Weekend Roundtable: Best & Worst Comic Book Movie Villains

A superhero is really only as good as the rogues gallery of villains he has to battle. As a new ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ sequel swings into theaters this weekend, we’ll use today’s Roundtable to call out some of the best and worst villains found in other comic book movies.

Shannon Nutt

Best: For my money, the best comic book villains are the ones who don’t have any special powers and need to use their minds to torment our hero. While Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker certainly fits that description, for me the best villain is (and probably always will be) Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Lex Luthor in the first two ‘Superman‘ films. (We’ll skip the abomination known as ‘Superman IV’, even though Hackman was the best thing about that movie.) Yes, he could be campy at times, and yes, his schemes often seemed silly (and almost always about real estate), but you always felt that Hackman’s Luthor could match wits with Christopher Reeve’s Superman in a way that the other villains in that series couldn’t.

Worst: This was actually a harder choice for me, as there are dozens of just godawful villains to pick from in the selection of superhero movies that have been released in the last couple of decades. However, I’m not sure we can do much worse than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s turn as Mr. Freeze in the horrible ‘Batman & Robin‘. Sure, this one’s an easy target, but seriously… Schwarzenegger could have proven to be a serious threat to Batman in a more grounded movie. Instead, we get a character whose weapon of choice seems to be really bad puns.

M. Enois Duarte

Worst: I’m also going with Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. With every minute that passes in that movie, not only does Joel Schumacher completely destroy the slightest bit of respectability left within the ‘Batman’ franchise, he also destroys whatever admiration comic fans had for the character, making him into one big blubbering, gooey-emotional mess by the end.

Best: I’ll throw a curve ball vote with Stephen Dorf’s Deacon Frost in ‘Blade‘. The character of Blade himself is already one badass mofo, but Frost is a vivacious, grotesquely malicious and twisted adversary. He’s a vampire whose thirst for god-like power psychotically outweighs his thirst for human blood, willing to kill and sacrifice even his own friends for his personal gain.

Daniel Hirshleifer

Worst: There are a lot of problems with the 1997 film adaptation of Todd McFarlane’s ‘Spawn‘ comic book series, but by far the worst choice must have been casting John Leguizamo as the human incarnation of Spawn’s nemesis, Violator. In the comic, Violator is a horrific demon (more mouth than body) who appears on Earth in the form of a twisted, diminutive clown. On paper, this works. Violator’s human form belies the true horror hiding beneath. On film, the effect is comical in all the wrong ways. Leguizamo, who can in fact do good work, has to act through so much makeup that his only choice is to sock it to the cheap seats. He’s decidedly not creepy, but rather utterly annoying. When his true form is finally revealed, it’s with CGI so bad it makes ‘The Lawnmower Man’ look like ‘Jurassic Park’. The only people violated by this version of Violator were fans of the comic.

Luke Hickman

Best: The Yellow Bastard in ‘Sin City‘. Is there anything creepier than a pot-bellied pedophile rapist murderer who glows yellow in a gritty black & white world? Not at all. Mrs. Hickman hates that I occasionally have his figurine on display in my Blu-ray shelves.

Worst: The Green Goblin in ‘Spider-Man‘ (2002). Man alive! Who in their right mind casts Willem Dafoe, a dude who naturally looks evil enough that he can never convincingly play a good guy in any movie, only to slap a silly helmet and mask on him when he’s given his moments to shine? Don’t get me wrong, I love Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ movies, but this mouthless, expressionless villain is a better fit for the ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ than a superhero movie attempting to bring in an audience older than the age of 12.

Brian Hoss

Worst: An easy worst has to be Nuclear Man from ‘Superman IV: The Quest for Peace’. Not only is he the unholy love child of a hammy Lex Luthor and everything lame about Superman, his big moment is being able to scratch Superman with his golden nails. No wonder comic book movies were extra terrible for so long.

Best: Naturally, Batman has all the great villains. My choice is the Scarecrow first introduced in ‘Batman Begins‘. He’s so effective in a limited way (with a simple origin story) that he manages to sneak into all three of the Nolan Batman movies in memorable ways. His simple costume underscores how twisted but physically unthreatening he is. Sneaky, twisted but memorable, that’s Scarecrow.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Worst: I suffered through Albert Pyun’s schlocky take on ‘Captain America‘ so you don’t have to. This 1990 adaptation doesn’t really fret about being all that faithful to the comics. Before undergoing the whole Super Soldier Serum shebang, Steve Rogers was a thirtysomething-year-old, reasonably fit SMOKER, for crying out loud. Cap’s most iconic villain, the Red Skull, gets it even worse. Here, he’s a billionaire Italian industrialist well into his seventies, and no, he doesn’t even have a red skull. I mean, he did back in the ’40s, but not anymore. It’s hard to type all this out without my head shaking in such disappointment.

