The Worst Superhero Movie Villains of All-Time
A great movie villain can elevate the hero and his journey. A great villain is the key to conflict, and conflict fuels an effective story, and an effective story is what allows a movie to linger on long after a movie has finished screening. This is all especially true in the realm of the superhero movie, where characters who can do impossible things need a bad guy who can realistically threaten them. All of the truly great superhero movies have a villain who balances the heroes, a sinister force who gives them something to fight.
This list is not about those guys. It’s about the other guys. The ones that suck.
The only thing more difficult than assembling a list of the 10 best superhero movie villains is putting together a list of the 10 worst superhero movie villains. Because oh, man, there sure are a lot of contenders for such a list. The number of bad superhero movies still outweigh the number of good superhero movies by about five-to-one and many good movies are still plagued by problematic baddies. Some of the actors featured on this list are wonderful. Some of the movies are very good. All of these villains stink up the screen in some capacity, but a few of them do it with a strange amount of goodwill will others earn only scorn. Let’s get started. Prepare to cringe at some awfully unpleasant movie memories.
10. Mr. Freeze
The Film: Batman and Robin
Played By: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Quotable Quote: “Allow me to break the ice. My name is Freeze. Learn it well. For it's the chilling sound of your doom.”
Why He's So Terrible: Here’s the truth about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s take on Mr. Freeze – it’s amazing. Bad, yes, but also truly one of the greatest bad performances of all time and the perfect example of the kind of magic that occurs when you match the perfectly wrong actor and the perfectly wrong material. Speaking almost entirely in puns, this Austrian-accented menace has become the public face of the superhero genre’s lowest lows and there is nothing nerds like more than to complain about him. And yet we can’t stop quoting him. We can’t stop imitating him. Whatever disdain we once had for this epic miscalculation of a character has turned around in recent years and now we have a certain fondness for for this hilariously misguided performance. For many comic book movie fans, he’s number one on this list. For us, he’s too delightful to be ranked any lower. He’s terrible, but terrible is rarely this entertaining.
Most Embarrassing Moment: Oh, how do you pick just one? However, the scene where Freeze – dressed in fuzzy polar bear slippers – orders his long-suffering henchmen to sing along with a Rankin-Bass Christmas special is the kind of unique, immortal badness that deserves to be celebrated forever.
9. Malekith the Accursed
The Film: Thor: The Dark World
Played By: Christopher Eccleston
Quotable Quote: “The Asgardians will suffer as we have suffered. I will reclaim the Aether. I will restore our world. And I will put an end to this poisoned universe.”
Why He's So Terrible: In the pages of Marvel comics, Malekith is one of Asgard’s greatest foes, a villain who rears his head every few years when a writer decides it’s time to give Thor a real threat to battle. In Thor: The Dark World, Malekith is just some guy. It’s hard to blame Christopher Eccleston for this nothing of a character. Even a talented actor can only do so much when there’s literally nothing on paper for him to play with. Unlike the similarly bland Ronan the Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy, Malekith’s dull squareness isn’t even used as the straight face for colorful characters and amusing comedy bits. He’s just a relentlessly glum nothing of a character whose motivations are cloudy and whose evil scheme couldn’t make less sense. He’s not a character as much as he’s an obstacle. A boring, boring, boring obstacle.
Most Embarrassing Moment: In order to have a great embarrassing moment, you have to have a character capable of creating at least one compelling scene. Moving on!
8. Hector Hammond
The Film: Green Lantern
Played By: Peter Sarsgaard
Quotable Quote: “You're just as much of a failure as I am, and just as afraid... Well, I used to fight my fears. But now that I've tasted its true power, I'll never go back!”
Why He's So Terrible: Peter Sarsgaard is one of the best and most under-appreciated actors working today, so he did what anyone would do if presented with the role of Hector Hammond in Green Lantern: he chowed down on the scenery. Seeing this generally soft-spoken character actor rant and rave and spit up all over himself from behind layers of grotesque make-up is a genuinely shocking experience. But what else could he do? As presented in the film, Hammond is an awful character who is more gross and weird than threatening. We will never deny a talented actor taking a paycheck gig in a massive superhero movie, but there’s something undeniably depressing about watching someone as great as Sarsgaard try to elevate a wet fart of a character through sheer volume and eccentricity. It’s not pretty.
Most Embarrassing Moment: Hammond’s best/worst moment arrives long before he transforms into a psychic monster with a massive skull. In one of the great bad scenes in any superhero movie, Hammond loudly brags about having examined an alien body in a desperate attempt to impress Blake Lively at a fancy party. It does not go well.
