While Gotham placed a great deal of focus on the evolution of Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne, the show truly excelled when focusing on its villains. The villains provided the vibrant quirks and campy nature that allowed Gotham to find its identity and hit its stride. Each of them helped raise the stakes in a different way, and sometimes made the audience want to root for them even more than Jim Gordon or Bruce Wayne.
With so many villains to choose from, we've narrowed down the 9 most significant villains from Gotham's 5 season run. They are ranked according to a combination of their strength, impact on the city of Gotham, and their pure villainy. Follow the bat-signal as we explore Gotham: 9 Major Villains, Ranked.
9 Theo Galavan/Azrael
Essentially two villains wrapped into one, Theo Galavan/Azrael earns himself a spot in the top nine despite only appearing in Gotham's second season. First, Theo Galavan took political control of Gotham as he became mayor. He captured Penguin's mother and blackmailed Penguin into killing the other mayoral candidates. Theo went back on the deal and ultimately had Penguin's mother killed in front of him. From cops to criminals like Jerome Valeska and Barbara Kean, Theo put all manner of Gotham's people into his pocket.
Even after Theo's death, he became a new villain as he was resurrected by Hugo Strange. Theo was made to believe that he was Azrael, a vengeful warrior tied to the Order of St. Dumas. Azrael hurt many people—including his own sister Tabitha—and it was only through a rocket launcher provided by Penguin and Butch Gilzean that Azrael was defeated, this time for good.
8 Barbara Kean
Barbara Kean's gradual journey made her one of the show's most satisfying villains to watch. She kicked things off with the shocking reveal that she killed her parents after a season of fans believing she was nothing more than a thinly developed love interest for Jim Gordon. It was when Barbara partnered up with Tabitha Galavan and started the nightclub known as the Sirens that she truly came became a queen of Gotham and came into her own as a villain. The criminal underworld trembled before her, and her strength only grew as Ra's al Ghul's successor and the new Demon's Head.
7 Hugo Strange
Through cruel experimentation, Hugo Strange was responsible for creating many of Gotham’s fiercest villains, including Azrael. He also brought Edward Nymga and Lee Thompkins back to life and implanted chips in them that allowed them to be controlled for a while by Nyssa al Ghul and Eduardo Dorrance. In service to the Court of Owls, Strange not only weaponized Alice Tetch's blood virus and turned it into a bomb that devastated Gotham, but he also contracted the man who killed Thomas and Martha Wayne, the tragedy that triggered the entire show.
6 Jervis Tetch/The Mad Hatter
Jervis Tetch was one of Gotham's most twisted villains. He was clearly abusive toward his sister Alice and frequently used hypnosis to make others do things against their will. Blaming his sister's death on Jim Gordon, Jervis later arranged a demented tea party where he forced Gordon to choose either Lee Thompkins or Valerie Vale, with Jervis ultimately shooting the woman Jim didn't pick.
In his quest to avenge his sister's death, Jervis infected Mario Falcone with Alice's blood. This drove Mario insane to the point where he nearly killed Lee, forcing Jim to kill Mario and turning Lee's lingering love for Jim into hate. The Mad Hatter's insanity only amplified as he later allied with Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska, hypnotizing countless individuals in order to actualize the Valeska brothers' monstrous plans. This included hijacking a radio station so anyone listening to it would go to a rooftop and jump off at midnight.
5 Edward Nygma/The Riddler
At first, Edward Nygma was just a quirky forensics investigator for the GCPD and he genuinely meant well. The alienation he endured drove him to the breaking point where he snapped and ultimately became the Riddler and one of Gotham's best villains.
Arguably no one came closer to defeating Jim Gordon than Nygma. He successfully framed Gordon in the death of Carl Pinkey, a cop who in reality Nygma had killed. Nygma got Gordon sent to Blackgate Prison and made the honorable cop continue to look guilty after his escape. After learning of Penguin's role in Isabella's death, Nygma brilliantly and cruelly dethroned Penguin. He became fully entrenched in his Riddler persona, terrorizing and outsmarting Gotham on numerous occasions.
4 Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin
Penguin forever changed the hierarchy of power and villainy in Gotham. In the first season of the series, the city was controlled by mob bosses like Carmine Falcone, Fish Mooney, and Sal Maroni. In Penguin's unorthodox approach to successfully ousting them, the traditional mobsters faded and supervillains emerged in their place. The Riddler, Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska, and many other villains would never have risen to power without Penguin shifting the status quo. By working with or for the "King of Gotham" Penguin gave more legitimacy to these figures.
Penguin was also one of the best when it came to successfully delivering revenge, something many Gotham villains failed to achieve. For the death of his mother, Penguin swore he would get revenge against Theo and Tabitha Galavan. He helped destroy a resurrected Theo with a rocket launcher, killed his friend Butch so Tabitha could feel the pain of losing the person she loved most, and then killed Tabitha in front of her partner Barbara. The only reason Penguin isn't the top ranked villain is there were too many times when his enemies robbed him of his power and he had to struggle to climb to the top again.
3 Jerome Valeska
Killing his mother was only the tip of the iceberg for Jerome. He led the Maniax—a group of Arkham Asylum inmates freed by Theo and Tabitha Galavan—and they created chaos all around Gotham. The most savage chaos came when Jerome and the Maniax infiltrated the GCPD, massacring the police, with Jerome killing the brave commissioner Sarah Essen. He terrorized the city plenty of other times as well, including his plan to poison the people of Gotham with the laughing toxin created by the Scarecrow.
What truly made Jerome one of the strongest villains is the impact and legacy he left behind. Jerome died twice, and after both times, his followers continued to worship him and emulate his insanity. Even after his second and final death, Jerome's legacy lived on forever by infecting his twin brother with a special dose of the laughing toxin, which forever transformed Jeremiah.
2 Jeremiah Valeska
While Jerome Valeska thrived on anarchy, his twin brother Jeremiah was more meticulous and obsessive, providing the kind of clear vision which Jerome lacked. Jeremiah worked with Ra's al Ghul to blow up the city's bridges and turn Gotham into a No Man's Land. He recreated the events of the night Bruce Wayne's parents died, this time with Jeremiah playing a key role in Bruce's origin story.
This included hypnotizing two individuals into thinking they were Thomas and Martha Wayne and surgically altering their personalities to look identical to Bruce's parents. Even after this plan failed and he plunged into a vat of chemicals, Jeremiah spent years pretending to be brain-dead in Arkham Asylum, biding his time until Bruce Wayne returned to Gotham so he could incinerate the new Wayne Enterprises tower and terrorize the city in a way it hadn't been since No Man's Land. In the aftermath of the series, Jeremiah is clearly poised to be Batman's greatest foe.
1 Ra's al Ghul
Ra's al Ghul is the ultimate Gotham villain. Between Nyssa al Ghul, Barbara Kean, the Shaman, the Court of Owls, and Hugo Strange, many of Gotham's most important villains and their motives tie back to Ra's in one way or another. Thousands of years old, with infinite knowledge, the ability to resurrect the dead via the Lazarus Pit, and countless villains at his command, no villain was as powerful or influential as Ra's.
Working with Jeremiah Valeska, Ra's successfully turned Gotham into No Man's Land, sparking the cataclysmic events that would force Bruce Wayne to become the dark knight that was prophesied. With Gotham heavily focusing its endgame on Bruce's evolution into Batman, arguably no one was more important to helping Bruce get there than Ra's al Ghul.