Typically, the more a comic book movie sticks to the source material, the better. There’s a reason why superheroes have been popular for decades, and the less Hollywood tinkers with a working formula, the more likely they are to successfully duplicate that success on the big screen. There’s nothing worse than when filmmakers change a character and ruin a perfectly good concept. Some things might not work on the big screen, but for the most part, the best cinematic comic book characters are true to the source material. At least, all of this is true for the heroes. When it comes to villains, it turns out that Hollywood should mess with them as much they want.
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When it comes to comic book villains, they’re usually just based on a gimmick. Doctor Octopus has four extra metal arms, Joker is an evil clown and Lex Luthor is proof that bald people are all actually evil. It’s much easier to change a bad guy’s story without ruining them. In fact, there have been plenty of times where the movies have actually turned a lame character into a total badass. These villains might not be the fearsome foes on the page, but that all changed when they came to the big screen.
15. THE VULTURE
As one of Spider-Man’s oldest enemies, Adrian Toomes didn’t appear in any of the Spider-Man movies until Homecoming (2017), and it’s easy to see why. While the wall crawler has faced some truly horrific villains, Vulture just isn’t that scary. Toomes, who first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #2 (1963) by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, developed a flight harness that also increased his strength. When he found out that his business partner was stealing from him, Toomes became the Vulture to exact revenge.
He’s also an elderly man who wears one of the least maneuverable flight suits in the Marvel Universe. In the films, though, he was changed to a black market weapons dealer who is considerably less “elderly” than his comic book counterpart and in certain moments is genuinely chilling. Not to make fun of old people, but they’re not really known for being great at fist fights against super powered teenagers.
14. DARREN CROSS
While the villain of Ant-Man (2015) used the Yellowjacket persona, Darren Cross is actually a completely separate character in the comics. In the film, Cross was Pym’s former protege who eventually took over the company. Obsessed with tales of the Ant-Man, Cross develops his own shrinking technology, which unfortunately also drives him more than a little bit crazy.
This is very different than the comic version, who first appeared in Marvel Premiere #47 (1979) by David Michelinie and John Byrne. The head of Cross Industries, he gained powers when he had an experimental pacemaker installed that gave him extra strength. The only problem? It burns out his heart extra quick, meaning that his super (well, super by Marvel Universe standards) pace-maker powers come with an extreme time limit, and it just begs the question: why not just go for a regular pacemaker at this point?
Iron Man 2 (2010) had its share of problems, one of them being that it didn’t have enough of Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash in it. He played the son of Howard Stark’s former partner, Anton Vanko, who was deported from the US after it was discovered he was selling technology on the black market. After seeing his father die in poverty, Vanko decides to take his revenge on Tony for his father’s sins.
Almost as smart as Stark, he built his own suit, complete with electrified whips. In the comics, Whiplash was originally a man named Mark Scarlotti, who first appeared in Tales of Suspense #97 (1968) by Stan Lee and Gene Colan. He was just a typically greedy man who turned to a life of crime to make a lot of money. Also a whip, even a high tech one, is a terrible weapon to use against any long range weapon.
In Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Nebula was portrayed as Gamora’s psychotic sister and daughter of Thanos. While Gamora eventually betrayed Thanos out of a sense of morality, Nebula eventually betrayed her father out of hatred. She then joined up with Ronan and was willing to help him commit planetary genocide, while also still looking to kill her sister. In the sequel, it was revealed that her anger towards Gamora came from the fact that Thanos tortured Nebula every time she came up short in comparison to her sister.
This is a far cry from the character that appeared in The Avengers #257 (1985) by Roger Stern and John Buscema. There, she was simply a space pirate pretending to be Thanos’ daughter. While she ultimately played a major role in the Infinity Gauntlet storyline, she spent most of it as a zombie.
