Iconic comic-book movie villains you totally wouldn't mess with

Hela, Thor: Ragnarok, 2017

Comic origin: Journey into Mystery #102 (1964) 

Played by Cate Blanchett 

The secret sibling of Thor and Loki, Hela is the Goddess of Death and former Executioner of Asgard who has spent the last millennia in exile thanks to her dear old dad Odin. He’d realised the best way to rule the Nine Realms was through peace not destruction and Hela’s savage ambition didn’t quite fit with his new ideology, so he banished her to the underworld. Upon his death, she was freed and made it her mission to take the throne of Asgard from her brothers, by any brutal means necessary. The first major female supervillain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Cate Blanchett brought both wit and gravitas to the role to make Hela one of the most hardcore Big Bads. “There’s a huge female fanbase and having a daughter myself, you want them to be able to identify with [the villains] as well as the heroes,” Blanchett said. Hela yeah to that. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Decimating the entire Asgardian Army and the Warriors Three. 

Killer One-Liner: “I’m the Goddess of Death! What were you the god of, again?”

Thaddeus Sivana, Shazam!, 2019

Comic origin: Whiz Comics #2 (1939) 

Played by Mark Strong 

The last 80 years have seen various incarnations of evil scientist Doctor Sivana appear on the pages of DC’s comics, stretching back to the time when his nemesis Billy Batson was known better as Captain Marvel. So it’s hardly surprising that David F. Sandberg’s movie cooks up a new origin story for him, which positions him as the son of a wealthy CEO determined to get his hands on the powers fleetingly offered to him by Djimon Hounsou’s wizard when he was but a child. 

“He’s a proper supervillain,” says Strong. “He gets to fly, he can create electric fields in his hands and he has seven sins in his eye that manifest themselves when he wants them to.” The end result, continues the actor, was “spooky and creepy and dangerous”, not least due to the character’s distinctive wardrobe. “He’s chosen a sort of Nazi-like leather coat with a fur collar,” the star explains. “I love playing bad guys because they always get the best clothes and the best lines.” 

Shazam! might get the best of Doctor Sivana, but a post-credits sting featuring fellow supervillain Mister Mind suggests we haven’t seen the last of a bad guy Strong says is “heat-seeking ballistic evil”. “There is a tradition in the comics of Sivana and the Venusian Mindworm being partners in crime so it’s certainly a maybe,” Strong continues. “I can’t imagine anything better than hooking up with a worm.”

Most Dastardly Moment: Using the seven deadly sins to murder his dad. 

Killer One-Liner: “You will beg for mercy as I feast on your heart.”

(Warner Bros)
Max Shreck, Batman Returns, 1992

Comic origin N/A 

Played by Christopher Walken 

“I tend to play mostly villains and twisted people,” Christopher Walken acknowledged during press for Tim Burton’s Bat-sequel. “I think it’s my face, the way I look.” There’s no question he put his hollow cheeks and skull-popping peepers to startlingly good use as this strangle-voiced tycoon, imbuing Max Shreck with a wit as black as his power-hungry heart. In fact, he was so good, Burton was originally too scared to cast him.

Most Dastardly Moment: Shoving poor Selina Kyle out of a high-rise window. 

Killer One-Liner: “Mayors come and go. Blue bloods tire easy. You think you can go 15 rounds with Muhammed Shreck?”

(Warner Bros)
Green Goblin, Spider-Man, 2002

Comic origin: The Amazing Spider-Man #14 (1964) 

Played by Willem Dafoe 

Conceived by Stan Lee as a mythological demon, Green Goblin was changed to a human villain by Lee’s collaborator Steve Ditko, and the character swiftly emerged as Spider-Man’s No.1 archenemy. When it came to Spidey’s first modern-day big-screen outing, in Sam Raimi’s 2002 game-changer, the web-slinger was always destined to go up against his greenness. 

Casting Willem Dafoe as the Goblin and his alter-ego Norman Osborn, the tycoon whose chemical experiments send him insane, was a masterstroke. The actor brings athleticism – just watch him ride the Goblin’s glider – and madness to one of the most unhinged characters in the Marvel canon. Singing ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ as he fires a missile towards Spider-Man (“Along came the Goblin and took the spider out”) is particularly delicious. 

While the character evolves as an embodiment of corporate greed, as Osborn vies for a military contract and kills all his rivals, what makes the Goblin so dynamic is the way he overtakes Osborn’s psyche. So the story goes, Raimi gave Dafoe Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde to read before the infamous scene where Osborn looks in the mirror, wrestling with his inner Goblin. 

“You could play these scenes where it would switch from comedy to drama in a line,” enthused Dafoe, who impressively manages to bring the full force of the Goblin’s tyranny to the fore despite the restrictions of the inexpressive mask that critics likened to something out of Power Rangers (early test videos indicated that a more nightmarish design was considered). 

In the end, Dafoe’s greatest weapon is his voice, full of hellish cackles and just the right side of comic-book camp. The character returned for 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, with Dane DeHaan – as Norman Osborn’s son, Harry – assuming the mantle. But Dafoe remains the quintessential Green Goblin. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Dropping a tram-full of children and Mary Jane off the Queensboro Bridge. 

Killer One-Liner: “MJ and I… we’re gonna have a helluva time!”