Josh Zyber

Best: Everyone is thinking it. I asked our staff to look for other options because he’s too obvious. Let’s just get it out of the way and give an honorable mention to Heath Ledger’s master of chaos known as the Joker in ‘The Dark Knight‘ before some readers throw a fit for our omitting him.

Honestly, though, I’m partial to Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top flamboyant interpretation of the character. I guess I just prefer to look back to a simpler era before comic books and comic book movies became so dour and self-important and joyless as most are these days.

Worst: There are so many options for this: That stupid, formless cloud thing in ‘Green Lantern‘. That stupid, formless cloud thing in ‘Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer‘. Julian McMahon as a metrosexual yuppie Dr. Doom in the first ‘Fantastic Four‘. The unintelligible Bane with his incoherent plans to hold Gotham City hostage… no, to destroy Gotham City… no, to hold Gotham City hostage… no, to destroy Gotham City… no, to hold Gotham City hostage… in ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘. All of the plethora of other villains not already mentioned above from Joel Schumacher’s two ‘Batman’ entries. Losers, every one of them.

Those are our picks. Who are your favorite (and least favorite) comic book movie villains? Tell us in the Comments.


  1. Best: Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor, The Avengers & Thor: The Dark World

    Worst: Agreed with Josh on “that stupid, formless cloud in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.” That was supposed to be Galactus?! Really?!

    • I actually think he could have done alright if he was given something better to work with. The idea of picking an Eddie Brock that was more of a mirror to Peter Parker wasn’t really a bad choice, but making Venom, Sandman, Green Goblin and Spiderman all cry at each other for the finale? I’ll never forgive that movie.

      • I saw it opening night and hated it so much I couldn’t believe it. I actually dragged my girlfriend with me to see it AGAIN the following night because I just couldn’t believe it was really THAT bad, I must have just had too high of expectations or something. Still hated it. And yet I still bought it when it came out, hoping that maybe there was a directors cut or something that could salvage the mess, nope.

        • Midnight show for me on Spiderman 3. what a colossal disappointment. By the time 3 AM rolled around i was so confused at what i just watched. Did they really need to constantly pull back Venoms face to show Eddie talking. Amnesia? Harrys butler with that out of nowhere forensic evidence!!!!! “I’m gonna tell you what really happened to your father, just in the nick of time for you to forget your grudge and go help Spiderman. Guess I could have told you a couple years ago so you could move on with your life” 7 years later and it still hurts

  2. Eric

    Best: Brian Cox as William Stryker in X2 is pretty great. His diabolical performance makes him one of my all time favorite villains.
    Worst: Danny DeVito as The Penguin in Batman Returns is so bad it destroys all the good work done by Keaton and Pfeiffer in what could have been a much better movie.

  3. BEST: Top Dollar, Myca, T-Bird, Skank, Tin Tin, Funboy and Grange from “The Crow”.

    And Heath Ledger’s Joker, of course.

    WORST: Talia al Ghul in the “twist” everyone saw coming, “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.” I wish Bane was on his own, with his own motive. The Ra’s al Ghul storyline should’ve ended with “BATMAN BEGINS”.

  4. Best: I always loved Nicholson’s Joker.
    Worst: I like Dominic West but his portrayal of Jigsaw in Punisher: War Zone…. His stupid guido accent made him completely unmenacing. It’s more frustrating because he looked scary until he opened his mouth.
    Im not sure this is a direct comic adaptation, but it sucks bad enough to mention. The bad guy leader from the second Crow movie. Some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen.
    This is more an aesthetic complaint but i also hated extreme sports Green Goblin Jr. Instead of a badass glider he gets a “sky stick”. A fuckin skateboard!! They had the opportunity to rectify the original goblin’s design short comings and they made it worse. So lame.

  5. Elizabeth

    Worst: The Joker as played by Jack Nicholson. Take 3 parts over-stylized set pieces, 1 part uninspired casting (Jack Nicholson playing an insane guy! Groundbreaking! He’s never played an insane guy before. Well, except practically every movie he’s ever been in.), 1 part what might actually be inspired casting with Michael Keaton, 1 part horrible Prince song (because? Um, because? No really, WTF?), and 1 part Kim Basinger as eye candy. Mix it all together with a tiny splash of plot and what do you end with? The muddled mess known as Tim Burton’s Batman. From Tim Burton’s own comments about this film that I saw on Wikipedia as I tried to refresh my memory of the plot (or lack of), even he doesn’t seem to look back on this movie too fondly.

