A great hero can often be defined by his greatest adversary.
If Spider-man spent his time chasing after jaywalkers and Batman tracking illegal downloaders it’s probable they may not have attained the same iconic status they enjoy today.
It is these moments, where our champions may fall in the fight against their enemy, that we truly see the strength of their character. These villains can be exceedingly dangerous, brilliantly evil, megalomaniacal, unsettlingly charismatic and life or even world-threatening, must be memorable, they have to feel ‘real’, need to stand the test of time but above all have the power to break our hero’s spirit, mind and body. And to truly pull it off, you need that right kind of actor who has that little bit of darkness within themselves.
So let’s have a look my favourite Top Ten greatest CBM villains of all time, and the actors who played them.
10. Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn – ‘Green Goblin’
“Follow the cold shiver running down your spine”
Willem Dafoe did a great job portraying Spidey’s arch-nemesis, especially with his entire face concealed! Glad they didn’t go with a rubber mask. Although some of his better scenes were as Norman Osborn, he managed to pull off the Green Goblin with style and madness.
He is a heartless son-of-a something, especially after the transformation although there are glimpses of his love for Harry throughout the film. Rich, brilliant, powerful, ambitious, crazy, violent and vicious? That’s a terrible personality profile for anybody but a supervillain.
He has never really been a world threat but with all his wealth and know-how and that extra bit of crazy, he works out Spidey’s identity and then proceeds to attack those he loves most. And you don’t mess with Aunt May. Peter would rather forget MJ than lose Aunt May (if you read One More Day.) And after poor Aunt May is hospitalised Goblin goes after MJ anyway.
I loved his scenes where he would talk to himself, struggling with his inner demons (goblins?) in the recesses of his mansion, almost in a Shakespearian way with the Goblin Mask staring right back at him. And after their last battle, when Goblin’s attempt to trick Spidey and kill him with his glider fail (spider-sense for the win) even his last words “Peter.. don’t tell Harry” ensured the legacy of the Goblin. And boy does that bite him in the ass. Not even Peter’s Spider-sense could see that coming.
9. Matthew Goode as Ozymandius – ‘Alexander the Great’
“A world united in peace… there had to be sacrifice”
He destroyed half the world and got the heroes to leave him alone. Those who didn’t, were dealt with. He then united the world? He actually won?! The villain won?? (I am ignoring the last bit with Rorschach’s diary) He even convinced the God-like Dr Manhattan to take the blame! Genius!! Now I am sorry he killed the Comedian and was responsible for Rorschach’s death, I really liked them but hey, they wouldn’t have kept their mouth shut. And who knew Nite Owl and Silk Spectre would choose life and sex over instant obliteration? If you hadn’t read the comic, Adrian Veidt was a champion for good, nowhere near being a suspect until Rorschach and Nite Owl began piecing his dark plans together. Probably a good thing the ending had Dr Manhattan as the volatile common enemy instead of the giant squid thing (see comic).
This may have lost him some credibility. Veidt possesses far more than a genius intellect, he is no slouch in hand to hand combat either, he could beat any member of the Watchmen (which he did so, and violently) and the only one who could stop him was Dr Manhattan.
Ozymandius played a behind the scenes, no gloating, no nonsense, ‘for the good of mankind’ villain which you just have to respect. Even when he reveals his plans you think ‘Quick! There is time to stop him!” He simply responds “I’m not a comic book villain. Do you seriously think I would explain my master stroke to you if there were even the slightest possibility you could affect the outcome? I triggered it 35 minutes ago. .” Genius.
You got to give it to him (and Alan Moore). Last thing on this if you call yourself a Comic Book-Man, or woman, you need to read Watchmen.
8. Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw – ‘Black King’
“We are the children of the atom. Radiation gave birth to mutants. What will kill the humans will only make us stronger.”
Kevin Bacon has always been able to play a convincing bad guy (I will never forget his performance in ‘Sleepers’) and delivers a great performance as the Black King of the Hellfire Club, Sebastian Shaw.
Though his powers and personality differ somewhat from the comics (standard Fox procedure) he is still the ruthless megalomaniac whose one goal is for mutant rule, specifically his mutant rule. He was the true villain of ‘First Class’, his memorable opening scene as an evil Nazi Scientist under the alias Klaus Schmidt, is a cold-blooded demonstration of his uncaring cruelty.
