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The 25 Best Comic Book Villain Movie Performances of All Time

April 7, 2020 43.2k votes 3.5k voters 29.1k views25 items

List RulesIncludes comic book movie villains roles only - heroes have their own list.

Typically, superhero movies are defined by the heroes, but there's never been a great superhero flick without a villain for them to play off of. Where would Batman be without the Joker? Probably attending board meetings and little else. Villains are what make a regular person become a hero, and while it's not easy to write a good hero, it's far more difficult to come up with a good enough villain to challenge them.

Of course, writing them is tough, but portraying them is even harder, as any actor or actress can attest. Granted, it can be fun to explore the more villainous aspects of the human condition, but not every actor can handle the task. Films have suffered for poorly depicted villains, which is easy to see from movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Blade: Trinity.

To put it simply, you have to be good to play it bad, and these actors and actresses have proven themselves more than capable. Check out the comic book movie villains below, and don't forget to vote up the ones you think are great bad guy performances!

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  • Films: X-Men: First Class (2011), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), and Dark Phoenix (2019)

    Magneto is a difficult character to play, which is primarily because he wears a strange helmet, which obscures much of his face, and because he's an unrepentant villain. Despite this, Michael Fassbender somehow injected a degree of humanity into this man, who was shown to be a Holocaust survivor, and early Mutant, and man set on vengeance.

    Fassbender's performance as Magneto was phenomenal, and like Wolverine in the prior X-Men film franchise, he was the primary character audiences came back to see, time and time again.

    Magneto went from angry young man to hero to villain to antihero to villain and around again throughout his time in the X-Men franchise, and few actors could have pulled off character changes like Fassbender.

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  • Films: Spider-Man (2002)

    When Sam Raimi got the go ahead to turn Spider-Man into a live-action film, he knew there was one place he couldn't screw up, and that was with the villain he needed to put up against everyone's Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

    Spider-Man's rogues' gallery is filled with excellent characters to choose from, but the one he ended up having to go with was Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, and he made the right choice. Of all Spider-Man's villains, he's the worst, having learned Peter Parker's identity early on, and being responsible for the death of his girlfriend made him a perfect nemesis... but who could play such a rich character? The right answer to that question is and always will be Willem Dafoe.

    Dafoe brought his take to the role and put everything he had into it. He showed a wide range of emotion and insanity without making the character seem over-the-top or too campy. He could have crossed the line into Batman TV series camp but stayed exactly where he needed to by portraying a dark and twisted villain from beginning to end.

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  • Film: Batman (1989)

    There have been a lot of people who have played the Joker over the years, and pretty much every performance has been fantastic. From Cesar Romero to Joaquin Phoenix, all have made their mark, but none so perfectly as Jack Nicholson in the 1989 film, Batman.

    Nicholson's performance was iconic, and it helped to set a ridiculously high bar for all future comic book movie villains to attain. Few could come close to the intensity and charisma of Nicholson's Joker, which may have been one of the reasons the third and fourth film suffered.

    Neither of those sequels managed to come even close to mirroring the brilliance of Nicholson's villain, which was true no matter how many villains were packed into a movie.

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  • Film: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

    Alfred Molina has an unnatural ability to play a bad guy, the audience can't hope but love. He's brilliant in the role of Doctor Otto Octavius, otherwise known as Doc Ock, and despite having no superpowers of his own, he's more than a match for Spider-Man.

    He begins the film as a hopeful scientist, but after an experiment results in a setback that leaves him permanently attached to four malevolent tentacles and a widower, he falls into a life of crime to fund his scientific interests.

    Molina brilliantly plays the scientist who wants nothing more than to discover the secrets of the universe while simultaneously devolving into an evil genius intent on accomplishing his goals, no matter what. It would have been nice to see him return in a sequel, but he ended the film at the bottom of the river, making that an impossibility.

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