Despite Justice League‘s mixed reception, Batman is still one of the most successful superheroes on film or anywhere else in pop culture. From the serials of the 1940s to animated features like 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie, Batman’s cinematic adventures have thrilled generations of moviegoers of all ages. While other superhero films have struggled to make villains memorable, DC’s Dark Knight has tangled with a healthy sampling of his most famous villains. Unfortunately, those villains haven’t always been memorable for the right reasons. While the colorful, outlandish costumes of Batman’s rogues gallery look fine on the comics page, they haven’t always successfully made the transition to the big screen. Even though Batman’s films helped define and perfect the cinematic vocabulary of superheroes, his villains have worn some of the most unfortunate costumes in superhero movies.
Now, CBR takes a look back at the Batman villains who looked way worse on screen, along with some other Bat-baddies who looked utterly amazing on screen. In this hardly comprehensive list, we’ll be sticking to villains who appeared in a live-action movie that also featured Batman. For comparison’s sake, we’ll also be looking at how these villains’ looks stand up against their most famous outfits from cartoons and comic books.
15. WORSE: MR. FREEZE
In the early 1990s, Batman: The Animated Series redefined the obscure villain Mr. Freeze as a sympathetic scientist with a history of tragedy. While this revamp made Freeze one of Batman’s most compelling villains, audiences had a chilly reception to his role in Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. In that 1997 film, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscle-bound, pun-loving Mr. Freeze only hinted at the character’s emotional depths.
While Mike Mignola’s iconic BTAS design relied on simplicity, Arnold’s Freeze wears a complex silver armor with light-up neon blue highlights. Even though DC Comics bulked its Mr. Freeze up in preparation for Schwarzenegger’s role, that character still kept the red highlights that accented Mignola’s redesign. With no contrast to his icy blue skin paint, Arnold’s Freeze armor congeals into a gray tangle of wires and machinery. Outside of the armor, Arnold’s Freeze wears an equally questionable bathrobe with a pair of polar bear slippers.
14. WORSE: HARLEY QUINN
Although Margot Robbie’s turn as Harley Quinn was one of the most well-received parts of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, her skimpy costumed only added to an ongoing debate over the nature of the character. After debuting on Batman: The Animated Series, Harley became a fan-favorite character, thanks in part to an iconic red and black jester’s outfit that captured the character’s manic highs and dark history.
In comics, Harley traded her jester outfit for more revealing ensembles in the 2010s that inspired her cinematic look. In Suicide Squad, Robbie’s Harley wears a ragged shirt, fishnet leggings and a two-tone jacket with “Property of the Joker” stitched on the back. This made Harley’s deeply unhealthy relationship to the Joker a fundamental aspect of her appearance. Since most other versions of the character have moved past that relationship, this added to the dissonance between the most visible versions of Harley.
13. AMAZING: CATWOMAN (DARK KNIGHT RISES)
While Catwoman has had more than a few strikingly different costumes over the years, her best uniforms all have a degree of practicality to them. As one of the best thieves in the DC Universe, Catwoman needs her outfits to be relatively sleek, vaguely cat-like and dark enough to blend into the shadows. In 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman costume checked all of those boxes with style.
Partially inspired by Darwyn Cooke’s sleek early 2000s Catwoman redesign, Hathaway’s Catwoman wears a fairly simple black catsuit with a domino mask. Since Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are too serious for decorative cat ears, Catwoman’s tactical night-vision goggles look like cat ears when they’re in an upright position. While her high heels don’t seem practical at first glance, they hide serrated edges that give her a leg up in one-on-one battles.
12. WORSE: POISON IVY
Even though she was created half a century ago in 1966’s Batman #181, by Bob Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff, Poison Ivy’s costumes haven’t changed too much since her debut. While her green, leafy one-piece has been both skimpier and less revealing, her standard outfit has remained largely unchanged. Even when she got a body-covering jumpsuit in the early 2010s, it was still a stylistic descendant of her famous one-piece.
In Batman & Robin, Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy goes through a few different costume variations. A few of her outfits include odd, vaguely leafy eyebrow coverings. When paired with Ivy’s bright green jumpsuit, these red eyebrow coverings don’t contrast with anything else in her costume. Combined with two large, gravity-defying curls in her hair, this divides her look into overwhelmingly red and overwhelmingly green sections that never really come together.
11. AMAZING: JOKER (THE DARK KNIGHT)
Even though it’s only a decade old, Heath Ledger’s Academy Award-winning performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight has already been cemented as an essential part of Batman’s legacy. In Christopher Nolan’s 2008 movie, the Joker was more of a chaotic mastermind than a clown prince of crime, and his outfit perfectly reflected that updated take on the character.
