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The 25 Best Comic Book Villain Movie Performances of All Time

April 7, 2020 43.2k votes 3.5k voters 29k 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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  • Film: The Dark Knight (2008)

    The sad truth about Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight is that it was his best and last performance prior to his death. That's not to say the actor didn't churn out a ton of hits while he was alive, but few could argue his take on the Joker was his absolute best. That was certainly recognized by the Academy of Motion Pictures with a posthumous awarding of Best Supporting Actor for his work on the role.

    Ledger's Joker was enigmatic, he was insane and sane at the same time, he killed without mercy or remorse, and he stole the spotlight from Christian Bale's Batman. 

    After all, this was a Batman movie, but when people think about The Dark Knight, most focus on the Joker as the soul of the movie, and there's a good reason for that: Heath Ledger. His performance did for the Joker and superhero villains what Jack Nicholson did nearly 20 years earlier; it set the standard for all superhero villain performances to follow.

     

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  • Films: Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019)

    Tom Hiddleston may have originally attempted to take the titular role in 2011's Thor, but he wouldn't have worked in that role. Fortunately, the people in charge of casting recognized his worth and put him in the role of Loki, which he absolutely ran with, making it a signature performance he would return to five times in the first three phases of the MCU.

    Hiddleston became so well-regarded for his work as Loki, he got his own series on Disney+. He continues to play the villain with such charm and charisma, it's difficult to remember that 's supposed to be the bad guy, which is clear in the character's evolution.

    Hiddleston's Loki went from villain to hero to martyr, and back to villain in such a fluid way, he managed to stand apart as the MCU's most beloved villain.

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  • Films: X-Men (2000), X2 (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

    One of the best casting decisions the people behind X-Men made was to place Ian McKellen into the role of Magneto. The veteran actor took his gravitas and threw it into a performance that stood as an example of how to properly play a villain whose motivations aren't necessarily wrong, making him hard to recast when X-Men First Class came around several years later.

    McKellan's ability to command a scene, whether he's acting jovial with his "old friend," Charles Xavier, or behaving insidious as he did with the Senator in the first film made him the ideal choice to play the role.

    With his background in theater, he knew how to play off the reactions of his fellow castmates, and it shows in his final performance. McKellen returned to play the role in three sequels, and he did so as brilliantly in the last performance as he did in the first.

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  • Films: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019)

    When it comes to the first three phases of the MCU, there isn't a villain on par with Thanos. The Mad Titan's mission to eliminate half of all life in the universe was carried out with brutal and malicious efficiency. Josh Brolin's work as the character was done via motion capture, so the range of emotions seen throughout the movies was all him.

    Thanos was deliberate and evil, but he also wasn't insidious or malevolent; he acted in what he believed to be the best interest of all living things in the universe... of course, to accomplish his goals, he had to wipe out half of everything and everyone, so he made more than a few enemies.

    Seeing him go up against the combined might of the MCU in two films was some of the best character acting and mocap work ever put to film, and a lot of what made Thanos such a perfect villain was the man behind the Titan, and he was brilliant.

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