The 4 Best Batman Villains of All Time, Ranked (And Why They're Awesome)

Batman has gone up against many different antagonists, but only a handful of them can be considered timeless memorable villains.
The 4 Best Batman Villains of All Time, Ranked (And Why They're Awesome)
Image credit: DC Comics

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There are few heroes with a more impressive rogues gallery than Batman. Over the decades, the Dark Knight has come head-to-head with some of the most memorable villains in comic book history.

So much so that several of those villains have been given their own separate movies that don't even feature Batman in them. But who are the best of the best? Not all Batman villains are made equal.

Here are our picks for the best Batman villains of all time and the factors that make them so good at being bad.

4. The Penguin

First introduced in 1941, The Penguin has been around nearly as long as the Batman himself—and in that time, there have been countless versions of Oswald "The Penguin" Cobblepot.

In most iterations, he's a major player in Gotham City's criminal underworld and has all the cunning you'd expect from someone in his position. As the owner and operator of the Iceberg Lounge, Cobblepot is uniquely positioned with his finger on the pulse of Gotham.

And unlike Batman's other enemies, The Penguin isn't usually portrayed as someone with a mental health condition. Indeed, he's completely stable and sane, making him stand out among some of the other names on this list.

Also interesting is that while The Penguin is a known criminal, he's also an occasional informant for Batman and other heroes. This gives an extra wrinkle to his relationship with the rest of the city. But no matter what, above all, The Penguin is always out for himself.

3. Poison Ivy

Ever since her first appearance in 1966, Poison Ivy has held a unique place among Batman villains.

Her ability to control plants and manipulate people with a single kiss made her a formidable opponent for the Dark Knight, but what really made her unusual is that—as time went on—her motivations became more relatable.

Her message that mankind is destroying the planet might have seemed radical in the 70s and 80s, but it turns out... she was kinda right.

Poison Ivy is one of Batman's most powerful enemies, with the ability to turn even the smallest plants into dangerous obstacles. She's come as close as anyone to finishing off the Dark Knight, although her personal attraction to him has stopped her from going through with it.

She also has a fun dynamic with other characters in Gotham. It's now hard to imagine Harley Quinn without Ivy or Ivy without Quinn after their portrayal in the New 52 series and the Harley Quinn animated series.

The sheer power she wields, along with her motivations, makes her an obvious choice for one of Batman's greatest villains.

2. Mr. Freeze

Victor Fries was first introduced in 1959 as a simple ice-based villain who was equally dangerous for his bad puns as his freeze gun. However, during the early days of Batman: The Animated Series, writer Paul Dini gave the character a complete makeover.

It was this version that introduced his dying wife Nora and his quest to fund her cure with a series of crimes. His body irreparably damaged by his research into cryogenics, he was reliant on a high-tech suit to survive at non-freezing temperatures.

Mr. Freeze had the most tragic backstory of any Gotham villain, making it almost bittersweet when Batman inevitably thwarted his plots. Freeze's motivations were always rooted in his love for his wife, so it was easy to relate to him even as he was plunging the city into an eternal winter.

Somewhere along the way, his grief made him lose his mind and forget the line between right and wrong, but there's often the hope that he might find his way back if his wife were somehow saved. Despite everything he's done, we still want to see him get his happy ending.

1. The Joker

It's impossible to talk about Batman without bringing up The Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker is among the most dangerous of Batman's villains—not because of his powers or physical abilities, but because of his sheer unpredictability.

Indeed, The Joker is no more than a mere person. In most of his incarnations, his past is a mystery; at this point, it's assumed that even he doesn't know his own past, having stated that if he's going to have a backstory, he prefers it to be multiple choice.

For The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan achieved Joker's inconsistent unpredictability by having different writers produce scripts for different scenes of the character, without allowing them to exchange notes.

The unknowable logic of Joker gives rise to his remarkable relationship with Batman, who he sees as the other side of his chaotic coin. Whereas Batman tries to impose order on a chaotic world, Joker seeks to introduce chaos into a world restricted by society's expectations.

The two are linked together in this way, destined to obsess over each other's motivations until the end of time, which is why he has to be considered Batman's greatest villain.