Ebony Maw, Avengers: Infinity War, 2018; Avengers: Endgame, 2019

Comic origin: New Avengers #8 (2013) 

Played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor 

He may be the weediest-looking member of the Black Order, but he’s by far the most creepily charismatic. It’s Ebony who, at the start of Infinity War, sets the heightened stakes in stone as he preaches the gospel according to Thanos, “You may think this is suffering… no. It is salvation.” Actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor strove for a perfect balance, “I needed to find a voice that could be declamatory in one way without hopefully being too hammy.” Hammy? Not in the least. His untimely demise (killed by an Aliens reference) is surely no reason to rejoice. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Telekinetically torturing Doctor Strange using needles “designed for microsurgery”. Yeow… 

Killer One-liner: “Stonekeeper, does this chattering animal speak for you?”

Sebastian Shaw, X-Men: First Class, 2011

Comic origin: Uncanny X-Men #129 (1980) 

Played by Kevin Bacon 

Half Hugh Hefner, half Josef Mengele, Kevin Bacon’s Shaw is a formidable adversary even without his ability to absorb and redirect energy. “He’s a very confident man,” says the actor, who got the role despite looking nothing like the Byron-esque sideburn sporter from the comics. “He’s a very powerful billionaire, he’s the leader of the Hellfire Club, and he has a plot to take over the world.” None of that, alas, can save him from the levitating coin Magneto propels through his noggin at the end of Matthew Vaughn’s stylish reboot. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Killing Magneto’s mum. 

Killer One-Liner: “We are the future of the human race.”

Obadiah Stane, Iron Man, 2008

Comic origin: Iron Man #163 (1982) 

Played by Jeff Bridges 

Played by The Dude himself, company exec Obadiah Stane was the MCU’s first big bad. Having orchestrated Tony’s kidnap and attempting a hostile takeover of Stark Enterprises, he emerged suited up as the Iron Monger, only to die in their climactic clash. But it wasn’t always so. “When I was hired it was scripted that Obadiah would live,” rues Bridges, “then they decided to kill my a*s off.” 

Most Dastardly Moment: Trashing downtown LA. 

Killer One-Liner: “You had a great idea, Tony, but my suit is more advanced in every way!”

Ulysses Klaue, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, 2015; Black Panther, 2018

Comic origin: Fantastic Four #53 (1966) 

Played by Andy Serkis 

A blackmarket criminal specialising in selling stolen vibranium from Wakanda, Ulysses Klaue cuts a deal with Ultron that ultimately costs him an arm, and then teams up with Erik Killmonger sporting a weaponised prosthetic. Perhaps most striking of all though is his South African accent, which Andy Serkis says was chosen because it “gives him a real edge” as well as deepening his relationship with Wakanda because “he grew up through apartheid”. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Telling a guard he can go free during a robbery only to shoot him anyway because he wanted to spread out the bodies.  

Killer One-Liner: “I only deal with the man in charge.”

Cable, Deadpool 2, 2018

Comic origin: Uncanny X-Men #201 (1986) 

Played by Josh Brolin 

Though he was introduced as a newborn baby in 1986, it took four more years for Cable (aka Nathan Summers) to emerge as a military hardnut, and 14 more for he and Deadpool to join forces. Muscular, armed to the teeth and given cybernetic abilities by a techno-organic virus, Cable was basically Marvel’s Terminator: a warrior from a post-apocalyptic future sent to warn the mutants of the present that the world they know is on borrowed time. 

Some of that sturm und drang makes it into Josh Brolin’s performance in Deadpool 2, while the robot arm and eye are present and correct. Yet the real power of his portrayal comes from his unshakeable conviction that offing Firefist (Julian Dennison) will restore his loved ones to life, a personal vendetta that no amount of Wade Wilson wisecracks can vitiate. 

“Cable has lost a great deal,” explains co-writer Rhett Reese. “He’s lost his wife and daughter at the hands of a madman and he’s doing anything in his power – including travelling back in time – to solve that issue.” For his part, Brolin made sure he was in “the best shape of his life” to play a character modelled on the Schwarzenegger/Stallone action man template of the ’90s. “What I should have done was blow myself up with steroids and just eat ice cream,” he grins. “But I didn’t. I had a great midlife-crisis idea. Buy a Ferrari? No, I’ll get into shape.” 

With Cable hoped to return in Drew Goddard’s X-Force and possible future movies (currently unclear due to the Disney/Fox merger), Brolin won’t be getting tubby anytime soon. “I look forward to continuing with it,” he says. “It scared the sh*t out of me, but I like to be confronted with fear.” 

Most Dastardly Moment: Laying waste to the Ice Box where Firefist is held captive. 

Killer One-Liner: “There’s nothing I can’t kill.”

Ronan the Accuser Guardians Of The Galaxy, 2014; Captain Marvel, 2019

Comic origin: Fantastic Four #65 (1967) 

Played by Lee Pace 

A towering titan with skin like blue granite, Ronan was a vengeance-mad renegade out for Xandarian blood after his family was killed during the Kree-Nova War. Oh, and he wielded an enormous battle axe. “He’s nuts,” chuckles Lee Pace, the theatre actor hired to play him. “The more I played him, the more fun I had with just being evil.” 

Most Dastardly Moment: Launching an aerial assault against the peaceful planet of Xandar. 

Killer One-Liner: “You call me BOY?! I will unfurl one thousand years of Kree justice on Xandar and burn it to its core!”

Bad Superman Superman IIII, 1983

Comic origin: N/A 

Played by Christopher Reeves

Reeve Richard Pryor’s Gus Gorman is no Lex Luthor, but he bags a place in supervillain history for his part in turning Superman to the dark side – instead of weakening the Man of Steel, the artificial kryptonite he formulates removes that famous moral centre. To be honest, Bad Supes isn’t all that despicable (he drinks, his clothes are dirty and he’s a bit of a womaniser), but it’s worth it for his famous (probably metaphorical) scrapyard showdown with Clark Kent. 

