Modern comic books have been around for over 80 years, and it seems like their influence on pop culture increases with each passing decade. Characters like Superman and Spider-Man aren’t just fictional heroes anymore, but true cultural icons. It would seem that superheroes actually have the ever-advancing world of technology to thank for their increase in popularity. The internet spreads information about new storylines and upcoming film adaptations faster than ever before; technological advances (like CGI) have allowed comic book movies to create and display visually astounding sequences that no practical effect could ever hope to realistically pull off; fans can engage with their favorite comic book characters in ways never before thought possible, thanks to the power of video games. Superheroes and supervillains have become household names, more so than ever before.
There’s no denying it: comic books are officially mainstream. But not everyone is in love with this trend.
Much as been made in recent years of the concept of superhero movie fatigue, or the notion that the film industry has become so over-saturated with comic book films that the genre will soon fade out of existence. Steven Spielberg recently expressed his less-than-optimistic view on the future of superhero movies, with a predictable response coming from Batman v Superman director Zack Snyder shortly after. Whether or not comic book movies will lose their muster in the years to come, the genre and the paper-based medium that spawned it has undoubtedly gifted us some of the greatest characters in modern fiction.
And what’s a great character without a great adversary? History’s most legendary heroes are often measured by the greatness of their enemies. Perhaps if fan-favorites like Namor and Blue Beetle regularly faced off against the sort of bad guys you’ll see here, they’d have more prominent live-action appearances on their resumes. Here’s our list of the 12 Best Superhero/Supervillain Rivalries of All Time.
Batman and the Joker
Who better to kick things off than the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime? Batman has dozens of noteworthy bad guys in his rogues gallery, but these two have been squaring off in the comics for over 75 years now, and have come to epitomize the comic book archrivalry. George R.R. Martin once expressed boredom with the idea of similarly-powered showdowns between heroes and villains, but that certainly doesn’t apply here; the Joker and Batman are exact antitheses of one another.
Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy/world-class martial artist with a genius-level intellect who seeks to rid Gotham City of crime, while the Joker is a psychotic criminal mastermind whose lone desire is to stoke the fires of chaos and anarchy. The dissimilarities between the two are precisely what make them so great together.
Batman and the Joker have gone toe-to-toe on on many, many memorable occasions within the comic book world, but it’s the TV and film adaptations that have brought these nemeses to the forefront of popular culture. Whether you identify most with the duo of Keaton/Nicholson, Bale/Ledger, or even Conroy/Hamill, there’s little doubt that these two polar opposites have cemented their place in superhero history forever. With Ben Affleck and Jared Leto set to bring the pair to life once again—possibly even sooner than we thought—this rivalry seems to have a very bright future ahead.
Superman and Lex Luthor
Another DC duo that’s been duking it out for over 75 years, Lex Luthor despises the Man of Steel on a deeply personal level. Humanity has rushed to heap praise and gratitude on the otherworldly Kryptonian, granting him the sort of savior status that Luthor feels belongs to him. In most iterations, Lex is a self-made billionaire who aspires to be the most powerful man in Metropolis (if not the world), a title that will never be his as long as Superman is around. In many ways, the two represent the very best mankind has to offer.
While frequently portrayed as a straight-forward villain, Luthor is often at his best when he’s managed to convince the public that he’s actually acting in their best interests, as it appears he will in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film’s trailers have depicted Lex as a behind-the-scenes puppet master, whispering in the ears of politicians—and possibly Bruce Wayne himself—in an effort to destroy Superman and everything he stands for. He may even be attempting to create his very own Frankenstein-ish monster in order to get the job done. More publicly evil live-action versions of Luthor (brought to life by the likes of Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey) have thus far failed to take down Clark Kent’s super powered alter ego. Perhaps a Lex Luthor that has the backing of the people will make for a more serious threat this time around.
Professor X and Magneto
These friends-turned-mortal-enemies make up what is perhaps the greatest pair of archenemies in all of Marvel comics. Over the years, comic book legends like Stan Lee and Chris Claremont came to develop the two as a sort of superhero equivalent of civil rights leaders Martin Luthor King Jr. and Malcolm X, with the former serving as inspiration for Professor X and Magneto embodying the militant spirit of the latter. Though both X-Men characters seek a prosperous future for mutants, their opposing philosophies on how to achieve this goal usually result in combative confrontations between the two and their allies. Professor Charles Xavier believes that a peaceful coexistence between humanity and mutants is the best course of action, while his counterpart sees humankind as a weaker, undeserving species that must be conquered.
The storied history between Magneto and Professor X has been explored on the big screen to widespread acclaim in the last fifteen years, thanks to Fox’s long-running X-Men film franchise. That film series is set to culminate next May in an epic showdown with X-Men: Apocalypse. Details are a bit murky as of now, but it appears Professor X and Magneto will once again find themselves on opposing sides, one way or another.