He forces young Eric to move a coin with his emerging mutant powers, which Eric fails to do so. As incentive, Schmidt offers the life of his mother. And when Eric is unable to perform, Schmidt shoots her. In his grief, Eric’s powers are unleashed and he kills two guardsmen while Schmidt simply keenly observes as though it were nothing but a successful science project. What more effective way to paint the portrait of a perfect villain than a Nazi Scientist torturing and murdering Jewish people?
In lesser hands, using Shaw in such a context could have appeared exploitative and facile, but Bacon’s performance makes the scene uniquely chilling for a superhero film.
He is the King of the infamous and ancient Hell Fire Club with his White Queen Emma Frost by his side, Azazel (Nightcrawler’s father) and Riptide. Of course that’s not enough for Shaw. He wants to rule. And to do this? Connive and conspire a deadly scheme to pit the World’s Super powers against each other leading to a nuclear war where at last, he would then take his place as ruler on top of a scarred and broken world with mutants leading the way.
7. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki – ‘God of Mischief’
“Kneel before me. I said… Kneel!Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”
You never really envision Loki as a worthy villain until that moment he confronts Thor and lies through his damned pearly whites, telling Thor his own mother has forbidden him from returning to Asgard and his Father died of a heartache because of his son’s betrayal. Ouch. I mean… no punches were pulled there. ‘Hey, mum hates you and you pretty much killed dad.’
He is the master trickster, he is the God of Mischief, and I would not mess with him even if I had a barely pronounceable hammer and could control Thunder and Lightning. He embodies the 3 Ds of mischief – Deceit, deception and Dishonesty.
He even lies to himself.
Who doesn’t he fool? Most of Asgard, any human he meets, Fury, Thor, Laufey (Frost Giant’s Boss) even the all-seeing Heimdall to a point. He successfully places Hawkeye, Dr. Selvig and numerous S.H.I.E.L.D. agents under his ‘spell’, and proceeds to open a portal facilitating an Alien invasion of Earth. And he brought the Avengers together. Not the smartest move but hey it was ‘day unlike any other’ He manages to hold his own against Thor for a while (although Hulk puts him to shame ‘Puny God’) and kills Coulson (Vision anyone?)… which I am still sad about.
He might not be the villain who can kill you in one deadly strike, but he’s the one who will silently cut and wound you, over and over again, for you to realise you are hurt only when it is far too late. Were it not for the combined force of the mighty Avengers, Earth would have been a halfway house for Aliens by now.
6. Jack Nicholson’s Joker – ‘The Clown Prince’
“Have you ever danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight?”
The ‘Classic’ Joker. Jack Nicholson was a scary S.O.B. People often debate which Joker performance was truer to the source material, though there is no right answer due to the variety of the character’s comic book depictions.
Joker, in this Batman, is responsible for the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in front of the young Bruce, at that moment ensuring the birth of the Batman.
He was horrifyingly clownish, especially watching this as a youngster. His maniacal laughter echoes throughout the movie, and while Ledger was more serious, Nicholson prances around laughing and dancing as he kills his way to the top, happy as a madman could be.
He attempts to deform, maim or kill Gotham’s citizens, whatever way seems more fun through his own brand of Joker ‘cosmetics’. I like how Nicholson gives Joker a more ‘mature’ attitude when dealing with people, which makes him even more intimidating.
You never know when he is going to switch from his calm jovial mood to the Killing Joke he truly is. His last moments see him falling off a tower after his final encounter with Batman, plummeting to his death. As he lays dead and broken on the floor, one of his eerie gimmicks starts laughing over and over again, ensuring that Joker did have the last laugh.
Ha. Ha. Ha.
5. Terence Stamp as General Zod – ‘The Dark Son of Krypton’
“Kneel before Zod”
You cannot ignore someone who can beat Superman in a fight. Banished by own his people, along with Ursa and Non (his insane criminal allies), to the Phantom Zone he is the most dangerous criminal of a highly advanced alien race. And unfortunately, a highly advanced super-powered Alien race who reaches earth.
As soon as they arrive, with a quick stop on the moon, they kill anyone in their way, with no disregard to age or sex, and they do not even take delight it in (Well maybe Ursa does she is one crazy b****).
Their deaths are simply a means to an end. Humans are a mild annoyance to them at most, and slaves at the very least. We do not warrant any sort of fear or obstruction for them. Finally, when they learn the President is the one in charge they take the White House. Ursa and Non tear things up while Zod casually leans against the wall, observing the chaos. We even see Zod smile when he gets his hands on a gun as he relishes gunning down the soldiers in such a primitive way.