Most Dastardly Moment: A toss-up between blowing out the Olympic torch and straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

Killer One-Liner: “I hope you don’t expect me to save you, because I don’t do that any more.”

(Warner Bros)
Baron Zemo Captain America: Civil War, 2016

Comic origin: Captain America #168 (1973) 

Played by Daniel Brühl 

In the comics, Helmut Zemo was a masked evil genius, but he lands in the MCU with a more down-to-earth makeover. He blames the Avengers for the death of his family at the Battle of Sokovia, and – realising he won’t beat Cap, Iron Man and the rest in a fair fight – embarks on an ingenious revenge mission, subverting the Winter Soldier’s programming to turn Earth’s Mightiest Heroes against each other. More a catalyst than a bona fide supervillain, he ultimately succeeds in his mission by tearing the Avengers apart.

Most Dastardly Moment: Arranging the bombing of the Sokovia Accords that kills King T’Chaka of Wakanda. 

Killer One-Liner: “I lost everyone. And so will you.”

Yon-Rogg, Captain Marvel, 2019

Comic origin: Marvel Super Heroes #12 (1967) 

Played by Jude Law 

Kree commander Yon-Rogg seems like an enlightened guy. The charismatic leader of elite squadron Starforce, he heads up a diverse team of men and women. His commitment to equality appears to be so complete he refuses to pull any punches in the opening training session with Vers (aka Carol Danvers, played by Brie Larson), smashing her to the floor. “I slipped,” she protests. “Right,” comes the reply. “You slipped as a result of me punching you in the face.” 

But scratch the surface and that woke exterior comes off like thin exo-armour. Yon-Rogg’s repeated warning that Danvers must suppress her emotions might scan like standard military discipline, but is revealed to be part of a broader system of control as the Kree look to inhibit Vers from reaching her full potential. Add to this the third act revelations that Yon-Rogg actually murdered Vers’ mentor Mar-Vell, and that the Skrulls – long portrayed as villains – are in fact refugees fleeing genocidal onslaught from the Kree, and a very different picture emerges. 

It is these tensions between surface virtue and interior corruption that make Yon-Rogg the villain of today. His brand of toxic masculinity isn’t about sexual entitlement, but instead insidious gaslighting designed to keep Vers in her place, conforming to the narrow perimeters of what he conceives her role to be. 

Law was tempted to camp it up more in the role, but directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck encouraged him to play it straight. “We didn’t want any telegraphing to go on of where his character would be going, or where the story was going,” says Boden. “We had a film that had a lot of outrageous things happening in it. But the acting itself is clearly grounded and naturalistic within all that outrageousness.” 

Most Dastardly Moment: Organising the murder of innocent Skrulls. 

Killer One-Liner: “Turn off the light show, and prove, prove to me, you can beat me.”

Ma-Ma, Dredd, 2012

Comic origin: N/A 

Played by Lena Headey 

Lena Headey tapped the effortlessly charismatic influence of imperious punk- poet Patti Smith to play Ma-Ma, a scarred ex-prostitute turned crime boss/drug lord with a soul blacker than her eyes and gloriously unkempt goth-riot hair. The script pitches Madeline Madrigal as an “obese septuagenarian”, but Headey owns the role with the same unforced authority she brings to a Gatling gun massacre. Deathly malevolence oozing from every whispered syllable, Ma-Ma is a walking personification of sociopathic cruelty: witness the guys she has dosed up on the drug Slo-Mo (it extends the suffering), skinned and tossed off a balcony for the messy evidence.

Most Dastardly Moment: Removing Clan Techie Domhnall Gleeson’s eyeballs by hand. 

Killer One-Liner: “You’re a piece  of work, Dredd. But so am I.”

Mysterio, Spider-Man: Far From Home, 2019

Comic origin: The Amazing Spider-Man #13 (1964) 

Played by Jake Gyllenhaal 

Sure, the ‘disgruntled ex-employee seeks payback’ thing has been done to death, but Mysterio – aka Stark Industries reject Quentin Beck – takes it to a whole new level. Not only is he a master illusionist, he’s a consummate liar, conjuring an elaborately tragic backstory before hoodwinking Peter Parker into handing over Earth’s deadliest spectacles. Gyllenhaal embraced the charade to such a degree he even conned his co-stars: “Sometimes if he was laughing, I’d think he was just laughing,” says Tom Holland. “And then I’d realise, ‘Oh no, he’s acting!’”

Most Dastardly Moment: Revealing Spidey’s secret identity to the internet. 

Killer One-liner: “People need to believe. And nowadays, they’ll believe anything.”

(Sony Pictures/Marvel)
Ra’s al Ghul Batman Begins, 2005

Comic origin: Batman #232 (1971) P

Played by Liam Neeson 

A master of misdirection, Ra’s al Ghul was hiding in plain sight: in the film (and its marketing material), Ken Watanabe was a front for Neeson’s actual archvillain. The distinct, comic-accurate face fuzz should have been a giveaway. Secret Society leader Ra’s – whose name translates as ‘the demon’s head’ – trains Bruce in the League of Shadows, before their extreme methods (mercilessly wiping out corrupt cities) drive him away. Neeson also had a hallucination cameo in TDKR, in which his daughter Talia (Marion Cotillard) tries to finish what he started. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Trying to spread fear toxin in Gotham on a massive scale. 

Killer One-Liner: “You took my advice about theatricality a bit literally.”