With recent rumors indicating that the actors behind the latest incarnations of Xavier and Magneto are primed to return for more X-Men films in the future, fans can rest assured that this historic rivalry isn’t dying down anytime soon.
Thor and Loki
Everyone’s favorite super powered sibling rivalry, Thor and his (adopted) brother Loki have been warring with each other for decades in the comics. But it wasn’t until the two were brought to the big screen by relative-unknowns Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston that they became household names. A major building block of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 2011’s Thor introduced the eponymous hero and Loki to the masses. In the film, audiences witnessed the God of Thunder subvert the Trickster God’s plot to steal the throne of Asgard. Hiddleston’s outstanding performance led to his previously-unplanned MCU return in the first Avengers film, in which Loki unsuccessfully attempted to take over our world in retribution for his embarrassing defeat in the previous movie. Most recently, in Thor: The Dark World, the two actually worked together for a spell to defeat Malekith and his army of Dark Elves.
With Thor: Ragnarok still two years away from release, little is known about what sort of role Loki will play in the Norse apocalypse. But given his history on and off screen—Loki’s actions inadvertently led to the creation of the Avengers in the comics and in the movie universe—we should expect another memorable appearance by Marvel’s most mischievous supervillain (as well as it’s most godly hero) in an adventure that may very well define the future of the franchise.
Captain America and Red Skull
Yet another intense comic book rivalry that’s stood the test of time; a version of the Red Skull has existed since the very first issue of Captain America in March of 1941. Later that year, the true Red Skull revealed himself to be Johann Schmidt, the alter-ego universally associated with the character. Schmidt served as the head of terrorist activities for Marvel’s fictionalized version of Adolf Hitler until Captain America defeated him at the end of WWII. Like the Captain, the Red Skull was left in suspended animation after the war and was subsequently revived years later, only Schmidt was awakened by HYDRA, the terrorist organization he helped found. These sworn enemies have battled one another on numerous occasions in the years since.
In the MCU, Schmidt (expertly portrayed by Hugo Weaving) is at the head of HYDRA, the Nazi party’s deep science division, and has been tasked with developing advanced weaponry that will win the war for Germany. This of course brings him into direct conflict with Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers, who manages to defeat and seemingly kill Schmidt in the end. Whether or not the Red Skull will ever return to the MCU is uncertain, as is the future of the Captain America character. Their rivalry’s place in comic and cinematic history is a bit more set in stone.
Spider-Man and Green Goblin
Spider-Man’s rogues gallery is legendary, rivaling that of Batman himself. Venom, Kraven the Hunter, and Doctor Octopus have all vied for the role of the web-head’s arch-nemesis. But one villain above all has come to define Spider-Man, and that’s Norman Osborn, also known as the Green Goblin. Osborn is best known in the comics for killing Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, in The Night Gwen Stacy Died, a 1973 story arc that remains a landmark event in comic book history and has had a significant impact on the film adaptations.
Despite the success of X-Men nearly two years before it, director Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man film is largely credited with starting the superhero movie boom of the early ’00s. The first entry in the eventual trilogy centered around the web-slinger’s origin story as well as the rise and fall of the Green Goblin, brought to life with gleeful abandon by Willem Dafoe. After the Spider-Man film series was controversially rebooted by Sony only a decade later, the door was opened for the Goblin’s return. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) takes up his father’s villainous mantle, once again terrorizing the web-crawler and his love interest. The final acts of both films closely mirror the tragic events of the aforementioned 1973 comic, with each featuring the Goblin attempting to heave Spidey’s girlfriend to her death. Only Harry was successful, but each film was heavily influenced by the famed comic nonetheless.
With Spider-Man set to be rebooted yet again (but this time by Marvel Studios!) in next year’s Captain America: Civil War, perhaps we’ll see these two archenemies square off yet again in the near future. Just don’t get your hopes up.
Wolverine and Sabretooth
Although these two X-Men characters don’t quite share the lengthy history of the previous entries on our list, they certainly rank amongst Marvel’s most celebrated pairs of mortal enemies. The background of their rivalry is a bit convoluted, but suffice it to say that these two outright despise each other on a deeply personal level. Sabretooth and Wolverine share a highly-similar power set (sorry, George R.R. Martin), though the latter’s Adamantium skeleton oftentimes gives him a significant combative advantage.
Filmmakers’ efforts to translate this epic rivalry onto the big screen have underwhelmed thus far. Sabretooth was shown to be a mere henchman of Magneto in the first X-Men film back in 2000, and was seemingly killed in the battle at the Statue of Liberty. The 2009 prequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine—a film primarily known for bastardizing the Deadpool character—gave us an altered version of Victor Creed, one that was only slightly more memorable than the previous incarnation. Liev Schreiber’s Sabretooth was depicted as the half-brother of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in the film, a change from the canonical source material that fans weren’t too pleased with.
