By: Nicholas Riedl
From Bullseye to Joker; comic book movie villains are often more appreciated and criticized than the heroes they oppose. The explanation for why this is would probably vary depending on who you ask, but we aren’t here to answer questions; we’re here to give love to the best baddies around.
In honor of Suicide Squad, we here at Geektified are counting down our picks for the 9 best comic book movie villains of all time (1 for each member of the Suicide Squad).
We’re basing this off which antagonists remained the most memorable for us while also embodying the strongest sense of what a villain is on screen.
Any bad guy from a live-action movie based on a comic book property is eligible for the list, and there were plenty of candidates that were considered at some point.
Without further ado, let’s find out who’s the worst of the worst
It may be pretty hard to believe that this movie is almost 15 years old now, but our love for Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin hasn’t changed one bit. Does he look like a Power Rangers villain? Sure. Does it matter when Dafoe completely captures the manic split personality of Green Goblin so perfectly? Nope. He may seem a little cartoonish now, but when you remember his portrayal in the context of the film it just seems so right.
Norman is in a constant struggle with the Goblin for control, and although we don’t want him to win, we still hold some sense of sympathy for him. No matter what happens with Disney’s upcoming Spider-Man reboot, I think I’ll always have a hard time envisioning anyone else as the Green Goblin.
8. Bane (Hardy)
Although this might be a bit controversial, Bane remains one of the most fascinating villains of recent comic book movie history. For the first time in a Batman movie, The Dark Knight was dwarfed physically by his opponent. Seemingly an unstoppable force of nature; Bane brought more havoc upon the city of Gotham than any other villain before him. Tom Hardy gives an unforgettable performance, and while his voice might be a large turn off for some people, it’s hard to deny a sense of creepiness and intimidation that seeps through his mask whenever he speaks. The parallels to modern political coups give this character a depth that we don’t often see in the superhero genre, and coupled with all things considered, lands Bane a spot on our list.
7. Loki (Hiddleston)
Far and away everyone’s favorite villain from the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Loki embodies the ultimate Disney villain. Charismatic, intelligent, and above all sinister, Thor’s devilish younger brother has time and time again won us over. Whether he’s scheming to take over Asgard or picking apart The Avengers, Loki always captures our attention.
But it isn’t all charm that keeps us so interested in the god of mischief, as Loki’s motivations have always been well presented and understood. I mean how would you feel if you found out that you were the adopted orphan of a family of ice giants? And that your new family has been fighting your old one for centuries in order to preserve their way of life? I mean... I don’t know if I’d destroy New York City... I’d probably be pretty upset though.
6. Stryker (Brian Cox/Josh Helman)
He may be number 6 on our list, but William Stryker is actually one of the most underrated and criminally forgotten comic book movie villains of them all. Sadistic, twisted, and unforgivable are all words you could use to describe the madman behind Wolverine’s pain. Probably the best example of a villain you just love to hate on this list; we practically count the minutes until we get to watch Stryker receive his justice at the end of X2.
Played brilliantly by Brian Cox; Stryker lives and breathes a hatred of the mutant race while also maintaining a sort of morbid fascination with them along the way. The deeds he performs upon Wolverine and his son are despicable, but sometimes it just feels right to have a villain be so bad that it’s good. We also can’t forget to give a mention to Josh Helman’s portrayal of the character in Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse. He may not be as compelling as Brian Cox was with the character, but it’s still interesting to see the birth of this breed of monster.
5. Doc Ock (Melina)
If you told me in 2002 that the sequel to Spider-Man would feature an even more compelling villain than the Green Goblin, I’d say you were dreaming. Luckily no one ever said that to me, because Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus is one of the strongest comic book movie villains ever put to screen. Although we’re only at number five, you’ll be hard pressed to find a villain with a more rounded character arc than this.
A true tragic character; Doc Ock is a victim of circumstance and loss that reverts him to crime after losing mental control of his robotic arms. Otto isn’t being evil for the sake of being evil; he’s acting out of necessity and at times, lack of free will. These are the kinds of motivations that result in a fully fleshed out villain, and earn him a spot on our list.
4. Catwoman (Pfeiffer/Hathaway)
Now we land on our first character too good to be portrayed only once. Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway’s respective takes on Catwoman each manage to stand on their own while combining to make one of our favorite baddies of all time.
Whether it’s her sexy and mysterious relationship with Batman or her powerful physical skill, this thief never seems to bother us. Compelling motivations and character arcs yet again fuel another character on our list, and it’s almost as though good writing leads to strong villains.
Each iteration manages to stay true to comic book form by never completely being a villain, but I think we can all agree to just let that one slide when dealing with such an iconic character. Whoever slips into that leather suit next sure has some big shoes to fill, but let’s just hope no one ever has to watch Catwoman’s solo film ever again.
3. Zod (Stamp/Shannon)
It was in 1980 that we truly received our first great comic book movie villain. Richard Donner’s Superman II featured an iconic performance by Terrance Stamp with his powerful portrayal of General Zod. This gave Superman the physical match he never had in the original Superman: The Movie, and introduced a Superman villain that has yet to be dethroned.
Zod was then given new life more than 30 years later with Zack Synder’s Man of Steel reboot. While the film itself may be polarizing, most will agree that Michael Shannon was able to bring a similar level of depth and force to the role. A man that wants nothing more than to see the continuation of his race can’t be faulted, and the fact that he is doing what he believes to be right is what makes him so compelling.
These incarnations of Zod have given him a spot in our top 3, now KNEEL BEFORE ZOD.
2. Magneto (McKellen/Fassbender)
These top 2 spots are about as close as it gets, but at the end of the day it’s Magneto that comes in second. Probably the most relatable and complex villain across any medium can be found in the leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants. The primary foil to the X-Men has been featured prominently across all 6 main series X-Men films, and has been respectively portrayed by Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender.
Never before in this medium have we seen two actors so perfectly embody the essence of a character like these two have, and we should be considered lucky that either one of them even humored the idea of playing the part. Erik is a tragically tortured character that only finds despair wherever he looks, and humans are almost always standing on the other side of this pain. One can’t help but understand where Magneto is coming from when he carries out any evil act. He does what he does for the survival and betterment of his race, and from a certain point of view, is actually doing the right thing.
1. Joker (Ledger/Nicholson)
This should come as no surprise, but it just wouldn’t have felt right to have anyone else at this spot. The Joker is the gold standard for comic book movie villains no matter which time period you look in.
While Jack Nicholson’s Joker was over the top and played more to the clown in him, Heath Ledger’s was much darker and showed us the psychotic beast that lay within. Each played perfectly within the worlds that were set up around them, but we can’t simply gloss over the earth shattering performance that Heath Ledger managed to deliver in The Dark Knight. His shockingly disturbing turn as the clown prince of crime earned him an Academy Award, and the performance is still revered as one of the greatest of all time.
Joker also stands apart from the crowd by managing to be as captivating as he is with no motivations. We’ve spent some time here today discussing the importance of motivation and character arcs when it comes to villains, but the Joker manages to fly above and beyond without the slightest regard for these characteristics. His motivations are to be the yang to Batman’s yin, and whatever that takes you better know he’ll make it happen.
Jared Leto sure has his hands full with the role as Suicide Squad released this past weekend, but we’ll never forget who laid the groundwork thus far. Congratulations to the Joker for topping our list!
Obviously this list doesn’t include every great villain to ever appear in a comic book movie, but we here at Geektified believe it doesn’t get much better than this. Thank you for reading and remember that being bad isn’t always so... bad.