For every superhero, there is a supervillain, someone who stops at nothing to defeat the titular hero in whichever way possible. And just as in the comics, every superhero movie requires a supervillain, even if the heroes are fighting amongst themselves (which seems to be happening more often these days, with movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War). There needs to be someone to oppose the hero; otherwise, the story would be dull.
Over the years, there have been dozens of villains in comic book movies, and not just in movies from Marvel and DC Comics. Some of these villains have been good; some have been bad. Some, however, have been so astounding, they can be regarded as being better than their comic book versions. That may be blasphemous to some comic fans, but we believe there are a select few actors who’ve portrayed their supervillains so well, they outshine the source material.
So in no particular order, here are 15 Movie Supervillains Who Are Better Than Their Comic Book Versions.
15. Michael Shannon – General Zod
Everyone knows of General Zod, but not everyone knows that there have actually been numerous incarnations of the character due to DC Comics attempting to adhere to their no-Kryptonians rule. So, for the purposes of this list, we are focusing on the definitive version of the character, the one envisioned by creators Robert Bernstein and George Papp.
When it comes to Superman movies, General Zod is considered to be one of the Man of Steel’s greatest foes, having been portrayed by three actors in three different live-action adaptations: Terence Stamp in Richard Donner’s Superman, Callum Blue in Smallville, and Michael Shannon in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (and, technically, Batman v Superman).
All three adaptations were great, but Shannon’s portrayal of the character grounded him and made him appear more sympathetic rather than fanatical. In the comics, General Zod is depicted as being tactical yet megalomaniacal extremist; someone who will stop at nothing to make his New Krypton dream a reality. His hatred for Jor-El and his son, Kal-El, blinded his initial motives for saving his people. It is that original purpose that resurfaces in Shannon’s portrayal of the character, which is why we consider his version to be better than the comic book one.
14. Alfred Molina – Doctor Octopus
Doctor Octopus aka Otto Octavius is arguably the greatest Spider-Man villain of all time, but there is no denying his triteness and the fact that he is filled with numerous cliches. All one needs to know about the comic book version of the character, to understand his nearly 60-year history, is that he is a mad scientist who wants nothing more than to destroy the web-slinger.
However, again, that is the comic book version; Alfred Molina’s portrayal of the tentacled supervillain makes Doctor Octopus appear multilayered, someone the audience could connect with and understand, fundamentally. Doc Ock can be a sadistic villain at times, but there’s a fine line between absolute villainy and being someone who has simply fallen on the bad side of life.
That is the difference between the comic book version of the character and Molina’s version in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Furthermore, whereas DC movies use Heath Ledger’s Joker as a benchmark, Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus is the benchmark for villains in Marvel movies.
13. Danny DeVito – Penguin
Although he frequently appears in animated movies, Penguin has appeared in only two live-action movies, with the last time being by Danny DeVito in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, which is arguably one of the greatest Batman movies ever to release. In the comics, Penguin is a notorious criminal who occasionally acts as the Dark Knight’s informant, which is why Batman has tolerated for him for all these years. However, being a normal individual with an extreme distaste for the Caped Crusader, Penguin is not a particularly threatening villain, despite being a vaunted member of the Bat’s rogues gallery.
DeVito’s version of the character improved on an already compelling villain by making him an actual supervillain, one seemingly as deranged and detestable as the rest of Batman’s enemies. Instead of being a mere mobster, Burton transformed the character into a baddie worthy of the Penguin name, which not only inspired the future Batman: The Animated Series, but also became the defining version of the character for an entire generation.
12. Jason Schwartzman – Gideon Graves
Gideon Graves is the only villain on this list who does not originate from Marvel or DC Comics, and that is all due to Jason Schwartzman’s charismatic performance as Ramona Flowers’ seventh evil ex in Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. As the leader of the League of Ramona’s Evil Ex-Boyfriends, Gideon is the ultimate cliched final boss. Not only does he appear well-dressed and all-powerful, but he also has a multitude of minions at his beck-and-call.
Just as in the comics, Schwartzman’s Gideon comes off as a generic villain, someone out to make life miserable for the titular hero, yet he is anything but generic. Schwartzman’s acting range allows him to play the character’s fundamental narcissism to his advantage — and that is why he is on this list. The reason why Schwartzman’s Gideon is better than the character’s comic book version is that he perfected what Bryan Lee O’Malley was attempting to convey in his graphic novel; that is a rarity for villains in comic book movies.
11. Brian Cox – William Stryker
Fans of Stryker in Fox’s X-Men universe may not realize that the comic book version of the character is actually a religious extremist, someone who believes mutants are the wicked souls sent by Satan himself to corrupt the world. His fervent desire to rid the world of its mutants becomes evident when he murders his own wife and mutant son, Jason Stryker, something he saw as a sign from God.