(Warner Bros)
Nomak, Blade II, 2002

Comic origin: N/A 

Played by Luke Goss 

The result of a literal bloodcurdling genetic experiment gone wrong, Jared Nomak was to be the first vampire impervious to sunlight, but instead becomes a powerful patient zero for a new superstrain of feral vamps. Feeling angry, disgusted and self-conscious about his new split jawline, Nomak heads up an entirely new threat for Blade as his Reapers kill vampires and humans alike in order to get to the one he blames for his horrific mutation: his father, leader of the unfortunately named vampire elder cult, the Shadow Cabinet. In order to get in shape for the role, Bros brother Luke Goss got his body fat down to just five per cent through a training regime of karate, boxing and, presumably, extreme competitive conkers. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Finally enacting revenge on dear old dad, and finishing off sis for good measure. 

Killer One-Liner: “Is the enemy of my enemy my friend… or my enemy?”

Adrian Veidt, Watchmen, 2009

Comic origin: Watchmen (1986) 

Played by Matthew Goode 

Among comic-book villains with a heightened view of their calling, Adrian Veidt stands tall. Driven by unshakeable self-certainty, Veidt believes only he is smart enough to know what’s needed to save us from the Cold War. And if his masterplan involves slaughtering millions – well, call it a “necessary sacrifice”. 

The signs of villainy are clear. Super-rich, super-intelligent and super-skilled, Ozymandias took down crime syndicates as a superhero team-leader. Retired from superhero activities, he reinvented himself as a self-made mogul, making a fortune from franchising his superhero identity. 

Like multiple supervillains in one, he has lairs, an island, an over-attachment to his pet and a narcissist’s meticulous side-parting. He sees his twisted plot as logical, but it’s also inhumane and arrogant. Just ask his ex-colleagues: besides framing Dr. Manhattan as the cause of a catastrophe that kills millions but unites global superpowers against a shared threat, he renders superheroes redundant. Cold… 

Most Dastardly Moment: Slaughtering “15 million people” by destroying “a few key regions”. 

Killer One-Liner: “A world united and at peace. There had to be sacrifice.”

(Warner Bros.)
Phantasm, Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm, 1993

Comic origin: N/A 

Played by Dana Delany (voice; also Stacy Keach) 

If the measure of great villains is how close they cleave to our heroes, Phantasm scores. Cowled, caped, broad-shouldered and booted, this blade-fisted apparition uses dry ice and ghostly tricks to scare, sharing Mr. Wayne’s theatrical streak. Batman is suspected of actually being the murderous and mysterious crimefighter for a while, but the truth cuts deeper. Loosely influenced by Batman: Year Two’s Reaper, the Phantasm is Bruce Wayne’s ex-lover Andrea Beaumont. Despite the deep sense of family loss she shares with Bruce, Beaumont pursues deadlier kinds of vengeance and drives Wayne to commit full-bore to Batman when she leaves him. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Crushing a crime heavy under a stone angel in a cemetery. 

Killer One-Liner: “Your angel of death awaits…”

(Warner Bros.)
Deacon Frost, Blade, 1998

Comic origin: The Tomb of Dracula #13 (1973) 

Played by Stephen Dorff 

The OG Marvel movie served up a younger iteration of Deacon Frost than the comics but he was just as hellbent on ruling the world, and planned on usurping the pureblood’s rule by raising the vampire god La Magra to take control. “There are elements when you’re afraid of him,” Stephen Dorff said in 1998. “At the same time I’ve tried to have fun as well and make him very relaxed and funny and charming.” The actor brought just the right amount of swagger and ’90s sex appeal to have you both swooning and scared of this ruthless vampire with the good hair to boot. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Turning Blade’s mother into a vampire and making her his lover. 

Killer One-Liner: “For f***’s sake, these people are our food, not our allies.”

Red Skull, Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011

Comic origin: Captain America Comics #7 (1941) 

Played by Hugo Weaving 

A botched batch of Super Soldier serum turned evil Nazi scientist Johann Schmidt into a waxy red skeleton with the power and wrath to wage his own world war. Foiled by Cap in the ’40s, he was condemned to spend eternity as a caretaker for the Soul Stone – with Ross Marquand donning the make-up after Hugo Weaving passed on the last two Avengers sequels. “I’m glad I did it,” Weaving says, “but it’s not something I would want to do again.” 

Most Dastardly Moment: Trying to destroy every American city at once with a barrage of Tesseract-powered nukes. 

Killer One-Liner: “Captain America! How exciting! I’m a great fan of your films!"

The Vulture, Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2017

Comic origin: The Amazing Spider-Man #2 (1963) 

Played by Michael Keaton 

After a Stark-funded agency pushes him out of a contract, a resentful Adrian Toomes uses Chitauri tech to start selling advanced weaponry. Far removed from the comics’ ‘old man in a bird costume’, this Vulture flies under the radar of the Avengers, only to tangle with Spider-Man instead. Michael Keaton keeps the winged character grounded, but ramps up the menace once things get personal with Parker. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Becoming a prom date’s worst nightmare as Parker’s secret dawns on Toomes, mid chaperone duties. 

Killer One-Liner: “Don’t you ever, ever interfere with my business again. ’Cause if you do, I’ll kill you, and everyone that you love.”

Bane, The Dark Knight Rises, 2012

Comic origin: Batman: Vengeance Of Bane #1 (1993) 

Played by Tom Hardy 

The most intimidating physical presence that Batman has ever faced, Hardy’s supersized revolutionary looking to turn Gotham to ashes draws Batman out of retirement, before breaking his back like a toothpick. Hardy gained 30lb of muscle to play the imposing brute, and doesn’t remove his mask for the whole film. Of his get-up, the Brit actor says, “It’s hard to breathe. I can’t hear anyone, and no one can see me speak… And the magic begins.” His muscular portrayal eradicated all memories of the cartoonish Bane in Batman & Robin. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Threatening a closed-off Gotham with a thermonuclear weapon. 

