Cinema’s Top 10 Most Dangerous Comic Book Villains

Now that the dust has settled and most everybody has had the luxury of getting out to the theaters to see The Dark Knight Rises, it seems entirely fair to begin discussing where Tom Hardy’s “Bane” fits into the proud fraternity of comic book villains born anew on the silver screen.  One of the few characters from the Batman serials to have actually hurt (like REALLY fucked up) the Caped Crusader, Nolan’s presentation of the masked antagonist brought all the best qualities from the character’s paper past into the newest film adaptation.  Yet while Bane definitely bruised Batman up, and raised an unprecedented level of hell in Gotham (a dubious claim if ever there was one), there was method to the madness, and a calculating precision to the mayhem that spoke to a higher purpose.  The worst comic book villains, geniuses though they may be, either want to be in complete control, or simply want to watch the world smolder to ashes.  Often these two ends meet somewhere in the middle, for the truly diabolical villains, ones that could only be ripped from the pages of a comic book, often try to establish themselves as some sort of dictatorial power, then submit only once they’ve resolved to nuke the entire planet on their way down.  Thus, a list and her parameters were born!  Today’s ranking rates only the most treacherously evil comic book villains from cinema’s storied past, giving extra points for those scoundrels whose schemes involved world domination, subjugation, and/or annihilation.  And while a conquest to rule or otherwise obliterate Earth wasn’t a prerequisite for inclusion today, the scope and potential for destruction factored into that character’s spot.

There was a very important rule, self-imposed, meant to keep things fair, however, so take note.  Each franchise re-boot was allowed just ONE villain to represent that comic book realm.  For example, Tommy Lee Jones’ “Harvey Dent” from Batman Forever might be selected, which would allow for Aaron Eckhart’s “Dent” from The Dark Knight to make an appearance; however, if Aaron Eckhart was chosen (he wasn’t, by the way), it would preclude any other Nolan-era villains like Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman or Hardy’s Bane.  This list-sanction was put into place to keep any one franchise from taking over the ranking, and largely succeeded in that end.  Also, one should keep in mind that the list ranked candidates solely on the basis of their actions in the given film(s), and not on the quality of their performances or the worth of the movies showcasing them.  Indeed, there are a couple of films listed today that weren’t worth a cup of warm piss, yet contained a villain so unapologetically dangerous that they had to get a mention.  Some honorable mentions include that Nazi fucker from Hellboy, the Red Skull from Captain America (2011), Doc Oc from Spider-man II, Kingpin from Daredevil, Xerxes from 300, and Jack the Ripper from From Hell.  Mad that somebody else was left off that you thought more than deserving?  Leave a comment and tell the world about it!  Until then…

10.) Ian McKellen as “Magneto” from X-Men, et al –

Just a few quick words for “Magneto” (Ian McKellen) from the X-Men films, for there’s an argument to be made that he wasn’t even the most evil character from that universe, let alone a member of a club as exclusive as this ten-person menagerie of terror.  Some might argue that Magneto was just trying to protect his mutant brethren, and that all his schemes (however twisted) were meant to benefit mankind, and not to molest it.  This is a slippery slope, however, for most villains begin their careers under the (often misguided) assumption that they are doing good: that ends justify means.  This was definitely how Magneto rolled, for whether he was orchestrating the conversion of all non-mutants into mutants, or fighting against government sanctions, he was all-in.  This meant that Magneto had no qualms whatsoever about killing any person, innocent or otherwise, that got in his way.  You’ll remember that in the first film, when attempting to nuke New York into a mutant utopia, Magneto heard warnings about his device’s side-effects (mainly, that it would kill all those affected) yet went ahead with his plans anyway.  Irrational to a fault, and possessed of a misguided sense of altruism that saw him into very heady situations for what he presumed to be the “greater good,” Magneto was definitely one hot tamale, and enough of a loose cannon that he required full-time attention from the X-Men when not locked up in a plastic prison (even then, Professor X seemed adamant about checking in from time to time).  A very bad man with a reasonably decent heart, Magneto’s desire to do good was actually what made him so dangerous, a curious weakness that certainly wasn’t shared with this next asshole…

