Batman, or Batman ’66, is in the midst of celebrating its 50th anniversary. While, in the intervening years, it’s come to be viewed mostly as a silly pop culture artifact, the silliness was baked into the show. Batman is a winking, arch camp comedy that lampooned nigh everything about pop culture at the time. There are a lot of aspects of the show that remain iconic, but perhaps the most iconic thing of all is the cast of villains. In every episode of the series, Batman, Robin—and, by the third season, Batgirl—would battle a villain. Some were great. Some were… not so great. Here is a definitive ranking of all 34 villains from the Batman ‘66 series (not including Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, who only appeared in the movie).
Siren’s power is that she has the ability to sing a very high note that forces men do her bidding. She sings said note a lot. And it’s as annoying as it sounds. Collins does a serviceable job, but this is the one actively annoying Batman villain.
As a TV character, Nora Clavicle is very thin. Her entire schtick centers on the fact that she is a women’s rights activist who has taken over as police commissioner. Given the highly silly and absurd nature of the show, it’s hard to tell if this is all a goof, or if it is genuinely sexist. Batman, Robin, and Batgirl do use flutes to lead a bunch of mechanical robots into the water, so it’s probably all a bit, just not a terribly good one.
Including Lola on the list was debatable at first. Ultimately, she gets the “extra special guest villainess” label, though some characters that are clearly supporting villains get that designation as well. The parasol-wielding Lola Lasagne stands out because she is more clearly an even partner with Penguin in the two-parter, “The Sport Of Penguins”/”A Horse Of Another Color.” As a villain, she’s basically just Ethel Merman, and isn’t especially fun.
Puzzler is just a poor man’s Riddler from the second season, which was Frank Gorshin-free. Even with his extensive background in Shakespeare, and those, er, puzzle balloons, he was never as impressive as he wanted to be.
Sandman has a pretty fly coat, and he clearly holds his own alongside Catwoman. That being said, Catwoman still manages to overshadow him at every turn. Sandman does succeed in making people fall asleep, and he does have good marketing plans. He’s a solid villain, but ultimately unspectacular.
Three different actors played Mr. Freeze one time apiece. Sanders, unfortunately, is the least interesting of the bunch. There’s nothing campy or fun in his performance, and most of the time he doesn’t even wear a costume.
Colonel Gumm is something of an afterthought. He’s the villain in a two-parter where The Green Hornet and Kato come to visit. He has a pretty hilarious mustache, though, and dons a couple of amusing costumes. Gumm is good, but he’s second fiddle in a desperate attempt to get people interested in the Green Hornet’s TV show.
Anne Baxter’s Zelda is a magician and a bank robber, and she funds her magic acts with the money she steals. She’s pretty cool for a villain/magician, but the real mastermind is the mad scientist who makes the contraptions for her escape artist act. Baxter is good here, but it’s unfortunate that she isn’t given a lot to do. The good news is, that will be amended later.
These two get a whopping three-parter in the third season, when most of the villains only had single-episode arcs. The entire gang heads to Londinium, this world’s version of London. They rob and steal, and they escape through a thick layer of fog created by Ffogg’s pipe. Their Britishness is kind of amusing, but nothing really grabs you here.
Minerva is the very last villain in the very last episode of Batman. This is unfortunate, if only because she isn’t one of the classic villains—one of those we really wanted to see closing out the series. What she does have, though, is a Deepest Secret Extractor, which is a delightful tool, and Gabor is quite good, doing her usual glamor gal thing.
Now Wallach’s Mr. Freeze has a much better look than George Sanders’, along with a more amusing plan, and a homing seal. But all of that still doesn’t make him a top villain. He also does, perhaps, the least amount of freezing of any Mr. Freeze, ever.
Ma Parker is a villain who’s really tied in with the rest of her gang, namely her kids. Her daughter, Legs, was the first on the receiving end of the bit wherein a female prisoner’s prison number is their physical measurements. Her evil plan, to get everybody arrested and then take over the prison, is pretty clever. However, the character, and Winters’ performance, ultimately lacks the bombast of the best Batman villains.
