Top 10 Comic Book Film Villains

David Lloyd-Smart takes a look at the best comic book villains to grace the silver screen. From Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luthor to Batman’s foe The Joker…who will come out top?

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There’s an abundance of superhero films out there, born from the imaginative pages of comic books old and new. From Iron Man to Batman to Superman and Hellboy, it is the hero whose name finds its way to the forefront of the poster. There it is – held up in lights and immortalised. But as anyone who has ever watched a great comic book movie adaptation knows – the villain is often the most important ingredient. Indeed, without a great bad guy, the superhero’s superpower can’t be put to the test. So let’s celebrate the bad guy, let’s put the villain on the stage…here’s Top 10 Films’ greatest comic book film villains…

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10. Sebastian Shaw – Kevin Bacon (X-Men: First Class)

The head of the Hellfire Club, Sebastian Shaw is a strong and powerful mutant. Bacon plays this character well but is slightly overshadowed by his young counterpart actors Fassbender and McAvoy.

9. Loki – Tom Hiddleston. (Thor and Avengers)

A relatively new British actor with bags of talent portrays Loki in a manor befitting the God of mischief.

8. The Penguin – Danny Devito. (Batman Returns)

I don’t think this role will ever be attempted again in the onscreen world of Batman. Devito does a great job of turning the very comic booky villain into a scary and evil onscreen villain, with the help of Tim Burton’s dark Gotham City.

7. Lex Luthor – Gene Hackman (Superman 1, 2 and 4)

Although I still don’t feel any actor has managed to portray Lex Luthor in the way he appears in the comic books, Hackman comes close. Coming across as a top businessman with ruthless ambition to be untouchable at the top, Hackman does a great job and his growing obsession with the Man of Steel becomes more and more heated across the series progresses, likening it to the comic books.

6. Magneto – Sir Ian Mckellen (X-men 1, 2, 3)

Over the three films Magneto is ever present and a constant threat. Believing himself to be a hero and saviour to his people Magneto will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Mckellen plays the character perfectly while showing a respect for his greatest enemy/friend in Xavier, while on the other side he is ruthless and unforgiving to those who he feels have wronged him.

5. Deacon Frost – Stephen Dorff (Blade)

Frost is the perfect foil for Blade. Where as Blade is moody and brooding, Frost is the brash outspoken young vampire with ideas of grandeur above his station within the vampire society. Dorff plays the character with an air of coolness but at the flick of a switch turns it into a fiery temper.

4. The Green Goblin – Willem Dafoe (Spiderman)

Dafoe does a great job of playing the dual personalities of Osborn and the Goblin at war with each other until they find a common goal – the destruction of Spiderman and the things he loves.

3. Kevin – Elijah Wood (Sin City)

Unemotional and unfeeling, Kevin is the ultimate killer and will not stop until he gets his prey. Elijah Wood’s controlled, almost still portrayal of the character – with the staring eyes that seem to look at you but through you – makes for a very unsettling villain.

2. The Joker – Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)

Christopher Nolan’s vision of the Joker is played with the exceptional acting ability of Heath Ledger. Ledger demonstrates the psychotic nature of the Joker and creates an aura of fear on screen.

1. The Joker – Jack Nicholson (Batman)

Tim Burton’s original Batman, for me, has the best portrayal of the Joker. Nicholson mixes the character’s whimsical nature with his ultra violent side showing a true madness that likens it to the comic books. I know this might be a controversial choice but it was very close between number 1 and 2.

Written and compiled by David Lloyd-Smart.

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Your turn – who are your favourite comic book villains in film?

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  1. Avatar
    kobie Reply

    I forgot how unnerving Elijah Woods performance in Sin City is, I want to go back and watch that film again!

    Great list sir

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    George Reply

    Kevin Bacon’s performance is so underrated, he was great in first class. I agree with most of the list but I wouldn’t have rated Elijah Wood so high, he’s great as Kevin but the character just doesn’t get enough screen time.

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    ruth Reply

    Nice to see Loki on here, he’s great in Thor, too! Elijah Woods is sooooo creepy in Sin City!! I mean, I was like how could Frodo be so evil?? Ahah. I’d put Zod in here as well, he’s a fun Superman villain to watch and Terrence Stamp makes him iconic.

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    mark Reply

    One and two controversial indeed … I would have given it to Ledger before Jack; he’s way more menacing and the scene where he blows up the hospital dressed as a nurse is hilarious.

    Nick Stahl before Elijah Wood in Sin City – a fairly remarkable performance all things considered.

    On Dorf in Blade: I didn’t buy the fact he could go out in the day by wearing sun block … however, having said that, if sun block really was effective against sun-induced skin cancer, then I’d probably start believing in vampires.

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    Jack Deth Reply

    Hi, David and company:

    I’ve always enjoyed Gene Hackman’s comic turn as Lex Luthor. Especially in his scenes opposite Ned Beatty’s clumsy, klutzy Otis.


    Which, according to DC Comics is an upscale suburb of Gotham City.

    I think Clancy Brown could pull off a decent Luthor. He has the build, presence and the malevolence in his voice.

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    Dan Reply

    @Ruth: Terrence Stamp is terrific in Superman II…I think Zod would make my own top 10.

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    Evan Crean Reply

    All great villains on this list. So hard to pick a favorite since I love them all. Been so long since I’ve seen Sin City, that I completely forgot about Elijah Wood’s Kevin. Really creepy and great addition. I like that both Jokers are right next to each other on the list and that Jack Nicholson’s ended up on top. After all he did it first and paved the way for Heath Ledger to give such a complex look at this maniacal comic book bad guy.

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    Jaina Reply

    Gene Hackman’s Lex is a classic for me! Great choice there. As well as Loki. He’s a villain… but he’s not at the same time. Just a very stupidly jealous being!

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