That smile by no means makes him seem more light-hearted, in fact it does quite the opposite. After dispensing of the defensives with almost a bored attitude Zod, forces The President of the United States to kneel before him with his most famous line (he says it a lot) “Kneel before Zod”.
When the President kneels he says ‘Oh God’, to which Zod corrects “ZOD”. They are all so eloquent in their evil, But Zod most of all is an unstoppable and unwavering force and ruling Earth, or anywhere else, is just a matter of fact to him. He is always so impressed with himself, so sure he will succeed.
After beating Superman quite easily, using his love for humans against him, which is amusing in itself, they chase Kal-El to his Fortress of Solitude. Ultimately it’s his blindness to his own weaknesses and his mad lust for revenge that sees him fail.
Superman quite easily tricks Zod into removing his own powers and as Zod commands Superman to kneel before him we are all shocked until that moment Superman takes Zod’s hand and crushes it, the audience(and Lex!) realising Superman has once again saved the day.
4. Ian Mckellan’s Magneto – ‘Master of Mutants and Magnetism’
“You are a god among insects. Never let anyone tell you different”
I had to decide between Fassbender’s Magneto (First Class) which I loved and Gandalf’s, I mean Ian Mckellan’s (Original Trilogy). Then I figured the First Class Mags isn’t quite the realised villain and does not possess half the power, or brilliance of the older, wiser and infinitely more dangerous Magneto (I am sure after ‘X-Men FC 2′ he will make this list).
FC Magneto is all about revenge, mastering his powers and struggling with his developing ideas of mutants and humans. OT Magneto is OP Magneto.
He wants to wipe out Homo Sapiens or at least replace them with Homo superior as the dominant race on earth. He can use the iron in your blood as a deadly weapon, to break through walls, or walk on air. He moved the Golden Gate Bridge with relatively ease (approx. 800,000 metric tonnes). He is the unchallenged leader of the Brotherhood of mutants.
Powerful Alpha Class mutants such as heavy-weights Sabretooth and Juggernaut and the dangerous Mystique are under his command and he even attempts to harness the power of the Phoenix (never works well for anyone). With Xavier and Cyclops out of the picture it all seemed quite hopeless. And he would have succeeded if it weren’t for Dr Kavita Rao and the little Morlock Leech who engineered a ‘cure’ to take away his powers. I am sure we have not seen the last of him.
3. Heath Ledger’s Joker – ‘Agent of Chaos’
“Why So Serious?”
Everyone knew this was going to be on the list and if you didn’t, well, perhaps you should return to watching ‘X-Men: Last Stand’ or ‘Fantastic Four’.
He really needs no introduction. Joker is Batman’s number one and most infamous arch-nemesis. Heath did everything Jack Nicholson did and more. Where Jack’s Joker took a more over the top clownish approach, Heath brought a chilling, psychotic yet unnervingly sane and ruthless touch.
You can watch this as a child or adult and be suitably disturbed. The way he constantly chewed on his face, the different stories of how he got the scars. He almost brought down the Bat, killed the love of Bruce’s life, took over the criminal underworld of Gotham, broke Harvey Dent before creating Two Face, turned Batman into a criminal and just for fun, set billions (?) of dollars on fire.
Civilians were tortured just to toy with the Batman and force him to reveal his true identity. Mobsters were given the chance to kill each other and prove their loyalty to him. Every insane action was backed by a well-thought out and usually risky plan, tempered with an unhealthy dose of chaos.
He has no morals, no care for money, no value for anyone’s life, including his own. He breathes and lives chaos. He brought Batman so close to betraying his own beliefs just to take Joker down. He is just a better class of criminal. And in the end, it was all a bit of fun for the Clown Prince of Crime. And not as though he would be forgotten anytime soon, he leaves Batman with the frightening thought “I think you and I are destined to do this forever”.
2. Tom Hardy’s Bane – ‘The Man who broke the Bat’
“So, as I terrorize Gotham, I will feed its people hope to poison their souls. I will let them believe they can survive so that you can watch them clamoring over each other to “stay in the sun”. You can watch me torture an entire city and when you have truly understood the depth of your failure, we will fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny… We will destroy Gotham and then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die”
Among Batman’s greatest villains is Bane. Ever as calculating and malignant as the Joker he can do one thing the Joker does not. He can break the Batman. He has the physical strength and deadly training to fight and destroy him. Although I was unsure how Tom Hardy would manage this role, my mind was captured the moment Bane held Batman above his head and said “I was wondering what would break first… your spirit? Or your body?”