7. Max “Electro” Dillon
The Film: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Played By: Jamie Foxx
Quotable Quote: “You better make damn sure you kill me this time. Because if you don't, I'm gonna kill the light. So everyone in this city is gonna know how it feels to live in my world. A world without power. A world without mercy. A world without Spider-Man. And everyone will be able to see me for who I truly am.”
Why He's So Terrible: Jamie Foxx gives it his all in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Truly. This is one committed performance from an actor who throws vanity aside and embraces one of the least sexy villains in superhero movie history. And yet the character of Electro is a nightmare, a thoroughly unpleasant weirdo that the film honestly thinks is a nice and misunderstood guy who deserves our sympathy. Max Dillon is already deeply unpleasant before mutant electric eels transform him in an electricity man (lol), so his leap to a scowling, yelling, poorly-designed-and-executed supervillain doesn’t carry any weight. You know a movie has a problem when it runs out of things for the bad guy to do 45 minutes into the running time so the script just locks him in a tank until he’s required to escape for the grand finale.
Most Embarrassing Moment: Electro’s battle with Spider-Man in Times Square, where his theme music literally tells us what he’s thinking through creepy chants mixed over the trite EDM beats, is the kind of poor decision that has to be seen to be believed.
6. The Octopus
The Film: The Spirit
Played By: Samuel L. Jackson
Quotable Quote: “Ugh. Free-range chickens with their big brown ugly-ass eggs. They piss me off. Every time I think about those big brown eggs they piss. Me. Off.”
Why He's So Terrible: We cannot blame Samuel L. Jackson for the failure of The Octopus. We can only blame director Frank Miller, whose solo directorial debut is a debacle on every level. Since the arch-nemesis of The Spirit was never seen in the original comics, Miller was given free reign to do whatever the hell wanted to bring the character to life on the big screen and the result is ... Well, it’s something. The Octopus is really just a platform for Jackson to overact. Rather than give Jackson a character, Miller gave his actor a platform for instant Sam Jackson-isms. Except that the best of Jackson has always come from collaborating with filmmakers who give him real characters. The Octopus likes guns. He likes changing his costume every scene. He has weird tattoos. And that’s it. He’s a non-character and we wouldn’t be surprised if all of his scenes in the screenplay were placeholders that read “Sam will make this totally crazy and funny!” Miller was under the delusional idea that Samuel L. Jackson acting crazy makes for an instantly iconic villain. Boy, he was certainly wrong.
Most Embarrassing Moment: The Octopus has The Spirit strapped to a dental chair before confronting him in full Nazi regalia so he can rant about death and sex and architecture. Even the generally unflappable Jackson seems deeply uncomfortable with everything about this scene.
5. Laurel Hedare
The Film: Catwoman
Played By: Sharon Stone
Quotable Quote: “I'm a woman, I'm used to doing things I don't want to do.”
Why She's So Terrible: Let’s talk about Laurel Hedare’s grand scheme. As the mastermind behind a successful cosmetics company, she murders anyone who tries to prevent her newest product from hitting shelves. Even though it will literally melt the skin of people who stop using it. And people who do use it develop skin as hard as stone. And yes, Hedare has been using it, so she is literally a rock woman who can take her fair share of cat-enhanced punches from Halle Berry’s unfortunately attired superheroine. When Sharon Stone isn’t half-asleep in the role, she’s hilariously campy, but those moments are few and far between. She’s dull enough to never let you forget that she’s a villain whose make-up turned her indestructible. That could have been agreeably silly with a committed actress in the role, but this was made during Sharon Stone’s paycheck years.
Most Embarrassing Moment: After catching a glimpse of her newly ruined visage (courtesy of Catwoman), Hedare allows herself to plummet to a grisly death rather than continue fighting her newfound arch-nemesis.
4. Dr. Victor Von Doom
The Film: Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Played By: Julian McMahon
Quotable Quote: “Do you really think fate turned us into gods so we could refuse these gifts?”
Why He's So Terrible: Doctor Doom is a villain who practically writes himself. He’s an egotistical, megalomaniacal European dictator whose scientific knowledge makes him a powerful adversary for the Fantastic Four, whose leader he blames for the accident that scarred his face. So we have no idea how he became a metal-skinned, lighting-shooting playboy in Tim Story’s Fantastic Four. If this modern update was handled with any kind of skill by Story or actor Julian McMahon, it could have worked. Alas, this is Doctor Doom in name only, a pale imitation of his comic book counterpart whose greatest sin is not throwing away the source material, but creating a “new and improved” version of the character who isn’t half as fun. The sequel attempts to remedy Doom’s general blandness, but the results are silly in all the wrong ways. McMahon, a capable enough actor in other roles, doesn’t even have the common courtesy to attempt something remotely nutty or interesting with the character. When you play a character named Doctor Doom, you have to go big or go home and this movie barely tried.
