Much like other superheroes, the X-Men’s villains are the coolest part of their stories. In fact, you could argue that Xavier’s pupils have the greatest rogues’ gallery next to Batman and Spider-Man. If these peeps weren’t out there doing dastardly deeds, we’d be bored out of our skulls watching Cyclops and Jean Grey decide which kind of wallpaper to get for their bedroom and listening to Beast lecture us about existentialism. Sure, the likes of Magneto and Sabretooth might moonlight as heroes from time to time, but we all know they’re so much better when they’re breaking bad and giving Professor Xavier headaches.
On the screen –both in live-action films and the animated series– we’ve been blessed with seeing most of the major villains adapted. With even more films and projects in the pipeline, it’s likely we’ll see some of the foes from the small screen jump onto the big one, and vice versa. Truth be told, it’s incredibly difficult to pick out the strongest of the lot here, since there have been some fantastic iterations of these characters. Heck, in some instances, every version has been tremendous. We’ll try, though. So, here are the 20 most powerful on-screen X-Men villains, officially ranked.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “What are you talking about? Deadpool is a hero?!” Well, friends, in the film that we shall not mention (X-Men Origins: Wolverine… Oops!), the Merc with the Stitched Mouth served as the final boss for Wolverine to take down. Now, we know how bad this iteration of the character is – in fact, Ryan Reynolds has taken countless potshots at it in the current Deadpool films – but Fakepool, a.k.a. Weapon XI, did give the Ol’ Canucklehead a bit of a tough time and it took a tag-team effort on the part of him and Sabretooth to take down the artist formerly known as Wade Wilson.
If you think about it, positioning Deadpool as Wolverine’s enemy should’ve worked. We’ve seen the two Canadians lock horns several times over the years and be closely matched in combat prowess. The problem was the tone of it all. Had this been a comical battle, we’d be talking about X-Men Origins: Wolverine in a much different manner today. With Deadpool arriving in 2016 and 2017’s Logan being Hugh Jackman’s swansong as Wolvie, we might’ve missed the boat to pair these two mutants in a film, unless someone can convince Jackman to come out of superhero retirement.
19. OMEGA RED
Raise your hand if you thought Mickey Rourke’s character in Iron Man 2 was Omega Red for a split second. Well, he wasn’t, but how awesome would it have been? The Russian villain is a longtime foe of the X-Men and is renowned as an antagonist for Wolverine. Undoubtedly, one of the character’s shining moments was on X-Men: The Animated Series where he featured in two episodes as a Soviet patriot. He also popped up in X-Men: Evolution, working alongside HYDRA, but we’d rather remember his time on the previous series.
Unfortunately, Omega Red hasn’t appeared in a live-action X-Men film yet.
He was a part of X2: Wolverine’s Revenge, a video game tie-in to the film X2, but he was nowhere to be found in the actual movie. With the X-Men films tending to take a more serious approach towards their villains, we do wonder if a character like Omega Red might not be more at home in something like Deadpool. It would be pretty spectacular to see the Merc and Colossus team up to defeat Omega Red, while quipping about his tentacles and making inappropriate jokes. We’ll just have to wait and see if Ryan Reynolds is a fan of CBR and reads our suggestion.
18. DONALD PIERCE
Donald Pierce is a cyborg that gives Wolverine a hard time whenever they meet. He’s not quite in the same league as Sabretooth, but he’s still a foe that causes enough distress to Logan and his friends. We’d already seen the character adapted in the animated series, but he was largely absent in the X-Men films. This changed with James Mangold’s Logan, where the cybernetic Pierce made his debut, as portrayed by Boyd Holbrook.
Speaking about Pierce to Bustle, Holbrook said, “Donald is very morbidly playful. He doesn’t give a damn about Logan – he’s very playful with him… What other people hold to be of value, I think Donald’s disregard for that is what makes him fun.” His performance, though, was far more rooted in reality and we got to see a different side to the character than what we’re used to in the comic books. “Everything in this film is very rooted, which I think makes this film more of a character-driven piece. Everything’s established in the relationships and the values that all these people are holding,” he said. Hopefully, Logan isn’t the last time that we’ll see Holbrook as Pierce because he brought a new edge to the Reavers’ fabled leader.
