Nothing gets nerd blood boiling faster than when someone presents what they call a definitive list of something and it’s wrong. Vulture published The 25 Best Movie Supervillains, Ranked today, and besides the fact that it contains typos, errors and just plain dumb comments (“[Cillian] Murphy is one of the most conventionally beautiful of all of the actors on this list…” Murphy is an incredibly attractive actor, but anyone who calls his looks conventional must have only seen very odd faces in their time) the choices leave something to be desired.
They seem to have wanted to avoid too many Marvel villains on the list, seemed to avoid any films before 2008 that don’t feature famous characters (with the exception of Unbreakable) and tried to shoehorn in as many female villains as possible, whether or not the role was that great (which is an indictment of how few great roles there are for women). Lame!
Of course I know better, as any good nerd should believe about themselves. The difference is, I’m putting in the work and writing a rebuttal. So here is the correct list of the 25 Greatest Superhero Movie Villains, as of today. You might notice the dearth of entries of female characters and actors of color. This isn’t an intentional omission, this just goes to show how many of these roles are written for white men.
WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS (though I’ll try and keep them to a minimum)
25. Neville Sinclair, The Rocketeer (1991)
Timothy Dalton plays Neville Sinclair, a dashing Hollywood movie star (clearly modeled after Errol Flynn) in one of his first major roles after he wrapped up playing James Bond. Sinclair is (of course) an undercover Nazi agent working to steal an experiment jetpack from Howard Hughes. He frets, he ingratiates, he flirts, he chews the scenery. He is never boring to watch, especially as he courts Jennifer Connolly, the girlfriend of Billy Campbell’s Rocketeer.
It wasn’t lies, Jenny. It was acting.
24. The Grandmaster, Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
How do you describe the Grandmaster? Imagine an immortal Roman emperor with the power over the life and death of everybody in his realm. A man of casual cruelty, who thinks nothing of executing his relatives or enslaving people to fight for the amusement of the populace. Now mix in a full dose of Jeff Goldblum at his most Jeff Goldblumiest. I’m not going to spoil any of the great jokes with him, but I will say that he is a man who loves music, good times and as a side note, you might not want to ride in his yacht. Nuff said. A completely unforgettable character.
Slaves is such a harsh word, I prefer “prisoners with benefits.”
23. Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Alfred Molina has always been an underrated actor who is relegated to character roles most of the time. When he gets the chance to get a meaty role and some screen time he generally hits for the fences. His portrayal of Doc Ock is surprisingly nuanced, full of sorrow, pathos and madness, which is a little surprising in Sam Raimi’s second Spider-Man film as nobody really gets a good, solid three dimensions on their character except for Molina, who has to share the spotlight with James Franco (who’s kinda meh in the role), Willam Defoe and the ultimate scene stealer, JK Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. The fact that I forgot Simmons was in the movie is a testament to Molina’s work (and the screenplay by Alvin Sargent).
I will not die a monster.
22. Obidiah Stane, Iron Man (2008)
Jeff Bridges reminds us how versatile of an actor he is with his work as Obidiah Stane, a character that you can just smell the coffee, cigar smoke and newspaper ink on. While he’s working for Tony Stark he clearly has his own agenda, but it’s unclear how far he’s willing to take it. Bridges’s ability to play a morally ambivalent character is what keeps him interesting, until the script goes poo-poo in the third act and ruins all of the careful work that he has been doing, culminating with the usual explosions and fighting.
Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave! With a box of scraps!
21. Richmond Valentine, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Take one part Elon Musk, one part Mark Zuckerberg and add some Samuel L. Jackson clearly having a blast and you get the megalomaniacal Richmond Valentine. Jackson plays him with a lisp (his idea, apparently. Turns out Jackson had/has a stutter and thought a speech impediment would work for the character). He’s a sack full of weirdness, with his odd combination of squeamishness and ruthlessness. He’s such a strange, unforgettable character.
When you get a virus, you get a fever. That’s the human body raising its core temperature to kill the virus. Planet Earth works the same way: Global warming is the fever, mankind is the virus. We’re making our planet sick. A cull is our only hope. If we don’t reduce our population ourselves, there’s only one of two ways this can go: The host kills the virus, or the virus kills the host. Either way…
20. Adrian Veidt/Ozymandius, Watchmen (2009)
There are no greater villains than those who believe they are doing the right thing. The film adaptation of the comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons may have had some problems in doing it justice, but they did a fine job with Ozymandius (played by Matthew Goode). He is smarter than everybody else (he thinks). He is more powerful than everybody else (he thinks). He knows what the world needs (he thinks), and he is going to make that happen, despite any repercussions. Plus, he gets the second most badass line in the film, and possibly the most chilling supervillain line ever (one that has been ripped off many, many times).
