Sure, villains always lose — well, most of the time — but when it comes to comic book movies, the bad guys are often some of the most memorable characters. Whether tragic or sociopathic, haunting or empathetic, supervillains are the engine that drives many of the best comic book storylines to date. Sometimes they are a dark counterpart to the hero, a cracked mirror image. Sometimes they’re vulnerable, broken, struggling for meaning. Sometimes they’re eco-terrorists seeking a better world, and sometimes they’re alien overlords trying to subjugate humanity. It’s a wide range.
One thing is for sure: supervillains usually get all of the best lines.
It makes sense, really. The primary reason that superheroes exist in the first place is because somebody has to stop the evil machinations of a supervillain. While the hero has to run back and forth, trying to save the world and protect people, the villains get to chew scenery, escalate tension, and set off disastrous chains of events. Villains get to summarize the major themes of a movie, to speak to the audience about their goals, and to tear viciously into a hero’s precious ideals. So in the end, these villains are the ones who get to make the quotes that audiences will remember for years afterward.
So without further ado, let’s look back on the 17 Best Supervillain Quotes From Comic Book Movies.
17. The Penguin (Batman Returns) – Harp From Hell
Just relax. I’ll take care of the squealing, wretched pinhead puppets of Gotham!… You’ve gotta admit, I’ve played this stinking city like a harp from hell!
Nobody ever likes politicians, a truism that’s even more relevant today than it was in the 1990s. But if there was ever a quote destined to sink a politician’s career, it’s this one by Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin, caught in a moment of sinister glee that he didn’t know Batman was recording.
While Tim Burton’s two Batman movies are somewhat flawed adaptations, particularly when it comes to the titular character himself, there’s no question that Burton invested a lot of passion into his unique version of the Penguin. Though the general public often sees Penguin as this dapper, elegant, high society character, Burton showed a deeper understanding of Cobblepot than many give him credit for. While the Penguin may try to be a member of Gotham’s high society, he’s always been a squat, squawking exile, an outsider who doesn’t realize that his fashion is out of date and his umbrella looks silly. Cobblepot, at his core, is an unknowing player in a twisted game, who doesn’t know that everyone is secretly laughing at him. Burton exaggerated these traits to mutated extremes, but the core is there, and it shows in the quote above. When Penguin roars that memorable line, it’s a rare moment of victory for him, which Batman then throws right back in his face when he plays the recording before the Penguin’s suddenly not-so-adoring audience.
16. Loki (The Avengers) – You Will Always Kneel
Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.
There’s a reason that Loki is one of the most popular villains to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thor’s adopted brother is a truly Shakespearian figure with many layers. He’s not only relatable, but almost lovable — pained, heartbroken, with a clever sense of humor — but at the same time, his actions themselves are utterly brutal, inhuman, and egomaniacal. He sees the human race as being like ants beneath him, hardly worthy of his time outside of their ability to serve him as subjects.
What makes this quote so chilling is that it echoes the thoughts of many authoritarian politicians throughout history, figures who truly believe that freedom is not a true virtue, and that humans would be better off serving beneath the heel of a charismatic ruler. The overtones in this quote escalate the stakes. When the Avengers finally assemble to take on Loki at the end of the movie, their fight becomes representative of freedom itself. Like the Avengers, liberty is messy, problematic, and likely to result in arguments, but true freedom is also what enables people to be brave, virtuous, and honorable.
15. The Green Goblin (Spider-Man) – Why Bother?
I chose my path, you chose the way of the hero. And they found you amusing for a while, the people of this city. But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fail, fall, die trying. In spite of everything you’ve done for them, eventually they will hate you. Why bother?
Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man was the film that paved the way for superhero movies as we know them today, and Willem Dafoe deserves a lot of credit for making it work. Despite being stuck in one of the sillier supervillain costumes, with a mask that covered his already Goblin-like expressions, Dafoe’s turn as the Green Goblin captured all of the menace, ruthlessness, and insecurities that make Norman Osborn Spider-Man’s most personal enemy.
