Our Ten’s List: Best Comic Book Movie Villains.
Suicide Squad has bad guys being good guys, so we rank our best comic book bad guys being bad guys.
Testing, testing…is this thing on? Man, feels like ages since we did a top ten list. To make up for it, we’re going to hit you with two this month, both featuring comic book adaptations of classic villains. This week we’re going to line up our picks for the best on-screen representations of bad guys adapted from comics or graphic novels. Next week, we’re going to run the table in reverse and pick the WORST comic book antagonists as portrayed on the big screen. Who knows, with so many reboots and re-interpretations, your favorite bad guy may make BOTH lists…
A quick guide to scoring. My first criterion is that the performance be memorable. The second is that it is true to the source material. Finally, I want the villain, regardless of performance or veracity to be effective. I want him to make you believe he can win. So many great villains are wasted because you just don’t ever feel they can pull it off. They’re doomed from the start, so no matter how wonderful they are to watch, you know they are just going to lose. Give me a villain with teeth, and who can actually bite with them.
Best Comic Book Villains in a Movie
10. The Shredder
Best Appearance: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – James Saito
James Saito basically walks off of the pages of the Eastman/Laird comics, with one crucial difference: he’s threatening. Eastman and Laird killed Shredder in the first arc! Saito is no comic book flunky, despite his opponents being grown men in green costumes. He commands fear and loyalty from all who see him. His dialogue is crisp and menacing. When it comes to throwing down, he hands the turtles a righteous butt kicking. This Shredder is convincing and dangerous, a great villain.
The only thing that hamstrings this baddie is that he throws away all of his advantages when he sees a red flag waved in front of his face. He is winning the whole movie. His army of crime is dominating NYC. When some freaks from the streets challenge him, he destroys Raphael (who anyone with sense knows is the best TMNT turtle.) The final battle has him putting on a renaissance fair of violence against our heroes. Then Splinter shows up, talks a little trash, and gets our big bad to swan dive into a garbage compactor. Lame.
Best Appearance: Sin City (2005) – Elijah Wood
Kevin shows up for only a few scenes in Sin City, but he gets the most work done. This creepy cannibal with Mr. Frodo’s face takes down the hero, Marv (Mickey Rourke) and reveals himself to be one sadistic dude. Without a single line of dialogue, Elijah Wood creates an iconic misanthrope who is happy to smile at you while cutting you to pieces. In the first encounter, Kevin hands Marv his ass so fast I think I saw Rourke reach into his wallet in order to tip him for such quick take-out service. When the second show-down happens, Elijah gets all of his limbs ripped off, but still manages his “the customer is always right” grin through the whole thing. That is dedication.
8. Casanova Frankenstein
Best Appearance: Mystery Men (1999) – Geoffrey Rush
The Mystery Men are lovable losers, and they’re losers because the best baddie in the city is Casanova Frankenstein. Frankenstein is a master at strategy who has all of the gangs in town wrapped around his little finger. OH, and his little finger is a lethal weapon:
Geoffrey Rush plays some of the best villains in town, and he really sunk his crocked teeth into this role. He’s sauve, menacing, demented, and actually effective. The whole caper falls apart because Ben Stiller, who has been bull-shitting the whole film about having super powers, actually develops super strength at the last minute. You can’t plan for that, Franky.
7. General Zod
Best Appearance: Superman II (1981) – Terence Stamp
Oh Terence Stamp. You’re such a wonderful bad guy. I wish I could do a whole list about you kicking ass…
The second Superman film had a multitude of issues, as I explained before. It’s amazing that the actors managed to keep the ship afloat, despite Margot Kidder being in open rebellion against the project for the studio canning Richard Donner, and Gene Hackman burying the hatchet by refusing to do the sequel. Despite all of the chicanery, Stamp showed up in his knee-high work boots and went to town. His trio of Kryptonian villains destroy Metropolis, crush the White House, and bring Superman to his knees. The only problem is his vain pride. Instead of going for the kill, he tries to humiliate Supes, and Kal-El has a trick up his sleeve to punish his arrogance. Pride goes before a fall, and Zod apparently falls straight into a bottomless pit.
6. Ramona’s Ex-Boyfriends (especially Lucas Lee…)
Best Appearance: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (2010) – various (especially Chris Evans…)
The quirky action comedy Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World has a lot of lovable aspects. It’s a super hero movie for super zeroes. It’s jam packed with in-jokes and cultural references. It is also jam packed with bad guys, in the form of seven ex-boyfriends that Scott has to whup before he can get together with his lady love, Ramona Flowers.
Each boyfriend is a snarky and delicious stereotype. The first ex is a fire throwing hipster who fights like a Street Fighter boss. The final boss, Jason Schwartzman, creates a sword melee that feels like Kill Bill Volume 3. They’re all great (and I have a special fondness for the vegan ex, who is completely invulnerable until Scott gets him to drink a smoothie that has hidden dairy in it), but my favorite is good old Captain America, Chris Evans.
Chris Evans plays Lucas Lee, a sexy as fuck movie star who has no weaknesses. He’s a total bad ass. He fights Scott, who happens to also be a total bad ass, to a standstill, and seams to be on the cusp of total domination. The only problem is that he is a complete man’s man, meaning an idiot who will do anything to look cool. Scott spots a crazy stair case as Lucas is about to finish him, and offhandedly says that nobody, NOBODY, would dare grind it with a skateboard. So of course Lucas does. And of course he gets completely wrecked. A TKO is still a KO, dude.
