Michelle Pfeiffer's Iconic Portrayal as Catwoman

Michelle Pfeiffer's Iconic Portrayal as Catwoman
Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman

Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as Catwoman/Selina Kyle in Tim Burton's 1992 film Batman Returns is widely regarded as one of the most iconic and acclaimed supervillain portrayals in cinematic history. Her sultry and fierce take on the classic Batman antiheroine is considered by many fans and critics to be the definitive live-action Catwoman.


The Purr-fect Costume

Pfeiffer's skintight latex Catwoman suit, designed by Oscar-winning costume designer Mary Vogt, has become just as iconic as the performance itself. With its distinctive stitching reminiscent of a real cat, the bold, sexy, and slightly sinister costume design perfectly complemented Pfeiffer's feline mannerisms and fierce attitude as the Catwoman.

An Uncomfortable Fit

However, the iconic Catwoman suit was not without its discomforts and difficulties for Pfeiffer during filming. Constructed from thick, rigid latex that made movement and flexibility challenging, wearing and working in the costume presented its fair share of problems:

"It was the most uncomfortable costume I've ever been in. They had to powder me down all the time," Pfeiffer told CNN.

"The mask was smashed onto my face and glued to my eyelids. I was constantly being dug out of it."

But despite the discomfort, the striking costume design paid off tremendously in contributing to the overall aesthetic and attitude of Pfeiffer's Catwoman performance on screen.

Empowering Design Elements

Beyond just looking like a formidable antiheroine, several key elements of the Catwoman suit itself further emphasise the character's agency, strength, independence, and determination:

The Sewing and Stitching

Reminiscent of hand-done repairs, the rough stitches crisscrossing the suit suggest that Catwoman maintains her own gear and outfits herself to suit her needs and abilities.

Unlike Batman's bold bat symbol or Catwoman suits incorporating cat insignias in other Batman films, Pfeiffer's costume lacks any kind of logo or brand. Just like the character she portrays, the suit answers to no one but Catwoman herself.

Whipping Up an Iconic Performance

A huge contributor to Pfeiffer's Catwoman characterization involves her expert crack of the whip in every fight and iconic scene she's in. Playing up her feline dexterity and precision, Catwoman's signature whip weapon allows Pfeiffer to incorporate slick, cat-like mannerisms and movement to intimidate foes and punctuate her lines.

Effortless Expertise

To wield the whip convincingly on screen as second nature, Pfeiffer underwent intense whip training for months with celebrity whipmaster Anthony De Longis leading up to filming. The training clearly paid off, evident in whip cracks effortlessly working as natural extensions of Catwoman's own limbs.

"I worked with a whip master for three or four months to get proficient enough to do it for the film without hurting myself or anyone else," Pfeiffer told CNN.

This skill and expertise helped the whip weapon truly feel like a natural part of the Catwoman persona Pfeiffer brought to life on screen.

More Than Just a Prop

Beyond functioning as a weapon and prop for impressive stunt work, Catwoman's whip also acts as a key representation of Pfeiffer's interpretation of the character herself.

Precise and Intentional

With each crack personalised to a particular moment, the whip punishes, intimidates, and sends a message exactly as intended by the wielder.

Dangerously Unpredictable

The unpredictable, lightning-quick strikes ensure foes can never anticipate Catwoman's next move.

Dominating Presence

Catwoman enters any space—ally or enemy territory—knowing she can command control at will with merely a flick of her wrist.

The whip is not just an accessory; it is an extension of Catwoman's own power.

Critical Acclaim for Pfeiffer's Performance

Beyond resonating with fans worldwide, Pfeiffer's pitch-perfect performance as the Batman anti-heroine received massive critical acclaim upon the film's release and is today considered one of the greatest supervillain portrayals ever.

Raves From Reviewers

Critics widely praised the depth, complexity, and sheer entertainment value Pfeiffer brought to the iconic comic book character.

“Arguably the best performance by an actress in any comic book film ever.” - Julian Roman, MovieWeb

“Pfeiffer is clearly having fun with this breach of normality, flipping between kittenish sensuality and venomous rage.” - Variety

“This is a sexy, wily, dangerous interpretation, one of the best modern examples of cinematic cat burglary.” - Ty Burr, Entertainment Weekly
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Still The Gold Standard

Over 30 years after its 1992 release, experts continue to praise Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman as the definitive portrayal and performance gold standard for the character, outshining even more recent renditions.

“Michelle Pfeiffer delivers what is still, arguably, the best portrayal of Catwoman put to screen.” - Angie Dahl, ScreenRant (2021)

Her iconic stature as the Catwoman solidifies her place not just in Batman canon, but superhero film history overall.

The Feline Femme Fatale

Central to the success of Pfeiffer's Catwoman is how her performance leans into and melds together traditional femme fatale elements with distinctive feline traits and influences.

Femme Fatale Characteristics

As Selina Kyle and her villainous Catwoman persona, Pfeiffer channels many classic traits of femme fatales throughout cinema:


  • Her murky origin story and unusual abilities offer few concrete details about her history or motivations

Sexually Provocative

  • Her flirtatiousness keeps Bruce Wayne/Batman constantly off-balance

Smart and Determined

  • She pursues her own goals doggedly, letting no man stand in her way


  • Her rage drives retaliation against oppressive patriarchal structures of power

Morally Ambiguous

  • She has her own moral code that she follows, for better or worse

This mixing of traditional femme fatale archetype tropes with her distinctly feline influences and traits makes Pfeiffer's Catwoman interpretation captivating and groundbreaking for 1992 blockbuster cinema.

