After rounds and rounds of speculation, former Batman, Michael Keaton, has been confirmed to star as the villain in Marvel’s upcoming Spider-Man reboot, Spider-Man: Homecoming. Interestingly, this means that Keaton is not only switching from hero to villain, he’s also switching from DC Comics to Marvel; something that’s becoming increasingly more common. While Keaton is rumored to be playing The Vulture, nothing has been confirmed.
Spider-Man: Homecoming launches the third iteration of Spider-Man this century, meaning a lot of the villains have already been adapted to the big screen. But the thing is, Spider-Man has a plethora of spectacular villains. His rogues gallery gives even Batman a run for his money (not literally, though, ’cause Bruce Wayne’s filthy rich). A Spider-Man movie can release every year, each time with a new villain, and the baddies wouldn’t need to be recycled for roughly 20 years, that’s how deep the web-head’s rogues gallery is.
This got us wondering, who are Spider-Man’s greatest villains, the best of the best? There’s no shortage of candidates but here’s our take on the 12 Best Spider-Man Villains Of All-Time.
12. The Lizard
Get that image of Rhys Ifans’ version of The Lizard, from Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, out of your head — that’s not The Lizard; The Lizard is so much more. While the movie gets many aspects of the character right, such as his origin (Dr. Curt Connors tests an experimental serum on himself, with the purpose of regrowing his right arm, which leads to him transforming into a lizard monster) and motivations (turn everyone in the world into super-reptiles like himself), other aspects are fundamentally wrong. In the movie, The Lizard felt like a reskin of Otto Octavius from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series rather than the frightful villain fans have come to know from the comics.
Although Dr. Connors is not a villain (he’s helped Spider-Man on several occasions), his reptilian alter-ego most certainly is. Setting aside the Jekyll and Hyde transformation of the character, The Lizard is a treacherous villain with superhuman strength and nigh-indestructible skin, who can communicate telepathically with other reptiles. All of that coupled with his hatred for humankind, it’s no wonder he’s one of the toughest villains the webcrawler has ever faced.
Though there are many incarnations of Scorpion, the version that deserves all the credit is the one created by legendary writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko: Mac Gargan. He is a rather interesting and novel Spider-Man villain, for a few reasons.
Firstly, Scorpion’s alter-ego was a private investigator hired by J. Jonah Jameson to uncover Spider-Man’s secret identity, as well as find out how Peter Parker obtains such high-quality pictures of the web-slinger. Since Spider-Man kept evading Gargan’s attempts, Gargan agreed to participate in Dr. Stillwell’s experimental process of bonding with an animalistic suit. Once he became Scorpion, Gargan was tasked with destroying Spider-Man, but the suit drove him insane, and he consequently turned on Jameson instead. Ironically, Spidey intervened and saved Jameson’s life.
Secondly, Scorpion was in many ways a precursor to Venom, something that was realized when he became the third incarnation of Venom as well as the third incarnation of Spider-Man. He managed to kick ass at both!
10. Kraven the Hunter
Despite being one of Spider-Man’s longest-running archenemies, Kraven the Hunter wasn’t that great of a villain (or a character). Case in point, writer J.M. DeMatteis claims none of Marvel’s editorial staff opposed the idea of killing off the character in the late ’80s. The entirety of Kraven’s epicness comes from just one story, DeMatteis’ six-part comic series, Kraven: The Last Hunt — which is universally considered to be one of the greatest Spider-Man stories of all-time.
In the comic, Kraven tranquilizes Spider-Man and buries him alive. Then, for two weeks, Kraven dons a similar costume to Spider-Man’s and brutally beats criminals to a pulp. Kraven even manages to defeat and capture Vermin, a villain who Spidey had needed Captain America’s help to defeat. Once the webslinger awakens after two weeks and digs himself out of the ground, he confronts Kraven, who doesn’t fight back. Instead, Kraven says his hunt has finished and subsequently commits suicide.
If Kraven wanted to, he could have killed Spider-Man, but he didn’t. How many villains can say that? He did what he did just to prove a point, that he could be a better hero than Spider-Man. And he kind of was.
Spider-Man has dealt with all sorts of villains in his time as the friendly neighborhood hero, but one of his most challenging foes has been Electro. First appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man #9, after being struck by lightning while repairing a downed power line, electrical engineer Maxwell Dillon transformed into Electro — a superconductor, of sorts, with the ability to produce up to one million volts of electricity. With powers like that, it’s no wonder Spider-Man has had such a difficult time defeating him. Being a founding member of the Sinister Six surely doesn’t benefit the web-slinger either.