The Joker’s traditional purple and green costume was still the clear stylistic inspiration for the look of Ledger’s Joker. In the same way that this Joker conceals his true nature, he hides under multiple layers of clothing. The aggressive, clashing patterns of his shirt and tie nod towards the confusion that this Joker uses as a weapon. While Ledger’s grimy Joker make-up wasn’t as permanent as other versions of the Joker, it added to the character’s deeply unsettling overall appearance.
10. WORSE: CATWOMAN (BATMAN RETURNS)
After wearing a surprisingly generic costume for most of the 1970s, Catwoman started wearing a more recognizable feline jumpsuit in the late 1980s. This costume and its head-covering cat mask were the inspiration for Catwoman’s costume in a few different noteworthy adaptations, including Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. While Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was one of the 1992 film’s high points, her costume wasn’t as pitch-perfect as her performance.
In step with the film’s gothic tone, Catwoman’s Batman Returns costume is asking-tight vinyl catsuit with high heels. In the film, Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle stitched the outfit together herself, and her stitches cover the costume in a haphazard pattern. Those stitches give the costume an asymmetrical look that throws her overall appearance off balance. The shiny black vinyl that was used to make most of the costume is also noticeably reflective, which is less than ideal for Gotham City’s shadows.
9. WORSE: RIDDLER (BATMAN FOREVER)
For most of his existence, the Riddler has worn one of two very different outfits. When Bill Finger and Dick Sprang created the Riddler in 1948’s Detective Comics #148, he wore a green question mark-covered leotard with a purple belt and domino mask. After Frank Gorshin complained about wearing a tight version of that costume in the 1960s Batman show, his Riddler traded his leotard in for a sophisticated green suit with a question mark pattern and a bowler hat.
Although that outfit had become the Riddler’s primary costume by the mid-1990s, Jim Carrey’s Riddler wears a bright green leotard in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. Accented by Carrey’s dyed-red hair, the shockingly bright suit matched Carrey’s hyperactive performance. While the Riddler is usually defined by his cunning intelligence, Carrey’s physical humor defined this unusually zany version of the Riddler.
8. AMAZING: JOKER (BATMAN)
When Tim Burton’s Batman hit the big screen in 1989, it offered a refreshingly serious take on the Dark Knight that supplanted Adam West’s goofy Batman in the public’s collective consciousness. With his mix of theatrical villainy and genuine menace, Jack Nicholson’s scene-stealing Joker played a big role in the movie’s blockbuster success.
For the most part, Nicolson’s Joker wears a variation of his traditional purple suit. While the Joker usually wears a green shirt with a yellow vest, this Joker wears a yellow shirt with a turquoise vest. Together with purple-and-turquoise checkered pants, this bold look serves as a dynamic visual contrast to Michael Keaton’s all-black Batman. Although his oversized polka-dot tie might seem goofy, it helps offset this Joker’s unsettling rictus grin with a hint of cartoony style. Combined with Nicholson’s performance, this striking ensemble gives the Joker a commanding presence every time he’s on screen.
7. WORSE: TWO-FACE (BATMAN FOREVER)
In theory, an Academy Award-winning actor like Tommy Lee Jones could bring a nuanced gravitas to the multi-faceted role of Harvey Dent and his dark half, Two-Face. Despite the character’s dramatic potential, Jones’ Two-Face was cast as cackling villain in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. To go along with Jones’ over-the-top performance, his Two-Face wears an utterly bizarre suit that mixes a traditional suit with an equally odd mix of clashing neon patterns.
While the two halves of Two-Face’s two-toned costumes usually contrast evenly with each other, Jones’ magenta Two-Face suit builds off of the purple side of his scarred face. Between his suit, shirt, lapel and tie, this Two-Face wears a totally unbalanced mix of cheetah, leopard and zebra prints. For a character who is defined by his obsession with balance, this haphazard ensemble seems especially out of place.
6. WORSE: PENGUIN
In Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, things haven’t always been sunny for Danny DeVito’s Penguin. While his comic book counterpart considers himself to be a semi-respectable gentleman of crime, DeVito’s Penguin had a semi-monstrous appearance in Burton’s 1992 film. DeVito’s performance was generally well-received, but it still pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in a movie that inspired Happy Meals and kids toys.