The religious backstory of Col. Stryker is one that is now a bit outdated. Sure, at the time of the character’s inception in the early ’80s, televangelism was a rising power — but it is no longer a convincing origin story for a supervillain in comics. Bryan Singer saw that, which is why Brian Cox’s live-action version of the character in X2: X-Men United focused heavily on the character’s military background instead. Although Stryker was already a well-known character by the time Cox came around, it’s the actor’s portrayal that depicted the character as a true enemy of the X-Men, not just someone with a religious fanaticism.
10. Gene Hackman – Lex Luthor
Audiences may still be getting used to Jesse Eisenberg’s version of Lex Luthor (who is really Alexander Luthor, Jr.) from Warner Bros.’ DC Extended Universe, but only time will tell if his version is better than Gene Hackman’s — which we believe is better than the comic book version of the character. What Hollywood considers being the archetypal evil business person in movies, a character who is convinced he or she is saving the world, stems from Hackman’s incarnation of Superman’s infamous arch-nemesis Lex Luthor from Richard Donner and Richard Lester’s Superman films.
Lex Luthor is one of the smartest funny page villains and is an evil mastermind in the comics, someone who often wears a battle suit when facing off against the Son of Krypton. However, in the movies, Hackman sacrifices the evil scientist/mortal nemesis characterization for someone who dislikes Superman because he tends to get in the way of his criminal dealings. The reason Hackman’s version is better than the comic book version is because he is plausible; instead of being driven by his lust for power, Hackman’s Lex Luthor is driven by greed. Overall, the comic Luthor is an arch-nemesis, pure and simple, while Hackman’s Luthor is merely a gangster.
9. Ian McKellen – Magneto
Magneto is no ordinary villain; he has extraordinary abilities and is one of the most multifaceted characters in the X-Men comics. He has been a supervillain, anti-hero, and occasional superhero, and he has fought against and alongside the X-Men numerous times. The only part of him that remains unchanged is his commitment to mutant rights. If mutants are not destined to rule the Earth, then at least they will share the same basic freedoms as the rest of the world — that is all Magneto truly wants.
And that is what Ian McKellen captured in his performance as the metal-manipulating mutant in Bryan Singer’s X-Men films. In the comics, Magneto is likable, but in the movies, he is downright lovable. McKellen portrays the character with such class and fervor, you find yourself on his side as often as you side with Professor Xavier. Unlike most characters and villains in comic book movies, in order to understand Magneto, all one would need to do is watch McKellen’s performance.
8. Tom Hiddleston – Loki
Loki is one of the oldest and most consequential supervillains in the Marvel Universe. In fact, it is because of Loki that Ant-Man suggested Earth’s mightiest heroes form a team in the first place, a team that Wasp later named The Avengers. So how does someone not only capture the essence of a character like that, but also completely surpass him? It’s not easy, but it is something that Tom Hiddleston has managed to do. As Loki, Hiddleston has transformed the diabolical villain into a minacious foe, one that audiences love and, more often than not, root for.
Hiddleston has developed a substantial following since his debut as the God of Mischief in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor in 2011. In fact, many fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe adore the villainous character more than his adoptive brother Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth. Those same fans, for years, have been advocating for Loki to receive a solo film, though that seems unlikely to happen. However, with Hiddleston’s charisma, a solo Loki movie may not be a bad idea.
7. Corey Stoll – Darren Cross
Marvel Studios likes to take liberties with the source material when it comes to villains, which is why in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Darren Cross became the Yellowjacket. He is the fourth character ever to hold that name, with the others being Hank Pym, Rita DeMara, and Ultron (in the Ultimate Marvel Universe). Marvel’s Ant-Man movie was refreshing because it contained an all-new cast (people we have not seen in the MCU yet) and focused heavily on being a comedy. Plus, having a decent villain, especially one with a personal history (of sorts) with the titular hero (well, the original one anyway) certainly helps.
While the movie kept certain aspects of the character the same, he was largely a beast of an entirely new nature. In the comics, Cross is diagnosed with a heart condition which results in him receiving a pacemaker that imbues him with superhuman abilities. Unfortunately, his reliance on the pacemaker only grows, inevitably forcing him to receive numerous heart transplants. Eventually, in a fight with Ant-Man, Cross’ heart gives out and he dies. As you can imagine, any version of Darren Cross that is different from the comics has a high chance of being better.
6. Hugo Weaving – Red Skull
Red Skull aka Johann Schmidt, an agent of Hydra and Nazi Germany obsessed with perfecting the superhuman formula, is the arch-nemesis of Captain America, having made his debut appearance in only the seventh issue of the Captain’s comic series in 1941. While the Red Skull has been adapted numerous times, his portrayal by Hugo Weaving in Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger is easily his most recognizable.
