The 15 best Batman movie villains

Spoiler alert for The Batman (2022)

No cartoon franchise has the legacy of Batman. In 1966, a feature film arrived with Batman and Robin fighting the villains from their iconic TV show. Over 20 years later, Tim Burton brought the first serious Batman movie to the big screen, and the rest is history.

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Over the years, Batman has been gothic, he has been bright and colorful, he has been dark and brooding, and he has even fought Superman. As each film passes, the villains transform and change based on Batman’s personality and the director’s aesthetics that guide the film, and some of these villains remain more memorable than others.


Updated March 11, 2022 by Shawn S. Lealos: With Batman in theaters in 2022, a new era of Batman villains appeared on the big screen. Many of these were villains who had appeared in previous films but in very different roles. The new film brought Penguin back as a criminal rather than an outsider, Catwoman as an anti-hero who wanted revenge, and Riddler as fans had never seen him before.

With the new entrances to the Batman universe, it made it necessary to reconsider which villains in Batman movies were the best and brought the greatest danger to Caped Crusader and the people of Gotham City.

Riddler (Batman Forever)

Jim Carrey as the mystery man

When Joel Schumacher took over as director of Batman franchise, things changed. The Gothic sensibility of the Tim Burton films was gone, replaced by the colorful cartoon aspects of the Batman world. There’s a reason only one of the villains from his two films made it onto this list.

Jim Carrey, however, was over-the-top and wild as Riddler. His performance was a highlight in Batman forever and made him by far the best villain from Schumacher’s run on the franchise.

Max Shreck (Batman returns)

Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) in Batman Returns

IN Batman returns, an unlikely actor stepped into the role of a lesser-known comic book villain and delivered an iconic performance. While most people remember Penguin and Catwoman as the main villains in the film, the primary antagonist was actually Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck.

Shreck was the millionaire who tried to kill Selina Kyle early in the film, which made her become a Catwoman. It is he who manipulated Penguin into taking the life of crime. Shreck pulled at the threads, and he did so in a way that only Walken could, gloriously over the top.

United Underworld (Batman 1966)

Batman classic movie villain.

Batman was a kitsch TV cult classic from the 60’s that saw Batman do strange things like dance and play chess with his young protege Dick Grayson or Robin. It also featured a who is who of actors who took on the roles of villains in the TV show. In 1966, a movie based on the show arrived and featured four of the best Batman villains.

Joker (Cesar Romero), Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Riddler (Frank Gorshin) were joined by a new Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) as they teamed up as United Underworld to battle Batman and Robin. They were glorious over the top in the best possible way.

Carmine Falcone (The Batman)

Carmine Falcone talks to Bruce Wayne in The Batman.

Carmine Falcone was one of the main villains behind the scenes in Batman. This was not the first appearance of Gotham City’s crime boss. Tom Wilkinson recorded him Batman beginswhile Eric Roberts took on the role of Sal Maroni in The Black Knight. John Turturro beat both of these actors with his performance Batman.

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He was part of Bruce Wayne’s past when he knew Thomas Wayne and helped Bruce’s father in ways that terrified Batman. But the film also suggested that Falcone might have been responsible for the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne, adding more blood to the man’s hands.

Scarecrow (Batman Begins)

Scarecrow terrorizes Gotham City.

Christopher Nolan brought in some great villains for his Dark Knight trilogy, and Cillian Murphy is so great in what he brought to the role of Scarecrow. It seems almost hard to believe that it was Scarecrow of all people who tied all three films together from the villain’s side of things.

He was scary, he was complex, and he was dangerous, especially in Batman begins. He was never the main villain, which is probably why he remains so criminally underrated.

Joker (The LEGO Batman Movie)

Joker looks threatening in the LEGO Batman Movie.

There have been several portrayals of the Joker in the films, from the Cesar Romero version to Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal to Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal in Joker, the only one who had nothing to do with Batman. One of the most interesting came in though The LEGO Batman movie.

This movie was the closest a Batman adaptation on the big screen came to kitsch from the Adam West era. The relationship between Batman and the Joker was a highlight where the two proved how much they needed each other and did so in a way that allowed the kids to participate in the fun.

Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)

Bane prepares to attack Batman.

While Bane was not the main villain in The dark rider rises and turned out to be a lackey for Talia al Ghul, he was still the best villain in the film and a true terrorizing monster. He had a great story and a tragic tale when he wanted to protect Talia, but at the same time became a scary mercenary.

