Best Batman Villains

A hero’s only as good as his adversaries, and the Batman universe contains one of the richest rogues galleries one could imagine- second, in my opinion, only to the world of James Bond. In contrast to the dark and sullen hero (at least as far as the films go), Batman’s baddies are usually bold, colorful, and completely insane. Of course- not all baddies are created equal, and this list reaffirms that are their best, the bat baddies are great. At the worst, they are VERY bad, and I don’t mean in a villainous way.

1- Heath Ledger: The Joker

Heath Ledger as The Joker will no doubt go down as one of the all-time great performances. Instantly iconic, it’s made even more powerful by Ledger’s own tragic end shortly after filming, as indeed, he seemed to give everything he had to the part- perhaps too much in the end. Totally different from Nicholson’s take on the part, Ledger’s Joker, with his Glasgow smile, is unforgettable, and the villain all future baddies, in Batman or outside, are going to be judged by. Not only is he the best Batman villain, but he’s also probably one of the best film villains ever- ranking right up there with Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, or Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.

2- Jack Nicholson: The Joker

Jack baby! Prior to THE DARK KNIGHT, who would have ever thought he’d only be number 2 on this list? Watching Tim Burton’s BATMAN again, Nicholson still holds up really well in the part, and seems to be having a grand-ol’ time chewing the scenery. But, there’s also a veneer of madness to the part that keeps him from being a cartoon, such as his casual disfiguring of Elsa, or his glee in poisoning Gotham with his “Smilex” toxin. And, nobody’s as good as Jack when he’s bad. The museum sequence, with Prince’s “Partyman” playing in the background is one of my all-time favorite scenes in any film.

3- Tom Hardy: Bane

Let's get this out of the way: Bane is no Joker. I doubt he was ever intended to be. Lightning doesn't strike twice, and trying to turn Bane into another Joker would have been a mistake. Rather, Bane is Batman's first opponent that is physically a better specimen, and Tom Hardy brings a brutal presence to the role that calls to mind his own performance as BRONSON from a few years back. It's hard to really go into Bane's role in the Batman canon without giving anything away about TDKR, but suffice to say- there's more to the character than any of the trailers have revealed. Regardless, he's the only villain in the series that could believably best Batman in a fight, and that in itself makes him unique.

4- Michelle Pfeiffer: Catwoman

Some of you are going to ask why Anne Hathaway isn’t on this list. To me, like Eckhart, she’s not really a baddie- but Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman did indeed work in this regard. For the most part, she’s very sympathetic, but she’s bad enough to work as a villain, and Pfeiffer was downright iconic, and her performance really made BATMAN RETURNS. It’s also worth noting that she cuts a fetching figure in skintight leather. Me-ow indeed.

5- Aaron Eckhart: Two Face

Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face isn’t really a villain per se. His Harvey Dent is a hero, through and through- but after losing his lover, Rachel Dawes, and being horribly disfigured (to his credit- the first thing seems to bother him the most), he snaps- cutting a swath of vengeance across Gotham City. Up until the end, I actually saw him as a good guy, as the dirty cops and criminals he killed were more than deserving of their fate. It’s only when he takes Gordon’s son hostage that he truly crosses the line- and his transformation from a good man to a bad one is both chilling and tragic.

6- Liam Neeson: Ra's Al Ghul

Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul was the hidden villain of BATMAN BEGINS, as Ken Watanabe was supposed to play the part. But, like everything else in the Nolan films, nothing is what it seems, and Neeson returning to the film in the third act, revealing his true nature was the first real surprise of the series. Physically, Neeson is a good match for Bale, and their final battle on an out-of-control subway is really cool. But, what’s really interesting is that there’s a lot of Henri Ducard in Bruce Wayne, in that he’s a good man that simply lost his way- which is a fate that easily could have befallen Bale’s Bruce Wayne.

7- Cillian Murphy- Scarecrow

Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow has never been the most intimidating Batman villain, and as such he was only a secondary baddie in the first film- although he’s been used in intriguing ways since. Murphy’s contribution to Nolan’s films is certainly more subtle than Ledger’s or Hardy’s, but unique nonetheless. Scarecrow lacks the wit or the brawn to really go mano-a-mano with Batman, but Murphy’s unhinged performance spread across the three films have made him memorable nonetheless.

8- Danny De Vito- The Penguin

When BATMAN RETURNS came out in ’92, people were divided regarding Danny DeVito’s performance as The Penguin. I guess people were expecting another Joker, as casting a guy known for comedy in the role suggested another fun villain. What they got was something different, with Burton reimagining the character as a freakishly deformed character full of pathos. It was challenging for a film aimed at children (or so it was thought), and DeVito’s performance was panned as much as it was praised. Personally, I find it a really interesting take on what could have been a very boring character, and his contribution to the franchise has been unfairly overlooked for too long.

9- Tommy Lee Jones: Two-Face

Tommy Lee Jones fares a bit better than Carrey, as at least he brought some menace to Two-Face, even if this cartoonish take pales next to what Aaron Eckhart achieved in the Nolan films. In a better film, Jones probably would have made a very good Harvey Dent/ Two-Face, but any weight that he might have brought to the part was excised before this hit theaters (apparently the original cut of BATMAN FOREVER was substantially longer, and the novelization suggests that more of a backstory for the character was filmed, along with an alternate end where he commits suicide).

10- Jim Carrey: The Riddler

Compared to the baddies of BATMAN & ROBIN, Jim Carrey is only marginally better, as his part in BATMAN FOREVER was in full Joel Schumacher camp mode. But- Carrey was such a megastar back in the day that when FOREVER hit theaters in ’95, he was actually praised by most audiences and critics. Seventeen years later, the performance falls flat, and I doubt even Jim Carrey would argue that here he was pretty much playing Ace Ventura rather than The Riddler. Not that he had much to work with.

Dishonorable mention: The baddies of BATMAN & ROBIN

Joel Schumacher’s travesty of a Batman film contained three popular villains from the comics, and their leap onto the silver-screen couldn’t have been any worse. Mr. Freeze, a wildly popular villain who made a good impression on the animated series, should have been a no-brainer, but in all their mid-nineties wisdom, Warner Bros., cast Arnold Schwarzenegger in the part. I love Ah-nuld more than most, but damn- what a bad piece of casting. Poor guy, having to deliver lines like “the name’s Freeze- learn it well, as it shall be the ever chilling sound of your doom.” Uma Thurman doesn’t fare any better as Poison Ivy, and this, coupled with THE AVENGERS (the ’98 version) the following summer all but destroyed her career until KILL BILL came along. Oh yeah- Bane’s in this too. But, rather than the evil genius portrayed by Tom Hardy, here we get the late Jeep Stevenson as a hulking, brain-dead, green version of the baddie- reduced to playing Arnie’s henchman. Oh the humanity!
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