The quote above highlights what is actually a rare moment of compassion for Norman Osborn, even if it doesn’t sound like it. He could easily have killed Spider-Man on that rooftop, but he genuinely believes that he can help the wallcrawler by shaking him out of the “delusion” of heroism. And even though Spider-Man is our hero, the Goblin’s cynical prediction does prove to be accurate. Though Peter’s heroics turn his own personal life into shambles — particularly in Spider-Man 2 — public opinion of his actions constantly flips between celebration and condemnation, all the way until Spider-Man 3 sees the hero fall from grace, only to have to pick himself up again. The whole “great power/great responsibility” thing may be the center of Spider-Man’s story arc, but here, Osborn captures the other half of that coin: as Spider-Man, Peter will have to sacrifice everything, over and over again, and never receive the credit he deserves. While we can’t root for the Goblin’s selfish and villainous actions, it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from.
14. Bane (The Dark Knight Rises) – When Gotham is ashes
Home, where I learned the truth about despair, as will you. There’s a reason why this prison is the worst hell on earth… hope. Every man who has ventured here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So easy… so simple. And like shipwrecked men turning to sea water from uncontrollable thirst, many have died trying. I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope. So, as I terrorize Gotham, I will feed its people hope to poison their souls. I will let them believe they can survive so that you can watch them clamoring over each other to stay in the sun. You can watch me torture an entire city and when you have truly understood the depth of your failure, we will fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny… we will destroy Gotham. And then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die.
Heath Ledger’s Joker may be the villain that won the Oscar, but there’s a sheer brutality to Tom Hardy’s Bane that just can’t be compared to. While the Joker played games and set up tense moral conflicts, Bane snapped necks, broke backs, blew up stadiums, and had the entire US Government catering to his wishes. Tom Hardy’s performance, combined with Christopher Nolan’s direction, elevated Bane from a somewhat lesser-known comic book foe to being a household name.
Bane gets most of the best lines in the movie, of course, but this one stands out even more so, particularly because he says it with Bruce Wayne crumbled at his feet, helpless and trapped. Batman is widely seen as one of the most badass comic book characters out there, and for a villain to reduce him to such a state — “then you have my permission to die” — is painful to watch.
13. The Joker (Batman ’89) – Danced With The Devil
Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?
If there’s one quote that has become forever branded with Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker, it’s this one. It’s repeated a few times throughout the movie, once by Batman himself, and it serves to highlight the movie’s themes, as well as demonstrate the parallels between Batman and his archenemy that Tim Burton had such a fascination with.
At first, Jack himself is dancing with the devil when he becomes the Joker — creating manic carnage everywhere he goes, doing whatever he feels like, no longer in the shadows but exposed in the “pale moonlight.” At the same time, when the Joker asks this question of Bruce Wayne, the audience is meant to know that Batman is now “dancing with the devil,” but this time, the devil is the Joker himself. The line speaks to the interplay between the two, and the game they play together as two freakish, misfit outcasts determining the fate of an entire city. But when Batman repeats the phrase to the killer clown, he also reverses it: now, Batman is the devil, exposing himself to the Joker as they begin their final confrontation.
12. William Stryker (X2: X-Men United) – I Just Gave You Claws
If you knew the kind of person you used to be, the work we did together… people don’t change, Wolverine. You were an animal then and you’re an animal now. I just gave you claws.
William Stryker is one of the least show-offy villains in any comic book movie to date. While other villains wear bright costumes, masks, or profess grand plans of world domination, Stryker is a character as blunt and straight to the point as he is deadly. He doesn’t give operatic speeches, doesn’t wear some high-tech armor, but proves to be one of the single most effective X-Men villains ever. He’s a military man who sees mutants as a threat to the human race, desires a genocide of their kind, and will not let compassion get in his way.
One of the greatest pains in Wolverine‘s existence is his lost memory, a result of the Weapon X experiment that Stryker was in charge of, a project that tried to strip Logan of his humanity. And when Logan encounters Stryker all these years later, he knows that this is the man dangling the keys to his past, the only one who can answer his questions… and Stryker responds with the quote above. He demonstrates a complete lack of compassion for Logan, because to him, Logan is just an animal — a failed weapon — and he doesn’t care one bit if Logan ever learns his past.