Even though he’s an X-Men villain, Karl Lykos’ alter-ego, Sauron would be perfectly at home in Jurassic Park, and we wouldn’t complain about it, either. He might’ve had a small role in X-Men: The Animated Series and appeared in the Savage Land episodes, but we’re grateful that this hypnotic villain appeared on the show at all. Additionally, if you collected the action figures, you can’t deny that Sauron was one of the coolest to have in your collection.
When a Jekyll and Hyde concept involves a man turning into a Pteranodon, you know it’s the real deal.
While the X-Men films haven’t ventured into the Savage Land just yet, we wouldn’t bet against it after Fox gets sick of redoing “The Dark Phoenix Saga” over and over again. Think of the potential of it. It would be like mutants versus dinosaurs in a Jurassic World setting. The crossover potential is immense and maybe Universal could allow Blue the velociraptor to team up with Sauron for some real fun. Okay, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here, but we’re too excited by the prospect of seeing Sauron in live-action. It could turn out to be really cheesy, but hey, there’s no harm in trying, right?
16. EMMA FROST
In the comic-book continuity, Emma Frost is one of the most powerful mutants around. When she’s popped up on the small and big screens, however, she hasn’t had a fraction of her potential. Look, she’s still a powerhouse in whichever medium she’s in, but we’re yet to see a faithful and accurate adaptation of the White Queen.
In X-Men: First Class, Mad Men actress January Jones portrayed a rather subdued version of Frost. Even in an interview with IGN, she revealed that the character’s backstory took a backseat in the film. “We don’t go into too much of the backstory. Not really. It’s more of a mystery about the relationship she has with Shaw and her past and why she reacts certain ways to certain things. I think the fans of the comic who know her history will understand why she does certain things because they know her, but I don’t think it’ll be confusing to audiences who don’t know her backstory either.” Jones didn’t write off the possibility of a return in the future, either. “Yeah, I’d love to do another one. I’ve had a great experience on this one. It’s been really, really fun and just an exciting place to go to work. Just a lot of great talent and also we just get to play,” she said.
15. SILVER SAMURAI
Enter the Silver Shredder…er…we mean the Silver Samurai. If you watched 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you might understand why we made that comparison, since the antagonist of that film is oddly reminiscent of the one from 2013’s The Wolverine. The change to Samurai’s design was a point of contention for many fans, since the popular rogue was relegated to a guy in a robotic suit. Still, it’s one that made a lot of sense for what the story tried to do at the time. While certain things might look great in comic books, it doesn’t mean they translate well onto the big screen. Sometimes, filmmakers have to apply discretion and change it up for the sake of everyone.
The Silver Samurai also appeared in X-Men: The Animated Series and Wolverine and the X-Men.
In the former, he was depicted as a thug who mercilessly terrorized the villagers. It took efforts from both Wolverine and Jubilee to take him down and finally put an end to his reign of terror. This version of the character was certainly more in line with the design and feel of his comic book counterpart, even if Samurai didn’t receive a massive arc and was largely relegated to the sidelines.
Seeing Toad in 2000’s X-Men was rather surprising, considering how limited his time in X-Men: The Animated Series was. You see, Bryan Singer utilized many characters and storyline elements from the show, so to see a villain like Toad chosen over someone like Avalanche was an interesting choice. It worked, though, as the slimy villain received a renaissance in popularity thanks to the film. As a result, he became a big part of X-Men: Evolution and was reimagined as a younger mutant in X-Men: Days of Future Past, as portrayed by Evan Jonigkeit.
Sadly, Jonigkeit’s Toad didn’t play such an important role in the film, unlike Park in X-Men. It does sound like there was a bit of cutting done in the editing room, however, since Jonigkeit described his character as much darker than the previous incarnation. Judging by his blink-and-you-miss-it appearance, it’s next to impossible to establish anything about Toad in X-Men: Days of Future Past. “The aesthetics of the character are much different, and I’m not really allowed to say a whole lot more than that. It’s darker. I would say it’s a darker tone,” he told MTV. To hear him say it, it seems like he thought he’d have a bigger part than what he did in the end.
With great power comes great delegation. Mojo might not be getting his hands dirty on the battlefield, but he sure has the power to influence outcomes and situations on Mojoworld. While he’s definitely a parody of crazy television executives and their lust for ratings at the expense of all morality and decency, he’s become a huge part of X-Men folklore in the process, featuring in “Mojovision”, one of the most memorable episodes from X-Men: The Animated Series.
