Danny DeVito Believes His Performance As Penguin In Batman Returns Is Better Than Colin Farrell's In The Batman

Of all the many villains in Gotham City's menacing menagerie, the Penguin is one of the strangest. The character of Oswald Cobblepot, the stout and menacing crime lord with a penchant for penguins, has been portrayed by a handful of actors, including Burgess Meredith ("Batman" '66), Robin Lord Taylor ("Gotham"), and Wayne Knight ("Harley Quinn"), but the two most people think of as the Dark Knight villain are Danny DeVito and Colin Farrell. DeVito played the Penguin in Tim Burton's "Batman Returns" in 1992 and Farrell played the character in Matt Reeves's "The Batman" in 2022. With 30 years between the characters and two very different takes, it's really tough to tell which Penguin was truly the greatest.

In a Vanity Fair polygraph interview with his daughter, Lucy DeVito, to promote their animated series "Little Demon," Danny DeVito was asked which Penguin performance he thought was better, between him and Collin Farrell. While he was complimentary of Farrell and called him "a terrific guy," he couldn't help but say his Penguin from "Batman Returns" was better. DeVito might be a bit biased and was only speaking his truth, but is he right? Let's look at these two stellar silver screen Penguins and determine once and for all who played the perfect Cobblepot.

The argument for Farrell's Penguin

Both versions of the Penguin forced their performers to go under extensive makeup. Farrell felt like his makeup, courtesy of artist Mike Marino, allowed him to be a "malleable marionette," as if he was puppeteering another body from within. Farrell frequently has a tough time finding villainous roles because his caterpillar eyebrows and big sad brown eyes make him almost too lovable. He has a face that's somehow both reminiscent of a kicked puppy and impossibly handsome, so the makeup allowed him to really act without people focusing on his face. 

Farrell is an incredible actor, and he fits seamlessly into Reeves's grim noir version of Gotham city. There are numerous opportunities to really overdo it and ham it up as the Penguin, but Farrell plays it with more nuance, giving a grounded villain for Robert Pattinson's young Batman to battle against. His trademark charm is also still apparent, even without the handsome face to sell it, and ole Oswald is one seriously charismatic villain. He's a joy to watch and is clearly having the time of his life, injecting some fire into the cold, dark world of "The Batman."

It's challenging to make a cape and cowl comic book movie that's gritty and grounded without sacrificing what makes these stories so great, but Reeves managed to do it with "The Batman," and Farrell's Penguin is a huge part of why it works so well. As the kids say, he clearly understood the assignment.

DeVito's perfect comic book Penguin

But 30 years earlier, Danny DeVito took on the role of the Penguin in Tim Burton's "Batman Returns," the sequel to his wildly successful "Batman," starring Michael Keaton as the caped crusader. Unlike Farrell's grounded, realistic take, DeVito made his version of the characters as disturbing and despicable as possible. Long before he played perpetual creep Frank Reynolds on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," DeVito played Cobblepot as a horny, hungry, filthy slimeball of a human who was honestly part-feral. Raised in a sewer and significantly more attached to the arctic birds from which he derives his name than Farrell's Penguin, DeVito's version of the character was pure comic book fantasy, but he gave it 110% and made it work. 

DeVito ate real raw fish on-camera (and not exactly sashimi, either) and kept a mix of mouthwash and spirulina in his mouth to achieve that disgusting dental look, dedicating himself to the role with abandon. The actor had previously mostly starred in comedies, so "Batman Returns" was a way for him to really stretch his wings (no pun intended). He really went for it, and DeVito's version of the Penguin is absolutely terrifying. He's one of the best cinematic villains of all time, embedding himself in the subconscious of everyone who saw the film, including a young Robert Pattinson! DeVito's portrayal of the Penguin is genuinely iconic, but it's also so different from Farrell's that it feels wrong to even compare them.

Why not both?

"Batman Returns" is a dark, twisted comic book movie that relishes in weirdness, while "The Batman" is a gritty, grounded take on the dark knight's early days as the hero of Gotham. They're both fantastic, but they're also both doing very different things. Each has a totally different take on the characters and the DC Comics world, and if you switched Penguins, it simply wouldn't work. Both DeVito and Farrell are absolutely incredible in their respective roles, but what they're doing is apples and oranges, a matter of preference. If you like your Penguin to be a sewer-dwelling Harvey Weinstein with fish breath, then DeVito's version is tailor-made to terrify and gross you out. If you like your Penguin to be more like Al Capone pre-syphilis, then Farrell is the way to go. 

Disagreeing with Danny DeVito feels like a sin somehow, but on this one I have to, because neither Penguin is better — they both rule.