Anne Baxter is back! This time, she gets to have a lot more fun. Speaking with a thick Russian accent, she plays the incredibly over-the-top Queen of the Cossacks, swinging swords and ordering around her henchman. Olga also hangs out with Egghead in both of her episodes—they even become love interests. She’s infinitely better than Zelda the Great, although she does get overshadowed by her counterpart, who we’ll get to later.
Preminger is the best Mr. Freeze, but even he can’t crack the top 20. This version of the villain attempts to turn Batman and Robin into slush drinks. Preminger spends a good deal of time saying, “Wild!” a whole lot, and plays with his very bushy eyebrows. This is about all he does that’s worth noting, but it’s funny.
Bankhead is a grand old dame. That’s how she carries herself, and that’s essentially how the character is portrayed. She’s a widow, after all. She also has a fake rubber farm couple on the porch of her house to avoid suspicion, and a cerebrum-scrambling machine. And of course, there’s all that great spider stuff going on—including two big rubber spiders that almost kill Batman and Robin. She’s not especially silly, but she’s pretty fun, and a good villain worthy of kicking off the top 20.
Look, John Astin is cool. He’s delightful as Gomez Addams, and he’s a talented actor. But he doesn’t work as well as you’d hope in his one appearance as The Riddler—even if you don’t hold him up to the scrutiny of a comparison to Frank Gorshin. His performance is too staid, and he’s kind of a jerk and overly pompous. However, since Astin is so talented, and since they do flood a bank which then results in a pretty sweet underwater fight with Batman and Robin, he’s still a memorable villain.
Clock King looks ridiculous, which is perfect—necessary, even—for a Batman villain. His clock obsession, and his overall plot, is a bit less enthusing. It should also be said that those incessant clock noises could get a bit annoying. But he brought some pretty bizarre fun to the series, and when he’s disguised as a pop artist, it’s pretty great.
Wayne’s performance as Mad Hatter is very goofy, but not in a way that entirely works. He does use a big ridiculous machine to try and kill Batman, which is always good. Mad Hatter is also hilariously preoccupied with stealing hats. But, perhaps his most memorable, villainous attack is the radiation dousing of Batman’s cowl, which turned it hot pink, which meant Batman had to around with a hot pink cowl for a while. It’s fantastic.
When the False-Face two-parter aired, they listed “?” as the person portraying him. Wikipedia today tells us ”?” is Throne. False-Face is just… super weird. And because he’s a master of disguise, much of the time other actors are technically playing the villain (like when he’s pretending to be Commissioner Gordon). However, in his normal guise, he wears a somewhat creepy, translucent plastic mask. It’s strange in a way that makes him incredibly memorable, though, and “False-Face” is also an excellently idiosyncratic name.
Kitt took over as Catwoman in Season Three, and she’s definitely a crowd favorite. She also seems more committed, perhaps than anyone else, to the “cat” part of her name, as evidenced partly by that goofy car that she drives around, which looks like a cat. When people think of Catwoman saying things like “Purrrrrfect” they are thinking of Kitt’s performance, which is to say, they’re thinking of her performance quite a bit. The only quibble is that she seems a bit too serious about the role. Her take on Catwoman lacks that sense of fun, silliness that it needs for this series. In some ways, she’s more of a Shakespearean villain—which makes her enjoyable to watch. But Kitt’s sneering performance is, at times, a poor fit. Still, this Catwoman is iconic—in no small part because, in the ‘60s we so rarely saw a black woman playing such a role, and flirting with a white man, no less.
Carolyn Jones is one of the greats. She played Morticia on The Addams Family, and she was a delight on that show. She tries to bring that same energy to Batman, but the Queen of Diamonds is, unfortunately, kind of a bland character. She loves diamonds and is a glamorous, sophisticated lady—but that’s about as deep as it gets. What Marsha has, though, is her Aunt Hilda, who appears alongside her in both her Season Two and Season Three appearances. Hilda is a witch who makes spells that Marsha uses to carry out her schemes, but she’s also a scatterbrained witch who screws up a lot. In many ways, Hilda is more fun to experience than Marsha, but since she’s not a villain in her own right, she gives Marsha a real boost.