I’m not a comic book villain. Do you seriously think I would explain my master stroke to you if there were even the slightest possibility you could affect the outcome? I triggered it 35 minutes ago.
19. Ego, the Living Planet, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017)
Why can’t Kurt Russell be in everything? He seems like the only logical choice to play Star-Lord’s father (having as much charisma as Chris Pratt seems an impossible task…for anyone other than Kurt Russell). I don’t know if he believes he’s doing the right thing so much as good and evil don’t apply when you’re a god. And he’s lonely– he wants companionship on his immortal journey through time and space. Who wouldn’t?
I promise you… it’s unlike any other place you’ve ever seen. And there… I can explain your very… special heritage. Finally get to be… the father I’ve always wanted to be… Excuse me. I’ve gotta take a whiz.
18. Gideon “G-Man” Graves, Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)
Has there ever been a bad guy you wanted to punch in the face more than Jason Schwartzman’s G-Man? His arrogance and obnoxiousness are completely off of the charts. He’s the kind of villain that would steal a hero’s girl (almost literally, although to be fair Scott Pilgrim is kind of an asshole himself), book the hero’s band perform for him to not only rub it in, but to make money off of them, and worst of all, make Kim Pine wear that stupid outfit to perform in.
Scotty, you can cheat on all the ladies you like… but you can’t cheat death.
17. Buddy Pine/Incredi-Boy/Syndrome, The Incredibles (2004)
Syndrome wants to be a hero, but he has no idea what that really means (which is ironic, considering how obsessed he is with superheroes). Like a lot of villains on this list, he was wronged in some way (he’s treated pretty shabbily by Craig T. Nelson’s Mr. Incredible as a kid) and learns all of the wrong lessons from it. And honestly, he wants to give everybody the ability to have superpowers? In the hands of a different storyteller, he could have come off as the hero.
Oh, ho ho! You sly dog! You got me monologuing!
16. Donald Pierce, Logan (2017)
Not given much to do in the second and third act, I’m mostly including Boyd Holbrook for his bravura monologue in the limo at the beginning of the film. It is such an entrancing scene, his performance so riveting, that it’s a huge disappointment when he is basically used as a token baddie for the rest of the film. I would have loved if they had a chance to explore him further, but at least we have that magnificent introduction.
You know, you got some buckshot on your door. I hear you was in Phoenix. But then last night some friends of mine in Texas HP called, told me they found three dead cholos on a pullout at fifty-four. Not unusual I know. Except one was missing a hand another one a leg. So they was thinkin’ it was either a escaped tiger or Freddy Krueger. But not one of them could drive: one being fictional the other one extinct.
15. Andrew Detmer, Chronicle (2012)
The abused become the abuser. It’s a tale as old as time, and one of the main reasons why people can’t escape the trauma of childhood. Give the abused superpowers and things can go one way or the other– either they can surmount the damage done or succumb to it. Dane DeHaan gives a tortured performance in this film that people seemed to have missed or forgotten. It’s worth checking out.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading, you know? Like, online about, like, just evolution and natural selection and how like there’s this thing, right? It’s called the apex predator, right? And basically what this is, is the strongest animal in the ecosystem, right? And as human beings, we’re considered the apex predator but only because smaller animals can’t feed on us because of weapons and stuff, right? A lion does not feel guilty when it kills a gazelle, right? You do not feel guilty when you squash a fly… and I think that means something. I just think that really means something.
14. The Bug in the Edgar Suit, Men in Black (1997)
I’ve never seen a villain so uncomfortable in his (or someone else’s) skin. Vincent D’Onofrio plays an unnamed alien bug who steals the skin of a farmer, also played by D’Onofrio, and wears it while he attempts to destroy a galaxy. Ever see an actor in a leading role decay as the movie goes on? The physical performance of D’Onofrio as a creature that literally doesn’t fit in his skin is both hilarious and repulsive.
You ever pull the wings off a fly? You care to see the fly get even?
13. James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/ The Winter Soldier, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Brainwashed, enhanced and terrified of being used as an assassin, Bucky Barnes (played by Sebastian Stan) is both vulnerable and merciless. He’s been frozen and thawed repeatedly since the 1940s every time Hydra needs someone murdered. His brain has been scrambled who knows how many times. He’s done horrible things while under Hydra’s control and the worst part is, he remembers it all. But it’s not his choice– he’s the tool of Hydra and must kill who they say. Stan captures all of the conflicting emotions with aplomb.
