With how rapidly superhero movies come out nowadays, inevitably some aspects of them are going to become predictable. We know there is a good chance the hero will be motivated to save the world due to somebody they love dying early on. We know the trend right now is for most of the movies to be building into a bigger overarching plot involving a villain more powerful than what any of the heroes have seen so far. And we also know it is pretty common for the true villain to not be immediately obvious.
That last trend did not start becoming prevalent until after the ’90s, but today you can expect several superhero movies per year to go the route of the secret villain. The true antagonist might be someone mundane who was hiding in plain sight the whole movie, or they might be someone super powerful who hijacks the movie away from who we thought the villain was. You need to always be on the lookout for a fake-out villain today, like in these 15 Most Jaw-Dropping Surprise Villains in Superhero Movies.
15. BATMAN BEGINS (THE REAL RA’S AL GHUL)
Christopher Nolan set his Batman trilogy apart early on by having this version of the Dark Knight grounded more in reality than what we had seen in previous Batman films. Rather than bright colors and punchlines, we saw Bruce Wayne become a hardened hero after the loss of his parents. After getting sent to prison, he goes off into seclusion with the League of Shadows to train his body and mind and gain the skills he’d use as a hero. With how revamped Batman was to be more realistic, it made sense that the villain of the movie was more down to Earth as well.
The Ra’s al Ghul of the comics truly is nearly immortal, able to be resurrected in his Lazarus Pit to cheat death. So when Ra’s died early on in Batman Begins, longtime fans knew he would be back, but it was just a matter of how. The answer to that wasn’t anything mystical, but instead relied on misdirection. It turned out Ra’s al Ghul was just a legend fabricated to keep people looking for something that didn’t exist, and Liam Neeson’s character was the true leader of the League of Shadows. It was a clever change-up on the character’s origins to keep both new and old fans surprised.
14. WONDER WOMAN (THE TRUE ARES)
This twist is a bit of a mixed bag since the idea of it was good, but the final result has become something people take to ridiculing. Diana spends the entire movie trying to convince her allies that Ares is the one behind the war and he is the one they need to find and stop to save everyone. A lot of people just think she’s putting too much stock into legends, and it almost appears they are right when Diana finally kills the military leader she believes is Ares, only for nothing to change.
Then the harmless looking Sir Patrick appears and reveals, despite appearing to help Diana earlier, that he is the true Ares. It’s definitely a shocking twist if you weren’t expecting any red herrings in the film, but the problem is Sir Patrick is so lacking in intimidation that he becomes hard to take seriously. This is the guy many fans know better as Remus Lupin from the Harry potter movies, so watching this scrawny, middle-aged guy with a mustache become the god of war is pretty weird. It’s an effective surprise, but maybe they should have changed up his appearance once the big reveal as Ares happened.
13. WATCHMEN (OZYMANDIAS)
You can’t talk about twists in superhero stories without mentioning one of the all time classics. Admittedly with how popular the Watchmen graphic novel is, many fans who saw the movie no doubt knew the twist going in. But for all the fresh eyes drawn to the story, the truth about who was behind the plot against the world was still an effective twist. Ozymandias seemed so innocent compared to the Comedian or Rorschach that he’d be one of the last people you’d expect. But what really cemented this twist in comic history was the way Ozymandias went about it.
Typical villains gloat about their dastardly plan to the heroes only to be undone by their confidence. But by the time the other Watchmen members arrived to stop Ozymandias, he revealed his plan had been set in motion before they even got there, and countless lives had already been lost. Seeing a villain defy comic book tropes and be smart enough to execute their plan while they can is a huge surprise to see, and made Ozymandias unforgettable.
12. IRON MAN (OBADIAH STANE)
The first Iron Man movie was primarily focused on telling the origin of Tony, and did not really give viewers a definitive villain for the majority of the movie. There were the middle eastern terrorists that Tony was in conflict with, but they were pretty much neutralized as a threat midway through the movie. So that left the question of who was there for Tony to test his abilities against now that he had finally mastered using the Iron Man suit. And that’s when Obadiah Stane struck.
Obadiah Stane donned a power suit of his own to become the Iron Monger, basically just a bigger and stronger version of Iron Man. Fans didn’t have too much of an attachment to Obadiah with how relegated to the sidelines he was, but that also made him a shock when he became someone a lot more important than just a businessman. Iron Monger doesn’t really have the same ring to it as Iron Man, though, so he wasn’t destined to stick around for long.
11. UNBREAKABLE (MR. GLASS)
When people are talking about superhero movies, an M. Night Shyamalan movie is not the first kind of film that leaps to mind. But before he was ruining Avatar: The Last Airbender or making the hilariously cheesy The Happening, Shyamalan actually had a decent track record for turning out interesting movies. Although The Sixth Sense is Shyamalan’s most famous film, Unbreakable was arguably the more thought provoking movie, since it gave us a more realistic take on superheroes.