He took-over Gotham, not just by force but by turning people into cowards, dangling a ray of hope in front of them and keeping them at constant odds with one another, and above all he beat Batman, broke him, and threw him into the Pit to suffer as he once suffered. And then just when you thought you understood the dark genius and might of Bane, he sheds a tear for his love of Talia and you realise he is partly who he is because he sacrificed himself to protect this girl from Hell on Earth.
He is number two because, without any powers or magic or suits he manages to keep control of an entire city, keeping out the US government and even though he dies and the city is saved, Batman finally gives up the mantle after clashing with Bane. It is this encounter with Bane that allows him to truly give up the mantle of the Bat.
1.Joel Schumacher – ‘Director’ of Batman and Robin
Bet you weren’t expecting this? Well, neither was I at first. But as I researched writing for this article, re-watched Batman Forever to refresh my memory, chatted with friends and perused the net something happened and unexplainable otherworldly forces led me to Joel Schumacher.
What did he do that Joker, Bane, or any other villain could not? He made Batman uncool, even lame! I do not know any comic crime that offends me so much, even the 60s campy Batman was ‘cool’ for its time. Heck, even the Scooby-Doo team-up was cooler. He gave the bat-suit bat nipples. I don’t care if his inspiration was from Greek statues. In what universe would Batman, while designing his suit for whatever reason, come to the conclusion that he needed rubber bat-nipples?
Don’t forget the enlarged codpieces they had either. Silver suits? Very discreet Bats. ‘Batman Forever’ was okay, but Tim Burton was there to guide him. ‘Batman and Robin’ was all his baby.
George Clooney’s Batman failed to capture anything resembling Bruce Wayne; I think he brooded once with a furrowed eyebrow. Robin, the annoying love-struck teen blunder might as well have dressed up in his green short shorts. Mr.Freeze. Arnie. Whhhyyy?!
There are too many jokes here and too many hackneyed one-liners, I do know where to begin ‘Ice to see you!’!
Enter Batgirl, blonde and niece of Alfred. And for some reason she wasn’t given bat-nips. Give me Barbara Gordon, one of the most unique, inspirational and strong woman in the DC Universe. Do not forget the green venom addicted monstrosity that was Bane. I think he growled some lines but I could not be sure. The actor who played him died only 2 months after the movie’s release. Poison Ivy? No comment.
The fanciful, childish dialogue, terrible over the top scenery and excessive usage of fluro pinks and greens was enough to drive anyone crazy. Now, I shouldn’t blame Joel Schumacher for the casting, the script, costumes, dialogue, action sequences (Bat skates?!)… wait. I should definitely blame his stupid directing ass.
Because of him, the Batman was almost ruined for a generation, stripping the character of relevance and turning him into just another uncool comic book character during a time comics were effectively experiencing a market crash and essentially he killed off the film franchise (probably a good thing) and to a point, Batman, only to be resurrected at the hands of Christopher Nolan, 8 years later.
And there you have it, my favourite Top Ten Greatest CBM villains of all time! It was hard finalising the best of the best, especially choosing number 1! Here are a few who did not make the cut.
Lex Luthor, some of you may be mad I didn’t include him but I am sorry, none of his cinematic portrayals have captured the cold Machiavellian brilliance of the comic book version. Sure there are some golden moments in the Animated Movies or the ‘Justice League’ series but on screen, Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey just don’t make me fear for Superman’s well-being.
He isn’t even that smart in the movies. Add one more person to the Luthor and Otis duo and you basically have the three stooges. Especially with the accompanying music it was comical. But he actually is funny in the Superman movies… and Luthor is not funny.
Alfred Molina as Dr Octopus, actually my favourite villain from any of the Spidey movies… but he was kind of a misguided villain, driven mad seeing his wife die and the fusion with the ‘actuator’ arms.
The arms, really, should be the villain. And when he comes to his senses and uses the arms to collapse the reactors support beams on themselves, sacrificing himself to save the city… well that’s hardly villainous at all.
Michael Fassbender as Magneto, hey I explained it before; he just was not the big bad he was destined to become… yet.
Adam Smurthwaite is a contributing writer for Yes World
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