Who the hell is Bucky?
12. Jack Napier/The Joker, Batman (1989)
I don’t know how Tim Burton convinced Jack Nicholson to play the Joker (other than the $6 million dollar paycheck, the maximum of a three week maximum shoot and a hefty percentage of the gross, which ended up making him something like an additional $60-90 million. Okay, maybe I get it.), and it’s kind of unbelievable that Nicholson would take it seriously, but it actually happened. Problems with the film aside (the origin of the Joker? That’s never appeared in the comics, going back to his first appearance in 1940, other than in alternate timelines or stories later revealed to be false. They’ve never even given him a real name!). Nicholson chews the scenery, the costumes, the props and the cameras. Not only does he steal every scene he’s in, he looms large even off camera.
Batman… Batman… Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in, where a man dressed up as a bat gets all of my press? This town needs an enema!
11. Hela, Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
The only movie on this list to have more than one entry, Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Hela is…I dunno, amazing? When I heard she was cast as Hela, I said perfect! And she is. Clad in either her Jack Kirby inspired outfit or letting her hair down and looking like a sexy vampire, she demands your attention. She is wicked, funny and brutal all at once, and you just can’t stop watching her, like any great villain. She looks like she’s having a blast playing the character, and her enthusiasm is infectious.
Darling, you have no idea what’s possible.
10. Trevor Slattery/The Mandarin, Iron Man 3 (2013)
Spoiler Alert: Don’t Read this if you haven’t seen Iron Man 3 and hate spoilers like me. Another example of casting a top notch actor into what could be a thankless role, Ben Kingsley just takes every scene he’s in and shakes it and squeezes everything out of it possible. He goes from some sort of murderous terrorist with an accent somewhere between a southern preacher and a midwestern schoolteacher to one of the most ridiculous characters ever committed to film. Like many of the characters on this list, I’d just like to follow him around for a day.
Some people call me a terrorist. I consider myself a teacher. America, ready for another lesson?
9. Madeline “Ma-Ma” Madrigal, Dredd (2012)
First off, this isn’t the stupid Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd movie, this is the incredible 2012 Karl Urban film, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. If you haven’t seen it, you’re really missing out. Okay, that aside, Lena Headey plays Ma-Ma, one of the most sociopathic characters ever committed to film. Another villain with a tragic past, she’s a former prostitute in Mega City One who now controls the city’s drug trade with a iron fist. She’s equal parts tragic and vicious (okay, maybe a skosh more viciousness) and her dead junkie eyes are haunting. Man, she’s a scary one.
If I hear of anyone helping the Judges, I will kill them and the next generation of their families. As for the Judges… sit tight, or run. It makes no difference, you’re mine.
8. Prince Nuada Silverlance, Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Once again the most tragic villains are the ones who believe they are right. His birthright stolen from him by humanity, his people driven to live in the sewers hidden from sight, it’s hard to blame him for wanting to restore the elven realm to glory. His intent is noble, his methods less so. Luke Goss plays him as both cruel and arrogant as well as vulnerable and loves his sister (mayyyyybe a little too much). He genuinely cares about his people and could care less about the humans who’ve ruined the planet. It’s kind of hard to fault that logic.
We die and the world will be poorer for it.
7. Loki, Thor (2011)
You know when you’ve got a skinny, pasty, nasty liar and murderer who becomes a major sex symbol that you’ve really hit the mark. Tom Hiddleston just oozes charisma as Loki in this film (and others in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). He somehow turns this role of a guy with daddy issues and a huge chip on his shoulder into one of the most compelling characters in the MCU, casting a shadow so long that he was mentioned in numerous reviews of subsequent films as sorely absent, which is a pretty nice feat. He’s turned into more of an anti-hero in later films, but in the first Thor he’s straight up ready to murder his father and his brother, so I figure that safely puts him into the villainous category.
I never wanted the throne, I only ever wanted to be your equal!
6. Erik Lehnsherr/ Magneto, X-Men: First Class (2011)
Probably the most tragic of all of the characters in this list, Magneto has been though some shit. He’s a survivor, a fierce advocate for mutants and he will go through any means necessary to protect the species. Plus, he really hates Nazis (with good reason). The scene in this film where he confronts some men from his past in a bar in Argentina was originally intended for a film to be called X-Men Origins: Magneto which was canceled, so the magnificent scene is included in this movie instead, and it is the standout moment of the film. Michael Fassbender is just bubbling with barely contained rage at all times, rage that is both righteous and frightening.