Bookworm, obviously, loves books and finds ways to incorporate them into his various schemes. There’s that time when he “blows up” a bridge by taking a photo of it and “blowing up” the image… so that it’s really big. Classic! His hat lamp is pretty ridiculous and clunky, but otherwise his look is one of the most distinct and amusing among the villains. McDowall commits as well, and is, for want of a more apt word, very wormy.
Minstrel plays a mean lute, and looks exactly how you’d expect—like an old timey minstrel. He’s also an electronic genius, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. But his plotting is clever, and they manage to make him fairly formidable. He’s also one of the villains that appears on TV all of the time, which is usually a good sign for a Batman villain, and proves that Van Johnson managed to stand out among a great bunch.
Louie the Lilac is a gangster florist. Seriously, what other information do you need? Do you need to know that his original villainous plan is to get the flower children to follow him so that, when they grow up and run the world, he can reap the rewards? That’s some seriously long-term thinking for your average villain. He’s also got a Lilacmobile. There’s one point in time when he decides to corner the perfume market. Berle is great here, a perfect example of what people should do when they’re playing comedic gangsters. But one of the greatest highlights of his time on the show is Batgirl spraying him and making his suit all moldy.
Chandell is basically Liberace as a bad guy, which is fantastic. He plays the piano, and he’s a charmer and he’s very fey. On the other hand, Harry is a gangster, much like Louie the Lilac, so he’s basically Liberace butching it up. Liberace (and the show) seems to realize that this is inherently funny, especially when he’s acting opposite himself as Chandell. Liberace’s ridiculously sublime dual performance is definitely one for the books.
Art Carney is, of course, a sitcom icon from being on The Honeymooners, as well as an Academy Award-winner. Here, he’s basically playing Robin Hood, but as a bad guy. He’s a medieval archer in modern times, which is always going to be funny. But what makes Archer stand above so many other villains is that, for a while, he has a henchman who walks around with an audience laugh-track machine—with applause, laughter, boos and all. It’s very meta, and one of those small, great details that made this series so much fun.
Dr. Cassandra doesn’t show up until the penultimate episode, which is a shame, because she’s great. In short, Dr. Cassandra Spellcraft and her lover Cabala (which is possibly a riff on Kabbalah), are hepcat alchemists. They are groovy, jive talkin’ hipsters. Dr. Cassandra also has pills that can render them invisible, and she also creates a gun that turns the Terrific Trio two-dimensional. She earns her spot in the top six of this list for attempting to bust a slew of villains out of prison and for that amazing blind fight against Batman, Robin and Batgirl in the hideout. Dr. Cassandra is the highest appearing one-timer on this list. It’s great to imagine how high she might have ranked if only we’d seen her more.
Shame is a parody of Shane, a 1953 film about a cowboy. It’s apparent in all the instances where people talk about Shame “coming back,” which is not a reference that necessarily has much cache now. Robertson is great as this wild west-era cowboy, committing crimes in modern times. He’s kind of dumb, not especially articulate, but that’s why we love him. His second appearance is even stronger than his first, particularly his fight with Batman. And for whatever reason, he has a henchman who is a Mexican guy with an inexplicably posh British accent. Gotta love Shame.
Egghead is so ridiculous, but egg-quisitely so. For starters, it’s Vincent Price. Who better for a show like Batman 66? This villain has a large head that looks like an egg, an egg-inspired suit, and of course he’s obsessed with eggs. His unbelievably stupid egg puns are wonderful. He makes one appearance as himself, and two alongside Olga. In one of those appearances, he tries to hatch a giant dinosaur egg, in hopes of ultimately getting the dinosaur to do his evil bidding. It’s hard to top that, but there are a few villains who managed.
