Penguin, Batman Returns (1992)

30 Years of Mayhem in Gotham City: Batman Villains of the ’90s Ranked

Holy Evil-Doing Directory, Batman! As we celebrate the anniversary of Batman (1989), which celebrated its 30th anniversary on June 23rd, and Batman Returns (1992)which was released 27 years ago on June 19th, we decided to revisit the 90s Batman franchise and have a closer look at the villains of Gotham City. No matter how divisive the early Batman films may be, everyone has a favorite installation and a soft-spot for an evil-doer they enjoy quoting. Whether you like Catwoman’s charisma, the Riddler’s rhythm, or the Joker’s jubilant lunacy, then this list is for you!


10. Bane, Batman & Robin (1997)

Bane, Batman & Robin (1997)

“Grrr… monkey work.”

While Bane is actually a considered a formidable foe in DC’s Batman comics with enough brain and brawn to take on our hero, Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin reduced the character to a hulking brute of a henchman. With few lines and a more colorful wrestling mask, Bane (Jeep Swenson) is a bit more comical and campy than he is imposing and intimidating. His fight scenes are complete with Looney Tunes style sound effects while being lead by Poison Ivy, all of which lands him at the top of the list.


9. Dr. Jason Woodrue, Batman & Robin (1997)

“I’m not good at rejection. I’m afraid you’ll have to die.”

Dr. Woodrue, (aka Floronic Man in DC Comics), is the man responsible for creating venom, a highly addictive substance that gives users super-human strength and ‘roid-rage, which he administered to Antonio Diego, the man who became Bane. In Batman & Robin, Woodrue (John Glover, Shazam!) is the quintessential mad scientist who also inadvertently gives rise to Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman, Kill Bill). Think of him as the Dr. Forrester of the DCU, only instead of giving us a regular joe in a yellow jumpsuit and two bots, he gifts us with two of the goofier 90s Batman villains.


8. Poison Ivy, Batman & Robin (1997)

Poison Ivy, Batman & Robin (1997)

“I probably should have mentioned this earlier… I’m poison.”

We have all seen what a bad-ass Uma Thurman can be, but her performance as Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin is a bit wilted. In the film, the botanist-turned-supervillain uses Bane when brute-force is needed as well as her plant-controlling abilities to attack, (“My vines have a crush on you!”) However, she also resorts to seduction and her poisonous lips to defeat or kill a foe. Her faux romance with Robin is said to have left fans feeling itchy, but her colorful quips leave us cracking a smile.


7. Two-Face, Batman Forever (1995)

Two-Face, Batman Forever (1995)

“Ah… fortune smiles!”

Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones, Men In Black) certainly has an interesting and entertaining gimmick that he uses to get through his day-to-day life in Gotham City. Once known as Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent, his life was forever changed and burdened with the choice between good and evil after a mob boss disfigured half of his face with acid. With the flip of a coin, the highly disturbed Two-Face decides your fate, be it mercy or destruction. In Schumacher’s Batman Forever, Two-Face is mostly forgettable next to the cacophony of other, more colorful characters.


6. Riddler, Batman Forever (1995)

Riddler, Batman Forever (1995)

“Riddle me this, riddle me that… who’s afraid of the big black bat?”

Jim Carrey’s over-the-top portrayal of Riddler is just one of the performances that causes Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face to be less memorable. Edward Nygma is a puzzle-obsessed man who believes he can outsmart our Caped Crusader. But just to be certain, he teams up with Two-Face and comes up with a scheme to defeat the Dynamic Duo. His performance is boisterous and bright, but also deafeningly deranged. He manages to eke a spot higher than Two-Face because he’s just a smidgen more memorable.


5. Mr. Freeze, Batman & Robin (1997)

Mr. Freeze, Batman & Robin (1997)

“Tonight’s forecast: a freeze is coming!”

Another performance that was considered outrageous in the Schumacher era was Arnold Schwartzenegger (Conan the Barbarian) as Mr. Freeze. Yes, most of the characters from Batman & Robin as well as Batman Forever were thought of as too campy and crazy, but Schwartzenegger solidified his performance as Mr. Freeze as a camp favorite with the sheer amount of fun he seemed to have in the role. I recall leaving the movie theater on opening night with equal shares of groaning and laughing while my friends endlessly quoted Mr. Freeze through the parking lot. (SO. MANY. PUNS!)


4. Max Shreck, Batman Returns (1992)

Max Shreck, Batman Returns (1992)

“I’m the light of the city. I’m it’s mean twisted soul.”

Admittedly, Batman Returns is my favorite of the 90s Batman films. It’s surreal style and dramatic characters have just enough campiness without going overboard. Add to that Christopher Walken’s signature speak and we have Max Shreck. He’s a cutthroat businessman gone bad who is out to drain Gotham City’s energy dry with his pitch for a power plant that works in reverse. When his mousey secretary / executive assistant Selina Kyle accidentally discovers his ploy, he knocks her out of a window in his office, creating a nemesis for himself and Batman. While Shreck is not an in-your-face, costumed villain, he is an evildoer who gives a very memorable performance and shows his wicked ways over and over throughout the film.


3. Penguin, Batman Returns (1992)


Penguin, Batman Returns (1992) 2

“I played this stinking city like a harp from hell!”

Tim Burton’s dark side is delightfully on display throughout his Batman films, and Penguin, aka Oswald Cobblepot, (Danny DeVito, Dumbo) is among his creations that really feel haunting. Part of you wants to feel sorry for his childhood trauma, but the other part of you knows better. You see the struggle in his parent’s faces (amusingly portrayed by Pee Wee and Simoneaka Paul Ruebens and Diane Salinger) as they make the decision to abandon their baby boy. The baddie that he grows up to be is not only grotesque to behold, but he’s rotten on the inside, too. His perverse and putrid personality is even too much for fellow miscreant Catwoman to tolerate. 


2. Catwoman, Batman Returns (1992)

catwoman batman returns 1992

“I am Catwoman. Hear me roar!”

Michelle Pfeiffer (What Lies Beneath), shines as Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. Her performance starts as the mousy Kyle, who is awkward and unsure of herself as Max Shreck’s secretary. But an about-face happens when Kyle is shoved from a high rise window and finds herself a new feline-esque personality. The trauma causes her to believe she has nine lives like the cats who surrounded her after her fall, and who she took pleasure in feeding from her apartment. Suddenly she’s assertive and aggressive and goes to great lengths to show Gotham City and Batman that she’s no pushover. Burton’s Catwoman powerful because she holds her own against both the villain and the hero and finds herself almost an anti-hero herself.


1. Joker, Batman (1989)

Joker, Batman (1989)

“Gotham City always brings a smile to my face!”

While I would have loved to rank Catwoman as the number one rogue in the gallery for the cinematic DCU, there’s no doubt that The Joker is Batman’s greatest villain. Jack Nicholson (The Shining) gave Joker an air of seriousness and bravado that was difficult to duplicate or top. Butron’s Joker is a crazed lunatic with no care for the innocent people around him, who he uses as toys and bait to grab Batman’s attention. He’s the true definition of a villain and is the best possible example in the Batman films spanning from 1989 to 1997. You are as fearful of Nicholson’s Joker as you are fascinated by him (and he has that kickin’ boombox full of Prince tunes to boot!)


What do you think of our list, Batfans? How would you rank the villains of Gotham City? Tell us over on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street SubReddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!

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