Oswald Cobblepot, or as he is better known, the Penguin has been a thorn in Batman’s side ever since his first appearance back in 1941. Short and stout with a bird-like face, the evil kingpin rules over his Iceberg Lounge as well as a large portion of Gotham’s underworld in a quest for complete control of the city. The Penguin embraces his bird motif, using everything from ostriches to eagles (to literal penguins with rockets strapped to their back) to hatch his evil schemes. And of course, we can’t talk about the Penguin without mentioning his signature top hat and umbrella (many of which double as hidden weapons).
The bird-loving criminal mastermind has had no shortage of interpretations over the years; he’s been played several different ways, from downright laughable to legitimately terrifying, depending on the series or film. Although he may not be as popular as the Joker, Riddler, or even Harley Quinn as of late, Oswald Cobblepot has definitely left a huge mark on the Batman lore.
But which version of the feathered fiend reigns supreme? Here is Every Adaptation Of The Penguin, Ranked Worst To Best.
Coming in dead last on our list is a version of the Penguin that isn’t horrible… just forgettable. And a little bad. Seriously, how many people even remember the character in DC Universe Online? Like those of many MMO side quests, he’s a forgettable boss with a completely forgettable story. The villain first appears in a cut scene in which he complains about how much competition for a criminal empire there is in Gotham City and how he plans on manipulating the other villains into wiping each other out. Players can encounter the character as a standard NPC as well as a boss in certain missions.
It’s easy to see why this version (voiced by David Jennison) is so far down. We know that DC Universe Online has graphic limitations due to its genre, but couldn’t they have done better with the character’s design? His eyes look inhumanly far apart, and there’s just something about the texture of his skin that is unnerving. Then there’s the voice-over work that sounds so ridiculously wooden, like it was recorded in passing in the span of five minutes. Maybe it’s best to just pretend this one never happened.
Remember when franchises were simple? Back before shared universes and highly-detailed continuity? Back before companies were so uptight about sharing characters? In 1972 Hanna-Barbera introduced The New Scooby-Doo Movies, a Scooby-Doo series (the 2nd overall) that had hour-long episodes featuring a special guest star in each story. Two of the episodes in the first season had the gang teaming up with the Dynamic Duo, fresh off of their hit Batman TV show. In both these episodes, the Joker and the Penguin are featured as the villains.
Now, don’t think we’re punishing this version of Cobblepot because he is aimed at the juvenile crowd. In fact, we think it’s awesome that a Batman/Scooby-Doo team up exists in this world! No, the main reason that we have this version so far down is because he plays second fiddle to someone else in both his appearances. He and the Joker are revealed to be running a counterfeit money scheme for someone even higher up. Even then, the Joker seems to take center stage, calling the shots and constantly addressing Penguin as “Pengy-wengy.” Cobblepot is known for being a schemer and a criminal mastermind who would never take backseat to another villain. For a character based on arguably the greatest villain of the Batman TV show, this version was a failure at its most basic level.
The New Adventures of Batman premiered in 1977 and attempted to capitalize on the success of the recent live-action show. It ran concurrently with the much more popular, Hanna-Barbera produced Super Friends, which is probably the reason it only lasted sixteen episodes. Perhaps the only positive the show had going for it was the fact that Adam West and Burt Ward were able to reprise their roles as the Dynamic Duo. The Penguin of this series was voiced by Lennie Weinrib.
Much like the show itself, the Penguin was… eh. The choice to go with an over the top English accent was interesting, but comes off as a little hammy. Also, he just doesn’t have the same menace or charm as his more well-thought out versions. It doesn’t help that The New Adventures of Batman had tonal issues; it tried to play up its corny aspects similar to the ‘60s show without any of the self-awareness. Seriously, the Penguin gets tricked by Bat-Mite!
If you ever want to have good, ol’ fashioned fun, go watch an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It’s based on the comic of the same name, which featured different DC heroes teaming up every week to tackle a mutual baddie. This cartoon had the same idea but with Batman headlining. It got off-the-wall weird at times. It was awesome! Much like the original Adam West series, The Brave and the Bold embraced the campiness of the Batman mythos in a surreal, anything-can-happen style.