Mojo started out as a joke but has developed into an unforgettable character.
Writer and television producer Marc Guggenheim gushed about why he likes the character so much on Marvel’s official website. “You know, it’s funny – I work in television so I kind of have a fun appreciation for Mojo. For me, Mojo feels like the universe’s most egregious, most shameless television producer or executive. I, as a writer, treat him as over-the-top as possible. He’s very much a character of a lot of indulgence. He’s pure id. He’s got no limitations. I guess he’s my worst nightmare.” Additionally, he mused about how Mojo has become somewhat of a legacy character in the X-Men universe – something that none of us can disagree with. Long live Mojo!
In the comic books and animated series, Pyro was always more of a lackey than a mutant with an interesting story. In the X-Men film series, however, he was fleshed out and we saw his clear motivations for joining the Brotherhood of Mutants. Plus, we got to see the full range of his powers as he showcased his dangerous ability to, literally, burn the world.
Aaron Stanford who portrayed Pyro in X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand hasn’t closed the door on playing the character again. When quizzed about the possibility, he told IGN, “I thought it was really amazing, yeah, when I heard that Bryan Singer was gonna direct [X-Men: Days of Future Past]. I was very excited about that because I had a great experience with him on [X2]. I thought he did a fantastic job with it. So I was excited about that, and then to hear that so many of the old cast members were going back, it was a huge surprise. I didn’t expect it at all. I would have loved to have been a part of this one. It would have been great, and I would have loved to have seen all my friends again, but who knows?”
11. MASTER MOLD
If you recall the first season of X-Men: The Animated Series, it revolved around the Sentinels. In fact, it even saw the X-Men having to team up with their greatest foe, Magneto, in order to put a stop to these dangerous contraptions. The big villain, though, ended up being Master Mold: A computer created by Bolivar Trask to be a portable Sentinel-creating factory. However, Trask lost control of Mold, who pretty much pulled a Skynet on him and became a sentient being, with its own mind and dastardly agenda. Mold decided it would be better to reprogram human minds because machines are obviously Robo Superior. Go figure.
The danger with something like Mold is how out of control it can get in a split-second.
What was essentially supposed to be a weapon for anti-mutant forces to use against mutants quickly turned the tables on its creators. We’ve seen enough robot movies to realize that too much AI is never going to end well for humanity. Heck, even the world’s friendliest robot, Short Circuit‘s Johnny Five, can’t be trusted. All it takes is one glitch and humanity is doomed. Would you like to place humanity’s survival in something that was coded on Turbo Pascal?
10. DARK PHOENIX
“The Dark Phoenix Saga” is one of the most beloved X-Men storylines of all time. In fact, Fox loves it so much that it plans on doing it twice on the big screen. There’s just something about seeing Jean Grey unleash all her raw power and finally let go that delights the hearts of X-fans everywhere. Unfortunately, for her friends, it often means she’s on the opposite side of things and isn’t playing by Xavier’s rules anymore. As soon as the Dark Phoenix comes out to play, all the X-Men run away (The rhyming was completely unintentional, by the way).
Arguably, the greatest adaptation of “The Dark Phoenix Saga” was in X-Men: The Animated Series. It spanned across five episodes and covered a lot of material, allowing the story to breathe and for us to experience what every character experienced during Grey’s transformation. While X-Men: The Last Stand got elements of the story right in small doses, it wasn’t quite as epic as originally planned. Simon Kinberg’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix has been postponed until next year, so let’s hope the extra time allows the filmmakers to deliver something truly exceptional and befitting of this iconic storyline. The fans deserve it.
Noted as Wolverine’s greatest nemesis, Victor Creed, a.k.a. Sabretooth, has received more than his fair share of screen time in both the animated series and live-action worlds. He’s a lingering presence and constant thorn in Logan’s side as he does the next despicable thing to upset the balance. It’s a rivalry akin to that of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, and Batman and the Joker. You always know that these two berserkers will tear down the house when they clash.
Since both have healing factors and a nasty temper, Sabretooth and Logan are locked in a never-ending battle.
While Tyler Mane’s appearance as Sabretooth in X-Men was nothing to sniff at, Liev Schreiber’s portrayal in X-Men Origins: Wolverine was one of the brightest spots in the much-maligned film. In fact, many fans hoped that Schreiber would’ve reprised his role in Logan for one last hurrah in the Wolverine saga. In 2017, Schreiber explained the reason it didn’t happen. “There was an invitation early on from Hugh [Jackman] and [director James Mangold] and I would have loved to work on it. It was very difficult given Ray Donovan‘s schedule, and I think they went a different direction as well with [the] story.”
