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Batman has a new villain ready to take him on, with Ben Affleck teasing that Deathstroke will battle the Dark Knight on the big screen.
More than any other big-screen hero, Batman has depended on his villains to make or break his movies. The Guardians of the Galaxy might be able to get away with having a subpar villain, but for whatever reason, the Batman cannot — with his most acclaimed (or mocked) films defined by the bad guys they feature.
For Affleck, there are some seriously high stakes to picking the right villain for his stand-alone Batman film, which he is set to direct. The hits and misses of the past are worth considering, beginning with 1989’s Batman and following the Caped Crusader’s other live-action outings from worst to best.
Bane (Batman & Robin)
It really doesn’t get worse than this. In the comics, Bane is not only a physical match for Batman, but an intellectual match. This Bane (Jeep Swenson), on the other hand, is an inarticulate brute and considered one of the worst big-screen comic book villains ever. Bonus points for anyone who can name a worse example in any big-budget comic book movie.
Poison Ivy (Batman & Robin)
Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) isn’t totally to blame for her lackluster big-screen debut. Robin (Chris O’Donnell) and his infatuation with Ivy irritated fans to no end (we cannot forgive those rubber lips).
Mr. Freeze (Batman & Robin)
Sorry Batman & Robin, you are three for three. Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is held up as everything that is wrong with Batman & Robin. And yes, it’s pretty awful objectively — but he’s also among the most quotable big-screen villains of all time (thus why he edges out Ivy).
The Penguin (Batman Returns)
For those unhappy with the turn Joel Schumacher’s Batman took, look no further for someone to blame than grotesque villain Penguin (Danny DeVito), who was so un-toy friendly that the powers that be looked for a new direction (i.e. a toy-friendly direction) for follow-up Batman Forever.
Talia al Ghul (The Dark Knight Rises)
Miranda Tate’s reveal in the final act of the film that she is in fact Talia al Ghul (Marion Cotillard) was among the most disliked parts of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, with the fan-favorite character’s plot feeling rushed and not given the due it deserves.
Two-Face (Batman Forever)
Tommy Lee Jones had to be convinced by producer Peter Macgregor-Scott to take on the role (“I don’t get it,” the producer recalled Jones saying after reading the script), and though there’s nothing wrong with his portrayal per se, it’s not enough to get him above the middle of the pack.
Riddler (Batman Forever)
Screenwriters Janet and Lee Batchler wrote the role for Robin Williams, and say when Jim Carrey came on board, he played the character a little more “straight” (i.e., toned down). (This was the toned-down version?!) Schumacher told Heat Vision last year he wanted a Riddler that you believed could outsmart you: “We sort of feel that with Jim — that there is a mind like Robin Williams and other great comic minds — where they are just ahead of you. That he could outsmart you. And yet be totally insane. We decided just to do the Riddler on steroids.”
Two-Face (Dark Knight)
Aaron Eckhart is the definitive big-screen Harvey Dent, but his Two-Face is perhaps the only part of The Dark Knight that felt rushed, with the final minutes of the film after the Joker (Heath Ledger) is defeated devoted to Two-Face. It tied up the film’s themes, but it’s hard to top the action of defeating Ledger’s Joker.
Scarecrow (Batman Begins)
The only villain to appear in all three of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films, Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) began the trend Nolan pioneered of fantastical supervillains grounded in reality. This version of Doctor Crane is also quite easy on the eyes.
Catwoman (Batman Returns)
Michelle Pfeiffer delivers one of the most committed Batman villain performances ever in 1992’s Batman Returns. Corny origin story aside (we’re pretty sure getting bitten by cats does not give you nine lives), she’s truly the kind of larger-than-life figure you believe might actually do all this stuff. (Note: THR did not include Anne Hathaway’s Dark Knight Rises Catwoman in this list as she isn’t a villain per se, but only does what she must do to save herself before turning to the good side.)
Bane (Dark Knight Rises)
The cards were stacked against Bane (Tom Hardy) from day one. Not only did he have to follow Ledger’s Joker, he had to erase the memory of the Batman & Robin version and close out the most beloved comic book franchise of all time. His difficult-to-understand voice is mocked to this day, as is his intricate plan for holding Gotham hostage … but he earns a lot of points for being the only villain in the Dark Knight trilogy able to physically outmatch Batman. You believe he really could break the Bat.
Ra’s Al Ghul (Batman Begins)
Before Liam Neeson was the Taken badass we know and love, he was just a humble, Oscar-nominated actor known for thoughtful dramas (OK that sounds good, too). Neeson was key to Nolan’s goal of bringing together an amazing cast to help sell Batman as something that could actually exist in the real world.
The Joker (Batman)
Jack Nicholson helped bring credibility to 1989’s Batman, which had its naysayers ahead of its release thanks to the then-controversial casting as Michael Keaton in the title role. Nicholson delivered a performance as the Joker fans thought no one could top, and for nearly 20 years they were right.
The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Heath Ledger is the only person to win an Oscar for a superhero movie performance, and it’s unlikely his transformative work will ever be topped in a Batman movie.
Honorable mentions for Suicide Squad’s Joker (Jared Leto) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), whom THR didn’t include since they did not appear in a Batman film, though they showed a lot of potential.
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