The comic book inspiration for the third Wolverine solo adventure has been heavily rumored to be Old Man Logan, a story arc that Sabretooth doesn’t feature in (excluding a brief illusion). That hasn’t dissuaded Schreiber, who recently expressed interest in a return to the role. Wolverine 3 may very well prove to be fans’ final chance to see Jackman go head-to-head with his beloved character’s arch-rival; fingers crossed that they send these guys out on a high note.
The Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom
Like the previous entry, these counterparts have a storied comic history, but film adaptations have been lacking to say the least. Doom has had an especially rough go of it in the live-action realm. Julian McMahon’s interpretation of Victor Von Doom in the 2005 and 2007 films was laughable, while Toby Kebbell’s take on the character wasn’t exactly a strength of the intensely awful 2015 reboot. Both silver screen iterations have proven to be serious disappointments for fans of the character that we ranked as one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel Universe.
Doom’s tremendous power set (which includes energy manipulation and various other forms of sorcery) usually necessitates the collective efforts of all four members of Marvel’s First Family to defeat him, and even that isn’t enough sometimes. But the future of this historic rivalry is a bleak one.
The recent cancellation of the Fantastic Four’s comic book series may have more to do with Marvel not wanting to promote characters whose movie rights they don’t own, but there’s no doubt that the team’s star is beginning to fade. With three critically-panned F4 films now in the bag, fans can’t help but wonder what the future holds for these formerly-beloved characters. Meanwhile, Fox is inexplicably standing firm in their plans to move forward with a sequel to the worst reviewed Marvel movie ever.
Doom and the Fantastic Four are badly in need of a makeover, but fans can take comfort in the news that The Room‘s Tommy Wiseau is reportedly open to taking on the film franchise. “You’re tearing me apart, Doctor Doom!” sounds like box office gold to us.
Hal Jordan and Sinestro
Often overshadowed by DC’s two most well-known arch-rivalries, the underrated pairing of Jordan and Sinestro are classic examples of allies turned mortal enemies. Originally one of the greatest Green Lanterns the Corps has ever seen (as well as Jordan’s first instructor), Sinestro eventually turned himself over to the power of fear, taking on a yellow power ring and shaping himself into the villain we know and love (or love to hate) today. Sinestro and his former trainee have been warring for decades, though the duo’s master/apprentice relationship always seems to loom large over their confrontations.
The two have made numerous appearances in animated movies and television, but their disastrous live-action debut in the 2011 film Green Lantern may forever haunt them. Despite a strong performance by Mark Strong as the not-yet-villainous Sinestro and a respectable showing by the possibly-miscast Ryan Reynolds (Hal Jordan), the movie was a critical and commercial dud. Strong’s spot-on casting was wasted, sequel plans were scrapped, and a reboot is currently in the works.
Wide-spread rumors point to a different Green Lantern taking center stage in the 2020 reboot, though the film’s title, Green Lantern Corps, would seem to suggest that the door will be left open for appearances by other ring-bearing heroes. Keep your eyes out for more Jordan/Sinestro action in the near future; the two are almost certainly high-priority characters for DC.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Shredder
The only non-DC or Marvel property on our list is of course the ninjutsu-practicing TMNT and their sworn enemy, the evil Shredder. The 31 year history of these characters is shorter than some of our other arch-rivalries, but this conversation simply isn’t complete without them.
It’s well-known that creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird named the turtles after Italian Renaissance artists, but Shredder was originally dubbed “Grate Man” and “The Grater,” after the cheese grater-like design featured on his armor. The TMNT’s mortal enemy is almost always depicted as being a far more accomplished martial artist than any one of the turtles, so the brothers have had to work to defeat Shredder. These familial themes of brotherhood and teamwork have featured heavily in the turtle’s adventures, dating all the way back to the first issue of the comic back in 1984.
Shredder and the turtles have appeared in their share of TV and film adaptations, with a total of 10 television series and movies to their name. The most recent film, the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, racked up nearly $500 million at the box office despite mediocre reviews. It saw the four anthropomorphic turtles face off against Shredder and his Foot Clan in a battle to save New York City, leading to what appeared to be the demise of the nefarious villain. It appears that his death will be short-lived (is that a pun?) as Brian Tee has been brought on to replace Tohoru Masamune as Shredder in the sequel, a film already filled to the brim with fan-servicing.