Sadly, this Penguin didn’t get that much screen time. He mostly appeared as a background villain whenever there was a large gathering of Batman’s rogues. He did get a decent amount of screen time in the Aquaman-centric episode “Aquaman’s Outrageous Adventure!” where he captured Batman and tied him up to a conveyor belt with a giant bobbing bird at the end. The look, voice, and characterization are pretty spot-on, and the squawking laugh is on par with the greatest on this list. But we barely get to see him in this show! With such minimal screen time, we can’t justify putting this version any higher up the list.
Oh boy, we have to talk about Batman: Unlimited. If you go to the dictionary and look up “cash grab,” we wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn't in the definition. This short-lived movie and cartoon series was based on a line of toys under the same name. We bet you can guess where this is going! The series had Batman piloting giant mech robots and having a robot dog sidekick that holds his weapons (including a sword). Of course every single episode had to introduce a new, flashy gadget/vehicle/weapon that the kids would run out and buy! Then there’s the actual content of the series, which felt like it was written by the same kids who were buying the toys. It was awful.
Surprisingly, the Penguin in Batman: Unlimited wasn’t too bad-- when he wasn’t spewing out villainous cliché after villainous cliché. We’re dubbing him “old man Cobblepot” because his voice sounds like a sixty-year-old man and his physical appearance is all wrinkly. Even so, his costume was pretty cool; there’s something about the furry breastplate and cuffs, exaggerated features, and all-purple color scheme that we find appealing. Also, the fact that he actually got to be the main villain in a Batman movie (no matter how awful) puts him ahead of others on this list.
Not to nerd out too much, but you guys do realize that The LEGO Batman Movie comes out in February, right? Although it may seem like just as much of a cash grab as Batman: Unlimited, the LEGO Movie, its upcoming spin-off, and the LEGO series of video games have something the former series did not— quality writing and voice acting. Not only are the LEGO Batman games fun to play, they’re hilarious as well! The Penguin is no exception.
Let’s get started with the fact that in the first LEGO Batman game the Penguin has his lair guarded with literal penguins with pistols, and that all of his henchmen are wearing parkas. Then there’s the Penguin himself; this incarnation takes on elements of all that have come before him. He has the looks of the Batman '66 version, the voice of the Penguin from the Arkham games, and the stupidly-complex schemes of the Tim Burton version. He may not be the most memorable, but the LEGO Penguin has the trademark LEGO charm that we can’t help but love.
The Penguin who appeared in the often-forgotten Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians was an odd yet awesome iteration. Voiced by Robert Morse, the character only made a single appearance in the episode “The Case of the Stolen Powers,” in which the dynamic duo are surprisingly absent. In his lone appearance he tricks Felix Faust into giving him Superman’s powers via magic spell. He then uses the powers to break out of prison and go on a crime spree.
As we said earlier, there are ups and downs with this Penguin. For starters, his voice. Oh god, it’s so bad. Cobblepot sounds like someone mixed a nasally PeeWee Herman with Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Also, his umbrella has a bright rainbow pattern rather than the traditional black one we are all used to. Yuck.
However, this is the only version of the Penguin we can recall who was been able to defeat Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Hawkman, and Firestorm all on his own. Also, his manipulative and quirky personality shines throughout the entire episode. It’s a fun, solid version of the character that actually benefits from the absence of the Caped Crusader.
It may seem like this Penguin should be lower on the list, as it is the version of the character that is the furthest from anything we’ve ever seen before. In this case, however, different is good! The Oswald Cobblepot from Batman: The Telltale Series is a much younger iteration than we are used to; he is the same age as Bruce Wayne, and the two of them are actually childhood friends in this universe. “Oz,” as Bruce calls him, is a wealthy orphan who moved to London after his parent’s death and joins the “Children of Arkham” gang upon his return to Gotham.