Bruce Willis’ character is in denial that he even is a hero for the majority of Unbreakable, but eventually his incredible strength becomes undeniable and he begins to embrace the role. However, every hero needs a villain to fight, which is where Samuel L. Jackson’s character comes in. Throughout the movie, Jackson’s character just seems like a man with fragile bones who is obsessed with comic books. And perhaps he is, but at the end of the movie his crazed nature takes full hold and he dubs himself the villain Glass. Shyamalan has announced he’ll be returning to the character with a 2019 film, so soon we’ll be seeing a lot more of Glass.
10. FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (GALACTUS)
Though many comic fans of course know that the Silver Surfer is the herald of Galactus, that doesn’t mean the two of them are paired together at the hip either. You could definitely do a movie just having the Fantastic Four go up against the Silver Surfer. And going by the trailer for this movie, it looked like that is what we were going to get. It’s almost a shame that wasn’t the case, though, given how Galactus was treated.
For whatever reason, in the Rise of the Silver Surfer Galactus was depicted as a malevolent cloud closing in on the Earth. Even if Galactus had been an original villain for the movie, a cloud character is pretty lame. But it was even worse because we already had an iconic version of Galactus to look forward to thanks to the comics, so the surprise appearance of Galactus wound up being a total let down compared to the original. Although admittedly, not much could have saved this movie anyway.
9. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (TALIA AL GHUL)
Christopher Nolan’s previous Batman movies had featured some surprise villains, so by this point it was nothing new. But the difference here is that what was a welcome surprise in the previous movies turned out to be something a lot of people were critical of this time around. Tom Hardy’s Bane was already such a captivating villain all on his own that we didn’t really need someone pulling the strings behind the scenes. We got it anyway, though, when it was revealed Talia al Ghul was actually the mastermind behind all the plans, and Bane was just doing her bidding.
In case it wasn’t immediately clear that Bane now had little significance to the movie, The Dark Knight Rises drove the point home by instantly having Bane be killed off by Catwoman. Had the villain replacing Bane been interesting, this surprise might have been more welcome. As it is, people remember Talia more for her infamous death scene that was so hammy that it could have benefited from being reshot. All in all, Talia was one surprise many fans could have lived without.
8. IRON MAN 3 (THE TRUE MANDARIN)
With how much of an impact the Mandarin had for Iron Man in the comic books, a lot of people had high expectations of the villain in Iron Man 3. From the trailers, it looked like Ben Kingsley would be the antagonist, delivering the foreign terrorist that comic fans knew. So it shocked a lot of people when it turned out Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin was just a decoy for the true villain of the film. It was a clever idea, but with how much of an attachment people had to the character, a lot of people were also displeased that the Mandarin really was just a myth.
Still, Ben Kingsley’s performance certainly did do its job, and the true antagonist wound up being the most intimidating villain we had seen so far in the Iron Man movies. Sure, he wasn’t the Mandarin of the comics, but a guy who can breathe fire isn’t that bad either. The true Mandarin was even so tough that it took an army of Tony’s Iron Man suits to defeat him.
7. LOGAN (X-24)
Though Wolverine has encountered people with his healing abilities and adamantium weapons before, Logan marked the first time in one of the X-Men movies that he encountered a clone of himself. The film made the most of unveiling X-24 by having him kill Professor X, leaving Charles with the dying belief that Wolverine had just ended his life. The initial shock of wondering why Wolverine would do this definitely grabbed your attention, even though it soon became apparent that the real Wolverine wasn’t even around.
Though X-24 never really had any lines, he did fit with the theme of the movie that involved Logan battling himself and his fading powers as much as his enemies. X-24 was a big reminder of the kind of damage Logan could do if he was fighting for the wrong side, and why it was so important for Laura and the other mutant children not to be manipulated that way. X-24 arrived in the movie with a big impact, and the significance of him and Wolverine dying together certainly was hard to miss.
6. BATMAN V. SUPERMAN (DOOMSDAY)
Unfortunately for many fans, this was one surprise that they didn’t get to experience while actually going to see Batman v. Superman. Doomsday being in the movie was revealed in one of the film’s final trailers, and while his arrival was definitely a surprise, it really seemed like something that would have been better saved for when people sat down to watch the entire movie. It’s not exactly like the movie needed any more selling points when it already had the first on-screen fight between Batman and Superman, plus the first film appearance of Wonder Woman.
