Following her debut appearance in 1940, via the pages of Batman issue #1, Catwoman has risen through the ranks to become one of Batman’s most notorious characters. Note, I didn’t say ‘villains’, because Catwoman doesn’t quite fit that particular category.
Sometimes friend, sometimes foe, Catwoman has proved to be quite a tricky customer over the years, changing her allegiances to suit her own agenda, as often as she changes her costume. As such, she is perhaps one of the most compelling comic book characters of all time.
Outside of the printed page, Catwoman has appeared in numerous cartoons and computer games, and has also appeared in multiple live-action Batman movies. In 2004, the character was even given her own solo film in the shape of the self-titled Catwoman (what else?).
In this post I am going to take a look at all of the Catwomen that have appeared in live-action Batman movies. From her first film appearance to her most recent outing, here are the Catwomen of Gotham (and a little further afield).
- Lee Meriwether
The first Catwoman to appear in a live-action Batman movie is Selina Kyle, who makes her debut in the 1966 film, Batman: The Movie. Sharing the limelight alongside the Joker, the Riddler and Penguin, Catwoman is one of four villains in the movie.
In this particular adventure, Catwoman is clearly a foe and is played with great relish by actress, Lee Meriwether (taking over from Julie Newmar who played the role on the Batman TV show). Meriwether gets to ham it up alongside Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin, and Burgess Meredith, while trading off against Adam West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin.
For Batman: The Movie, Catwoman not only faces the Dynamic Duo in her skin-tight attire, she also appears out of costume under the disguise of Soviet journalist, Kitayna Ireyna Tatanya Kerenska Alisoff (aka Miss Kitka). As Kitka, Catwoman develops a faux romance with Bruce Wayne – a plot thread that allows her to play with the emotions of the Caped Crusader, without having to lock horns with Batman.
But regardless of whether she is Catwoman or Miss Kitka, Kyle is a villain through and through. She demonstrates that she thinks only of herself and she cares nothing for Batman or Bruce Wayne.
- Michelle Pfeiffer
Following Meriwether’s turn as Catwoman, it would be more than 25 years before the character returned to the big screen, this time via Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992). Here Catwoman is a very different character, with a striking look and a fierce personality to match.
Catwoman No.2 is played by Michelle Pfeiffer – an actress who steals the entire movie from everyone else involved in the picture. Not only is she the best Batman movie villain to date, she is also the most complex.
In Batman Returns, Selina Kyle starts out as a meek secretary who is killed by her boss, business man Max Shreck. But Shreck’s attempts to kill Kyle don’t go quite to plan, and she is revived by a group of alley cats.
Her revival is supernatural and never quite explained in the movie, however what is clear is that when Kyle returns, she is very different from the mild-mannered woman she was before. The Selina that existed prior to her ‘death’ is gone and is now replaced with a confident, no-nonsense woman who will stop at nothing to get revenge on Shreck.
The Catwoman on display here is largely concerned with Shreck, however, she does develop a flirtatious relationship with Batman, played here by Michael Keaton. She also has an equally flirtatious relationship with Bruce Wayne.
But her relationships are doomed, because the spectre of Catwoman looms large. Selina died early into the movie, and the Catwoman persona that remains is too much of a villain to ever truly settle down into a life with Batman.
- Anne Hathaway
Across two movies Catwoman is played as a villain, but for Selina Kyle’s third appearance she switches sides (sort of) to work with Batman. In The Dark Knight Rises, Catwoman – as played by Anne Hathaway – enters the scene as a cat-burglar, clearly only interested in benefitting herself, but during the course of the movie she becomes a force for good.
Dropping her role as cat-burglar she becomes a vigilante and in doing so Selina is able to aid Batman to save Gotham City from destruction. She redeems herself of any past indiscretions in the process and is able to demonstrate that there is good in Catwoman.
During the dying moments of the movie, it is also revealed that Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne are in a relationship. Away from Gotham City and away from their lives as costumed characters they are able to pursue a romance.
So, what does this tell us?
While all three interpretations of Selina Kyle are very different, there is a key defining trait across the movies – all three Kyle’s share some kind of romantic connection to Batman. As seen in The Dark Knight Rises, this romance can only be successful if Kyle is no longer Catwoman, whereas in the other two movies it is doomed if Catwoman is on the scene.
But, when it comes to that romance, Selina is always in charge and she lets the romance go as far as she wishes. It is always her choice to pursue Batman or to leave him hanging.
- Halle Berry
Selina Kyle isn’t the only Catwoman to appear on the big screen. In 2004, actress Halle Berry donned a cat costume to play the character, only this time her alter-ego is Patience Phillips.
In Catwoman, Phillips works as a graphic designer for a cosmetics company which has recently developed a new skin cream. However, when Phillips discovers some worrying information about the product, she is murdered.
But this isn’t the end for Phillips as she is revived by a cat, which not only brings her back to life but also gives her cat-like abilities. From here she develops her Catwoman persona, becoming a vigilante keen to expose the truth about her former employer.
This version of Catwoman is different to the Catwomen mentioned above, yet at the same time she shares many of the same character traits. The supernatural origin story is borrowed from Batman Returns, and her ‘career’ as a vigilante is not too dissimilar from the cat-burglar/vigilante role seen in The Dark Knight Rises.
But what makes this Catwoman completely unique is that she does not share a romance with Batman. The Caped Crusader is not in her life and as such, she does not have to give up the costumed part of her persona.
Perhaps that is the only way for Catwoman and her alter-ego to co-exist. Involvement with the Dark Knight does not leave room for both personalities to breathe, but life without the Dark Knight does.
To date there have been four live-action Catwomen, and not all of them are the same character. And even when they are the same character, they are vastly different.
What this demonstrates is Catwoman’s adaptability. The character does not have to tick specific boxes – just like Batman, she can be altered to fit a new situation.
However, it’s important to remember that even if the character has a different face, a different name, or a different costume, Catwoman is a powerful, independent woman. She can be good, she can be bad, but she is always strong, passionate, and in charge of her destiny.
Catwoman at a glance
To summarise, the live-action Batman movie Catwomen include:
- Selina Kyle – Batman: The Movie (1966), Batman Returns (1992) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
- Patience Phillips – Catwoman (2004)
What are your thoughts on Catwoman? Do you think she should be included in more live-action Batman movies? Do you think the character deserves another solo movie? Whatever your thoughts and feelings, sound off in the comments section and talk about Catwoman.