This Penguin looks nothing like the Copplepot from the comics. He’s thin, handsome, and charming. He wears a suit and tie rather than a tux, and his signature top had/umbrella combo is nonexistent. That’s not to say all of the mainstays of the character are gone; Oz wears a penguin-like gas mask at one point in the series and dons a high-tech, monocle-looking device at another. He may not look like the villain we’re used to, but he’s still got the manipulative, diabolical personality that is typical of the Penguin. It’s an interesting modern take on a classic character who we hope to see more of as the Telltale series continues.
Perhaps this is cheating, as The New Batman Adventures was somewhat of a continuation of Batman: The Animated Series (more on that series later). Although the show kept the same voice actors as its predecessor, it changed things up by completely renovating the character designs and artistic style. For that reason alone, we'll count it as a separate series. Which also means that there is another Penguin to add to our rankings!
In this revamped Saturday morning cartoon, the Penguin took on a more sophisticated role. In Batman: TAS he was portrayed as a deformed fat man with lots of bird-like features; The New Batman Adventures Penguin looked like your average high-class gentleman in the noir era who happened to have a big nose and squawking yell. There’s nothing really different about his voice, he just sounds like a snobby rich American. And yet, this high-class air about the character makes him all the more menacing when he’s threatening one of his enemies or watching one of his master plans unfold. Even in this more subtle form, the Penguin goes down as an extraordinary villain in an extraordinary show.
Holy underrated cartoon, Batman! The Batman show that aired during the mid-2000s, simply entitled The Batman, is one that few people talk about. It introduced us to some great new character designs and gave us a unique twist on the lore. Of course, for every great design or twist, there was a bad one-- perhaps this is why it doesn’t come up often. (If you don’t believe us, just look at their version of the Riddler.) Even though it eventually went off the deep end, the show’s first two seasons were something special.
The Penguin was one of the stand-outs of The Batman. Voiced by Tom Kenney of Spongebob Squarepants fame, this take gave the character a lot more depth on top of just being fun to watch. The Pennyworths had been servants of the Cobblepot family for decades, with Alfred being one of the first to defy this trend. Obviously, Oswald doesn’t care much for breaking this tradition, and gives Bruce Wayne’s butler hell for it. The Alfred/Penguin connection was a welcome addition to the mythos, as it gave the butler more backstory and allowed him to take center stage. Then there’s the Penguin’s appearance; the ridiculously exaggerated top hat and pointy features make the character look about as vile as he can be. Tom Kenney’s voice acting is phenomenal, as well— this Penguin has a subtle squawk to every word he says, on top of having a voice that just oozes the sliminess of the character.
Gotham has divided Batman fans ever since it was announced. Who wanted to watch a Batman show without Batman? When the prequel series started taking liberties with the backstories of beloved characters, it really started to rub people the wrong way. Riddler isn’t a GCPD coroner! Fish Mooney doesn’t even exist in the comics! Is that the Joker as a child?! Even so, there are few people (that have actually watched the show, that is) who will argue that Gotham’s portrayal of the Penguin hasn’t been one of the best in existence.
Brought to life by actor Robin Lord Taylor, audiences get to see Oswald Cobblepot make his way up the ranks of the criminal underworld. He starts off as an underling for the biggest crime boss in Gotham before being betrayed and sent to his death. Of course, the incorruptible Jim Gordon refuses to kill him and allows him to go free, sparking a chain of events that leads Cobblepot to start his own gang and take on those in power. An injury gives him a limp that looks suspiciously like a waddle and requires him to use an umbrella for support. Taylor's performance is excellent; Cobblepot can go from a fit of unbridled rage to a pathetic sniveling at the flip of a switch. We really wanted this version to be higher, but the fact that the character still hasn’t fully embraced his “Penguin” moniker and become the character we know and love holds him back. Maybe next time, Gotham, maybe next time.
The ‘90s cartoon Batman: The Animated Series is without a doubt one of the greatest cartoons to ever grace Saturday mornings. It brought the pages of the Batman comics to life, translating some very adult themes into twenty-minute episodes that children could enjoy. It took on a dark, film-noir style that created a unique world where high-tech computers, tommy guns, and fedoras were all part of the everyday norm. It gave us legends Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and the Joker, respectively. Even minor characters like Firefly, Killer Croc, and the Clock King got some cool episodes!
