With a new Joker film starring Joaquin Phoenix due to hit cinemas soon, it seems high time the iconic Batman villain had his own dedicated film. Even if some of the previous Batman films have felt a little like Joker films due to some amazing and dominant performances – Phoenix’s Joker promises a more psychological, complex Joker than ever before. Which got us thinking about some of the best Batman villain portrayals that have left us wishing they had a film of their own. So here are our Top Seven Batman Movie Villains.
When people think of great Batman films, they almost certainly don’t think of the 1995 addition to the family – Batman Forever. Often considered one of the worst Batman films ever, this instalment was criticised for having a loose sometimes even boring plot and visuals that people found fun at best and plain repulsive at worst. Now we have sold the film to you, let us introduce you to one of the highlights – Mr E Nygma, otherwise known as The Riddler – a scientific genius who becomes wracked with the need for revenge when Bruce Wayne rejects one of his inventions.
Indeed, someone who doesn’t know they are in the worst batman film ever is Jim Carrey who is, as ever, giving his performance everything he has. And whilst it isn’t much of a claim to fame he is by far the best performance in this film. As a wacky nerd with excessive eye make-up who creates a device allowing people to enter their TVs so he can take over their minds – this role strangely seems made for Carrey’s acting style. No matter how bonkers and exhausting the film itself is, Carrey is doing what he does best – giving 100% over the top nonsensical energy which builds into a dominating force over the course of the story. Carrey will always be a bit much for some people – but love him or hate him, you can’t deny he is pulling off the green cat-suit in a way most people cannot.
Critically received much better than Batman Forever, Tim Burton’s 1992 instalment Batman Returns was a more rich and seductive interpretation of Gotham – rsulting in two academy award and BAFTA nominations respectively. With Burton as the director, it is no surprise Danny De Vito was subjected to a classic Burton make-over to play the comical villain The Penguin. With heavy eyeliner, scraggy hair and dressed in a dumpy onesie – De Vito’s look alone was an iconic addition to the series.
De Vito isn’t known for being cast in hunky roles, but as psychopath orphan raised by penguins Oswald Cobblepot – it is undoubtedly one of his lest flattering undertakings. And after the exhausting three to four hour to transformation in make-up and costume you really did believe he had been brought up by animals. Comical appearance aside however, De Vito still gave us a villain we could mock and be deeply disturbed by in equal measure.
Planning mass infanticide by murdering all the first-born sons of the richest families of Gotham, De Vito is still the repulsive felon we need him to be. And it is very much his repulsiveness which makes him stick in your mind as the way De Vito depicts The Penguin’s greed for power, fame and sex leaves you undoubtedly hoping he achieves none of the above.
Whilst most think of him as hunky Brummy bad-boy Thomas Shelby, long before Peaky Blinders Cillian Murphy began portraying a genius psychopath with a grain bag over his head – Scarecrow. Unlike most of the actors on this list, Murphy’s Scarecrow has been revisited time and time again in the latest additions to the Batman franchise. And with good reason – he seems too great a character to let go even if he has never been given a very dominating part.
We first see him in the Batman Begins in 2005, a film often credited with breathing new life into the franchise and changing the tone of the Batman series. Scarecrow is – by name and nature – a truly terrifying adversary and one of the most surreal. Torturing his victims using a toxin that inflicts their worst fears upon them, Scarecrow poses a very different threat to most Batman villains and edges into horror film territory. Murphy in all films is creepy and unnerving no matter how large or small his part and whilst this handsome man might not look like your average monster – it is his very lack of physical intimidation which makes him horrifying. Everything about him is down to psychological threat – he is truly insane and unpredictable and there is no reaching his humanity. It’s just a shame that they cover Cillian Murphy’s handsome face with a brown sack.
With a power-house cast of Heath Ledger and Christian Bale, it would be easy to be overshadowed in the 2008 Batman film The Dark Knight. Even easier to be over-shadowed when you are playing a comparatively minor character. But when Aaron Eckhart took on the role of the anti-hero Two Face he wasn’t prepared to take a back seat and researched every bit of his character like he was writing a dissertation on him (and that is a degree we can get on board with).
Previously played by Tommy Lee Jones in the aforementioned train-wreck Batman Forever, Aaron Eckhart clearly wanted to make a big impression playing the district attorney who sets out to take down Gotham’s organised crime but loses his girlfriend and half of his face in an explosion. Whereas it would be easy to represent Two Face as a good guy gone crazy with revenge, juggling schizophrenic or bipolar tendencies, Eckhart brought Two Face away from such simple explanation. Yes, Eckhart’s Two Face demonstrates how even the best of us can fall but, his character arc isn’t a neat archetype.