Killer One-Liner: “When it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die.”

(Warner Bros.)
Slade, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

Comic origin: (As Deathstroke) The New Teen Titans #2 (1980) 

Played by Will Arnett (voice) 

Forget The Hero With A Thousand Faces, here’s the Baddie With A Thousand (give or take) Names. Slade is a ’toon take on vintage villain Deathstroke (a moniker deemed child-unfriendly); he also masquerades as filmmaker Jade Wilson in order to implement his very 21st Century scheme of kidnapping minds via a new streaming service. In Arnett’s words, Slade is “bombastic and… bigger than life” but with “a tinge of doubt” – possibly because he keeps getting mistaken for Deadpool (“Lots of people have guns and swords, OK?”). 

Most Dastardly Moment: Brainwashing DC’s finest into attacking the Titans. 

Killer One-liner: The Titonium crystal… the perfect plot device!”

(Warner Bros.)
Nebula, Guardians Of The Galaxy, 2014; Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, 2017; Avengers: Infinity War, 2018; Avengers: Endgame, 2019

Comic origin: the Avengers #257 (1985) 

Played by Karen Gillan Cybernetic. 

Sullen. Almost impossible to kill. If you wondered why Nebula had so many issues, you just have to look at her father, a purple, intergalactic tyrant you may have heard of. Thanos punished Nebula every time she lost a fight against her adopted sister, Gamora, grafting cybernetic enhancements to her piece by piece until she became the seething, inhuman, resentful, hardcore character we first met in Guardians Of The Galaxy. 

“To me, she’s the Boba Fett of the movie,” says James Gunn, director of Guardians Vol. 1 and 2. “She’s the one that you really dig because she’s the cool one that we need to get more of.” And more we certainly got, with Nebula following up her awesome moments in Vol. 1 (that scrap with Gamora; her aerial assault on Xandar) with depth-mining returns in Vol. 2 and the Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame double-whammy. 

Of course, she’d be nothing without actress Karen Gillan, whose deadpan delivery and raspy vocals lent Nebula a sultry mystique. “What immediately jumped out at me was [that she is] this overlooked sibling that was fighting for the attention of her father,” Gillan says. “I was like, ‘Brilliant!’” Training full-time to perfect Nebula’s limb-snapping fight choreography, Gillan also shaved off her famous red locks (“I would go shopping in the supermarket for eggs and milk, bald... it was fun!”), and she proved so compelling in the role that Nebula’s original Vol. 1 death scene was spiked, paving the way for Nebula to become an integral part of Phase 3. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Pretending to be ‘Good Nebula’ in order to return Thanos from the past in Avengers: Endgame. 

Killer One-Liner: “I tried to kill you several times… but eventually, we become friends. We become sisters.”

(Marvel Studios/Disney)
Mystique, X-Men series, 2000-2019

Comic origin: Ms. Marvel #16 (1978) 

Played by Jennifer Lawrence

For all the good work of Rebecca Romijn in Bryan Singer’s first three X-Men films as the agile mutant Mystique, the character really came into her own once Jennifer Lawrence slipped on the scales to play a younger version of the blue-skinned shapeshifter. None more so than in Days Of Future Past, when the character also known as Raven Darkholme is front and centre. It’s her assassination of scientist Bolivar Trask that leads to, ultimately, the creation of the mutant-hunting Sentinels, forcing Wolverine to bounce back in time to stop her. With Lawrence perfectly embodying her athletic fighting skills, as Singer noted at the 2013 Comic-Con, “She’s split off from Eric and Charles and she’s kind of her own agent.” Lawrence added, “We’ve seen her in the future and what she becomes; this is kind of a turning point for her.” Indeed, her ability to transform into anyone makes her the perfect villain: you just never quite know where she is, who she is or what side she’s fighting on. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Shooting Magneto… with a plastic gun. 

Killer One-Liner: “I know exactly what I have to do.”

Winter Soldier Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014; Captain America: Civil War, 2016

Comic origin: Captain America #1 (2005)

Played by Sebastian Stan 

When Captain America’s childhood BFF, James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes, is captured by Hydra during World War 2, his body and mind are corrupted beyond recognition, leaving behind brainwashed super-assassin the Winter Soldier. With a cybernetic arm that can catch Cap’s vibranium shield like a frisbee, single-minded determination and an affinity for assault rifles, the Winter Soldier is a formidable adversary. But it’s Buck’s tragic bromance with Steve Rogers that elevates the Winter Soldier above the common crop of comic-book villains. Manipulated by Arnim Zola into brutally murdering Howard and Maria Stark – arguably the MCU’s biggest gut punch – and later by Helmut Zemo into bombing a meeting at the United Nations, killing King T’Chaka in the process, the Winter Soldier has so much red in his ledger that he makes Black Widow look like a girl scout. His actions, willing or not, left wounds that would fester for years to come. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Beating Howard Stark to death before strangling Maria with his bare hand. 

Killer One-Liner: “You’re my mission.”

(Marvel Studios/Disney)
Kingpin, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, 2018

Comic origin: The Amazing Spider-Man #50 (1967) 

Played by Liev Schreiber 

Like most cinematic crims, Wilson Fisk is a family man. When his wife and son die in a car crash after witnessing him and Spidey scrapping, it hits hard. “Kingpin is motivated by the loss of his family,” explains Liev Schreiber. “He doesn’t care what havoc that wreaks on the rest of the planet: he’s gonna get them back.” That havoc involves booting up a dimension shredding super-collider, putting NYC and the very fabric of reality at risk: villainous for sure, but all in the name of love. This nuance gives the man-mountain emotional heft, so despite solid iterations by Vincent D’Onofrio (Netflix’s Daredevil) and Michael Clarke Duncan (who gained 40 pounds to play the role), Schreiber’s animated Kingpin packs the most punch as the definitive big-screen take. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Killing Peter Parker. 