The Penguin from Batman: TAS was heavily influence by the one in Batman Returns. Rather than just appearing as a fat man in a tux, they took his design to the next level. Cobblepot was morbidly obese, smoked a cigarette in a holder, had a nose that looked like it was lethal, and had long, unkept jet-black hair. Not to mention his voice that was gurgly at times and heavily emphasized Bs. Even so, this Penguin used large words to describe his plots and always shot for the highest of prizes. Somehow, Batman: TAS even makes the Penguin’s use of aviary animals seem threatening. And that, friends, is no small feat.
Batman Returns was director Tim Burton’s second crack at a Batman film. After the critical success of the first movie, Warner Brothers decided to let Burton have more creative freedom with the sequel. It had… mixed results. The movie turned out to be really good, but it also had things like Batman openly murdering people and some downright bizarre scenes. People were turned off by the gothic nature and extremely dark story, so much so that Burton was booted from the third film. If we really want to get into the creepiness of the movie, let’s talk about the Penguin.
In a brilliant stroke of casting, Danny Devito was pegged to play the feathered fiend. He does a great job, giving the character a more human side while still gravitating towards the socially awkward and disgusting tendencies of a man raised by sewer penguins. And we mean disgusting. What other interpretation of the Penguin has him eating raw fish and graphically biting off a man’s nose? Or creepily trying to seduce women who are obviously uncomfortable? Or threatening to drown every single baby in Gotham City? Devito’s Penguin was completely putrid and disturbing, but audiences still felt his pain of wanting to fit in and be loved. Not to mention, he has the best costume of anyone on this list, evidenced by the fact that so many later versions tried to copy it, with varying degrees of success.
The critically-acclaimed Arkham game series provided fans of the Dark Knight with an experience that they will never forget. The atmosphere and sprawling open worlds paired with usable Bat-tech and an insanely fun combat system made this a must-play for gamers everywhere. The Arkham series presented a challenge for its developers: how were they going to make everyone in Batman’s rogues gallery serious, but avoid going completely “realistic and gritty” like the Christopher Nolan films? Lo and behold, Rocksteady found a way!
In this series of games, the Penguin is played as a straight-up terrifying mob boss. He has a cockney accent, which instantly makes him more of a badass than he already was. If that wasn’t enough, the story behind his monocle in the Arkham-verse is crazy; what we see as a monocle is actually the bottom of a glass bottle that got jammed into his eye during a bar fight. Instead of opting for surgery to get it out, the Penguin left it in as part of his look. This Penguin is cocky, ruthless, and a legitimate threat to the Dark Knight. Nolan North, the acclaimed video game voice actor, uses his amazing talents to make this incarnation of Penguin one for the ages. However, nobody on this list can hold a candle to…
As cliché as it may be, in this case nothing can beat the original! In the wonderfully cheesy Batman series from the 1960s, the Penguin took center stage as one of the recurring villains who terrorized the Dynamic Duo. He appeared in twenty episodes of the show (more than even the Joker!) and in both feature-length films. Portrayed graciously by beloved actor Burgess Meredith, the feathered fiend in the ‘60s Batman show tops our list at the number one spot.
There are so many reasons this version is the greatest. Before the TV show, the Penguin was seen as a secondary villain; the likes of Joker and Catwoman were household names to comic fans, but Oswald Cobblepot seemed to be an afterthought. This all changed with Meredith’s brilliantly hammy depiction. He had everything: the sophistication, the exaggerated bird-like features, the monocle, the quacking laugh, the maniacal glee. It’s all there.
This iteration was one of the few that would consistently hold his own against Batman and Robin in combat and that could actually outsmart the Caped Crusader at every turn. Even when all four of Batman’s greatest rogues came together to pull off the greatest heist in history, Cobblepot was the ringleader. Every single Penguin that came after Meredith’s copied part of his characterization in some way. That alone tells you how influential the actor’s portrayal was.
So, what do you think of our ranking of this fowl-feathered villain? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!