Everyone hates a bad guy, right? Well, not all the time. In many cases, the villain can be an entirely sympathetic person or even the star of the show, depending on the point of view. Still, you really are supposed to dislike a villain — in most cases. That being said, we aren’t talking about your typical Bond Villain here either (those guys are universally despised), we wanted to look into those villains we know we should hate, but we just can’t help but to love instead. Let’s face it, sometimes you want to see the good guy lose, right? Or is that just us?
Fortunately, for every superhero, there are usually dozens of villains making up their rogues galleries and while many of these folks are pure, unadulterated evil we wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, some of them just don’t fit that description. You might not like it when these baddies get their so-called comeuppance, but that doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy watching or reading about them… and maybe even rooting for them throughout their adventures. For this list, we took a look at Marvel, DC and Image comics, as well as television and film, to come up with the 15 greatest villains you simply hate to love.
15. HARLEY QUINN
Harley Quinn made her first appearance in Batman: The Animated Series in September of 1992 and she quickly became a fan favorite that has since seen her in print and most recently, the film adaptation of Suicide Squad. As the Joker’s main squeeze, she is a ruthless maniac who doesn’t shy away from violent outbursts and she will do absolutely anything to protect her Puddin’.
Harley is not well… she’s sick and a lot of what she does can be chocked up to her insanity as well as the fact that she is a beaten and battered woman. The Joker has never treated her well and she truly is a sympathetic character. Despite the reasons for her actions and insanity, she is a fun character to watch.
14. MR. GLASS
Elijah Price was the character played by Samuel L. Jackson in the 2000 M. Night Shyamalan film Unbreakable. Price suffers from Type I Osteogenesis Imperfecta, which makes his bones very brittle and easily broken. Because of this, the slightest movement can fracture his bones and he was given the name “Mr. Glass” by the neighborhood kids who mocked him growing up. He is a tragic character who becomes obsessed with finding his opposite: a person who is unbreakable.
In order to locate his opposite, he creates major disasters in the form of plane and train crashes until he locates one man who survives uninjured. He is originally presented as a deuteragonist, but later becomes the film’s primary antagonist. The problem though is that you can’t help but like him. He’s evil, but sees justification in his actions meant only to validate his own existence.
Sandman first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #4, written by Stan Lee and penciled by Steve Ditko in 1963. He remained a criminal for most of his time in print, but reformed and joined the Avengers before being brainwashed back into a life of crime. The character in the comics isn’t as loved as his portrayal by Thomas Hayden Church in Spider-Man 3. We know it wasn’t the greatest movie in the franchise, but Church’s Sandman was a character we came to love.
He is shown as a criminal who, like his comic book counterpart, is accidentally turned into a being with superpowers thanks to some radiation — you know, that old chestnut. While he uses his powers for nefarious purposes, he only wants to be a good father and prefers not to hurt people. We know we are supposed to hate this guy, but we can’t help but love him.
12. MR. FREEZE
He is cold and calculated, but Doctor Victor Fries, a.k.a. Mr. Freeze, is a truly sympathetic villain whose motivations are easily understood. When his wife is diagnosed with a terminal disease, he freezes her until he can find a cure. After he is betrayed by his employer, exposure to chemicals alters his body such that he can only survive in sub-zero temperatures requiring him to wear a suit.
His motivations continue to follow his desire to save his wife who is often kidnapped (as a Popsicle) so that he is forced to do other people’s dirty work. In many ways, Freeze is a reluctant villain who would never have traveled down the path of evil had he not been forced into the predicament he has found himself in. Mr. Freeze first appeared in Batman #121, but was first known as Mr. Zero.
11. RA’S AL GHUL
Ra’s al Ghul is one of Batman’s many enemies who is also considered a supervillain and has tangled with the likes of Superman and many other heroes in the DC Universe. He first appeared in Batman #232, written by Dennis O’Neil and penciled by Neal Adams in 1971, and quickly rose the ranks as a fan favorite due to his intricate character history and the way he deals with Batman
Ra’s al Ghul is the leader of the League of Assassins and thanks to the Lazarus Pits, he has lived a long time. During his extended lifetime, he has perfected his combat skills and martial arts in a way that no other person could possibly match. He and Batman share the same goals, but not the means with which to achieve them, and though Ra’s wants Batman to succeed him, the two are constantly in opposition.
Adrian Alexander Veidt is a former costumed crime-fighter who is thought to be the smartest man alive when he was first introduced in DC Spotlight #1 as a promo for The Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and penciled by Dave Gibbons in 1985. Veidt is an admirer of Alexander the Great and chose the name Ozymandias in honor of an ally to Pharaoh Ramses II.
Ozymandias is presented as the antagonist of the Watchmen series, but while he does orchestrate the death of millions, he does so for an honorable reason: to avert nuclear war. He fully understands the weight of his decisions, but feels compelled to make and follow-through with them for the betterment of mankind. His pain and despair at his actions are palpable and it becomes easy to sympathize with the character. It seems like we shouldn’t like him, but doing so would be impossible.
9. MISTER MXYZPTLK
Mister Mxyzptlk is more than just a name somebody came up with by letting their cat walk on their typewriter, he is a magical imp from the Fifth Dimension who can do… well, anything and everything. When he visits our dimension every 90 days, he is limited only by his imagination, which is incredibly silly. In order to amuse himself, he pops on over to Earth to torment Superman and we just love him for it.
The character is fun and more of a nuisance than truly evil, but he can be malevolent when he wants to be. Sure, he could just turn Superman into a giant butterfly if he wanted to, but where’s the fun in that? He first appeared in Superman #30, written by Jerry Siegel and penciled by Joe Shuster in 1944. Superman may hate this guy, but we just love him!