Fans waited decades to see Electro make the jump to the big screen. Just like with Rhys Ifans and The Lizard, however, Jaime Foxx’s version of Electro in Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasn’t quite what we had in mind. While his origin stayed largely faithful to the comics, many, many other aspects were radically altered — such as the switch from his traditional green and yellow suit (with a Nova-ish helmet) to looking like Dr. Manhattan.
8. The Vulture
Though a relatively unknown villain amongst non-comic book fans, Vulture, aka Adrian Toomes, is the second villain Spider-Man ever faced, first appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man #2 comic. His age may be concerning, leading some people to believe this geriatric villain is no match for the wall-crawler, but they would be sorely mistaken. As a founding member of the Sinister Six, Vulture has had some epic battles with Spider-Man, and he is still one of the few villains to uncover the web-slinger’s true identity.
With a history like Vulture’s, it’s a wonder why fans haven’t seen him on the big screen yet. Both Sam Raimi and Marc Webb planned to bring Vulture to life in their respective Spider-Man series, though those plans ended up being nixed. John Malkovich was set to play the villain in Raimi’s canceled Spider-Man 4, and Vulture’s manufactured wings were seen in Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, alluding to a big screen debut in the movie’s sequel. But the third time’s the charm — it looks like fans will see the winged villain make his cinematic debut in Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming, starring Tom Holland as the web-slinger and Michael Keaton (most likely) as Vulture.
Unlike virtually all the other villains on this list, Sandman began as a villain (more of an adversary, really) and eventually became an ally of Spider-Man (and the Avengers!), though he always seemed to revert to his criminal self.
Another character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, William Baker first appeared wearing his perpetual green-striped shirt in The Amazing Spider-Man #4 in 1963. On the run from the FBI, Baker comes into contact with irradiated sand at a nuclear testing site, where he bonds with the sand, changing his molecular structure, thus allowing him to transform his body into any shape or form. As one of Spider-Man’s original villains, Sandman has proven himself to be a tough foe, always forcing the web-slinger to think before he acts and use the environment against Sandman, because there is no way Spidey could win in a straight brawl.
It’s worth noting that Thomas Haden Church’s sympathetic portrayal of the character was one of the better parts of Sam Raimi’s abysmal Spider-Man 3.
Shortly after the death of the Green Goblin, Marvel wanted to give Spider-Man another perpetual enemy. Enter the Hobgoblin — a Halloween-ish villain created by writer Roger Stern and artist John Romita, Jr. in 1983. While the Hobgoblin gets a lot of flack for being an inferior offshoot of the Green Goblin and is often the subject of jokes due to his background as a fashion designer, he managed to continue the legacy of a classic character, all while building an extensive fan base — which is a rarity in and of itself.
Upon discovering the late Norman Osborn’s Green Goblin lair, billionaire Roderick Kingsley makes use of the available equipment and adopts the villainous persona of the Hobgoblin. Knowing the Green Goblin gear alone isn’t enough to defeat Spider-Man, Kingsley willingly injects himself with an improved Green Goblin formula, thus giving him superhuman strength. Possessing superhuman abilities on par with Spider-Man, the Hobgoblin became a worthy foe for the web-slinger. And the mystery of the Hobgoblin’s true identity was one of the most compelling story arcs in Spider-Man’s modern history.
People who’ve watched Netflix’s Daredevil series (or Ben Affleck’s Daredevil movie) may assume Kingpin is strictly the archenemy of Daredevil, but that would be incorrect. Sure, Wilson Fisk has been at odds with The Man Without Fear for decades, but Kingpin originated as a Spider-Man villain. Created by Stan Lee and artist John Romita, Sr., Kingpin first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #50 comic in 1967 as a mere mob boss, but he certainly didn’t stay that way.
Over the years, while Kingpin has remained a crime lord, he became one of the most powerful supervillains in Hell’s Kitchen. Unlike most of those other supervillains, Kingpin doesn’t require superpowers; his stature and brutish strength are more than enough to instill fear in his enemies. And when he’s not interested in personally partaking in his criminal deals, Kingpin has an interminable amount of lackeys to do his dirty work. Kingpin is as old-school as they come; it’s no wonder he resonates so well with audiences.
