These days, there are loads of comic book movies for fans to enjoy. While a lot of these are driven heavily by a strong cast of heroes, it’s often a movie’s villain that can make or break a story. When fans think of their favorite comic book films, it’s normally the villain that sticks out: The Joker, Loki, Winter Soldier, the list goes on. And while a great movie villain can elevate a superhero film and the struggles of the hero, a terrible villain can deflate all of that.
This list is about those villains, and while it would be much more fun to write about the greatest comic book movie villains, it’s important to remember that, for a while, there were many terrible ones. We may be a bit soiled today, but we’ll always have these terrible comic book movie villains to learn from.
15. HOWARD SAINT (THE PUNISHER)
To start off this list, we have someone who, generally speaking, is a fine actor, which makes his inclusion even worse. Not always known for his villain roles (though often derided for them), John Travolta can definitely become a villain when he needs to be (just look at his roles in “Pulp Fiction,” “Broken Arrow” and “Swordfish”). However, that ability must have been forgotten when it came to the 2004 film “The Punisher.”
In the film, Travolta — who plays mob boss Howard Saint — is so angered by the death of his son (indirectly caused by Frank Castle), that he orders the murder of Castle’s entire family (including his parents). Of course, that sets in motion the events of the film. When we find out that Saint’s entire motivation for the hit was just to keep the respect of his wife, it turns what was an already stale performance into something worse. Not only is Saint not a true villain, he’s nothing more than a hot-headed pushover who has no true menacing presence. Hopefully the villain for the “Punisher” Netflix series will be more scary.
14. BLACKHEART (GHOST RIDER)
Another fine actor lost to a terrible role in a truly poor film, Wes Bentley as the villainous Blackheart in the 2007 “Ghost Rider” is a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with pre-contemporary comic book movie villains. Not only is the performance terribly flat and one-dimensional, but most of the “terror” coming from Blackheart is done using hilariously outdated CGI. In fact, nearly every scene he’s in features one or more use of CGI, which only makes this role even worse.
On paper, Blackheart should not be such an easy character to mess up. He’s essentially the son of the devil in the Marvel universe, and is a great blunt force against Ghost Rider. Mark Steven Johnson, who also directed the 2003 “Daredevil” adaptation (more on that later), missed the mark way wide on this one, as Bentley comes off more like a child dressing up like a goth throwing a tantrum than a truly terrifying spawn of Satan.
13. OZYMANDIAS (WATCHMEN)
This is probably the most bittersweet addition to the list, as we actually enjoyed the somewhat contentious “Watchmen” film. Unfortunately, it was not because of Matthew Goode’s performance as Ozymandias. In Zack Snyder’s first real foray into the world of superheroes, the casting of Goode drew the ire of fans, and when he told The Sun that fanboys could “line up and suck my d***” if they didn’t like the movie, well… it didn’t help matters.
In the film, Goode doesn’t come across as villainous at all until the very end, where everything is going so fast that we never get to see if Goode could ever play a real villain, which admittedly, is the point. Unfortunately though, his rich, cocky showboater Ozymandias never gives off the tragic hero/villain feel, as is so important to the character. In what should be one of the biggest moments of the film — when Ozymandias reveals that his plan has already been enacted and there’s nothing the heroes can do — Goode comes across as weak and uninspired, rather than a self-satisfied messianic figure. It wasn’t all bad, certainly, but for one of the biggest moments in comics history, the adaptation could have rung less hollow.
12. LAUREL HEDARE (CATWOMAN)
Normally, when you think of a great villain, it’s someone who manages to be evil, terrifying and above all, smart. In the 2004 film “Catwoman,” Laurel Hedare — played by Sharon Stone — was none of those things. In the movie, she plays the head of a cosmetics company who kills anyone who tries to prevent her products from being released. That product, by the way, just so happens to melt the skin off of people who stop using it, while also making their skin as hard as stone.
Obviously, Stone’s character has been using the skin cream, so she develops skin as hard as rocks and becomes what is essentially a rock woman. Not only is the premise for her being evil terrible (skin cream that makes you indestructible?), but her performance in the film is equally dull. Like many of the actors in this film, most of whom phoned their performances in, there are times where the appropriately-named Stone seems bored with every aspect of the film. She wasn’t the only one…
11. THE OCTOPUS (THE SPIRIT)
As we begin to get closer to the bottom portion of the list, you’ll start to notice a trend of seemingly great actors just absolutely whiffing it as a comic book villain. Even it should be entirely the opposite of someone who is now a stalwart presence in Marvel movies, Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as The Octopus in the 2008 film “The Spirit” is every definition of a missed opportunity. To be fair, he isn’t to blame for the entire movie, as this was Frank Miller’s first shot at directing a film on his own. SPOILER: It was a mess.
