It’s no surprise that when a Batman movie comes around the audience is most excited to see the villains.  One can’t help but relish in them no matter how evil, amoral, twisted, or silly they may be. Here’s a look at the pantheon of Batman’s foils, and how they size up in retrospect.
 

Batman T.V Show (1966-1968) and Batman: The Movie (1966)
When talking about ridiculous Batman villains it would be a crime to leave out the cult 60s T.V series that offered some of the most delightfully campy characters in television history.  Some of the more notable recurring villains that showed up in both television and the 1966 movie are Cesar Romero’s Joker, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler, Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman (Lee Meriwether stepped in for Catwoman in the film). There’s defiantly a flamboyant style of acting that has to be appreciated, and all of these actors were cemented as pop culture icons because of it. I’ll spare you King Tutt, Egg Head, and the Mad Hatter from a ranking.

Ceasar Romero’s Joker: 3 1/3 hand Buzzers

Burgess Meredith’s Penguin: 4 long cigarettes

Frank Gorshin’s Riddler: 3 bowler hats

Julie Newmar 3 meows

Eartha Kitt: 4 purrs

Lee Meriwether: 3 ½ gold medallion belts
 

Batman (1989)
Something tells me that Jack Nicholson’s only character direction given by newbie director Tim Burton was just to be the “Jack” that audiences know and love.  For the most part it works because Nicholson’s screen persona over the years lends itself all too well to this sly trickster.  But, while Nicholson’s Joker is defiantly memorable there’s something oddly safe about its characterization.  There was no big stretch to really do anything with the character that already wasn’t on the page.  Nothing quite digs too deep in the psyche of the dark things that go on in this clown’s head.
 

Jack Nicholson’s Joker: 2 ½ long pistols
 

Batman Returns (1992)
A seemingly unlikely pair Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and Danny DeVito steal every scene in Batman Returns.  Pfeiffer added a new dimension to the cliché crazy cat lady. Selena Kyle is a dowdy, but charming, secretary to a horrid executive Max Shreck (Christopher Walkin), who after being pushed out of a high rise window by Shreck becomes her cat alter ego, donning a vinyl dominatrix suit, (Can you believe she made that with one punk rock jacket, and a sewing machine! Quite the Renaissance woman.), and seeks revenge on Shreck. The performance by Pfeiffer was unexpected, and was a visual spectacle.  Note how the cat suit slowly deteriorates in every scene she’s in, and her newfound sexcretary permed hairstyle echoes her mental state – getting more and more wild and frizzed-out as her psyche declines.

Danny DeVito’s Penguin is also a nasty delight. Thrown into the Gotham sewer as a hell-raising infant by none other than Tim Burton alums Paul Reubens, and Diane Salinger (Pee-wee’s Big Adventure), Penguin is raised by zoo Penguins, and becomes an underground leader of a band of misfit circus performers. Only in Gotham City would this birdman be a viable candidate for mayor. DeVito has a lot of fun with how revolting this character is and he adds a lot of throw back to Burgess Meredith in his line delivery.

Michelle Pheiffer’s Catwoman: 4 bullwhip lashes

Danny DeVito’s Penguin: 3 ½ trick machine gun umbrellas
 

Batman Forever (1995)
I think we can all agree that this was the beginning of the slump of the Batman movies, and Tommy Lee Jones’s Harvey “Two-Face” Dent and Jim Carrey’s Riddler are pretty cheesy.  Jones’s Two Face has an all but too hammy delivery, and Jim Carrey does his rubber faced Ace Ventura shtick as Riddler.  I do love Debi Mazar and Drew Barrymore as Two Faces’s yin and yang gun molls Sugar and Spice though.

Tommy Lee Jones’s Two Face: 1 ½ day-glow animal print business suits

Jim Carrey’s Riddler: 2 spangled question mark body suits
 

Batman and Robin (1997)
God bless Joel Schumacher, he put everything but the kitchen sink in this disaster.  Regarded by most as the caped crusader’s rock bottom, it has some of the most laughingly bad dialogue that’s worthy of a midnight movie screening.  Seriously why hasn’t this gone the way of Rocky Horror, or the Room yet? I personally embrace how terrible the performances by Arnold Schwarzenegger as pun-heavy Mr. Freeze, and Uma Thurman’s va va voom Poison Ivy.  And does anyone even remember Bane was already in a Batman movie?

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze: 1 comically over sized ice diamond

Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy: 2 cherry red bouffant wigs

Jim Swenson’s Bane: 1 luchador bondage mask
 

Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins gave the villains a clean slate, by taking them more seriously and grounding the films in a sense of realism.  The villains here are the more under the radar fan favorites.  Pitch perfect casting of Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane “The Scarecrow”, and Liam Neeson’s Henri Ducard/Ra’s al Ghul lay the groundwork for the more well known villains in future installments in this reboot franchise.

What I’ve always loved about the Scarecrow is that he poses an intriguing psychological threat to Bruce Wayne and Gotham City. He doesn’t use his tactics to commit crimes for wealth or power, he does it for research on the effects of fear in humans.  Ra’s al Ghul is the classic mentor turned archenemy of the series, and one never quite knows what this mysterious man has up his sleeve.

Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow: 4 burlap masks

Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul: 4 fiery subway explosions (Spoiler alert!)
 

The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath Ledger’s Joker is extraordinary acting. It’s a frightening character study that digs deep, and finally portrays him as the maniacal criminal that had always been missing from how he was previously portrayed. (Although Mark Hamill’s vocal performance in Batman the Animated Series comes close.)  What the Joker is out to accomplish on his war on Batman is a Gotham without rules or order. He challenges the order of society for the purpose of creating utter chaos.

Aaron Eckart’s fallen White Knight Harvey Dent adds a bit more of a fleshed out character to Two Face that was missing from the series. As Gotham’s hot shot district attorney proves that for every man is two halves of a coin – one side noble who fights for justice, the other dark who is motivated by revenge.

Heath Ledger’s Joker: 4 disappearing pencils

Aaron Eckart’s Two Face: 4 scratched coins