Feline Influences

In equal measure to her femme fatale characteristics, Pfeiffer skillfully incorporates subtle and not-so-subtle nods to feline movement, mannerisms and behaviors to inform her performance:

Graceful, controlled movements

  • She stealthily sneaks and bursts forward with intent

Toying with her prey

  • She plays with victims' minds as much as their lives

Unpredictable wildness

  • She snarls and hisses when provoked or excited

Aloofness and independence

  • She keeps even love interests at an arm's distance

This blending of a classic cinema archetype with animalistic influences through performance, costume, and direction cemented Pfeiffer's Catwoman as an instantly iconic character.

Behind the Mask: Pfeiffer's Perspective

A huge contributor to the strength of her performance stems from how Pfeiffer herself envisioned and analyzed the motivations and identity of the Batman villainess.


When asked about what really drives her rendition of Catwoman, Pfeiffer highlights not a quest for money, fame or domination like other Batman rogues, but instead simple survival and independence:

“She's kind of surviving and I think that's what drives her. Her will to be independent...she's one of the first modern anti-heroes too." - Michelle Pfeiffer, The Hollywood Reporter (2019).

Portraying Selina Kyle as a victim reclaiming her power gives the character and performance tremendous depth and nuance beyond a typical villainous foil.


Pfeiffer also recognizes Selina Kyle and Catwoman are more complex than just a traditional secret identity:

“I never thought that she had a dual identity, I always felt that Catwoman's Catwoman and Selina Kyle is Selina Kyle. She has to go through this really traumatic experience to kind of move into her true calling.” - Michelle Pfeiffer, Yahoo (2012)

Understanding Catwoman as the woman's true self finally revealed gives further depth and empowering undertones to Pfeiffer's already iconic performance.

Legacy and Impact

As arguably the most acclaimed live-action portrayal of Catwoman yet, Michelle Pfeiffer's legendary performance continues to directly impact interpretations of the character today.


From subtle costume and acting nods to extensive behind the scenes featurettes, many artists involved in latter Catwoman works highlight Pfeiffer's performance as a primary source of inspiration.

Actresses like Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in 2012's The Dark Knight Rises specifically incorporated Pfeiffer's mannerisms into developing her own rendition of the classic Batman antiheroine:

"I tried to focus inward and give the Catwoman performance that I would want to see as an audience member. And I used Michelle’s performance as a reference point." - Anne Hathaway

Showcasing the lasting impact of her character-defining performance 30 years later.

Gold Standard

Experts, critics, and fans still widely consider Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman from 1992's Batman Returns to be the absolute pinnacle and gold standard for portrayals of the iconic comic book character.

No doubt hugely inspiring the excellent works that came after, Pfeiffer's legendary performance as the ultimate antihero remains uniquely iconic and influential. Batman creator Bob Kane himself even gives her the seal of approval:

“Michelle Pfeiffer is the ultimate Catwoman." - Bob Kane, IMDB


With her commanding screen presence, bold performance choices, and flawless fusion of femme fatale and feline influences, Michelle Pfeiffer undoubtedly defined the quintessential Catwoman in Tim Burton's 1992 film Batman Returns. Rightfully praised by critics and fans alike, her legendary portrayal of Selina Kyle and her ferocious feline persona remains the iconic standard for all Catwomen since. After 30+ years with no true contenders approaching the title, Pfeiffer's Catwoman still reigns supreme as the greatest and most influential live-action rendering of the Batman anti-heroine to date.

The Rewind Zone Character Rating: 81/100


Why didn't Michelle Pfeiffer return as Catwoman?

After her acclaimed performance in 1992's Batman Returns, Michelle Pfeiffer did not reprise the role of Catwoman in any future Batman films. There are a few reasons speculated for this:

  • The tone and direction of the Batman movies changed dramatically when Joel Schumacher took over from Tim Burton for the next two sequels. These went for a more campy, family-friendly style out of step with Pfeiffer's Catwoman.
  • Pfeiffer was growing older and was likely not keen to keep playing such an intensely physical role into her late 30s and 40s. The role required months of whip training, fight choreography and uncomfortable costuming that took a real toll.
  • There may have been scheduling conflicts or financial disputes that kept Pfeiffer from returning. She has been quoted as saying she was not asked back nor received an offer from the studio for another film.

So while fans often wish she had reprised this career-defining performance, circumstances and shifts in the film franchise itself ultimately prevented that from happening as the years went on. Her initial work stands as a one-off iconic incarnation.

How old was Michelle Pfeiffer when she played Catwoman?

When she took on the role of Catwoman/Selina Kyle in 1992's Batman Returns, Michelle Pfeiffer was 34 years old. Even at that relatively late age for a major action star, especially at the time, she more than proved her capabilities.

Pfeiffer handled intense fight training, whip work, unprecedented costume challenges, and her own stunts with incredible dexterity, strength and commitment. Her performance remains unmatched despite many younger actors attempting to play Catwoman since in film and television. Pfeiffer set a high bar in her mid-30s that holds up beautifully.

Which Batman movie was Michelle Pfeiffer in as Catwoman?

Michelle Pfeiffer portrayed the iconic role of Catwoman in 1992's Batman Returns directed by Tim Burton. This was the second film in Burton’s initial Batman movie series which also included Michael Keaton as Batman.

The film also featured Danny DeVito as The Penguin, Batman Returns brought together an all-star cast and had a much darker, gothic tone than later Batman adaptations. Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as Catwoman remains an acclaimed highlight that earned her award nominations and widespread critical praise at the time of release.