8. SEBASTIAN SHAW
After X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine the franchise needed an injection of fresh blood. While the series was far from dead, it wasn’t pulling in the box-office numbers and critical praise it used to. Hence when Matthew Vaughn’s soft reboot, X-Men: First Class, landed, it rejuvenated things – most notably a villain in the form of Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw. The popular Hellfire Club member had appeared in the animated series before but had been absent from the live-action universe. By establishing him as the X-Men’s first real threat as a team, it simultaneously cemented his importance to the legacy of the film franchise.
Chatting to Moviefone about the character, Bacon discussed how the powers and elements of Shaw’s history remained the same for the most part; however, the costume needed to go (for rather obvious reasons). “My look is very different from the guy in the comic books. We decided pretty early on that that was not going to translate to film. But there’s a certain kind of style to the suits that I wear, but I don’t have anything extreme in the makeup department.” It would’ve certainly been interesting to see Bacon rocking Shaw’s ponytail and frilly outfit.
Had Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of Ivan Ooze –sorry – Apocalypse been better received, the character might’ve been higher up this list. Sadly, the lukewarm reception pushes him a little down the list; although we can’t deny that some of his powers were awe-inspiring in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse.
Apocalypse is a force of nature and we wouldn’t want to mess with him.
The character has been around since 1986, having been created by Louise Simonson and Jackson Guice for X-Factor. In an interview with Vulture, Simonson revealed the inspiration for creating the Armageddon-inspired mutant known as Apocalypse. “For some reason, I liked the idea of a Darwinian villain. The guy would know that the world was headed toward some kind of apocalyptic event, and his goal would be to prepare for it by using whatever means he had at his disposal to ‘kill off the weak and force the strong to be even stronger’.” Unlike other creators who’re excited about seeing their babies on the big screen, Simonson said she hadn’t seen the film at the time, but remained unimpressed by what she’d spotted in the promotional pictures, stating Isaac “was this little guy who looked blue like a Smurf. So, yeah, I’m a little nervous. I’m just hoping the screenplay is good.”
6. WILLIAM STRYKER
Interestingly, there have been three live-action depictions of William Stryker. We’ve seen Brian Cox, Danny Huston and Josh Helman all play the mutant-hating army general. Despite all three actors bringing something new to the character, it must be said that Cox’s iteration in X2 was on another level and elevated Stryker’s reputation in the X-verse. He proved that you don’t need to have hero mutants fighting villain mutants to create a brilliant X-Men film. Sometimes, the biggest villain is humanity’s fear of the unknown.
Stryker’s military roots have caused many debates, with some suggesting he’s a reflection of the military’s one-track mind and inability to accept tolerance or diversity. Helman, though, disagrees. In an interview with Den of Geek, he explained how Stryker is more a reflection of humanity’s ugly side. “I don’t think he is a reflection of the military. I don’t think in his mind he’s primarily a military man. I think he’s more complex than that. I don’t know if I can put it into words, but I think he represents a way of thinking that is especially dangerous to people. I wouldn’t associate that with the military, specifically.” And it’s Stryker’s thinking that makes him as dangerous as he is.
5. SHADOW KING
How in the world do you battle an ancient evil entity that can take up numerous forms and mess with your mind? Sure, Legion‘s version of the Shadow King differed slightly from the character’s comic book origin, but it was scary to see how this parasitic mutant could cause so much psychological damage without being “seen”. There’s something deeply disturbing about an enemy that can manifest itself into anything around you and cause immense suffering and questioning of your sanity.
Shadow King looked different from the almost-reptilian iteration of the character that comic book fans are more familiar with.
As Legion showrunner Noah Hawley explained to Nerdist there’s a reason for the aesthetic choices on the show. “I did respond to the idea that whatever was inside David [Haller] has been feeding on him all this time and as a result, there was something engorged or tick-like about it, that it had been feeding and that it was reaching this very corpulent state.” It’s certainly uneasy to stare at Shadow King’s true form for too long and it’s understandable why the show took the direction that it did. If it had stayed true to the ’90s comics, he would’ve looked too much like The Amazing Spider-Man‘s Lizard.