9.) Elijah Wood as “Kevin” from Sin City –

Yet another abductor with a taste for human flesh, “Kevin” (Elijah Wood) wasn’t your normal conquer-the-world villain, but rather a bloodthirsty soldier-of-fortune type.  Kevin was in the tradition of Frank Miller’s “Jack” from the ‘From Hell’ series: a ruthless, almost supernatural tyrant with no redeeming qualities.  In Sin City, Kevin operated under the protection of the well-connected Cardinal Roarke, who sent the silent, bespectacled lunatic out to do the clergyman’s bidding.  Of course, this was a sideline gig for Kevin, who kept plenty busy on his own time by scooping up helpless young women and eating pieces of them whilst his butchered victims looked on in horror.  Physically, Kevin seemed to operate under peak efficiency levels, for his silent, devastating movements made him practically undetectable.  “Marv” (Mickey Rourke) admitted that nobody had ever been able to sneak up on him as Kevin had done, and was nearly beaten to death by the little bastard despite outweighing him by what appeared to be 150 or so pounds.  And while the scale and scope of Kevin’s atrocities didn’t add up to some of the nasty shit some of today’s other contenders were responsible for, his position as the only cannibalistic serial killer in the ranking should quell most gripes.  Jesus, he hates people to consume their souls!  What else do you want, people?

8.) Julian McMahon as “Dr. Doom” from The Fantastic Four –

One of a handful of mad geniuses on today’s list, “Dr. Doom” claimed a very prestigious pedigree before making a full-fledged appearance in a major motion picture.  A product of comic’s so-called Silver-Age, Doom was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s baby, and was an immediate hit with readers after he hit in the scene in the 1960’s.  Though not the first villain to square off against the Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom quickly became the most popular, for his physical abilities matched with an intelligence to equal that of Reed Richards made him a most formidable opponent.  One would think that a mad scientist who also happened to be the son of a witch would be easy to translate to film, yet somehow the 2005 Fantastic Four movie sucked so much ass that an appearance by a force as righteously awesome as Dr. Doom still couldn’t save it.  Still, even on so shitty a level, Doom (Julian McMahon) was pretty damn evil, what with his insatiable lust for power and casual disregard for human life in the course of his endeavors.  In Fantastic Four, Doom waged a personal campaign of Biblical vengeance against the aforementioned Fantastic Four for no apparent reason except that they fucked with his company’s stock price a little bit.  Of course, this was a risk Doom knew when the venture had been proposed, yet this didn’t stop him from transforming himself from a mild-mannered business mogul into a masked super-villain in something like three hours flat.  Once that metamorphosis was completed, Doom went on a rampage that saw him shooting missiles into Manhattan for the purpose of killing just one person: collateral damage clearly no concern to the maniac.  And while full-scale missile assaults on innocent civilians and personal vendetta battles against agents of good certainly put Doom in good company, his crimes paled in comparison to the schemes put forth by this next bastard…

7.) Danny DeVito as “The Penguin” from Batman Returns –

A villain of simpler, less grandiose tastes, Danny DeVito’s “Penguin” incarnation from Batman Returns still knew how to rattle cages.  A monstrous deformity that had been abandoned not long after his birth, Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. The Penguin, worked on his revenge plot for quite some time.  With none of The Joker’s physical abilities or magnetic charms, The Penguin had to rely on his razor-sharp intellect and talents for blackmail.  Using this latter charm, The Penguin orchestrated a P.R. blitz to simultaneously tarnish the name of Gotham City’s mayor whilst pimping his own as a potential recall candidate.  To this end, The Penguin sent legions of his thuggish gang brutes out to terrorize innocent civilians and cause all manner of property damage: action that brought Batman into play.  Of course, all of this noise was just a ploy to abduct and murder the first born infants of Gotham City, which was The Penguins true objective all along.  Now’s that’s just fucked up.  Sure, some of the villains on this list wanted to enslave the entire planet, or maybe even wipe them all out, yet The Penguin was the only one that went specifically after kids.  Even after Batman was able to foil this plot, he had to work like a bastard to stop The Penguin’s back-up plan, which involved a kamikaze missile strike meant to wipe Gotham off the face of the Earth.  So, to re-cap, The Penguin tried to abduct and steal a city’s entire crop of first-born children on top of blowing the whole damn town up; this was all aside from the fact that the stubby son of a bitch conducted a terrorism campaign on an urban metropolis, one that resulted in the deaths of countless innocent civilians (one beauty queen included).  Sure, Jack’s “Joker” tried to gas Gotham, but compared to The Penguin’s bullshit, that was nothing!

