Clockwise from top left: The Dark Knight (Screenshot), The Batman (Photo: Warner Bros.), Batman: The Movie (Screenshot), Batman Returns (Screenshot), Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (Screenshot), Batman And Robin (Screenshot)
This Friday, justice gets a new face. Namely, that of Robert Pattinson, the latest movie star to obscure half his own visage under black rubber to play the caped crusader, as well as his alter ego, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. The Batman will surely inspire a new round of debate as to who wore the cape and cowl best. Was it Michael Keaton? Christian Bale? Ben Affleck?
It’s a fun question. But the truth is that Batman isn’t the most challenging or rewarding role. The man behind the mask probably matters less, in the grand scheme of cape-and-cowl things, than whatever colorful lunatic he’s squaring off against. Consensus holds that the Bat has the greatest of all rogues’ galleries—an unparalleled perp lineup of adversaries. And over the years, that’s been a boon for Hollywood stars and character actors alike, who have stolen whole pictures (like Jack Nicholson did in 1989, demanding, receiving, and arguably earning his top billing) or just improved them.
Of course, all supervillains are not created equal. There’s a range even when it comes to a particular character; we’ve had great Jokers, and not so great ones. To that end, the following is an attempt to comprehensively rank every bad guy Batman has tussled with on the big screen—to create a hierarchy of dastardliness, to sort the well-baked hams from the undercooked ones, to differentiate between Gotham’s most wanted and its most inane.
We stuck to theatrical releases, hence the absence of, say, Hush and Mutant Leader. Henchmen, corporate foes, and disposable mob bosses are allowed. And we included reluctant villains that eventually become allies, like the Man Of Steel and multiple iterations of Catwoman. To be considered, a villain had to have some onscreen relationship to Batman, which is why Harley Quinn made the cut (she spars with Bataffleck for a few minutes in Suicide Squad) but fellow Arkham regular Killer Croc did not. And if our No. 1 is obvious, what can we say? A true flair for the dramatic is hard to miss.