11. THE PENGUIN
Given his status as one of Batman’s most infamous and recognizable villains, it’s easy to forget just how silly the Penguin really is. First appearing all the way back in 1941 in Detective Comics #58 by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Oswald Cobblepot considers himself the “gentleman of crime,” which would be a cool schtick if he didn’t rely so much on weaponized umbrellas. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how many big words he uses and fancy suits he wears, umbrella guns just aren’t classy.
Tim Burton completely revamped the character in Batman Returns (1992). This crook was a sewer-dwelling orphan, who had been abandoned due to his deformities. His anger over this led to him attempting to kill all of Gotham elite’s first born children in one night by drowning them one by one, which is a decidedly “ungentlemanly” thing to do.
This might be a controversial statement, but KGBeast isn’t that scary of a villain. In fact, he’s mostly remembered these days as being one of the few villains that Batman actually killed (although it was later retconned). His story began in Batman #417 (1988) by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo, and he actually led a fairly successful crime spree in Gotham for a few issues. Then, Batman beat the villain by locking him in a room. Seriously, all it took to stop him was a solid lock and some planks of wood.
While it’s a terrifying ending, it’s not exactly a great showing for the Beast. A version of the character appeared in Batman V Superman (2016), and while that movie had plenty of flaws, it presented the Russian villain as a formidable villain. This time, he’s defeated when Batman shoots the flamethrower he’s holding, causing it to explode.
9. DEACON FROST
Deacon Frost, the vampire responsible for creating Blade, was portrayed by Stephen Dorff in Blade (1998). While Dorff might not have been the most intimidating villain, Frost was still a cold-blooded killer, targeting both humans and vampires in his quest for power. He’s a typical vampire until the end of the film, when he briefly gains the powers of a god. What makes Frost formidable isn’t any sort of power he has, but his willingness to do anything, and kill anybody, to reach his goals.
The comic book character, however, was a scientist who accidentally turned himself into a vampire during an experiment. First appearing in Tomb of Dracula #13 by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, he was given the extra power of having the ability to create vampire doppelgängers. Luckily, Blade staked him before things could get even more complicated and confusing.
For such a funny movie, Deadpool (2016) actually has a pretty tragic story. Stricken with cancer, Wade Wilson signs up for an experimental procedure to gain superpowers. Unfortunately, it’s actually a trick and Wilson is tortured by a man named Ajax, who plans on turning him into a mindless soldier for hire. Ajax is sadistic and almost equally powerful to Wade, and lacks the ability to feel emotions, turning him into a completely cold blooded killer.
This portrayal was much scarier than the comic version, who first appeared in Deadpool #14 (1998) by Joe Kelly and Walter McDaniel. Unlike the film version, he was just an enforcer at Weapon X. While he did torture Wade, he was just a guy following orders. He was still sadistic, but ultimately less twisted than the film version.
While some mutants are gifted with amazing powers, some end up like Toad. One of the X-Men’s earliest enemies, appearing in X-Men #4 (1964) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Mortimer Toynbee was a mutant with the ability to leap great distances, which also apparently came with the desire to dress like a medieval peasant. In his earliest appearances, he was a hideous man who was constantly mocked by his fellow evil mutants.
When the character appeared in X-Men (2000), however, he was slightly revamped. Gone were the silly clothes, with the movie instead focusing on his strength and agility. Played by Ray Park, this Toad was a formidable fighter who was actually able to take X-Men like Cyclops and Jean Grey before finally getting zapped by a lightning bolt from Storm.
6. WILLIAM STRYKER
The graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills (1982) by Chris Claremont and Bill Anderson is a terrifying look at how religion can be manipulated into a force of evil. Reverend William Stryker has been preaching to his followers that mutants are the from hell and must be exterminated. While he’s briefly able to gain the upper hand by kidnapping Xavier, he’s ultimately no match against the super powered X-Men.
Stryker appeared as the villain in X2: X-Men United (2003), although he was changed to a military colonel. Now, he was in charge of highly trained special ops soldiers, who participated in a successful raid of the X-Mansion. Just as ruthless as the comic version, this Stryker actually had the means to carry out his war against the mutants. Luckily, Magneto got his hands on Stryker by the end of the film, which of course did not end well.