8. THE ADVERSARY
If you haven’t read the DC Vertigo title Fables, you may want to skip this entry because SPOILERS await! In Fables, we first learn that the renegade refugees in Fabletown had to flee their homelands due to an unknown adversary who is made out to be an evil Emperor. What we learn through the first 50 or so books is that the Adversary is none other than your favorite lovable wood carver, Geppetto.
Geppetto spent his time building a worlds-spanning army of magical wooden soldiers commanded by the giant wooden Emperor whose head you can see him leaning on in the pic. Now, we know that we are supposed to hate him — the Fables sure do, but you can’t. Really, you can’t hate Geppetto. He’s a silly old man who commands anyone in his vicinity to be put to death for getting in his way or simply by talking to him.
7. THE WILL
You might think that a character who operates as a mercenary and assassin and chases the protagonists of the comic series Saga across the galaxy wouldn’t be someone we favor, but then you must not have read Saga yet… and you really should. The Will is presented as a competent tracker and assassin who is accompanied by a sentient Lying Cat who lets people know when they aren’t telling the truth.
As a Freelancer, The Will is ruthless, but as a person, he is shown to be compassionate and willing to do anything to protect the weak. He is something of a superhero/bounty hunter, which makes him internally antithetical and an incredibly interesting character. When his ex-lover, The Stalk, is killed, he puts his mission on hold in order to find and punish her killer. Given the option, we would read a book about just him and his adventures.
6. THE RIDDLER
There are evil criminal masterminds whose genius dwarfs even the most clever detectives, and then there’s Edward Nigma. Mr. Nigma, better known as the Riddler is so intelligent, it ends up being a fault as he feels the need to engineer the most elaborate traps and puzzles for the Dark Knight to solve. Intellectually, he is probably smarter than Batman, but his unwillingness to simplify his schemes has made him not only easy… well, relatively easy for the Dark Knight to catch… but also an endearing character who is a lot of fun to read and watch.
The Riddler first appeared in Detective Comics #140, written by Otto Binder and penciled by multiple illustrators. He has been a criminal for the majority of his appearances, though he did reform at one point becoming a private eye. It didn’t take.
Thanos is probably one of the most dangerous villains in the Marvel Universe, given that his quest for power and the love of the literal embodiment of Death has spurned him to such evil acts as the murder of half the Universe’s population. He’s an evil megalomaniacal Titan who can have no redemption for his crimes.
But that doesn’t explain why the fans just love this guy. Thanos keeps turning up time and time again as the antagonist in just about every cosmic event he can get his hands into, but you can’t help but love him. He’s diabolical and truly evil, but he has a purpose and his eagerness to do what he feels is right makes him a well-structured character all true Marvel fans have come to appreciate. Thanos first appeared in Iron Man #55, written by Mike Friedrich and penciled by Jim Starlin in 1973.
When it comes to the archetype of the anti-hero, you can’t look much further than Raven Darkhölme, otherwise known as Mystique. Mystique’s primary goal is the betterment of mutantkind and throughout the various comics, televisions series and games, she has done a lot of evil, stopping at nothing to achieve her goals. While she tends to stand on the wrong side of the aisle and will kill almost indiscriminately, there is no way the fans could do without her.
Mystique is a sympathetic villain whose placement in the story often makes her both an enemy and an ally. Her most recent on-screen portrayal by Jennifer Lawrence placed her as the epicenter of the conflict between human and mutantkind in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Apocalypse, which only helped to make us fall in love with this shapeshifting hero/villain.
3. OSWALD COBBLEPOT
There have been a lot of versions of the Penguin over the years and most of them aren’t really the types of people you hate to love… and then there is Oswald Cobblepot from the television series Gotham. Cobblepot is played rather expertly by Robin Taylor who has created a character you can’t help but love. Sure, he’s an evil bastard who stops at nothing to gain power, but can you blame the guy?
He may do some despicable things throughout the series, but his affinity for Detective Jim Gordon and his subversive dealings throughout the city as he rose to power as the Mayor of Gotham City makes him one heck of a likeable guy. He can be just as deadly to his enemies as he can to his friends, but he does it with such class and style, we can’t help but love him.
There just isn’t another character like the Joker. He’s the Clown Prince of Crime, after all, and while he is a psychotic killer who taunts the Dark Knight time and again, you really can’t help but love this guy. In cartoons and video games, he’s voiced by Mark Hamil to become a charismatic character while his film versions have played him as something of an antihero who is so interesting, you simply can’t take your eyes off of him.
Joker is one of those iconic characters who just about everybody hates to love. You know that you shouldn’t be cheering for the guy who maniacally kills people by the hundreds because he thinks it’s funny, but you just can’t help yourself. We all love the Joker, which is why he has been Batman’s nemesis since he first appeared in Batman #1, written by Bill Finger and penciled by Bob Kane.
Negan first appeared in The Walking Dead #100, written by Robert Kirkman and penciled by Charlie Adlard. He’s a despicable man who treats his baseball bat, Lucille, like it’s his lady. He’s introduced as a foul-mouthed, adversary to Rick and his crew who brutally murders Glenn (and Abraham in the TV show). That said, he is one hell of a likeable guy. Is he intimidating, mean as the day is long and Charismatic in a way that makes you mad at yourself for loving him? Absolutely!
Negan has staying power in The Walking Dead in a way that no other adversary has had. It’s clear that Kirkman is reluctant to take him out and that’s OK because the fans want to see him stick around for as long as possible. He is Rick’s antithesis but is also like him in so many ways, it’s disturbing to watch and read.
Did we miss any of your favorite villains you simply hate to love? Sound off in the comments and let us know who you think is so bad, they are good!