Superheroes often get most of the attention, but superhero movies and TV shows are much more fun when they have a good supervillain. After all, it’s the villains whose vendettas and plans set the action in motion. Without them, the heroes would have no dastardly deeds to thwart. That’s why the names of many supervillains are just as famous as their heroic counterparts. What would Batman be without the Joker, Superman without Lex Luthor, Thor without Loki?
While each villain has a different goal, the most compelling villains are all fascinating to watch. Whether they think they’re doing the right thing or simply want to watch the world burn, the best villains share a spark that intrigues audiences at the same time as it entertains them. Even though we know a villain is ultimately there to be defeated by the hero, if the villain’s good enough, we want them to stick around and take on the hero once more. While we can’t get enough of the best supervillains, there are some that offer more onscreen thrills than others. We’d watch some villains in almost anything. However, there are others who've been around for so long that they’re due for a break. Then there are those who have either never connected with audiences or have suffered from too many poor depictions — either way, we need a moment before we'll be open to these characters again. Here, we separate the supervillains we still love watching from those we wish would get out of our sight.
20 GIVE UP: MAGNETO
Magneto is the supervillain X-Men fans love to hate — and sometimes love to sympathize with. After all, the treatment he’s suffered because of his powers since he was a child makes him relatable. So, although he isn’t a huge fan of humans, viewers’ ability to understand where he’s coming from is one of the reasons Magneto is a great villain.
In the last two decades we’ve seen Magneto depicted by both Ian McKellan and Michael Fassbender. Wonderful actors who brought their all to the role. Yet, we’ve also seen the character so many times and learned so much about him, at this point, there isn’t all that much left to dramatize. Magneto should stay away from the big screen for a while.
19 LOVE: TWO-FACE
When Tommy Lee Jones portrayed Two-Face in Batman Forever, the performance was so ridiculous that there seemed to be little to the character than silly make-up and coin flips. That all changed when Aaron Eckhart embodied the character in The Dark Knight.
While the character’s turn from Harvey Dent to Two-Face was a little abrupt, we could feel his pain and conflict. It made us want to spend more time with him to see more of the evolution of Harvey Dent. The Dark Knight takes great pains to build the character up and then tear him down quickly. We’d love to watch a screen incarnation of the character that delves into this transformation more deeply.
18 GIVE UP: DOCTOR DOOM
Victor von Doom is one of the most popular villains in comics. Fans would welcome a screen depiction that did the character justice and captured him in all his arrogant, intellectual, mystical, malevolent glory.
Unfortunately, despite all the fan love, Doctor Doom’s appearances in live-action films have been underwhelming. First, Julian McMahon depicted the character in the Fantastic Four films in the 2000s and then Tony Kebbell took on the role for the rebooted flop Fantastic Four in 2015. Neither portrayal resonated with audiences. We don’t know why it’s been so difficult to get Doctor Doom right on film, but we do know that given what we’ve seen so far, the prospect of watching another screen version of the character fills us with, ahem, doom.
17 LOVE: LOKI
When Loki first appeared in Thor, he was just Thor’s bratty younger brother. Through that movie and several subsequent films, however, actor Tom Hiddleston has peeled back the character's layers while at the same time being a lot of fun to watch.
Loki’s been a good guy, a bad guy, and somewhere in between. When he’s around we never quite know what to expect from him, even within a single scene. This is part of what makes him such an enjoyable character. On top of that, it’s a blast to see his constantly evolving dynamic with his brother Thor. Even after numerous MCU appearances, Loki’s still a character we love to watch.
16 GIVE UP: EMMA FROST
Fans were elated when they learned Emma Frost would be part of X-Men: First Class. Actress January Jones certainly looked the part, yet her appearance in the film was disappointing. Not only was she relegated to a secondary character, but Jones’ portrayal was also lackluster, including none of the spark that fans love about the comic-book version of Frost. In order to avoid bringing her back, the sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past briefly mentioned that the character was ended.
While we don’t regret the passing of January Jones’ version of Frost, we still want to watch a screen version of the character that lives up to her comic-book portrayal. That said, we need a minute to get over what we’ve already seen.
15 LOVE: KILGRAVE
As Jessica’s tormentor in the first season of Jessica Jones, Kilgrave was the stuff of nightmares. A man who’s able to control the minds of everyone around him, Kilgrave is used to getting anything he wants. As a result, he lacks self-control and anything resembling a moral compass.