5. ALDRICH KILLIAN
Iron Man 3 (2013) made the mistake of promoting itself by promising Ben Kingsley’s terrifying take on the Mandarin as the film’s main antagonist. When it turned out that Kingsley was actually playing an actor in the film who was just pretending to be the Mandarin, fans were understandably upset. That is a shame, because the film’s real villain, Aldrich Killian (played by Guy Pearce), is actually pretty great.
A brilliant scientist with a bad history with Tony Stark, Killian gains power and wealth after forming AIM and helping to develop Extremis. In the comics, Killian was also involved with the Extremis virus, but his story is much more tragic. First appearing in Iron Man #1 (2005) by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov, he steals a sample of the virus and sells it to terrorists, but then he kills himself out of guilt.
In order to focus more on Stephen Strange’s story, Doctor Strange (2016) didn’t have the sorcerer facing off against his main antagonist, Baron Mordo. Instead, they used a minor villain from the comics named Kaecilius. Played by Mads Mikkelson, Kaecilius was a follower of the Ancient One until he discovered that she was preserving her own life by drawing power from the dark dimension.
Like most villains on this list, he’s ruthless and deadly. The thing that makes him stand out is that he seems to have a sense of humor. He and Doctor Strange have a few funny moments together, even during the heat of battle. In the comics, Kaecilius was a disciple of Baron Mordo. He first appeared in Strange Tales #130 (1965) by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and never really became anything other than just a follower of Mordo.
3. ARNIM ZOLA
Despite appearing in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), fans thought they’d never truly see Arnim Zola in the movies. In his first appearance, he was a Hydra scientist working for the Red Skull. While that’s true to his comic book origins, he is mainly known for his modern incarnation. First appearing in Captain America #208 (1977) by Jack Kirby, he survived to modern times by downloading his brain into a robot body, projecting his face onto the body’s chest. It’s a great design, but in all honesty, it’s also pretty silly looking.
When the character resurfaced in The Winter Soldier (2014), he had downloaded his brain into a giant computer, and the visual representation of his face was much creepier than the comic version. Not only that, but he reveals that he has done the impossible: infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. with Hydra agents, successfully taking control of the organization for decades.
2. ALEXANDER PIERCE
One of the highest ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. officers, Alexander Pierce, turned out to actually be a Hydra agent in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2013). From his position of power, he guided the security force to actually achieve the terrorist organization’s goals for decades. During the events of the film, he’s nearly able to launch a trio of helicarriers that would take out any of Hydra’s current, or potential enemies, from space.
Considering that he helped a terrorist organization secretly run the world’s premier spy agency, he’s probably one of the most successful villains ever in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the comics, however, Alexander Pierce is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who first appeared in Nick Fury vs S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 (1988) by Bob Harras and Paul Neary. He’s good at his job, considering that Fury has personally recruited him several times, but he’s nowhere near as memorable as his film counterpart.
1. BATROC THE LEAPER
Comics are meant to be full of fun, colorful characters, which is exactly what Batroc the Leaper is. The French villain first appeared in Tales of Suspense #75 (1966) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and is a classic Cap villain. His gimmick is that after mastering Savate, a type of kick boxing, he has the deadliest legs in the Marvel Universe. He’s a skilled fighter, but he’s also known for his over the top accent and “twirlable” mustache.
While the character in the comics is a formidable foe, he’s clearly meant to be a fun villain. Batroc made a brief appearance in The Winter Soldier (2013), which dropped the “Leaper” gimmick. In the film, he’s a badass French mercenary — played by equally badass real-life fighter Georges St-Pierre — skilled enough in hand to hand (hand to feet) combat that he can hold his own against Captain America!
Can you think of any other comic book villains who got an upgrade when they made it to the big screen? Let us know in the comments!
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