6.) Kevin Spacey as “Lex Luthor” from Superman Returns –

An oft maligned entry into the Man of Steel’s movie catalogue, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns suffered from an intelligent script, serious acting, and an assumption that its audience was ready for a mature comic book film adaptation.  While Superman/Clark Kent might be the biggest name in the graphic art universe, it is also one of the most difficult to translate into a modern medium.  An unapologetic Boy Scout who is more god than man, Superman has always been an easy person to admire, yet a difficult one to relate to.  Peter Parker was someone teenagers could identify with, Batman had toys they wanted to play with, and the X-Men had bad-ass mutants everyone wanted to watch in action: yet Superman has become increasingly difficult to sell.  Practically invincible, the adventures of Clark Kent and his super alter-ego are wild and exciting at first, only to eventually lose luster to the inescapable understanding that Superman will eventually find a way to win out.  Yet this is what made Lex Luthor such a fascinating villain, for despite the seeming futility of opposing a force as colossal as Superman, Lex kept on trying.  In Superman Returns, director Bryan Singer hauled out the big guns and offered the titular antagonist role to Kevin Spacey, an actor more than capable of doing justice to the part.  Like slipping into a classic Shakespearian villain, Spacey inhabited Lux Luthor’s soul, and used the performance to squeeze every nefarious drop out of the power-hungry lunatic.  Luthor’s plans to create a regime for the new era via land-creation had the potential to kill millions, including one superhero whose only concern was the protection of the innocent.  If this mad-genius style of comic book villainy wasn’t included in the ranking, everything would have gone off-kilter, hence Lex’s ranking behind yet another highly intelligent destroyer of worlds…

5.) Matthew Goode as “Ozymandias” from The Watchmen –

A mad genius that was infected by megalomania and misplaced notions of the greater good, Matthew Goode’s “Ozymandias” was a classic comic book villain as nefarious (indeed, one list-rank more-so) as the industry standard, Lux Luthor.  In the ‘Watchmen’ graphic novel, Ozymandias was the world’s smartest man, and a confessed (albeit retired) superhero with brawn to match his brain.  Though Zack Snyder’s big-screen Watchmen adaptation altered the plot slightly, the results were effectively the same: Ozymandias was cooking up trouble.  So as to avoid a full-scale nuclear holocaust, Ozymandias orchestrated a complex scheme that not only got a homicidally adversarial U.S. and U.S.S.R. to play nice, but also got the world thinking that somebody else was responsible.  This last bit was important, for Ozymandias had to vaporize a couple million innocent people to make all of this happen.  A loose band of superheroes that once called themselves allies of Ozymandias assembled to try and stop the carnage, but to no avail.  Indeed, Ozymandias had engineered his scheme so well that to try and reveal the truth about what had actually gone down would have been even more destructive than the leveling of New York City (which Ozymandias had essentially accomplished).  Horrifyingly smart and physically capable of dodging/catching bullets, Ozymandias and his schemes to destroy large chunks of the world’s population to instill his own vision of a new order put him ahead of industry legends like Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom, neither of whom ever experienced this level of success.

4.) John Leguizamo as “The Violator” from Spawn –

While the Devil himself made an appearance in this clunker from 1997, it seemed like something of a cheat to include such an all-powerful and omniscient force, especially since he’s appeared so frequently in so many different publications.  “The Violator,” on the other hand, was precisely the kind of scum this list was interested in, for he was cruel, malicious, murderous, and rocked an especially disreputable plot to destroy humanity.  In Spawn, The Violator, or “Clown,” worked with the recently re-animated “Simmons” (Michael Jai White), who had just been spit back out of the brimstone of the lower regions to exact the devil’s vengeance on Earth.  Rechristened “Spawn,” Simmons went after the people who were responsible for his death, unknowingly serving the agenda of The Violator, who hoped to unleash a plague on the planet to bring about the apocalypse.  Sure, he wasn’t an especially agile or imposing a foe (despite his early-CGI transformations), yet his ultimate goal of plunging all of mankind into a Satanic apocalypse certainly pushed him ahead of a few other candidates.  Besides, he was from Hell, and had few concerns except his own needs and a curious lust to destroy all of humanity.  No matter which way one shakes it, that’s bad.  Yet for a villain with aims equally perverse and grandiose, yet with a physical presence that put him in a different class than Leguizamo’s Clown, we’d have to take a moment to discuss…