When Jessica manages to escape his thrall he falls in love with her, believing they’re equals. This sets up a showdown between the two as Jessica fights while Kilgrave attempts to bring her around to his way of thinking. It’s a disturbing and devastating dance that wouldn’t have nearly the impact it did without David Tennant’s virtuosic performance as the villain.
14 GIVE UP: GREEN GOBLIN
Green Goblin has graced our screen several times in the recent past. In Spider-Man, Norman Osborn menaced the web-slinging hero in the guise of the Green Goblin. When he passed, his son Harry picked up the mantle in Spider-Man 3.
Although Harry made for a less exciting Goblin than his father, it wasn’t until The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that an onscreen version of Green Goblin made us cringe, and not in a good way. This incarnation of the character was an angry child, warped by his own resentment and bad judgment. After the increasingly diminishing returns offered by Green Goblin over the years, we need a break from the character before we see him again.
13 LOVE: JUGGERNAUT
The first time we saw Juggernaut onscreen in the forgettable X-Men: The Last Stand, the portrayal was pretty corny. The character seemed genuinely surprised that people weren’t more impressed when he declared who he was (b***h!). But audiences were with the X-Men on this one — Juggernaut wasn’t worth the time, and the depiction became the stuff of ridicule.
That’s what made Juggernaut’s appearance in Deadpool 2 so exciting — finally, a CGI vision of the character fans could take seriously. This version of Juggernaut was the unstoppable, towering mass of humanity he should be. His appearance left us wanting more, even if only in small computer-generated bursts.
12 GIVE UP: BANE
In his Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan gave us some remarkable villains. Then there’s Bane. While an improvement over the version we got in Batman & Robin, the Bane in The Dark Knight Rises was hamstrung by a funny accent and a mask over his mouth that made him almost impossible to understand.
Bane’s goals seemed to be high-minded but his execution left something to be desired. He claimed he wanted to free Gotham from corruption but to do so he creates anarchy, and then he tries to blow the whole place up. At this point, we’ve seen all we need to from Bane.
11 LOVE: HELA
Hela has the distinction of being the MCU’s first major female bad guy. As Thor’s long-lost older sister in Thor: Ragnarok, Hela shows him what it is to be a ruthless leader — as well as everything he never knew about his father.
As portrayed by Cate Blanchett, the character takes genuine pleasure in subjugating her people and taking what she believes is her rightful place on the throne of Asgard. She presents an exciting obstacle for Thor. She’s someone who gives the typically confident fighter a run for his money while having fun in the process. We’d watch her over-the-top shenanigans again and again.
10 GIVE UP: LEX LUTHOR
As Superman’s primary antagonist, Lex Luthor’s bound to turn up sooner or later in any story that features the Man of Steel. The evil genius repeatedly takes on Superman, and although he’s just a human being, the power of his intelligence often gets him very close to besting the Kryptonian.
There have been exciting screen incarnations of the character, including Gene Hackman in Superman and Michael Rosenbaum as a younger, pre-supervillain version on Smallville. However, the most recent iteration depicted by Jesse Eisenberg in Batman v. Superman was a disappointment. Luthor wasn’t so much menacing as quirky and manipulative. We need to let go of our dissatisfaction with this version of the character before we see him again.
9 LOVE: DEATHSTROKE
The most recent, long-lived version of Deathstroke is on the TV show Arrow. As portrayed by Manu Bennett, the character has an exciting unpredictability, whether he’s allying with Oliver Queen or menacing the hero, his family, and his city.
Joe Manganiello was supposed to portray the character in the DCEU, but we haven’t seen him in the role outside of a short post-credits scene in Justice League. Yet, that brief glimpse left us wanting more. Deathstroke is a fascinating character that could be a lot of fun to watch on the big screen. While his DCEU fate is still unknown, we’re hoping we’ll get to see his small-screen version again soon.
8 GIVE UP: THANOS
Thanos was the ultimate bad guy lurking in the shadows of the MCU for the past 10 years. Ever since his presence was teased in a post-credit scene of The Avengers, fans have been anticipating his clash with the superhero team. In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos was just as scary and merciless as anticipated.
Scarier still, he believes he’s doing the best thing for the world when he issues the snap that turns half the population to dust. Despite his depiction as an unstoppable bad guy with good intentions, though, Thanos hasn’t made for the most compelling villain. He comes off as arrogant and almost lackadaisical, failing to create the heart-pounding tension of many a great villain. We won’t be sad to see him go after Avengers 4.