5. The Penguin
Best Appearance: Batman Returns (1992) – Danny DeVito
You don’t think you’re actually going to win, do you? Sadly, Danny, you’re not going to win, but you are enough of a great villain to make the top half of my list. Danny DeVito would be nobodies pick to play a worthy foil to Batman, a dude who combats mental illness with his fists. A man who spends billions of dollars for the privilege of fighting the mentally insane with his heavily armored fist. You know, instead of say channeling all of that money into outreach and a competent police force…
The Penguin is a freak, thrown away at birth, who with no backing or skills, totally gives Batman the ride of his life. His weapons and tactics are neolithic, but he still manages to hold his own against a guy who carelessly crashes billion dollar aircraft just to get from point A to point B. Much like a certain spray tanned lunatic currently running for office, he nearly gets himself the top spot in Gotham. Unfortunately, much like comb-over king, he has to open his mouth.
His ambitions go belly up, but he still manages to force Batman to fight him one on one. And despite the fact that he is three feet shorter and covered in cellulite, he almost wins. If only he hadn’t picked the cute one. Why does it always have to be the cute one…?
Best Appearance: Thor: The Dark World (2013) – Tom Hiddleston
Tom Hiddleston owns the Loki persona. If he stopped playing the role, you’d have to just retire that villain. Nobody, ain’t nobody, going to play Loki after Tom leaves. You might as well just shutter the franchise. That being said, he hasn’t always been that effective.
In the first Thor movie, Loki is a great antagonist…but he never really gets anything done. This is his coming out party, and he’s not going to bring the big guns. In the first Avengers movie, he’s mostly the bad guy because everyone loved him and because Marvel has zero decent bad guys. Seriously. This is the 4th spot and Marvel has a billion movies, but none of those bad guys are even worth talking about. He almost manages to win…but gets completely embarrassed by a mean green killing machine. You should call The Shredder, Tom.
The second Thor movie, despite being only mildly interesting, was where Loki shone. He starts out stuck in a padded cell, channeling the hell out of Hannibal Lecter. He goes legit and convinces his beautiful but idiotic brother Thor to spring him…and you know what’s coming. He’s going to go heel. He HAS to go heel…but he puts it off for so long you think he may actually have seen the error of his ways. Nope. He fakes his own death and then sets himself up as the ruler of Asgard, taking out the actual Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins. That is next level super-villainy right there.
3. Doctor Octopus
Best Appearance: Spider-Man 2 (2004) – Alfred Molina
Alfred Molina manages to make the best villain in the Spider-Man series, despite having bi-focals and a bowl cut. Spider-Man is Marvel’s Batman, the one dude with a plethora of great bad guys. Unfortunately, most of them have been shit when it comes to the cinematic universe. I’m looking at you, Spider-Man 3!
Doc Oc is the perfect trifecta. He’s smart and powerful, thanks to the grafted-on tentacles that he created. He’s shrewd and vicious, able to hit Peter Parker where it hurts by stealing his Aunt May. In a fight, he totally owns Spider-Man. Peter may have the powers of an arachnid, but Otto actually has 8 limbs, and that means he can dish out twice the level of pain, especially since they are metal and semi-sentient. That is actually a break with the comics, but makes the character better, so for once the movies decided to innovate and actually add something to the character.
In the end, he builds a portable nuke and pretty much rules the day. Spider-Man actually can’t stop him, but has to persuade him to fight against his own diabolical limbs. If he’d only been hard of hearing instead of short sighted, Otto Octavius would have been the proud ruler of one NYC shaped nuclear wasteland.
Best Appearance: Watchmen (2009) – Matthew Goode
In the world of Watchmen that has Dr. Manhattan, who can literally bend space and time, you’d think super villains would be shit out of luck. Ozymandias takes one look at the living blue god and figures he’s got what it takes. That’s balls. Giant, swinging blue balls.
Ozymandias has the strength, speed, and power to defeat all of his former super hero buddies, and the intellect to get Dr. Manhattan to play right into his hands. He orchestrates a plot with such cunning, his eventual reveal as the mastermind basically changes the meaning of every scene in the film. It’s worth watching a second time just with the knowledge that its all one big con.
For all of his prowess, Ozymandias has one thing that every other villain on this list lacks: a victory. Everyone else talks a big game, but Ozymandias actually comes out the winner when all the dust settles. And that’s only good enough to get him second place…
1. The Joker
Best Appearance: Batman (1989) – Jack Nicholson…and…
The Dark Knight (2008) – Heath Ledger…and…
Batman: The Movie (1966) – Cesar Romero
The Joker has so many iconic iterations, it’s hard to pick the best one. There’s definitely a lot of old school charm with Cesar Romero’s clown prince, and he does manage to thwart Batman with the aid of every other bad guy in the DC universe, but team competitions aren’t really going to count towards his total.
Jack Nicholson’s Joker had style and swagger, blending insanity with a rogue’s charm. His performance showed audiences that you could have a cartoonish villain with teeth, and make a super hero movie that appealed to adult audiences. He certainly wins in the effective category, as he manages to poison the whole city, steal Batman’s lady, and actually fool him into falling off a building. If only he had booked a more timely chopper out of town…
That being said, I think Heath Ledger walks away with the competition. His Joker is a force of nature, utterly unpredictable and ruthless. At no point in the movie does Batman seem to be in control of events. The movie is terrifying because its just one long spiral into madness and anarchy. Batman has to basically become the NSA to even catch up to Joker, and Mr. J technically wins by forcing him to kill Harvey Dent. So, about that one rule, Bats.