Although the Penguin usually wears a tuxedo, DeVito’s Penguin wears more Victorian-influenced formal wear. Although he kept the character’s traditional top hat and umbrella, this Penguin spends his time in a mix of antiquated finery and grimy long underwear. With his unnaturally pale skin, this Penguin almost looks like a character from a black-and-white movie who snuck into this color film. Despite his brief foray into Gotham City politics, this Penguin hardly looks respectable with odd character accents like flipper hands and mysterious inky black stains all over.
5. AMAZING: SCARECROW
In most of his earlier appearances, the Scarecrow was dressed like a scarecrow. While it’s very on-brand for the character, Scarecrow’s costume needs a healthy dose of his signature fear toxin to frighten his opponents. In Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow forgoes that full costume for a horror-influenced burlap mask with a suit.
Although it owes more than a small debt to Marvel Comics’ Scarerow, this Scarecrow’s mask doesn’t need fear toxin to cause nightmares. While the rest of his costume is just a suit, this speaks to the Scarecrow’s career as Dr. Jonathan Crane, a successful psychologist. When the mask is combined with the hangman’s noose that sits around Scarecrow’s neck, it makes the villain look like a condemned man turned executioner. In the wake of this 2005 film, this Scarecrow’s mask became a new standard that speared throughout other media.
4. WORSE: TALIA AL GHUL
While she’s never really had an official costume, Talia al Ghul has usually worn a black jumpsuit or desert-inspired outfits. These usually reflected her role within the League of Assassins or her traditional base of operations in the desert. Although Marion Cotillard’s Talia spent most of 2012’s Dark Knight Rises posing as Miranda Tate, she changed into a distinct costume for the film’s climax.
In Christopher Nolan’s movie, Talia wears a burgundy belted tunic with black pants and boots. To its credit, the costume contains a few subtle nods to the outfits that Ra’s al Ghul and Ubu wore when Batman trained with the League of Shadows in Batman Begins. Despite that, it’s not on screen enough to leave a lasting impression. Compared to Talia’s other signature looks, the fine patterns that accent the outfit get lost in the epic film’s action-packed finale.
3. WORSE: BANE (BATMAN AND ROBIN)
Bane was created by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan in 1993’s Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1, and he jumped to the big screen four years after his debut. While that might seem impressive, the muscle-bound mastermind was reduced to a role as Poison Ivy’s Venom-fueled henchman in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin.
In the 1997 movie, Robert Swenson’s Bane wears a costume that resembles the character’s traditional black wrestling unitard. This Bane also wears a more complex version of Bane’s signature luchador mask along with a spiked codpiece and a giant Venom-delivery system. This Bane’s strength-enhancing drugs also gave his skin a sickly green tint. His green skin ties him to Poison Ivy, which emphasizes a role that could be fulfilled by one of Ivy’s plant creatures. While these alterations fit in the film’s over-the-top style, they represent the movie’s reductive interpretation of the character.
2. AMAZING: BANE (DARK KNIGHT RISES)
In comics, Bane is the man who broke Batman. Although Bane might be most famous for breaking Batman’s back in the epic crossover “Knightfall,” that was the culmination of a multi-pronged attack on the Dark Knight. While Batman and Robin ignored his role as a tactical genius, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises doubled down on it.
In that 2012 film, Tom Hardy’s Bane wears tactical gear under a shearling coat, along with a modified mask that makes Hardy’s piercing stare visible. Although the movie erased Bane’s South American roots, Bane’s costume is memorable enough to grandstand in public but still practical enough for combat situations. This is a complex costume for a complex villain, with elements that can be added or subtracted as Bane showcases different aspects of his abilities. While his comics counterpart could be mistaken for a strongman at first glance, this Bane dresses like a general.
1. WORSE: JOKER (SUICIDE SQUAD)
For better or worse, Jared Leto’s Joker certainly leaves a lasting impression. When Leto’s look for David Ayer’s Suicide Squad was revealed, fans responded with a mix of apprehension, confusion and praise. Although Leto’s role in the divisive film was moderately well-liked, the look marked a distinct departure from the character’s usual costumes.
In the 2016 movie, Leto’s Joker wears a few different outfits including a purple crocodile-skin coat. In his most memorable moments, the Joker wears the coat over his bare chest, which showcases his numerous tattoos and chalk-white skin. Instead of his usually oversized grin, the Joker has silver-capped grills on his front teeth. While these elements give Leto’s Joker a distinct appearance, they almost lose the villains’ timeless look under the glitz and grime of the film’s distinctly modern trappings. Even though the Joker might be comics’ most famous villain, this Joker’s style overwhelms everything else.
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