Killer One-Liner: “You took my family, and now I’m gonna make sure you never see yours again.”

The Mandarin, Iron Man 3, 2013

Comic origin: Tales Of Suspense #50 (1964) 

Played by Ben Kingsley 

The MCU has a long history of subverting comics canon, but the introduction of vintage Iron Man villain the Mandarin proved to be one of its finest rug-pulls. With the original incarnation’s racially problematic Fu Manchu overtones, it was understandable when Iron Man 3 unveiled Ben Kingsley as the US face of terrorist organisation the Ten Rings. But then comes the killer twist, as Tony Stark breaks into the Mandarin’s compound and discovers the kingpin is actually Trevor Slattery, a drug-addled British actor on Aldrich Killian’s payroll – and that he’s more likely to commit crimes against Hamlet than humanity. Just because Trev’s quit the role doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of the Mandarin, however – the real deal is still at large and will be seen, played by Tony Leung, in the MCU’s upcoming Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings.

Most Dastardly Moment: Trev’s too inept to do anything truly evil, so his worst act is simply being complicit in the whole caper. 

Killer One-Liner: “The guns are all fake because those w****** wouldn’t trust me with the real ones.”

William Stryker, X2, 2003

Comic origin: X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills (1982) 

Played by Brian Cox 

A religious fanatic with a military background, William Stryker’s incarnation in the comics as a mutant-hater set the tone for his rebirth in Bryan Singer’s X2 – still one of the deepest and darkest of the X-Men films. As portrayed by Brian Cox (well, if you’re looking for a villain, you might as well cast the original Hannibal Lecter), the US Army colonel’s relentless desire to eradicate all mutants is made all the more potent given his son Jason is one – and a powerful one at that. Crucially the man responsible for grafting those adamantium claws onto Wolverine’s bones, Stryker has something of the mad scientist about him. Others played him – including Danny Huston in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Josh Helman in Days Of Future Past and Apocalypse – but none boasted the sheer menace of Cox, who chose to give him a southern accent. “It hits the zeitgeist in a big way,” Cox said at the time. “That’s the uncanny thing about it.” 

Most Dastardly Moment: Lobotomising his own son to make him more docile. 

Killer One-Liner: “Sergeant, kill everyone that approaches; even if it is me.”

General Zod, Superman II, 1980

Comic origin: Adventure Comics #283 (1961) 

Played by Terence Stamp 

Released from imprisonment in the Phantom Zone by the shockwave of a hydrogen bomb that Superman slings into space, evil Kryptonian General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his hench-people Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) descend upon Earth to threaten genocide. A staple of comics since 1961, General Zod (full name: Dru-Zod) has appeared in Smallville, Supergirl, The Looney Tunes Show and more, and was potently portrayed by Michael Shannon in Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel. But it’s ’60s idol Stamp, returning from his own decade in the Phantom Zone, who’s iconic. “They did everything they could to make me look hideous,” he later said. “They lit me from below, they put green make-up on me, they gave me ridiculous costumes. But the camera was still my girl.” Quite. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Forcing the president, on TV, to abdicate all power and authority to General Zod. 

Killer One-Liner: “Kneel before Zod!”

(Warner Bros.)
Syndrome, The Incredibles, 2004

Comic origin: N/A 

Played by Jason Lee (voice) 

In the time since The Incredibles has opened, Syndrome has become even more pertinent given that he’s basically an entitled superfan. Lacking powers of his own, Buddy Pine finds his offer to help Mr. Incredible spurned, putting him on the path to supervillainy as Syndrome, determined to wipe out supers with the help of his Omnidroid. The animators based Syndrome’s features on writer/director Brad Bird – “When I found out Syndrome was based on me, well, you know, having the villain modelled after you? What does that say?” – and it was Jason Lee’s part in Dogma that won him the voice role. “I was kind of all over the place with the inflections and the energy, and I guess that’s what did it,” he said. A cruel and vainglorious baddie who feels genuinely dangerous, Syndrome’s absence was felt in Incredibles 2. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Shooting down Elastigirl, Violet and Dash’s plane.  

Killer One-Liner: “You sly dog! You got me monologuing!”

Lex Luthor, Superman movies, 1978-87

Comic origin: Action Comics #23 (1940) 

Played by Gene Hackman 

He’s a multi-millionaire megalomaniac. The greatest criminal mind of our time. And he really does dress up to the nines. Yes, Superman’s oldest foe Lex Luthor might not have the super-strength of, say, General Zod, but what he lacks in powers, he more than makes up for in sheer wickedness. Like a constant fly in the Man of Steel’s ointment, Luthor is never better than when he’s scheming for world domination. Of all the actors who’ve played him – Kevin Spacey and Jesse Eisenberg among them – there was no-one better suited than Gene Hackman, who steered the character across three of the four Christopher Reeve-starring Superman films. But it was in the 1978 Richard Donner-directed original that he really got to flex his criminal muscles, as Luthor plans to detonate a nuclear missile at the San Andreas Fault. Keeping the campness in check, as Hackman remarked, “You’re right on the edge all the time.”

Most Dastardly Moment: Exposing Superman to Kryptonite. 

Killer One-Liner: “Neanderthal! Nitwit! Nincompoop!”