Daredevil and The Kingpin
Businessman by day and crime lord by night, Wilson Fisk was originally introduced in 1967 as a new enemy for Spider-Man. In the years since, Fisk (better known as the Kingpin) has come to be more directly associated with the Man Without Fear, just one of the many positives resulting from Frank Miller’s infamous take on the Daredevil series in the ’80s. Fisk is a ruthless man that possesses immense physical strength and durability, though he is rarely shown to be the sort of physical adversary to Daredevil that characters like Bullseye are. It’s usually Kingpin’s genius-level intellect, as well as his skills as a master schemer and tactician, that make him such a highly formidable foe for the defender of Hell’s Kitchen.
Wilson Fisk served as the primary villain in both the 2003 film Daredevil as well as the 2015 Netflix series, with each featuring memorable physical confrontations between the arch-rivals. Neither Ben Affleck nor Michael Clarke Duncan were the worst part of their film adaptation, but the more modern take on the characters by Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio is clearly the superior one. After dancing around each other for much of the first season, Daredevil was finally able to expose Fisk’s criminal activities and put him behind bars in the finale. The second season of the series may be billed as Daredevil vs. Punisher, but we expect to see much more of Fisk’s rise as the Kingpin going forward, as he continues to wreak havoc on Matt Murdock and the city he loves.
Flash and the Rogues
The Scarlet Speedster’s principal adversaries first teamed up in the 1965 comic, The Flash #155, although they were merely used as a distraction for Gorilla Grodd as he was attempting to conquer the world. After Barry Allen overcame the group, they came to recognize the futile nature of their repeated failed efforts to best the Flash, and chose to team up. Alone, villains like Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and Captain Boomerang rarely pose a serious threat to the Flash. When working in unison, however, they’re deadly.
A version of the Rogues made its live-action debut in the first season of the CW’s hit TV series The Flash. Featuring the likes of Captain Cold, Heatwave, and the Golden Glider, the team is able to overcome Allen, but they stop short of killing him. Cold and Heatwave are both confirmed to appear in the network’s forthcoming spin-off DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (more about that here), the time-traveling nature of which brings future showdowns with the Flash into question. Both characters were glimpsed in the latest promo video for season 2, however.
There’s been very little in the way of news for the Flash’s upcoming film adaptation, which is set for release in 2018. Last we heard, star Ezra Miller was bursting with anticipation over the opportunity to bring his version of the character (one that will seemingly have nothing to do with the TV iteration) to life. Perhaps we could soon have two versions of the Rogues on our hands as well?
Spawn and Violator: After bursting on the comic book scene in the early ’90s, Todd McFarlane’s cult-favorite creations were adapted into a 1997 film starring Michael Jai White and John Leguizamo. A potential sequel has been in development hell for years, with no end in sight. For now, fans will have to settle for watching these two torment each other in the comics.
Shazam and Black Adam: Another duo that will likely bore the hell out of George R.R. Martin when they throw down in their live-action debut (whenever that actually happens), these two share the exact same set of powers, though Black Adam definitely has an edge in the experience category. Adam and Shazam both possess Superman-like physical gifts—with a magical twist of course—that we can’t wait to see on the silver screen.
Iron Man and the Mandarin: Tony Stark has his share of enemies, but none of them hold a candle to the man who wields not one, but ten power rings. Legions of diehard fans are of the opinion that the pair’s roughly 50 year history was squandered entirely by Iron Man 3‘s controversial depiction of the “Mandarin.” Given the current direction of the MCU, fans should’t hold their breath waiting for a more faithful adaptation of these long-time arch-rivals.
Wonder Woman and Ares: In her nearly 75 year history in the comics, Wonder Woman has battled several formidable foes, including Doctor Psycho and Cheetah. The latter was long-regarded as her arch-nemesis, though as writers have gradually increased Diana Prince’s power level, Cheetah has been fazed out as a legitimate threat. Circe and Ares have emerged as her primary foes in recent years, and both are rumored to appear in the highly-anticipated 2017 Wonder Woman film. Ares gets the honorable mention nod here thanks in large part to his memorable antagonistic role in the 2009 animated movie.
That about wraps things up on our end. Whether or not you proudly sport t-shirts with superhero logos emblazoned on the chest, there’s no denying the impact these characters (and their intense rivalries) have had on popular culture.
Did your favorite pair of comic book arch-enemies make the cut? Which mortal enemies deserve more recognition? How much would you pay to see a Tommy Wiseau-directed Fantastic Four movie? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will be in theaters on March 25th, 2016; Captain America: Civil War on May 6th, 2016; X-Men: Apocalypse — May 27th, 2016; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — June 3rd, 2016; Suicide Squad — August 5th, 2016; The Wolverine 3 — March 3rd, 2017; Wonder Woman — June 23rd, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok — November 3rd, 2017; The Flash — March 23rd, 2018; Green Lantern Corps — June 19th, 2020.