    It’s strange to see Dark Knight Rises’ Bane listed as the worst based on his incoherent plot (which boils down to helping the woman he loves get revenge on the man who killed her father while finishing what the League of Shadows started years earlier) and see Jack Nicholson’s Joker listed as the best when his plan comes down to killing lots of people or constantly kidnapping Vicki Vale or something (mostly just letting Jack Nicholson play a slightly more evil version of the exact same character he plays in every movie).

    Best: The Joker as played by Heath Ledger. Although I think the movie is a bit over-hyped, Ledger gives an incredible look at what a truly villainous version of the Joker could do.

  6. Scott H

    To Luke’s point about Willem Defoe’s green goblin, his performance would have been better if they had done with his face that the creators of amazing Spider-Man 2 did with Dane DeHaans version of the character.

    As for my best, I’m going with Gabriel Byrne as satan in End of Days. Not a great movie but he is creepy as hell (no pun intended) in it. As for worst, I’m going to third Arnold as Mr. Freeze but I would choose James Franco’s version of goblin in spidey 3, cringe inducing whiny performance as well as that stupid back to the future rip off of a hover board he uses.

  7. Wurms

    WORST: Although Mr. Freeze was horrid, as was Tommy Lee Jones Two Face, I think what Brett Ratner did with the Juggernaut in X-Men Last Stand was the worst ever. Some on this list may have just been over-acting, or bad writing, but Ratner just f***ed up the Juggernaut in every way. An awesome villain who has strong ties to the X-Men universe was just written off as another mutant for a couple action scenes. Worse is, he was never a mutant 🙁 Got his powers from a gem.

    BEST: Heath Ledger as Joker. Perfection.

    • Changing his origin story was the least of the problems with Juggernaut in that movie. If we ever see Juggernaut on screen again I wouldn’t be surprised if they go the same route. But making him a throwaway character that’s basically just there to quote old internet memes was just sad. Also I think casting VInne Jones was lazy, sure he’s a big intimidating guy but he’d still need to be beefed up to look like Juggernaut, what we got was akin to Lou Ferrigno Hulk.

  8. William Henley

    Best – JIm Carrey as The Riddler. Yes, he’s over the top, but for this character, it is completely appropriate. He is hands down my favorite Batman villian

    Worst – King Piccolo in Dragonball: Evolution

    Hoborable mention – Catwoman. Nuff said.

      • William Henley

        🙂 Notice I didn’t say best or worst, just said honorable mention. (actually, I said hoborable. Oops). Yes, Michelle Pfeiffer was great, Halle Berry was awful, and I will let you guys decide about Lee Meriwether on your own

  9. I’m going to focus on the worst. Since I just saw it, the villains in The Amazing Spiderman 2 were all pretty bad. I had high hopes that Dane DeHaan would kill it as Harry, but holy crap was he disappointing! Every line was delivered as if he were high or had been brooding for so long he forgot how to talk to humans. There was almost no transformation to the Green Goblin. I would have loved to have seen their friendship explored way more so that Ibreally cared that he had this illness. Oh well. Also Giamatti’s accent was absolutely awful. I actually got chills when he first spoke because of how bad it was. While on the subject I really didn’t like Andrew Garfield in it either. I’m kind of tired of his style. He’s so hyper when he delivers lines and he has an acting tick where he repeats lines to make it sound like it’s conversational or something. I found it annoying.
    Ok…enough about that 🙂 My true least favorite was Gopher Trace…er…you know what I mean…in Spiderman 3. I wasn’t disappointed with the casting. I can always get around a poor casting decision if the performance is good. His performance…ugh. The actual venom mask got maybe 1 minute of screen time. Every time he would show up his awesome mask would peel back revealing Topher’s pretty boy face with horrible fake teeth. Why? Did he cry about lack of screen time? Not only did we have to look at an uncool looking venom, we had to listen to him lisp his lines like a teenager that just got his first retainer. I will never forget seeing this for the first time and being unable to verbalize my disappointment every time the mask peeled back. Sigh.
    To stick with the Spiderman theme, I loved Doc Ock in Spiderman 2. 🙂

  10. RUDY

    Best = Ledger of course… after him could be, mmm, maybe Loki?…

    Worst…. GALACTUS…. Dr Doom… Venom… and the Son of Satan???? from the Ghost Rider…

  11. Luke Coffey

    The worst villians are the writer’s who take beloved comic book characters and alter their origins and history in the comics and the casting agents that make a 6 foot Wolverine. The marvel studies decision to make spiderman webs come from his wrists and having Jean Grey kill Cyclops and professor X are two of the most blatant changes. The best without a doubt is the Late Heath Ledger Joker

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