Batman needs villains.

Without them, what would he do all day? Count his cash? Tinker with his gadgets? Ah, here's an idea: take a vacation?

Nah, Gotham's villains give Batman something to do, and he secretly craves their attention and their meddling. He is defined by the villains he goes up against.

Good thing for the Caped Crusader that there are no shortage of bad guys in Gotham City to keep him occupied. Some even come back time and time again, in different incarnations. How many times can he square off with the Joker? (The answer: infinite times. They complete each other.)

With "The Batman" hitting screens this week (see our review here), let's look back at the last 30-plus years of big-screen Batman films and rank his biggest foes.

A few caveats: "Justice League" is not included here, because Steppenwolf is not a traditional Batman villain. Colin Farrell's Penguin in "The Batman" is also absent, since in the movie he's a supporting player and is relegated to something of a background role.

Liam Neeson's Ra's al Ghul is also missing, because the focus here was on the over-the-top characters and traditional Batman villains that make good Halloween costumes. If you spot someone dressed up as Ra's al Ghul, send a pic and we'll revise the list.

Also Catwoman is included on this list — and several times, at that — even if her status as a "villain" fluctuates from film to film. She's definitely one of the characters that makes Gotham so colorful, and that's why she's here.

And with that, on with the list...

16. Jeep Swenson

(as Bane in "Batman & Robin," 1997) 

Swenson certainly looked impressive as Bane, who in Joel Schumacher's vision was a pumped up toxic freak. But as the third villain in "Batman & Robin," the pro wrestler's Bane has almost nothing to do, so he hangs around Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy and becomes her henchman. And with his dialogue limited to grunts and utterances of his own name ("BANE!"), Bane is more a curiosity than he is a menace to society. Sadly, Swenson died in August 1997, just two months after "Batman & Robin" hit screens. He was 40 years old.

15. Henry Cavill

(as Superman in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," 2016)

Is Superman even a bad guy? "Batman v Superman" is best totally forgotten, and it exists only to set up "Justice League," which would go on to encounter its own set of issues. Here, Bats and Supes go head to head, smashing each other through cinder block walls and concrete floors for two-and-a-half hours in a mind-numbing fight to the death, or at least until they both realize they have important people named Martha in their lives. No disrespect to Cavill, but Batman's main enemy in this outing is the production itself.

14. Anne Hathaway

(as Catwoman in "The Dark Knight Rises," 2012)

She's Catwoman by name, but it feels like Hathaway never goes full Catwoman in "The Dark Knight Rises," which already had enough going on without another major character's mythology added into the mix. She meows but she never purrs, and Christopher Nolan's more grounded approach to the Bat-erial didn't allow Hathaway to dial it up the way she needed to to truly make an impression, so she ended up kind of adrift. Admit it: you forgot she even played Catwoman in this movie.

13. Tommy Lee Jones

(as Two-Face in "Batman Forever," 1995)

See, he's got a good side and a bad side, he flips a coin and he wears very loud suits that are split into two patterns. That was about all there was to Jones' Harvey 'Two-Face' Dent in "Batman Forever," and the Oscar-winner — he had just won for "The Fugitive" at the time — did a lot of loud cackling in an effort to not have the screen totally stolen from him by co-star Jim Carrey (for whom he had little patience, according to reports). Aaron Eckhart's portrayal of Harvey Dent in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" would bring some humanity to the character that in this version is just an obnoxious cartoon. Cool makeup though.

12. Zach Galifianakis

(as the Joker in "The Lego Batman Movie," 2017) 

The "Hangover" star's voice-only portrayal of Gotham's top baddie acknowledged the ridiculousness of the Batman-Joker relationship — "who else drives you to one-up yourself the way I do?" he asks Will Arnett's Batman, and when Bats answers "Bane," the Joker answers with a dismissive, "no he doesn't" — and ultimately acknowledges that without one, the other doesn't exist. They're like Tom & Jerry, the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote or Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Galifianakis shows the open heart underneath the distorted smile.

11. Uma Thurman

(as Poison Ivy in "Batman & Robin," 1997)

Still hot off of "Pulp Fiction" at the time, Thurman was plugged into a high profile role as an eco-conscious seductress in a film that would spell disaster for the series. She certainly hams things up, channeling golden era Hollywood bombshells and reciting every line ("I'm a lover, not a fighter!") like it was meant to be the tagline on a poster. It's a kooky performance in a bizarro movie, made even crazier by the fact that a character who was essentially out to save the environment — "I am Mother Nature," she says, "and the time has come for plants to take back the world so rightfully ours!" — is portrayed as a bad guy. Today, she'd be a hero.

10. Cillian Murphy

(as Scarecrow in "Batman Begins," 2005) 

Murphy's Dr. Jonathan Crane is not the chief villain in "Batman Begins" — that role belongs to Liam Neeson's Ra's al Ghul, who reveals himself to be a bad guy after first training Bruce Wayne to become Batman — but he leaves a big impression in a mid-sized role (and later makes cameo appearances in "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises," just so you know he's always hanging around Gotham). Crane is a psychopath shrink who has control of a paranoia potion which he's using to drive people mad, and Murphy, a frequent collaborator of director Christopher Nolan (he'll star in Nolan's upcoming "Oppenheimer"), is chilling in the role.