However, with the way Jackson portrays The Octopus, you’d think that there was almost no direction even to him at all (probably accurate). The Octopus doesn’t do much in the film, or have much in the way of motivation. He likes his guns, he has weird tattoos and he also changes his costume a bunch. That’s about it. It wouldn’t be too surprising to find out that Miller simply asked Jackson to improv a lot of the scenes, thinking that Jacksons typical “crazy” acting style would be enough to give this villain some sort of iconic moment. Sadly, he was very mistaken, and The Octopus came off as just a terrible villain.
10. POISON IVY (BATMAN & ROBIN)
Uma Thurman may be the first actor from the ill-fated “Batman & Robin” to make this list, but she certainly won’t be the last. Like much of everything else in the film, her take on Poison Ivy is filled with intense color saturation and over the top acting that it’s a wonder this wasn’t a villain from the Adam West era. Although Thurman is incredibly talented as an actress, this role just doesn’t seem to suit her, and it’s clear from the start.
Ivy’s role in the movie begins much like Halle Berry’s in “Catwoman” (guess DC didn’t learn much), with Thurman playing a nerdy, klutzy scientist before transforming into uber sex-symbol Poison Ivy after being hit by some chemicals. What follows is a villain that’s wracked with cliches, has almost no motivations (other then just liking plants), and contradicts her own character by teaming up with someone whose main goal is to freeze the entire planet.
9. BULLSEYE (DAREDEVIL)
Another actor who, at first glance, seems like a surefire hit when cast, Colin Farrell and his character Bullseye are another extreme miss in terms of movie villains. To be fair, almost all of 2003’s “Daredevil” was forgettable, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that Farrell’s Bullseye was as well, but it’s just how incredibly wrong they get this villain that makes him show up on this list, and really make you question whether or not the filmmakers had even heard of the character.
Thanks to Farrell’s accent, Bullseye was swiftly given an Irish background, and his traditional costume is ditched in favor of a weird, all leather trench coat that makes him look like a character from “Sons of Anarchy.” Of course, they do leave some homage to the original character in the form of a giant bullseye scar on Farrell’s forehead, which of course does not work at all in this film, and only serves to make him look even sillier. It’s a shame it took so long for the folks at Marvel to get the world of Daredevil right, but now that they have; hopefully we’ll see a proper Bullseye on Netflix.
8. MR. FREEZE (BATMAN & ROBIN)
As we said earlier, the villains from Joel Schumacher’s “Batman” films were not yet done, and even with the inclusion of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his ridiculous take on Mr. Freeze, we still have one more to go. However, we must first look at Mr. Freeze and wonder just what went wrong. Freeze could be one of the most sympathetic and heartfelt villains in the entire “Batman” mythos, but in this film he comes across as nothing but a campy, goofy bad guy.
There is so much wrong with this villain that it’s really hard to find a place to start: instead of carrying over the nuance of Freeze and giving him a proper origin, Schumacher instead dumbs him down to no end and has Schwarzenegger rattle off ice pun after ice pun in an attempt to shoehorn humor in. Unfortunately for him, it never works, and this film’s take on Mr. Freeze will go down as easily one of the worst in DC’s history. Sadly, our next inclusion also comes from the same franchsie.
7. TWO FACE (BATMAN FOREVER)
As you may have noticed by simply looking at this list, Schumacher’s films weren’t our favorite Batman adventures, and while it’s not entirely on the cast of villains in the movies, they certainly didn’t help. Harvey “Two Face” Dent is another character that should have some sort of complexity to him, given his origin and how conflicted he is in the decisions he makes. However, he has none of those things in “Batman Forever,” and is instead reduced to a villain that would be well served in an old gangster film.
Tommy Lee Jones is an incredible actor, and it’s sad to see that his talent was wasted in this film as he played what was essentially a watered-down Joker. Instead of showcasing Dent’s back-and-forth nature, this movie’s Two Face spends his time yukking it up and throwing hissy fits whenever something bad happens to him. Thankfully, we eventually saw a great take on the character in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” played by Aaron Eckhart, but we’ll always have the bad laugh of Tommy Lee Jones in the back of our minds.
6. DOCTOR DOOM (MOST FANTASTIC FOUR MOVIES)
For the sake of this entry, take the word “most” and just concentrate on both of the more modern takes on Doctor Doom. To start, Julian McMahon’s version of him in the 2005 “Fantastic Four” isn’t incredibly terrible, but his take on the character just feels lazy. This version of the character didn’t feel particularly well-developed (which could be on director Tim Story) and McMahon, despite playing an underhanded creep on “Nip/Tuck,” didn’t come across as the truly evil man that Victor von Doom should be.
The 2015 take on Doctor Doom, however, is truly bad. Not only is the “Fantastic Four” reboot widely regarded as being terrible due to the various problems in its production, it certainly didn’t help that its portrayal of von Doom seemed to be a last minute addition, and a weird one at that. Instead of making actor Toby Kebbell the true bad guy of the film, director Josh Trank chose to wait until the end of the film to reveal him. When his big moment comes, he’s nothing more than a disfigured person with mind-control powers. Instead of being a proper antagonist to Miles Teller’s Reed Richards, Kebbell is relegated to your regular, run of the mill villain. Maybe it is time Marvel gets those rights back after all. As it stands, only Joseph Culp’s largely unseen role in 1994’s “The Fantastic Four” was closest to a true representation of the bombastic badassery of Doom.