(Warner Bros)
Mr. Glass, Unbreakable, 2000

Comic origin: N/A 

Played by Samuel L. Jackson 

Though not based on a comic-book character, Mr. Glass (aka Elijah Price) is a product of the arch-villains he spent a third of his life studying from hospital beds, as his brittle bones healed following their latest break. Like Lex Luthor or Doctor Doom, Price’s strength is not physical, but mental – he’s the twisted brains to David Dunn’s unbreakable brawn. 

Inarguably a more compelling and complex figure than his heroic counterpart, Price isn’t motivated by money, power or madness. In Unbreakable, he’s simply a lost soul desperately searching for his place in the world. Unfortunately for the population at large, the collateral damage caused by Price’s search for his indestructible opposite doesn’t weigh on his conscience – it’s a necessity, the end wholly justifying any means. 

As with many of comic-book cinema’s standout supervillains, Price is a tragic figure. Born with Type I osteogenesis imperfecta, he spent his life suffering repeated physical trauma most can’t imagine. This combined with his conviction that comic books are the vestiges of superhuman historical documentation, and a dash of criminal psychosis, convinces Price that his place is at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum to Dunn. 

Jackson is superb in what remains one of his most understated performances. Price’s relationship with his loving mother (Charlayne Woodard) adds an extra layer of unexpected sympathy, climaxing in Unbreakable’s skin-prickling final scene as Price confesses all to Dunn in heartbreaking fashion. 

M. Night Shyamalan was clearly as enamoured with Mr. Glass as audiences, making him the titular character of his Eastrail 177 trilogy-capper Glass. But the long-anticipated sequel does the character a disservice, with Price feigning catatonia for well over half of the runtime. Only in the home stretch does he finally cut loose, but it’s too little too late, Price’s grand plan also suffering from a crippling lack of logic. But it’s not every comic-book movie that ends with the villain getting exactly what they want. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Causing the Eastrail 177 derailment that killed everyone on board, including Kevin Wendell Crumb’s parents. 

Killer One-Liner: “They called me Mr. Glass.”

Magneto, X-Men series, 2000-2019

Comic origin: The X-Men #1 (1963) 

Played by Ian McKellen, Michael Fassbender 

“He’s political, a warrior, clearsighted, pained, anguished, determined. That’s a part really worth playing,” remarked Ian McKellen recently, recollecting the role that slingshotted him into the mainstream just three years after he’d received an Oscar nomination for Gods & Monsters. Needless to say, the then-63-year-old bore little resemblance to the muscle-bound Magneto of the comics, but when he slipped into the cape of concentration camp survivor turned mutant activist Erik Lehnsherr, McKellen owned the role tin-hat to foot. 

This wasn’t a villain who cackled over hare-brained schemes, but a calm, calculating militant who was always one step ahead of the X-Men. Magneto’s plans are far-reaching and fiendishly clever, his beliefs as ironclad as you’d expect in somebody with power over metal. And whether sparring with Professor X (Patrick Stewart) over mutant rights or telling Rogue “we love what you’ve done with your hair”, McKellen gifted Magneto both a Shakespearean regality and a cattiness best observed in scenes he shared with his cobalt companion Mystique (Rebecca Romijn). 

He reprised the role three more times after his debut and, by 2011, Magneto was so completely McKellen’s, it was impossible to imagine anybody else playing the part. Until Michael Fassbender portrayed a younger version of Lehnsherr in X-Men: First Class, bringing a wilder edge to the young Magneto and steering clear of impersonating his forebear (“I didn’t bother doing Ian’s voice in the first one,” he said). Instead, Fassbender uncovered new, even more complex layers, adding vital depth to the Magneto mythos. Together, he and McKellen found tantalising shades of grey in this most complex comic-book baddie. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Destroying the San Francisco skyline by moving the Golden Gate Bridge. 

Killer One-Liner: “Homo sapiens and their guns.”

Doc Ock, Spider-Man 2, 2004

Comic origin: The Amazing Spider-Man #3 (1963) 

Played by Alfred Molina 

With seven films under his Spider-Belt, and a rogues’ gallery rivalled only by Batman, there’s no shortage of big-screen Spider-Man villains to choose from. But Spidey’s standout bad guy remains Dr. Otto Octavius – better known as Doc Ock – from Sam Raimi’s high-flying Spider-Man 2. The reasons are twofold: he’s one of the first, and arguably the best, examples of a truly sympathetic comic-book villain; and his tentacular AI arms are unbelievably cool. 

That first element is the most important. Dr. Octavius is a good man doing important, altruistic work when we meet him. He’s someone Peter admires, possibly even aspires to be, outside of the suit. Were it not for an experiment gone wrong, which claims the life of his wife Rosalie, Dr. Octavius could have changed the world. This combined with the destruction of the inhibitor chip, which prevents Octavius’ robotic arms from directly accessing his nervous system, transforms Octavius into the psychotic Doc Ock. 

Boasting an origin story almost as poignant as Spider-Man’s, Doc Ock’s creation closely echoes Peter Parker’s own hero’s journey, albeit one reflected through a cracked mirror. One scene, in which Doc Ock’s sentient limbs slay the medical professionals trying to separate the man from his killer hardware, sees Raimi slip some Evil Dead-worthy horror into a 12A, and makes it abundantly clear that Doc Ock is as dangerous as they come. 

Possessing surplus limbs capable of scaling sheer walls and literally giving him eyes in the back of his head, Doc Ock is a physical match for Spider-Man, leading to arguably the single greatest set-piece in any superhero movie as Spidey and Doc Ock do battle along a hurtling subway train. Fifteen years on, it’s a sequence that still holds up. And Doc Ock’s unravelling, at the hands of a regretful Octavius, proves why Alfred Molina was such an inspired, if unlikely, choice for the comic icon.

