With the release of Avengers: Infinity War next week and the focus being on the “big bad”, Thanos, I wanted to run down my Top 10 Comic Book Movie Villains.
This is not a list of the best acted roles, nor is it a list of roles portrayed most closely to the source material.
This is a list of my favorite villainous roles in live-action superhero movies.
#10 – Joker (Jared Leto)
Appearances: Suicide Squad (2016)
The only reason Leto’s Joker is not higher on this list is screen time. Skepticism was at an all time high when the first images were released, but as soon as we saw footage of Leto, we knew he was going to knock it out of the park. Say what you will about the “type” of Joker that was given to us, but Leto was superb as the “Clown Prince of Crime”. Had WB/DC allowed the Suicide Squad story to focus more on the Harley Quinn/Joker relationship, rather than spending time with Will Smith’s Deadshot, we would have seen a vastly superior film.
#9 – Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina)
Appearances: Spider-Man 2 (2004)
When Spider-Man 2 was initially released, the special effects were top notch. There was improvement on Spidey himself, from the first movie, but the real stand out effects were Doc Ock’s tentacles. On top of the visuals provided by this character, his arc is stand out, as far as superhero villains are concerned. This is not a one-note villain and it begs to question: Why weren’t any of Raimi’s other “Spider-Foes” this well done?
#8 – Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy)
When Christopher Nolan decided to take on the property of Batman, many people did not know what to expect. There was no MCU; there were barely legitimate superhero movies, in general. Batman Begins moved mountains, as far as garnering widespread respect of comic book movies. Though he is not the man behind the curtains, pulling the strings, it is Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow, who delivers most of the evil throughout. Benefited by having an ensemble of villainous characters, Murphy brings a calm, creepiness to this evocative role that was unprecedented at the time.
#7 – Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan)
Appearances: Black Panther (2018)
After some time passes, Erik Killmonger very well may slide up this list, at least a couple spots. Killmonger is a perfect example of a villain that the audience can sympathize with. He is (unjustly) an outcast and was born poor-off. It is because of this that we understand and accept his motivation. We may not agree with his actions, but we certainly can agree with the motivation behind them. Not only this, but Michael B. Jordan is far and away the most compelling actor working in Black Panther. His charisma and charm know no bounds, and in Black Panther, we finally see a dark side to him that had yet to be uncovered.
#6 – Vulture (Michael Keaton)
Appearances: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Michael Keaton is Batman. That is how many people know him, and how many people think of him. He has seen a resurgence in his career in the last several years, with films like Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), The Founder and Spotlight, but stepped out of a clear comfort zone with Spider-Man: Homecoming. This was the first villain in the MCU that truly sparked fear. He had clear motivations, a separate tie to the titular hero and was as well acted as any villain performance has been.
#5 – Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson)
The Joker maybe the most popular Batman villain, but Ra’s al Ghul is the quintessential foe of Batman. Nolan’s deception in who was the “true” Ra’s was perfectly fitting for the character. Here is Liam Neeson, playing a father figure, a role model… but with the smug arrogance of a super-villain. His reappearance in The Dark Knight Rises cements his place on this list. Just ask Bruce.
#4 – Magneto (Michael Fassbender)
When it was known that Magento would be recast as a younger version of himself, there was much trepidation. When Michael Fassbender was announced to take over the role from Sir Ian McKellen, X-Fans world-wide breathed a synchronized sigh of relief. He expresses the anger, the rage… he shows the calm, collected manner that Magneto is known for. Fassbender elevates every frame he is in, and even some he is not.
#3 – Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer)
Appearances: Batman Returns (1992)
This interpretation of Catwoman has “Tim Burton” written all over it. And in this instance, I find that to be a good thing. Here is proof that you don’t need to show skin to be a master seductress. Michelle Pfeiffer steals the show in Batman Returns and doesn’t feel bad about it at all. This role could not only be the best comic book villain portrayal who is a woman, but the best comic book character portrayal of a character who is a woman that we have seen to date (looking at you, Gal).
#2 – Joker (Heath Ledger)
Appearances: The Dark Knight (2008)
That’s right, folks. Heath Ledger does not take my top spot. I know a lot of people will have him as their #1, but for my money, he doesn’t win this one. Had Heath not died shortly after filming The Dark Knight, I don’t believe he would have even been nominated for an Oscar, nor would this performance “go down in the books” like it has. With that said, I love Heath so much in this role. He brings something to it that was completely unexpected. He wasn’t just the sad clown, he was the mad clown. Given an ambiguously written backstory helps propels this performance. You want to know… why? Why is this man so twisted? He will make you laugh, he will terrify you. He will have you buying the Blu-Ray to watch his scenes over and over again.
#1 – Bane (Tom Hardy)
Appearances: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Oh, you couldn’t understand what Bane was saying? That’s too bad. Tom Hardy absolutely crushes this role and shoots Bane towards the top of Batman’s best villains, as well. There was a lot of questions surrounding the fight between Batman and Bane, and whether or not Bane would “break the Bat”. Christopher Nolan did what no one else could, and perfectly brought that image to life. When Batman enters Bane’s lair, the iconic Hans Zimmer score shuts off completely. We hear the hissing from the pipes, the grunts from the punches, and the thuds from hitting the ground. This is the best one on one, hand to hand combat in any comic book movie. The late-stage reveal, that Bane was working in secret with Talia Al Ghul, Ra’s daughter, rubbed some the wrong way, but tying the entire trilogy together, bringing everything full circle… that was the right move, and it did nothing to change the outstanding performance here from Tom Hardy.