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Tom Hardy and Christopher Nolan got something naughty because of the voice modifiers that made him almost impossible to understand, but it never mattered. Bane dominated, and when he got the appealing moment to break Batman’s back, it was one of the film’s best images.

Penguin (Batman returns)

Penguin looks intimidating in Batman Returns.

Colin Farrell had a lot to live up to when he showed up Batman like a penguin. This is because Danny DeVito has already been given the perfect role as the detective. Batman returns had three main villains where Max Shreck got the short end of the stick.

But Penguin was spectacular here, and his background story made him a sympathetic villain, and DeVito in turn delivered an impressive and terrifying performance as the little Batman villain.

Riddler (The Batman)

Riddler kills a man in The Batman.

The most important villain i Batman was Riddler, but this was a version of the Batman villain that no one had ever seen before. The only thing Riddler offered here that resembled the comics or previous films was his penchant for giving clues in the form of riddles.

This man was a murderer, but thought he was the hero of his own story. He punished the corrupt in Gotham City and thought Batman was his accomplice. Paul Dano delivered an eclectic performance that hit its crescendo when he ended up in Arkham, making the character a memorable addition to the franchise that could return in the future.

Ra’s Al Ghul (Batman Begins)

Ra's al Ghul talks to Bruce Wayne.

Liam Neeson played an ally of Bruce Wayne in the first part of Batman beginsand it is not until he reveals that he is not Henri Ducard, but in reality, the evil Ra’s al Ghul is that the film launches into a downright superhero film.

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Neeson is excellent as the leader of the League of Shadows, a master tactician who can move pawns on his board to get the results he wants. He was so significant in the overall story that his daughter arrived to almost overthrow Batman in the final film of the trilogy.

Penguin (Batmen)

Penguin stares at Batman in The Batman.

Although it’s not the primary villain, Penguin was a breakout character in Batman. An almost unrecognizable Colin Farrell turned into the longtime Batman villain in a character that was just as far removed from Danny DeVito’s performance in Batman returns that it’s almost two different villains.

Just like in the comics, Penguin is a club owner here with ambitions for bigger things. With Carmine Falcone gone, Penguin now has a chance to become the new crime boss in Gotham City, and an upcoming HBO Max series is likely to tell that story.

Catwoman (Batman returns)

Catwoman looks sexy in Batman Returns.

There have been almost as many Catwoman actresses as there were Batman actors. Between the original TV show and the 1966 film, three women played the villain. Halle Berry played a version in a solo film, and there were two in the mainstream Batman movies, with Anne Hathaway in The dark rider rises, and Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman returns.

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Most fans agree that Pfeiffer is at the top of the rankings when it comes to Catwoman, bringing sex appeal to the character while making her a sympathetic character that Batman eventually tries to save.

Joker (Batman)

Joker smiling in a Batman promo.

For more than a decade, Batman movie fans had one face that they always returned to when watching Caped Crusader’s greatest enemy. Jack Nicholson created The Joker in a new and deadly style. Nicholson took the theaters from Cesar Romero and gave it a deadly twist that showed the Joker could kill anyone and do it with a smile.

Heath Ledger, Joaquin Phoenix and Jared Leto brought their own versions in recent years, but many fans still consider Nicholson to be the best Joker in cinema history.

Two-Face (The Dark Knight)

Two Face is sitting in a car in The Dark Knight.

Hos Tim Burton Batman in 1989, he introduced Harvey Dent, as portrayed by Billy Dee Williams. Although that version of the character is funny, The Black Knight presented one of the greatest Batman villains of all time in all its glory.

Aaron Eckhart played Dent as a true hero, but as he prophesied in the film, heroes die as heroes, or they live long enough to become villains. When Dent lost the woman he loved and half of his face, he became a tragic fallen hero and heart and soul in the best Batman movie ever made.

Joker (The Dark Knight)

Joker in a detention cell in The Dark Knight.

While Two-Face was the perfect villain in The Black Knight, the fallen hero who found himself as Batman’s most dangerous villain, the best Batman movie villain ever appeared in that movie as well. Heath Ledger took on the role of the Joker and turned him into something unique and ingenious.

Gone were Jack Nicholson’s silly one-liners, and instead was a dark and sarcastic sociopath who killed someone for fun and never took the situation seriously. Ledger won an Oscar posthumously for the role and deserved it. Joker is the flag bearer of superhero movie villains.

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