9. Arnold Schwarzenegger

(as Mr. Freeze in "Batman & Robin," 1997)

Speaking of chilling, there are no cold-related puns that go unturned in Schwarzenegger's depiction of Mr. Freeze, who wants to turn Gotham City into an ice cube to help save the life of his wife, or something. No matter. Schwarzenegger looks awesome, covered in blue-gray paint, head shaved, and sometimes chomping on a cigar, while he totes around guns that look like Super Soakers that shoot ice rays at anything in his path. In a comic strip of a movie, he's the most animated element of all, and the role came just as he was finishing his run as the world's biggest action star. It's tough to mount any sort of case for "Batman & Robin," but Schwarzenegger is kind of on fire here, if you'll excuse the pun.

8. Danny DeVito

(as the Penguin in "Batman Returns," 1992)

DeVito is unrecognizable as Oswald Cobblepot, a deformed, grotesque figure who was raised by penguins in the sewers near the abandoned Gotham City Zoo and who returns to the city after a three decade absence to mount a mayoral campaign with the secret intention of killing all of Gotham's firstborn sons. (And you thought today's politicians were messed up.) DeVito's Penguin is a creation only Tim Burton could have come up with — he's like an evil cousin to Edward Scissorhands — and it was Burton who turned him into a literal freak of nature, rather than the gangster character Cobblepot was in the comics. He's creepily good.

7. Jim Carrey

(as the Riddler in "Batman Forever," 1995)

In 1994 Jim Carrey set the world on fire, starring in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective," "The Mask" and "Dumb and Dumber." While he's third billed on the movie's poster, he was arguably the biggest draw to "Batman Forever," bringing his unhinged energy to the role of Gotham's prankster prince. Carrey certainly went wild in the role, bouncing around the screen like a rubber ball, but it felt like Jim Carrey was playing Jim Carrey dressed as the Riddler, rather than Jim Carrey playing the Riddler. Still, it's tough to argue with Carrey in his heyday, even if this was a bit of a comedown from his trifecta the year prior.

6. Paul Dano

(as the Riddler in "The Batman," 2022)

And here's the opposite end of the spectrum from Jim Carrey, as Paul Dano plays a straight up serial killer in "The Batman," with not a hint of joking around. It's a glimpse at how we treat our superhero properties today and how we treated them in the '90s, and it's also a mirror of the country's temperature then vs. now. Do we need our "Batman" movies to be as intense as "Se7en?" Probably not. But Dano's full commitment to the role brings an element of sheer terror to the film, and his Batman villain is like no other that has come before him. If the intent was to leave you feeling shook, mission accomplished.

5. Zoë Kravitz

(as Catwoman in "The Batman," 2022)

The Catwoman character is a cat burglar, and Kravitz quietly makes off with "The Batman." She's a sleek presence and helps to lighten the tone of Matt Reeves' colossally heavy rumination on vengeance, and she gives Robert Pattinson's Batman his only moments of joy on-screen. She's a strong, resilient presence and the movie comes alive when she's on screen; flip the script just a little and this is her story, and Batman is a supporting character in her world. A few edits and maybe that's possible. Release the Catwoman cut!

4. Tom Hardy

(as Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises," 2012) 

And the most boffo characterization of a "Batman" villain easily goes to the fabulously eccentric Tom Hardy, whose Bane sounds like an auto-tuned carnival barker and who dresses in a series of impeccable winter coats. Hardy bulked up for the role and based his voice on a gypsy bare-knuckle boxer named Bartley Gorman, which probably wasn't in your top 100 guesses. Even though it's difficult to understand what he's saying, Hardy's Bane strikes quite a presence and leaves a lasting impression. Bane-voice jokes abounded in pop culture in the film's wake, and still crop up today, a testament to the insanity of Hardy's performance.

3. Michelle Pfeiffer

(as Catwoman in "Batman Returns," 1992)

She cracked a whip with authority and redefined the leather catsuit, and showed that superhero baddies weren't just a boys club. Michelle Pfeiffer's take on Catwoman in "Batman Returns" was iconic, and remains the most celebrated incarnation of the character to-date. Pfeiffer nearly didn't get the part — it was meant to go to Annette Bening, before she was forced to drop out of the role — and Pfeiffer made it her own, vamping it up with humor, ferocity and so much pizazz that in many ways, Catwoman still belongs to her. When people dress up as Catwoman today, they're dressing as her. She's the standard bearer. Meow.

2. Jack Nicholson

(as the Joker, in "Batman," 1989)

Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight? There was nothing that said that "Batman" was a guaranteed slam dunk: superhero movies were somewhat untested at the time, there were concerns over director Tim Burton's ability to deliver a blockbuster and Michael Keaton in the Batman role was a major wildcard. But Jack Nicholson was the movie's ace in the hole, and his flamboyant, scene-chewing performance as the Joker assured the movie would at least be notable, if nothing else. It was much more than that: Nicholson's fun, funny, charismatic spin on the Joker defined what a superhero villain role could be, and he in turn made Keaton an even bigger hero (even if Nicholson got top billing) by giving him a formidable sparring partner to go up against. And he did all that while filming around Lakers home games. A performance for the ages.

1. Heath Ledger

(as the Joker, in "The Dark Knight," 2008) 

Nicholson set the bar, but Ledger raised it. From the first frames of "The Dark Knight" to the last, Ledger's performance as the Joker haunts the film — not because it's so intense, but because Ledger reinvents himself in the role, from the way he shuffles in his walk to the way he talks to the way he licks his lips. It's not all barking mad insanity, there are moments of humor and great physical comedy, which make this dramatic scenes that much more purposeful. Of course, there was a taste of the macabre in the performance, as Ledger died six months before the film hit theaters, casting a pall over its release. But his performance was the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Ledger would go on to posthumously win the Oscar for the performance, but it wasn't a sympathy vote or an attempt to create a happy ending. He earned it, full stop.


©2022 Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.