7 LOVE: CATWOMAN
Catwoman is one of the most iconic comic-book villains ever and it’s easy to understand why. Not only is Catwoman a fascinating, nuanced character in her own right, her ever-evolving relationship with Batman always crackles with energy and excitement.
Her live-action depictions have certainly been hit or miss, with Halle Berry’s portrayal in the character’s self-titled movie ranking as a particular low point. However, when Catwoman, and her alter-ego Selina Kyle, is done right — as she was when Michelle Pfeiffer depicted her in Batman Returns — it’s hard to take your eyes off her. We’ll be there to watch whenever she graces our screens.
6 GIVE UP: VANDAL SAVAGE
Vandal Savage hasn’t made many onscreen appearances. That’s just as well because his appearance as the villain in the first season of Legends of Tomorrow, his most noteworthy screen outing to date, was one of the reasons the show was initially so underwhelming.
On Legends, Savage was motivated by unrequited love. Even though he’d been alive for thousands of years he still hadn’t managed to get over it. This made him less of a mega-villain than an immortal schoolboy. Not very compelling television. It’s possible he could be more interesting in another story, but he certainly isn’t missed on Legends.
5 LOVE: VENOM
When Venom and his alter-ego Eddie Brock appeared in Spider-Man 3, the character was so uninspired, so lacking in personality, it left fans wondering if they’d ever get an onscreen portrayal that did the character justice. Over 10 years and one self-titled movie later, audiences were finally treated to a vision of Venom they could get behind. Critics may have hated it, but for fans, the symbiote in Venom is the one they’ve been waiting for.
In many ways, Venom is the story of an odd couple, except in this case one wants to uncover injustice and the other wants to eat people. Venom may be kind of scary, but he’s also oddly articulate and gives pretty decent relationship advice. We can’t wait for the sequel.
4 GIVE UP: RA'S AL GHUL
Since Liam Neeson depicted him in Batman Begins we’ve seen an awful lot of Ra’s al Ghul. He’s been a major villain in both Arrow and Gotham bringing with him the same obsession with grooming the hero, whether it’s Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen, to be his successor. And along with Ra’s comes the League of Assassins and trips to the Lazarus Pits.
While Ra’s has kicked up a lot of drama during his various recent onscreen depictions, his story is beginning to feel a little redundant. Sure, the elements around him have changed and he’s had to adapt accordingly, but ultimately the basics remain the same. Ra’s can be an exciting character so we’d love to see his onscreen story evolve and change from these recent retreads.
3 LOVE: HARLEY QUINN
Margot Robbie made quite a splash when she portrayed Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. While the movie was a dud, Robbie’s Quinn felt like she was edited in from a different, better film. Whenever she was onscreen she elevated things with her high-wire energy and zany behavior.
Given Robbie’s stand-out performance, it’s no surprise that we’ll be seeing her again in Birds of Prey, a team-up with Black Canary and Huntress. While it’s hard to imagine the unstable Harley going superhero of her own accord after Suicide Squad, we’ll learn more as we get closer to that film's early 2020 release date. No matter what, it’ll be good to have the character back on the big screen.
2 GIVE UP: THE JOKER
Heath Ledger has the distinction of being the first and only actor to win an Oscar for a performance in a superhero film. The character he played was, of course, The Joker in The Dark Knight. Since that movie hit theaters 10 years ago, Ledger’s performance has become so iconic, it’s given any subsequent actors who want to take on the role a lot to live up to.
In Suicide Squad, Jared Leto, usually a fantastic actor, couldn’t live up to Ledger and got critically pummeled in the process. Now, Joaquin Phoenix, another great actor, is set to take on the role in a stand-alone movie. We could be proven wrong, but we can’t imagine his depiction equaling Ledger’s either. It’s time for Hollywood to step away from The Joker.
1 LOVE: KINGPIN
While it isn’t the first time in recent memory that Kingpin has appeared onscreen, Vincent D’Onofrio’s turn as the character in the Marvel-Netflix series Daredevil, may be the most thrilling to watch. As Wilson Fisk, D’Onofrio is alternately sympathetic and scary.
As the main villain of the first season, Kingpin became the reason to watch the show. While the rest of the cast was good, Kingpin was endlessly fascinating, showing complete devotion to his girlfriend and a lack of regard for the life of almost anyone else. The character’s many nuances and contradictions are the reason we’re so excited to see him again in Daredevil’s third season — and would welcome him back for many seasons after that.