5. A CLOUD (RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER)
As we wind our way down into the top five of this list, it’s hard to pick what is the definitive worst comic book movie villain. What isn’t hard to see, however, is how laughable it was to make one of Marvel’s greatest villains a space cloud. For those unaware, Galactus is widely regarded as one of the greatest villains in comic book history. A god-like figure who is almost infinitely powerful, it was no doubt exciting for fans when it was announced he’d be making an appearance in “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”.
Sadly, that excitement came to a crashing halt when it was revealed that, instead of the Galactus we’ve come to know and fear, we got… a big cloud. In what is easily one of the worst creative decisions in any comic book movie, the creators of the sequel said that they wanted Galactus to be “discreet,” which is something you’d never associate with the cosmic being. To their credit, Galactus was certainly discreet, as most people didn’t even know who he was until it was revealed he was nothing more than whirling steam.
4. HECTOR HAMMOND (GREEN LANTERN)
In what may be the worst DC comic book movie ever (which is saying a lot, frankly), we find another actor who is too good for the role he played. Peter Sarsgaard is perhaps one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood today, which is why his portrayal as Hector Hammond in the disastrous “Green Lantern” is so sad — a recurring theme of that particularly ill-fated film.
Hammond is never really a truly main villain in the movie, as he’s put on the back burner towards the middle of the film and straight up forgotten towards the end… in favor of another gigantic cloud, ironically enough. Perhaps if Hammond was written just a little bit better or was featured more as the film’s true villain, it would have turned out better. He is, after all, one of Hal Jordan’s oldest, fiercest and creepiest nemeses and it would have been amazing to see the mental mastermind brought to life appropriately. Sadly, it didn’t, and while Sarsgaard certainly does try his best with what he’s given, Hammond is never anything more than a weird, gross guy.
3. VENOM (SPIDER-MAN 3)
Our top three spots are reserved for the worst of the worst, and Topher Grace as Venom truly fits that bill. Venom is one of the most recognizable villains in Spider-Man’s large rogues gallery, if not the entire Marvel pantheon. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that Marvel completely missed the mark when it came to the symbiote in the ill-fated “Spider-Man 3.” Realistically, the introduction of both Eddie Brock and Venom should have been kept for their own movie, instead of in a film that tried to shoehorn too many villains into itself.
Thanks to the overstuffed crowd of “Spider-Man 3,” Brock had no time to have his story fleshed out, and Venom was tacked onto the last act of the film as a throwaway villain to defeat while banging metal pipes together. The decision to cast Topher Grace as Eddie Brock is equally head-scratching, and instead of possibly blossoming into a truly great super villain role, Venom was left to die. With Spider-Man finally back in the MCU, maybe now we’ll see a proper take on the symbiotic villain.
2. NUCLEAR MAN (SUPERMAN IV)
The last two spots on this list are reserved for two of the worst comic book movies ever created. The first, “Superman IV: The Quest For Peace,” was universally bashed, made very little at the box office, and is easily considered the worst “Superman” movie ever filmed. This movie wouldn’t be so bad without the creation of Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man.
Created by Lex Luthor, Nuclear Man is bad in just about every sense of the word, but not in a fun way. The character design is bland (apart from his golden mesh onesie), his motivation for destruction is laughable (in that there really isn’t one), and his dialogue is nothing short of cringe-worthy. Pillow had never starred in a movie prior to this, and it clearly shows, as the character never amounts to anything other than a knock-off Bizarro. That, of course, begs the question of why Bizarro wasn’t just used, himself. Then again, this cheaply-made movie was itself pretty bizarro. Maybe it was all some kind of meta-commentary?
1. DEADPOOL (X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE)
While some may disagree with our number one choice for best villain, we decided to place him here simply for what it did for comic book movie history. The Deadpool that appears in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is so catastrophically bad and misrepresented that if you didn’t know who Wade Wilson was, you’d never know this was him.
Not only is the character’s humor and tongue-in-cheek personality minimized from the film (apart from some glorious moments at the beginning), but his mouth is literally sewn shut later, leaving a truly funny actor like Reynolds with nothing to do but fight people. However, while this portrayal is more than deserving of our top spot, it wasn’t all bad. Reynolds loved the character of Deadpool so much that he continued to strive for the character to get its proper due in theaters, and it finally did, resulting in last year’s “Deadpool.” The film went on to become a smash hit, becoming the highest grossing R-rated film ever made, and earning Ryan Reynolds the recognition he deserves.
Who are your least favorite comic book movie villains? Let us know in the comments!
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