Most Dastardly Moment: Dropping Aunt May from the a New York skyscraper. “Butterfingers” indeed. 

Killer One-liner: “The power of the sun… in the palm of my hand.”

Loki Thor, 2011; Avengers Assemble, 2012

Comic Origin: Journey Into Mystery #85 (1962) 

Played by Tom Hiddleston 

Anyone who said Marvel had a villain problem before Thanos was clearly forgetting about Loki. Thor’s adoptive brother was a scene-stealer from the moment we first laid eyes on him in Asgard, and the trickster god has been one of the MCU’s MVPs for the best part of a decade. 

Thor director Kenneth Branagh obviously spotted something mischievous in his Wallander co-star, because Tom Hiddleston has made a habit of upstaging Marvel’s title characters. If you want proof of Loki’s sheer charisma, remember this is a guy who can wear a hat with two massive horns, and make it look good. 

Part of Loki’s appeal is that you’re never sure who he is, whether he’s with you or against you. Motivated initially by jealousy of his brother, Loki’s subsequently driven by revenge, and the sort of over-developed ego you need if you’re going to hire Matt Damon to play you in the story of your life. 

But along the way, he’s evolved from all-out baddie into more of an antihero. While you’d never trust him with your life (or even a tenner), he finds a degree of nobility when he dies standing up to Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War – though it’s a measure of the man that, right to the end, you never quite know which side he’s on. 

Thanks to the timeline-hopping shenanigans of Avengers: Endgame, Loki lives to fight again via adventures that may well form the basis of his upcoming Disney+ TV show. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Using the Tesseract to open the wormhole that allows Chitauri armies to invade New York. 

Killer One-Liner: “Freedom is life’s great lie. Once you accept that, in your heart… you will know peace.”

Killmonger, Black Panther, 2018

Comic origin: Jungle Action Vol. 2 #6 (1973) 

Played by Michael B. Jordan 

The best movie villains are charismatic and have motives that you can relate to. Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens pushes this idea to its absolute limit, and really tested audiences’ loyalties. 

Scarred inside and out, Killmonger is no one-note baddie. As co-writer Joe Robert Cole notes, he has a “point of view that’s relatable”, until his actions are not. “Sometimes it’s how far you take things that makes you a villain, and not necessarily the perspective.” Like another Erik (Lehnsherr, aka Magneto), Killmonger is a man forged in trauma and driven by legitimate grievances. The son of Wakandan royalty, he was raised in America, where he suffered the effects of racial oppression and Wakandan law after his father was killed. Erik’s vengefulness was weaponised in the military, shaping him as the bristling embodiment – a radical twist, this – of US domestic and foreign policy with the brands to show for it. 

Up to here, he’s a thrilling villain because he mirrors and challenges T’Challa’s self-certainty on strong grounds. Physically, he defeats T’Challa with the brutalist precision of Bane on Batman; ideologically, he dismantles T’Challa’s faith in Wakandan isolationism. 

But he also wants to arm the oppressed to kill those in power – “and their children”. Cole’s “how far you take things” comes into play as Killmonger’s righteous convictions cave to a desire for power, manifested in murderous, often misogynist ways. Against this backdrop, it’s a credit to Cole and Ryan Coogler’s meticulous characterisation that his death impacts as tragedy, aided by the charismatic swagger and soul in Michael B. Jordan’s performance. For Jordan, the toll of playing him went deep: “When it was all over, I think just being in that kind of mind state… it caught up with me.” For the MCU, he set a standard that won’t be easily outstripped. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Slitting the throat of Dora Milaje member Xoliswa. Too far… 

Killer One-Liner: “When I say you do something, I mean that s***.”

Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War, 2018; Avengers: Endgame, 2019

Comic origin: The Invincible Iron Man #55 (1973) 

Played by Josh Brolin 

The MCU spent a decade building towards the arrival of Thanos, and the results did not disappoint. Despite facing the might of the (divided) Avengers, the mad Titan achieved a unique result among comic-book villains – he won. Powering the full-throttle plot and snatching the bulk of the screentime, Infinity War is Thanos’ film from first to final frame. Combined with his (somewhat) sympathetic motivations, and refreshingly philosophical disposition, Thanos will be the Marvel villain to beat for years to come. 

Proto-appearances in two Avengers post-credits scenes, as well as an extended cameo in Guardians Of The Galaxy, feel like early drafts in retrospect. But Thanos makes a major impression within minutes of Infinity War’s chilling opening sequence, thrashing the Hulk with intimidating ease, impaling Heimdall and choking the life out of Loki. With a single Infinity Stone in his gauntlet, he’s a one-man army. With a full set by the film’s climax, he’s the greatest threat the universe has ever seen. 

Performed with Shakespearian relish by Josh Brolin in mo-cap pyjamas, and brought to the screen with some of the most accomplished character FX since Avatar, Thanos is a rare CG character that doesn’t once slip into the uncanny valley. This allows for an impressively nuanced performance, particularly in scenes with his daughter Gamora, that humanise the giant purple space creature. 

Out of necessity, Thanos takes a backseat to the outgoing A-Team in Endgame, and the drastic reduction in screentime (along with a reverse time jump) comes with a consequence – his measured confidence replaced by slightly more generic anger issues. But he still manages to surprise in the film’s epic final battle, simultaneously going toe-to-toe with Iron Man, Thor and a Mjölnir-tossing Captain America, while his death – as Thanos sits down with the same zen calm in the face of defeat that he demonstrated in victory – is perfectly balanced, as all things should be. 

Most Dastardly Moment: Wiping out half of all life in the universe with a click of his fingers. 

Killer One-Liner: “You should have gone for the head.”


These are some truly iconic comic-book movie villains