Blood and honor. Which would you prefer to lose first?
5. Clarence Boddicker, Robocop (1987)
Without a doubt the most terrifying villain on this list, Kurtwood Smith makes a meal of one of the most sadistic characters ever committed to film outside of maybe some torture porn type movies. He tortures and murders Alex Murphy (played by Peter Weller) with glee, tortures and murders Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) with satisfaction and is perfectly content with throwing one of his wounded crew out of a van into the windshield of a speeding cop car. His rimless glasses intended to evoke Heinrich Himmler and cast against type (Smith had until that point played mostly intellectual type characters) Boddicker will go where no one else will, will do what no one else will and will probably have a good time doing it. Yikes.
4. Erik Lehnsherr/ Magneto, X-Men (2000)
Though not a fan of really any of the X-Men movies to date (with the exception of Logan) even I have to admit they really knocked it out of the park with the casting of Ian McKellen as Magneto. Here is an actor with gravitas. It’s a pretty tough thing portraying such an iconic character, but McKellen does it with grace and humor as well as a casual cruelty born from the character’s horrific life experiences. It’s pitch perfect casting. He manages to convey such a staggering intellect that it’s a little disappointing that the script ends up failing him. At least we got to see him play the character multiple times in some better (and worse) films.
Let’s just say, God works too slow.
3. Adrian Toomes/The Vulture, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Who would have thought that casting Michael Keaton as the Vulture would have ended up such a spectacular success? The Vulture (kind of a lame character in the comics) was one one of the most nuanced supervillains ever committed to the screen. In fact, he would have been my #2 if I wrote this a month ago. He’s a working man trying to take care of his crew and his family when he’s screwed out of what was supposed to be his big break. There’s a reason he runs his own company, though, it’s because he is a leader and a driven man. He doesn’t let the bastards get him down, and for a long time seems like he’s just trying to do right by his family and maybe make a few bucks on the side. He has a sense of honor, he loves his wife and kids and would do anything for them. The first sign that he might have a real mean streak is when he accidentally vaporizes one of his stooges and just shrugs it off (admittedly, the guy was a dick who wasn’t following orders and was planning on quitting, but still), and things begin to escalate from there. It’s a masterclass in subtlety. He’s just So. Good.
You need to understand, I will do anything to protect my family.
2. N’Jadaka/Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, Black Panther (2018)
I began this article thinking that it was ridiculous for Vulture to name Killmonger as the second best supervillain of all time when Black Panther just came out, but when I was making my own list I realized that I actually agreed with them. If Killmonger wasn’t the brutal killer that he was, his quest would have been noble. He was wronged in life (and already starting from a pretty rough place) and dragged himself out of his circumstances to be both an accomplished warrior and a brilliant man (it’s mentioned that he graduated from MIT). He was robbed of his birthright, for his chance to live the privileged life that T’Challa experienced. He is horrified that Wakanda has abandoned the black people of the world whose ancestors were ripped from their homes and sold into slavery and whose descendants have been screwed since then. He wants to bring his people up. I can’t argue with that. Unfortunately, he’s also a sociopath, so there’s that. I don’t think I’ve ever empathized with a villain like I did with him: When he came to Wakanda, he took the throne according to the rules. He didn’t even cheat, he earned it. Michael B. Jordan plays Killmonger with charm and malevolence and the best hair of anyone on this list.
I’ve waited my whole life for this. The world’s going to start over. I’MA BURN IT ALL!
1. The Joker, The Dark Knight (2008)
Arguing about who was the best supervillain of all time is like arguing who the best electric guitarist was: You set Jimi Hendrix aside, because there’s no argument about that, and discuss everybody else. The same could be said of Heath Ledger’s Joker, a performance unlike any I’ve ever seen in a movie, superhero or not. It’s difficult to parse that this is the same actor from A Knight’s Tale under the makeup, the voice, the posture, the everything. His performance is just…insane, and that’s not intended as a pun. It’s one of the most fully committed characters (again, not intentionally a pun) ever set to film, Daniel Day-Lewis notwithstanding. It is such a powerful portrayal that it makes Ledger’s accidental overdose that much more tragic: where could he have gone from here? What would he have done? We’ll never know.
Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just…DO things.
Tell me who I missed in the comments! (It just occurred to me I missed John Lithgow as Dr. Lizardo from The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension. Oh well.)