Buono’s performance as King Tut is probably the campiest of any performance on this show, which is saying quite a bit. He’s a big time ham. The character is also about as ridiculous as they come. You see, King Tut is, some of the time, a mild-mannered Yale professor of Egyptology. At some point, he’ll get bonked on the head, and suddenly he thinks he’s King Tut… even though he’s a big fat white guy. Whenever Tut shows up, the scenery will be chewed to the bits, and it’ thoroughly entertaining. Also, it should be noted that Tut is the only villain who ever discovers that Bruce Wayne is Batman. In fact, this happens twice, but, of course, it never works out for him.
No disrespect to Kitt. No disrespect to Meriwether. But Newmar is the best. She’s so great as Catwoman, it’s a downright shame she couldn’t show up for the third season. Her performance is on par with anybody else on Batman, which is no small feat because Catwoman has less to work with. She doesn’t have a ridiculous costume like Riddler or Joker. She doesn’t get to have the same crazy schemes as Joker or Penguin. She’s just a thief in a catsuit. This makes Newmar’s performance even better. She’s not as campy or over the top as others are, but she didn’t need to be. And of course, there was also that thing she had for Batman, which she played up so well. She’d often suggest that she and Batman team up, and when the Caped Crusader would ask, “What about Robin?” Catwoman would shrug and say that they could just kill him. Because she’s great. Thanks for everything, Julie Newmar.
Of all the villains on this list, the Penguin always came equipped with the best plans. He started a movie company. He ran for Mayor. The plans are almost always so tremendously ambitious, to a fault, obviously. Meredith’s performance is easily responsible for one of the most iconic characters from the show. The hat, the monocle, the cigarette holder, the umbrella—nobody does it all quite like Meredith. And, of course, there’s his inimitable laugh, those other Penguin noises and his magnificent Penguin-like walk. Meredith commits so entirely to looking and acting goofy, while being so well-dressed, it’s impossible not to love this performance. As a result of his great work, Penguin episodes were always worth getting excited about.
It was a real neck and neck battle between Gorshin’s Riddler and the number one villain on this list. In the end, it’s a bit of a quantity over quality issue. Both Gorshin and Cesar Romero were great—their performances equally excellent. In fact, Gorshin may have been just a tinge better. However, Gorshin basically only appears in the first season. He doesn’t show up in the second season at all, and he’s only in the third season once. Sure, that’s a really great episode where he boxes Batman, but it’s just that one (awesome) appearance.
Gorshin’s Riddler is over-the-top in exactly the way we want him to be, and everything that comes out of his mouth is funny. He has two great costumes, his laugh is fantastic and Gorshin is just a bundle of energy. He’s bouncing all over the place all the time, and it’s endlessly fun to watch Gorshin, seemingly having the time of his life. Although his stories aren’t typically as fun as Penguin’s or Joker’s, his riddles are pretty enjoyable. Had Gorshin been able to make more appearances, there’s a very good chance he’d top this list. As it is, he has to settle for second place.
Real talk, straight talk: Romero’s Joker is the best Joker of all time. Better than Jack Nicholson. Better than Heath Ledger. Almost assuredly better than Jared Leto. And of course The Joker, as such an iconic character, with that iconic look, is always great. He often had the best episodes, because he always has the best storylines. In one early episode, his entire plan is to rig a high school basketball game so he can bet money on the underdog. Later, he invents a machine that can stop time. Then later, in his final appearance, he builds a flying saucer. Talk about villainous ambition.
However, Romero deserves so much credit as well. He’s an outstanding actor, and you gotta love a guy who refuses to shave his mustache (so they just painted over it). Like Gorshin, he brings real energy to the role (though Gorshin probably has him beat, by just a tad, in this area). His facial expressions, visible even under all that makeup, are priceless. Romero’s sensibilities were always perfect for the unique vibe of Batman ‘66. That’s partly because no villain fits the rhythms of Batman’s character better than Romero’s Joker. When you think about the fact that, when the series began, Romero was pushing 60, the whole thing becomes even more amazing. Here’s to the greatest Batman ‘66 villain, and one of the most watchable TV performances this world has known.
Chris Morgan is not the author of THE book on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but he is the author of A book on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He’s also on Twitter.