Regardless, fans who watch the film down the road without any exposure to the trailers can still be surprised by Doomsday being the big antagonist. Going in with a clean slate, you’d expect the battle between the heroes to be the main attraction. Or at the very least, you might think DC’s trio of heroes would team up to take out Lex Luthor. Doomsday being the ultimate test for the heroes works well as an unexpected twist… as long as it isn’t advertised to you beforehand.
5. THE DARK KNIGHT (TWO-FACE)
Heading into the premier of The Dark Knight, all the focus was understandably on the Joker. With how popular the Joker is, plus this becoming Heath Ledger’s final role, it was impossible to ignore the anticipation of seeing what this take on the villain would be like. Given all of that, the film’s secondary villain received almost no attention, to the point that it could be a total surprise when Two-Face showed up.
Sure, Harvey Dent was openly shown in The Dark Knight’s marketing, but there was no guarantee Harvey would become Two-Face over the course of one movie. So when Harvey’s face got burned and we saw his new maimed appearance in the hospital, that was shocking enough. But for Two-Face to then become the final threat that Batman had to deal with — that’s something almost no one would have predicted when everyone was so obsessed with the Clown Prince of Crime.
4. X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (DEADPOOL)
Not every surprise is a good surprise. Like finding a jury duty notice in the mail, some surprises are just frustrating and disappointing. Those two adjectives certainly describe what most fans felt when they heard Deadpool would be showing up in the X-Men movies, and then they received the surprise results. While Ryan Reynolds was enjoyable right off the bat as Wade Wilson, once it came time for Deadpool to make his big debut, fans were stunned by how mishandled it all was.
This character, who is known for being a smart-mouthed anti-hero, suddenly had his mouth sewn shut and became a totally silent villain. And even though Wade does typically have similarities to other mutants thanks to his healing factor, this version of Deadpool was just a mish-mash of other mutants’ abilities. This Deadpool had adamantium blades like Wolverine, optic lasers like Cyclops, and teleportation abilities like Nightcrawler. All this, combined with the lack of the classic costume, turned this version of Deadpool into one of the worst surprises in the X-Men movie franchise.
3. BIG HERO 6 (PROFESSOR CALLAGHAN)
While Big Hero 6 might not be what many people first think of when talking about superhero movies, this was nonetheless Disney getting in on the action with its team of animated teenage heroes. Big Hero 6 actually is a Marvel property, though, and even features the classic Stan Lee cameo during the film, although you’ll have to wait around through the credits to catch it. In fact, despite being animated, Big Hero 6 features a lot of the typical tropes from live-action superhero movies, including a hero motivated by the loss of a family member, and a surprise villain.
When the villain in the Kabuki mask shows up to steal Hiro’s technology, the obvious assumption is that the wealthy Alistair Krei is the culprit, due to Hiro turning down his business offer earlier. Instead, the big unmasking reveals Professor Callaghan is the villain, wanting to get revenge after Krei’s experiments lost him his daughter. Fans who were expecting the typical Disney fare got a bit of a twist thanks to this surprise that showed villains aren’t always so easy to spot.
2. SUICIDE SQUAD (AMANDA WALLER)
While the Enchantress was obviously the big antagonist in Suicide Squad, one thing the movie drove home is that really nobody has an easy time being called a good person. The Squad members were comprised of criminals who had done horrible things, including torturing people, burning their families alive, and committing cannibalism. One of the few redeeming things about the Squad is that they were not as destructive as the Enchantress, so they were given a chance to save the city just because they weren’t quite as evil as someone more horrible.
Just in case this theme of everyone having shades of a dark side still weren’t driven home, the twist around the movie’s midway point emphasized it a little further. It turned out the rescue mission the Squad was on was to rescue Amanda Waller. However, this rescue did not include Waller’s team members, who she elected to murder before leaving, proving Waller is as much a villain as anyone on the Suicide Squad team.
1. BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM (ANDREA BEAUMONT)
Not too many animated superheroes manage to break through into the mainstream for their riveting plots, but Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is one of the few that fans agree is so well-executed that it’s worth it for anyone to check it out. Considering the movie also contains the Joker, you’d think any other character would have a difficult time gaining ahold of the spotlight, but the newcomer the Phantasm manages to pull it off. The mystery of who this character is drives the pace until we finally learn it is Bruce’s love interest for the film, Andrea Beaumont.
Despite the Phantasm being a one-and-done character, the surprise of the reveal was so good that she is still talked about today. Considering how difficult it is for superhero movies to create stories that aren’t just rehashes of something that happened in comics decades ago, this is an impressive mention. This is especially great for big comic fans who know all the classic characters so well that they can predict their villainous turns a mile away. With an original character like Andrea, you’d really have a tough time seeing this twist coming.
Which other supervillain twists blew your minds? Let us know in the comments!
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