It is the understated and sincere way Eckhart plays Two Face, in a world where a lot of Batman villains are very exaggerated, that he manages to make his character hard to label. Two Face never truly becomes an evil lunatic, but by not drastically changing his character in this way Eckhart is also suggesting neither was Harvey Dent ever intrinsically good either. He is complex and he is human which makes him feel more real. And for such an often understated character, Eckhart’s portrayal makes his Two Face one of the most under-rated Batman villains of all time.
Following after The Dark Knight was never going to be an easy feat for any villain, so Tom Hardy took a bold step when he signed up to play Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. And it was clearly not a task he took lightly when the already notoriously bulky Hardy showed up as Bane clearly having worked his ass off in the gym. His sheer physical presence in this film is astonishing alone and as the only villain to have ever ‘broken the bat’ he needed to look like he could throw his weight around.
However, when discussing how Bane ‘breaks the bat’ this is as much a psychological over-powering as a physical one and it is Bane’s intellect alongside his physical presence that makes him such a worthy opponent. Hardy’s choice of voice is key, it is not what you’d expect from the frightening exterior. The well-pronounced language and calm tone somehow makes him sound more terrifying as it is a constant reminder of his intellect and level of control. He is a strategist who is always perfectly executing his plan and even when it looks like he might be in trouble, you can’t guarantee it isn’t all part of his game. Of course, Batman is often pitched against evil genius’ but not many have this paired in the same way as Bane’s physical bulk and raw strength. He is truly a match for Batman – if only he got the death he deserved.
Alongside Danny De Vito in Batman Returns was another brilliant villain in the form of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. And it is a crying shame that Catwoman lost screen time to The Penguin because she is, in our opinion, a more engaging villain. Inarguably, Pfieffer is also the most iconic cinematic Catwoman of all time despite valiant efforts by Anne Hathaway and less valiant efforts by others… (Halle Berry maybe use some images of her?)
In this film, Catwoman undergoes a transformation from infantile, feeble girl to a sexually confident, sassy and dangerous woman. Not only is it great to see the process of a villain being created but there is something about Catwoman’s empowering conversion that is enchanting. It is also the playful way Pfeiffer carries out her role that seems to invite us along for the ride and her delivery of most of the script ensures nearly every line is a quote. Catwoman also has not just physical prowess but a sex appeal that seems to stupefy a lot of the men she encounters – including Batman. Whereas Bane was a villain to match Batman, Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is the villain who can subdue him.
Ok so shoot us – we just couldn’t pick between the two. When Jack Nicholson played the Joker in Batman in 1989, it seemed no one would ever be able to rival his performance. Yet nearly twenty years later in 2008, Heath Ledger gave us a Joker in The Dark Knight no one could have anticipated. Both films seemed more engaged with the Joker than Batman thanks to the brilliant performances of both Nicholson and Ledger.
We hope Nicholson won’t mind us saying that he has an unrivalled talent for playing mad characters. He was clearly comfortable in the role and, much like Pfeiffer, you feel Nicholson wholeheartedly loved playing the Joker and it is hard not to get swept up in his enthusiasm. For all his dark deeds, Nicholson’s Joker was one of joy – and that in itself was terrifying as he was convincingly a lunatic who found genuine bliss in suffering. Unlike Ledger’s Joker, Nicholson was a smooth criminal who was presented immaculately. He is a perfectionist and hilariously over-the-top. While you may struggle to laugh at Ledger’s Joker, Nicholson invites us to enjoy his performance.
Ledger’s Joker on the other hand was a very different but equally brilliant depiction. Rather than try and emulate Nicholson’s famous interpretation, Ledger sought a character who was never able to shake his own torment. His now notorious method for getting into character including living as a complete recluse without human contact. The result is a Joker who is complex, twisted and in some ways more human than ever before. With a fresh backstory of child abuse and degraded physical appearance and movement we almost find ourselves empathising at times with Ledger’s Joker (before he does something incredibly unforgivable of course). We just can’t choose between the two but perhaps, because both actors had such a different approach to the character, they are incomparable.
So will Joaquin Phoenix be able to rival these two juggernaut performances as the Joker or bring something new and equally valuable to the character’s history? Judging by early reactions he’s going to be a strong contender. What is your opinion on Nicholson versus Ledger? Or did you feel we missed any iconic villains on this list? Let us know in the comments below.