3.) Tom Hiddleston as “Loki” from The Avengers & Thor –

Something of a sleeper pick because of his seemingly benign nature, “Loki” (Tom Hiddleston) definitely threw around his fair share of menace, and had a body count to justify his inclusion with this list’s other heavy-hitters.  If only taking evidence from the events of The Avengers, this was a guy who thoughtlessly abducted, brainwashed, and killed humans on a whim, acts that would have granted him inclusion into the ranking if his overarching goal wasn’t complete world domination (it was).  A god from another realm, Loki had a hard-on for Earth and her people, and saw both as his opportunity to carve out a little realm for himself outside of Asgard.  Loki bartered with some alien race (“The Others”) to gain control of an intergalactic army of minions, one he let off the chain in Manhattan as a prelude to his world dictatorship.  From the look of things, this new world order wasn’t going to be pretty, or just, or without lots of genocide, for Loki’s armies operated with all the delicate subtlety of a pack of hammerhead sharks.  It took the full force of not just one, or even two superheroes, but a united band of roughly half a dozen to bring Loki and his hordes down, an altogether lucky break for a planet that came within an eyelash of total asshole-subjugation.  Much like this next jerk, who had a slightly heavier roll, Loki had an eye for the big prize, was strong enough to warrant defense from the best Earth had to offer, and wasn’t shy about asking those in his way to kneel before an other-worldly champion…

2.) Terence Stamp as “General Zod” from Superman II –

Only slightly different in his views, motives, and agenda, General Zod (Terence Stamp) from Superman II edged out Loki based on the fact that the former villain wasn’t a total pussy.  Seriously, though somewhat dangerous in a one-on-one situation, Loki had nothing on Zod: a Kryptonian war criminal with powers equal to Superman’s.  Seriously: do you think The Hulk could have tossed around Zod like a pack of wet tortillas?  Hell no!  The only thing Zod enjoyed more than kicking ass was taking names, and “Kal-El” (a.k.a. “Superman”) was one he wanted to scribble down more than any other.  Superman’s dad, Jor-El, had locked Zod and his crew away in the Phantom Zone some time before the film’s events, a move Zod and his peeps were keen to avenge after they learned the son of the asshole responsible happened to be in the neighborhood.  Initially content to simply ravage and subject Earth to his total control, Zod shifted his focus to the destruction of Superman once he realized he could kill two birds with one stone.  Totally unconcerned with concepts of morality or the value of human life, Zod cut a swath of destruction through the planet everywhere he went, and might have destroyed the entire planet had Superman not gotten his shit together.  Superman battled Zod and his two cohorts in the streets of Metropolis, a fight that began to tip in the aggressors’ favor once Kal-El’s crippling compassion factored into the drama.  Though Zod came close to defeating Superman, the forces of truth, justice, and the American way triumphed: a victory that very likely saved the life of everybody on the planet.  Still, at least Zod had an agenda, a plan.  So long as a villain has some kind of goal, a hero can position themselves to fight against the rising tide.  In our last character there was no purpose, no object, just chaos…

1.) Heath Ledger as “The Joker” from The Dark Knight –

There’s something to be said for a villain without literal ambition, for as Bruce Wayne’s Butler, Alfred (Michael Caine) said in The Dark Knight, “some men just want to watch the world burn.”  That’s The Joker (Heath Ledger) in a nutshell: that cosmic certainty that demands an appropriate reaction from every action.  As resolute as Batman was in seeing justice done, in selflessly offering himself over to the needs of Gotham and the greater good, so too was The Joker set on fighting this karmic imbalance, in seeing to the needs of the universe’s balance.  A truly terrible villain any way you shake it, The Joker did whatever was necessary to cause a disparity in the established drama.  He had no qualms about killing: that much was clear.  There have been few examples to rival the undiluted evil Heath Ledger brought to the screen with his Joker incarnation, for the smile-happy lunatic knew absolutely no bounds.  He killed the innocent, the guilty, friend, and foe: nobody was safe.  About the only thing certain about The Joker’s agenda was his aversion to Batman’s death, for the two operated on a symbiotic level that practically demanded the presence of the other.  Batman would go on fighting The Joker and anybody else like him for as long as he had the strength to fight, a juicy temptation a man addicted to chaos simply couldn’t refuse.  Because he killed wantonly and without remorse, because he tried to rob a city of its very soul, because he would have likely gone on to burn the whole world down for sport if given the chance, The Joker from Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise took the #1 spot.

by Warren Cantrell

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