Though Venom — one of the most iconic and widely recognized Spider-Man villains — first appeared as The Alien Costume in 1984, it wasn’t until 1988, with the 300th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, that the alien symbiote bonded with Eddie Brock and assumed the name Venom (the character did, however, make a cameo in #299). Ever since then, Venom has been the perennial enemy of Spider-Man, though they occasionally ally with one another to combat a common threat.
When bonded with a host, Venom becomes one of the strongest adversaries Spider-Man can face. Since the symbiote initially bonded with Spider-Man, any future host stands to inherit the web-slinger’s superhuman traits, including spider-sense. That makes for interesting encounters, seeing as Spider-Man cannot detect Venom using his spider-sense, therefore, he never knows when Venom will attack. Because of this, it’s easy to presume that Venom’s abilities are tantamount with Spider-Man, but that’s not the case. Venom is superior to Spider-Man in virtually every way, physically, and that’s why the web-crawler frequently loses to the symbiotic host whenever there is a confrontation.
Though not necessarily an original villain, Cletus Kasady is the closest thing to the Joker the Marvel universe has — an evil, barbarous psychopath who lacks any sense of morality. Comic book writer David Michelinie created the character, along with artists Erik Larsen and Mark Bagley, in 1991 due to the increasing popularity of Venom in the late ’80s. Michelinie envisioned Carnage as being a darker, more brutal version of Venom, and that is precisely what he made.
Long before Kasady became Carnage — by bonding with the offspring of the same alien symbiote that Eddie Brock uses to become Venom — he was an unhinged killer, someone who managed to amass over a dozen murders, including that of his family.
Carnage is, in many ways, the culmination of Spider-Man and Venom. His abilities, including Herculean strength (stronger than Spider-Man and Venom combined), shape-shifting, and healing, among many other things, coupled with his innate depravity, makes him a force to be reckoned with. Interestingly, Spider-Man has on occasion allied with Venom to take down Carnage, because neither one of them could do it on their own.
We’d love to see him in the MCU (which is admittedly a longshot, considering that Marvel likes to keep their superheroic adventures on the lighter side), and we even have an ideal casting choice in mind.
2. Green Goblin
As is evident with the aforementioned characters, Spider-Man’s rogues gallery is jam-packed with iconic villains, but there is no denying that the Green Goblin is the quintessential and most tenacious of the web-crawler’s adversaries.
Debuting in The Amazing Spider-Man #14 comic in 1964, the Green Goblin quickly became a fan-favorite. His Goblin formula endowed him with superhuman strength, reflexes, and healing; and combined with his arsenal of high-tech gadgets, the Halloween-themed villain established himself as a worthy opponent of Spider-Man. Sure, Spider-Man has battled torturous foes in his time as a superhero, but no one has affected Peter Parker’s life as much as Osborn. After all, he did kill his number one gal, Gwen Stacy, and he’s concocted more than his share of nefarious plots.
While there have been a few Green Goblins over the years, the original incarnation is Norman Osborn, founder of Oscorp and father to Peter’s best friend, Harry. Unlike most of the other villains on this list, Norman Osborn is no stranger to moviegoers. He has been played by Willem Dafoe and Chris Cooper and Sam Raimi and Marc Webb’s respective Spider-Man series. There is currently no word on whether or not the character will return in Marvel’s upcoming Spider-Man reboot.
1. Doctor Octopus
It may be considered blasphemy to call anyone other than the Green Goblin the greatest Spider-Man villain of all-time, but Doctor Octopus has been a chronic thorn in Spider-Man’s side ever since he made his debut as Dr. Otto Octavius in the third Amazing Spider-Man comic in 1963. Octavius developed a four-armed laboratory apparatus to allow him to work safely with radioactive material, but when a radiation leak caused an explosion, the mechanical arms fused with the good doctor’s body.
Doctor Octopus was driven mad by the explosion and sought to continue his nuclear experiments, which turned him to a life of crime. In his years as a professional criminal, the only thing the eight-limbed scientist couldn’t do was kill Spider-Man, though he has come close on more than one occasion. As the founder of the Sinister Six, Doc Ock has devoted his life to destroying the wall-crawler, having gone as far as to kidnap Aunt May to do it. Plus, what’s more badass than being the first villain to defeat the web-slinger?
Alfred Molina’s take on the big bad in Spider-Man 2 helped make the movie the greatest live-action Spidey film ever, though we think there’s room for another actor to put his own spin on the role in an upcoming MCU film.
Who is your favorite Spider-Man foe? Let us know in the comments.