Of all the villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, Weaving’s Red Skull is by far the most comic accurate, not only in looks, but also in his accent, his demeanor, and in his overall characterizations. Weaving’s dedication to giving the character a proper portrayal is admirable, and something other Marvel hopefuls should look up to. However, what makes his role unique, and better than the comic book version of Red Skull, is his ability to let the repulsiveness of the character act as an extension of his ruthless rule. Weaving made Red Skull appear to be more than just a cliched villain.
5. Matthew Goode – Ozymandias
Zack Snyder’s Watchmen adaptation may remain controversial for many years to come, but there is no denying the perfection of its ultimate villain, Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias, played by Matthew Goode. Although not necessarily a villain, Ozymandias’ grand feat cements his standing as one of the most wicked malefactors to ever exist in the DC Universe.
While the whole world was fixated on Doctor Manhattan, no one noticed Veidt’s seemingly callous plan that he devised right under their noses: to frame Manhattan for killing millions of people in New York City, in effect ensuring world peace by giving the U.S. and the Soviet Union a common enemy.
Goode executed Alan Moore’s vision for the character flawlessly, exhibiting all sides to the superhero’s mad genius, especially his delusions of grandeur. What makes his version better than that of Moore’s lies in Goode’s ability to appear psychotic, sympathetic, and genial — all at the same time. Whereas in the comics Ozymandias is remembered for his diabolical plan, in the movie, he will be remembered for Goode’s outstanding performance.
4. Jon Bernthal – The Punisher
We are breaking the rule with this one — firstly, the Punisher is not a supervillain, per se, but he is an anti-hero, someone who will stop at nothing to make sure those responsible for harrowing crimes receive justice. Secondly, we have chosen Jon Bernthal’s performance as the Punisher from the second season of Marvel’s Daredevil, which is a TV series and not a movie. However, Bernthal’s performance as the vigilante was so compelling; we just had to include him.
Punisher is arguably one of the best comic book characters of all time, and Bernthal delivers that equal amount of ruthlessness and sympathy as we see the character have in the comics. However, Bernthal takes things a step further and makes the character’s arc not only believable but also wholly convincing. Fans must agree, for the petition requesting Netflix make a solo Punisher series proved fruitful. While we do not know when The Punisher series will premiere, we do know it is coming.
3. Heath Ledger – Joker
Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker is highly considered to be the greatest performance ever in a comic book movie, having posthumously won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2009. But is his remarkable performance better than the comic book version of the character, who is one of the most iconic villains in all of comic book history? Perhaps — but that is a matter of opinion and perspective.
Ledger not only veraciously captured that deranged yet calculated persona the Joker is known for, but he also transcended it, becoming a nonpareil supervillain in comic book movies. In fact, he is the primary component people remember of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, which itself is arguably one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time.
What lends credence to Ledger’s Joker being better than the comic book version is that his incarnation is less of a trickster and a gangster and more of an anarchist. Then again, it is a matter of opinion, and there is far more than enough evidence to suggest the comic book version is still the definitive incarnation of the Clown Prince of Crime.
2. Cillian Murphy – Scarecrow
Dr. Jonathan Crane aka Scarecrow made his debut in DC’s World’s Finest Comics back in 1941 and has appeared in every age of Batman comics ever since, including The New 52 — which is fitting, considering that Scarecrow is the only villain to appear in all three of Nolan’s Batman films.
Although he is one of Batman’s perennial enemies, Crane is not as threatening as people may think. Sure, he is quite possibly the only other character in the DC Universe who understands fear as well as, if not better than, the Dark Knight. However, Crane himself is merely harmless where compared to his dual personality Scarecrow, who utilizes a toxin to instill terror in his enemies.
What Cillian Murphy did in The Dark Knight trilogy is accurately embody the supervillain Scarecrow, while also creating a disturbing and chilling personality in Crane, one that can be considered the true villain of the film, not Scarecrow (or Ra’s al Ghul even). At that point, Scarecrow became no more than a tool for his unhinged persona. That alone justifies Murphy being on this list.
1. Terence Stamp – General Zod
As previously mentioned, Terence Stamp is one of three actors who’ve played General Zod in live-action. While Michael Shannon’s recent portrayal of the character exceeded many audiences’ expectations, it is Stamp’s portrayal of the character that is considered to be the definitive version, even bettering the comic book version. Moreover, that is because Stamp’s Zod is drastically different from that of Shannon’s Zod.
While Shannon accurately characterized Zod’s menacing nature, Stamp took a different direction, often exuding a godlike persona. In the comics as well as films, Superman is revered to be a god, but Stamp acted like one. Stamp’s Zod is not as relatable as Shannon’s version; however, he is more convincing — and terrorizing.
Terence Stamp’s portrayal of General Zod is one of the rare times an actor not only exceeds the source material but also manages to replace it. Moreover, then there’s the small, oft-quoted line, “Kneel before Zod.” You know, the line comic book fans have been using to command their friends for well over 30 years.
Which comic book villain was more compelling for you on the big screen than they were on the page? Let us know in the comments.