Look, regardless of your feelings about Jennifer Lawrence, you cannot deny that Mystique has played a pivotal antagonistic role in every on-screen version of the X-Men. Whether it be in the animated series or in the films, she’s always in the thick of things and using her shape-shifting powers for mischief. That said, we can understand the general apathy towards her, especially after Lawrence’s blasé attitude towards the franchise in recent years and the fact that she can’t even name five X-Men characters. If she’s so indifferent to the series, then best to show her the door and let her carry on doing whatever she does.
Lawrence did ask the previous actress, Rebecca Romijn, for advice on portraying the role, though. Romijn confirmed that she had spoken to Lawrence but would absolutely consider returning – something that we’re sure everyone would be okay with. “From what I understand, her make-up is very different from the make-up I went through. I don’t think she had to go through everything that I went through. It sounds like [she had an easier time] – although my theory is that going through nine hours of makeup, you’re in such a rotten mood, you can’t be anything but evil – it turns you into the villain that you need to be to play Mystique properly,” she said.
Juggernaut might be a meme, but man, oh man, this character is too much fun and way too OP to ignore. Vinnie Jones’ portrayal of Cain Marko in X-Men: The Last Stand gave us some quotable lines, while the animated series brought us the joy of seeing the gargantuan villain trying to look inconspicuous in a coat and hat. That said, the greatest version of the beast known as Juggernaut has to be in Deadpool 2, where he was brought to life thanks to CGI, Ryan Reynold’s distorted face and voice, as well as some shared performance capture duties with director David Leitch.
Juggernaut epitomizes the over-the-top nature of comic books that we all love.
Speaking to Cinema Blend, Leitch explained how it all came together. “The spoiler is Juggernaut is sort of a combination of Ryan and myself. And it only became, and this is a spoiler spoiler… It only came out of just the necessity of change, and you’re getting into the post-process. Ryan did some performance capture for certain dialogue bits. And then he provided the voice, which we altered, which allowed us to, when we we’re in post, we’re doing some alts for Deadpool. It’d be like, ‘Okay, let’s just switch into Juggernaut mode, try this.’ As opposed to ‘Let’s bring in somebody, wait for them, call time,’ all this. It was a tight unit. Ryan’s got another franchise!”
2. MISTER SINISTER
The gene-splicing Mister Sinister was involved in the biggest (and sometimes most heartbreaking) storylines in X-Men: The Animated Series. There was something deeply macabre and terrifying about this mutant as he played god with everyone around him. From his reprogramming of Morph to his obsession with Scott Summers and Jean Grey, Sinister established himself as one of the X-Men’s greatest threats whenever he popped up. Weirdly, though, we haven’t seen the character appear in the live-action universe yet. Sure, we’ve seen allusions to him in X-Men: Apocalypse, Logan, and Deadpool 2, but he’s still on the sidelines as that darn Mystique continues to get movie after movie.
The rumor mill went into overdrive when it was reported that Jon Hamm was cast to portray Sinister in The New Mutants; however, his role was cut due to the extensive reshoots. If true, this is a tragedy. At one point Hamm was touted to be the next Batman if Ben Affleck hung up the cape and cowl, yet here is Fox throwing him to the wayside. No, Fox execs, Hamm doesn’t act in a movie; he is the movie. Hamm as Sinister would’ve been the perfect casting, but it seems like we’ll never get to see it now.
It was inevitable, wasn’t it? The X-Men’s most famous foe is also the most powerful of the lot. He’s capable of destroying the world if wants to, and it takes a titanic effort on the X-Men’s part to stop him. The thing with Magneto is, you can understand the reasoning for why he does things the way he does. It’s similar to Killmonger’s motivations in Black Panther. However, it’s the anger inside them that led them astray, as they could’ve harnessed their motivations for something more positive.
When you consider Magneto’s point of view, you can understand the logic behind his actions.
Describing the character to IGN, Michael Fassbender nailed exactly who Magneto is. “It’s like I see him as very much a Machiavellian character – the ends justify the means. And he is in a situation where he is right, really, you know? It’s like homo sapiens vs. Neanderthal and the mutants are the new version. Everything he says is right. The history of the human race is that we are pretty much destroying everything, including ourselves. So he is saying that this is an innately destructive and self-destructive race, and mutants are the way forward. So there is sense to what he is saying.”
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