Most Embarrassing Moment: The climax of Rise of the Silver Surfer, where Doom flies around on the title character’s stolen cosmic surfboard while his smarmy west coast accent undermines any of his potential menace, is a low point in a movie with many lows.
The Film: Ghost Rider
Played By: Wes Bentley
Quotable Quote: “Forgive me father for I have sinned. I have sinned a lot.”
Why He's So Terrible: There’s a simple way to tell if you’re watching a terrible movie villain who was conceived between the years 1999 and 2008. At some point, his face will contort into blurry mess of dated CGI and his mouth will get way too big and he’ll unleash an animalistic roar. Wes Bentley’s Blackheart is all about that CGI face thing. He does it all the freaking time. But that alone does not a bad villain make – Bentley’s performance takes care of that on his own. This is, to put it simply, one of the single worst performances ever captured on film for a mainstream superhero movie. It’s especially surprising because Bentley has been perfectly fine in other movies, so who knows went wrong here. On paper, Blackheart is a fairly standard villain with the typical superhero movie schtick. In execution, he comes off more like an obnoxious brat who deserves detention after school than the son of the devil. Bentley’s somehow manages to be simultaneously flat and exaggerated, his performance reading as boredom desperately masquerading as theatricality. There is no other way to describe his work in this movie.
Most Embarrassing Moment: Blackheart’s first encounter with Ghost Rider is like something out of a Funny or Die video. Sketch premise: what if a superhero fought a guy whose power was looking and sounding like a goth version of an ‘80s high school comedy villain?
2. Harvey “Two-Face” Dent
The Film: Batman Forever
Played By: Tommy Lee Jones
Quotable Quote: “One man is born a hero, his brother a coward. Babies starve, politicians grow fat. Holy men are martyred, and junkies grow legion. Why? Why, why, why, why, why? Luck! Blind, stupid, simple, doo-dah, clueless luck!”
Why He's So Terrible: Harvey Dent is one of the most complicated and tragic characters in the DC canon, so of course his first big screen outing saw him reduced to a cackling maniac with zero depth whatsoever by an actor who seemingly approached the role as a lark and nothing more. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of film knows that Tommy Lee Jones is one hell of an actor, but Batman Forever features him at his absolute laziest. That may seem like an odd thing to say about a performance that is as energetic as this, but this is a great actor on autopilot. This is a loud performance that begins at maximum volume and somehow finds a way to get louder as it goes on. It’s all tics and cackling and mugging, with no depth to speak of. Granted, this is also the fault of the poor screenplay and Joel Schumacher’s inane direction, but the character isn’t even bad in an inspiring way (see: Mr. Freeze). This is an actor taking the easy way out, desperately trying trying to hide the lack of substance in his performance behind constant mugging. This is Tommy Lee Jones’ Mortdecai. Harvey Dent deserved better.
Most Embarrassing Moment: Two-Face’s initial meeting with The Riddler is a masterclass of two actors trying desperately trying to be the “bigger” character. Carrey, playing to his usual goofball strengths, is fine. Jones, trying so hard to top his co-star’s buffoonery, reaches heights so hammy that every theater showing Batman Forever instantly became unsafe for viewers on a Kosher diet.
1. Ivan “Whiplash” Vanko
The Film: Iron Man 2
Played By: Mickey Rourke
Quotable Quote: “If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water, the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you.”
Why He's So Terrible: Where do we begin with Ivan Vanko, a character who is truly the nadir of superhero villains? The stories surrounding the troubled production of Iron Man 2 have already reached mythic status and the tales of Mickey Rourke’s poor behavior on set have started becoming the stuff of legend. The friction is evident in every one of his scenes. Vanko’s derivative motivation would be forgivable if Rourke invested this character with even an ounce of charm, personality or menace, but this is lazy work from an actor whose offscreen refusal to play nice bleeds into each of his scenes. The result is a character who seems to barely exist. He barely speaks, he never engages in an entertaining rapport with his fellow actors and some of Rourke’s more eccentric choices (like the way he ties his hair up like an old lady) feel like a middle finger to the movie as whole instead of actual creative choices. You could cut this entire performance out of the movie and Iron Man 2 would still function at about 90%. What shame. What a waste.
Most Embarrassing Moment: Vanko takes a meeting with Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer and proceeds to babble in Russian and demand the return of his pet bird. Meanwhile, Rockwell desperately attempts to save the scene with dialogue that sounds like it was improvised around Rourke’s uncooperativeness.
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