11. Zemo (Captain America: Civil War) – Get Them To Kill Each Other
My father lived outside the city, and I thought we would be safe there. My son was excited. He could see the Iron Man from the car window. I told my wife, ‘Don’t worry. They’re fighting in the city. We’re miles from harm.’ And the dust cleared, and the screaming stopped. It took me two days until I found their bodies. My father still holding my wife and son in his arms… and the Avengers? They went home. I knew I couldn’t kill them. More powerful men than me have tried. But if I could get them to kill each other….
If there’s one villain even less show-offy than Stryker, it’s Zemo, the man who orchestrated the breakup of the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War. Unlike his mask-wearing comic book counterpart, and despite the seemingly diabolic goal that he succeeds at, the cinematic Zemo is hardly even a villain. He’s a main in pain, a man who lost his family, and believes that the Avengers are at fault. Blaming the heroes isn’t a totally original motivation, but what renders Zemo unique is that he has no illusions about the fact that he can’t kill them — “more powerful men than me have tried” — and so he instead does his best to try to tear them apart from the inside out.
10. Magneto (X2: X-Men United) – God Among Insects
You are a god among insects. Never let anyone tell you different.
Bryan Singer would have never been able to pull off the X-Men movies if he didn’t have the perfect Magneto, and luckily, Sir Ian McKellen was just that. Magneto has always been one of the most complex characters in comics, with many in the X-Men universe considering him a revolutionary, or even a hero, and even some of Xavier’s own students wear T-shirts proclaiming that “Magneto was right.” Magneto is obviously a commanding leader, dedicated to the cause of mutant supremacy.
But how does he recruit his followers? Thanks to X2: X-Men United, now we know. The line above is spoken to Pyro, as they are both aboard the X-jet, after the younger mutant expresses self-consciousness about his powers. Pyro has already been struggling with the way that Xavier’s School wants him to keep his abilities hidden, and in this brief moment, Magneto taps right into that — recognizing the student’s desire for self-expression, empowering him, and making the subtle case for his less-pacifistic position. When Pyro becomes one of Magneto’s acolytes, it’s a truly believable switch, a million times more convincing than the three movies it took for Anakin Skywalker to do the same.
9. Lex Luthor (Batman V Superman) – Devils Don’t Come From Hell Beneath Us
That should be upside down. We know better now, don’t we? Devils don’t come from hell beneath us. No, they come from the sky.
Say what you will about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Some people loved it, some people loathed it, but it was definitely a film with a lot of ambition. This controversy also applies to Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. But even for fans who don’t approve of this take on the classic villain, this one scene and quote cuts right to the core of what makes Lex Luthor an interesting character.
Basically, all of the best versions of Lex Luthor present him not as some raving megalomaniac who hates Superman for no reason, but instead, as a man who sees the Man of Steel’s arrival on Earth as marking the end of human progress. Superman came to Earth from the sky, and now that he protects the world, mankind is no longer the architect of our own fate. Now, the once-mighty humans have been reduced to children, taken care of and gently corralled by costumed figures. For Lex, this violates everything he has ever cared about, everything he has ever built toward in his egotistical quest for accolades and recognition, so his battle to end the “demon that comes from the sky” is also a battle against the meaninglessness of a life he may otherwise have no control over.
8. Ra’s al Ghul (Batman Begins) – Legend, Mr. Wayne
A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed, or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely… a legend, Mr. Wayne.
It’s no surprise that an idealist like Ra’s al Ghul gets so many great lines in Batman Begins, but this is the one quote that will probably define his cinematic legacy for decades to come. When Ra’s first finds Bruce dirtied and hopeless in a dank prison cell, he offers him a chance at redemption. Ra’s gives him a chance to become a part of his legendary group of assassins, the League of Shadows, an organization that has shaped human history since the beginning of time, having previously overthrown the Roman Empire and burned London to the ground. Of course, as we all know, this doesn’t end so well for Ra’s. He ends up falling out with Bruce over the latter’s refusal to commit murder, genocide, or acts of terrorism, and he later perishes on a runaway train.
But what’s terrific about this quote by Ra’s is that, without realizing it, Ra’s unknowingly draws the outlines of a figure that Bruce will one day fill in. Ra’s creates the Batman. After Bruce completes his training, he will go on to take these lessons to heart and reshape them. As the Dark Knight, he does become more than just a man. He wears a mask, becomes a symbol of righteousness, saves Gotham City from itself… and, as seen at the end of the trilogy, creates a legend that will live on past his “death”.
7. Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man 2) – Being Brilliant’s Not Enough
Parker. Now I remember you, you’re Connors’ student. He tells me you’re brilliant. Also tells me you’re lazy. Being brilliant’s not enough, young man. You have to work hard. Intelligence is not a privilege, it’s a gift, and you use it for the good of mankind.
The Spider-Man films have yet to top the complexity and depth of Spider-Man 2, and no villain yet has lived up to Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius, AKA Doctor Octopus. What makes the character work is that his rise and fall is shown in pained detail, with both Peter and the audience getting the chance to know the man behind the tentacles before he becomes a supervillain.
What’s fantastic about this quote, said by Octavius upon the first time he meets Peter, is that it summarizes the key theme of the entire movie: the power of intelligence, and the responsibility that one has to put it to use “for the good of mankind.” Octavius becomes so driven to see his life’s work completed that he forgets his own ideals, and in the end, it takes an act of courage by Spider-Man to make him remember who he once was, what he once believed, and how he inspired Peter himself to be a better person. This then allows Octavius to have the redemptive finale he deserves, drowning his own legacy in order to protect the world. But coming full circle, we can see that Octavius’s seemingly innocuous bit of advice at the beginning of the film serves not only to humanize him, but also to define his final character arc, and to shape the entire film. Spider-Man 2 came out in 2004, but its brilliance casts a long shadow, and Spider-Man: Homecoming has a lot to live up to.
6. Joker (The Dark Knight) – Destined To Do This Forever
Oh, you. You just couldn’t let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You are truly incorruptible, aren’t you? Huh? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.
The fascinating dynamic between the Joker and Batman is the stuff legends are made from. It’s a battle between order and chaos, waged between two figures who aren’t as different as they may look, with the villain cast in the image of a colorful, laughing clown and the hero as a dour, humorless, dark-clothed devil. And yet, no matter how much the Joker tortures Batman, the Dark Knight will never kill him, a fact that the Joker relishes.
While Burton’s Joker was memorable, that earlier depiction didn’t grasp the complexity of the interplay between the two comic characters. Luckily, The Dark Knight captured everything that Burton missed. This scene, and this quote — said as the Joker dangles upside down before Batman, cackling even after his plans have been foiled — is the ultimate encapsulation of what makes the Batman/Joker rivalry so iconic. While we would have loved to have seen more of Ledger’s Joker, this scene was at least a fitting send-off for the most renowned take on the character to date.
5. Ozymandias (Watchmen) – I’m not a comic book villain
I’m not a comic book villain. Do you seriously think I would explain my master stroke to you if there were even the slightest possibility you could affect the outcome? I triggered it 35 minutes ago.
Okay, so this was lifted pretty much right out of the comics. But if there was any moment in comic book history that should be so directly lifted, it’s this one. In one line, Adrian Veidt outdoes hundreds of supervillains before him, breaks every stereotype, and still gets to do his big, villainous monologue about why he believes himself to be right…by just waiting until after it’s actually too late to stop him.
Ozymandias revealing himself as the villain behind the scenes of Watchmen would have been a big enough twist, but it’s this second twist that makes the story. Veidt’s cleverness allows him to succeed where so many others have failed, even after the heroes have risen together to get in his way. Whether his master plan actually works out or not is left up for the viewers to decide, but Doctor Manhattan does offer a pretty grim clue, when he tells Veidt that “nothing ever ends.”
4. Mr. Glass (Unbreakable) – They Called Me Mr. Glass
Now that we know who you are, I know who I am. I’m not a mistake! It all makes sense! In a comic, you know how you can tell who the arch-villain’s going to be? He’s the exact opposite of the hero. And most times they’re friends, like you and me! I should’ve known way back when… you know why, David? Because of the kids… they called me Mr. Glass.
Back in 2000, M. Night Shyamalan’s underrated film Unbreakable was a superhero movie disguised as a horror thriller, back in the days before superhero movies were even really a thing. Though Bruce Willis’ tough, invulnerable security guard David Dunn is the hero of the tale, the heart of the story is Elijah Price, a disabled comic book gallery owner who suffers from a rare disease that renders his bones extremely fragile, which earned him the derogatory childhood nickname “Mr. Glass.” Elijah mentors David into becoming the real-life superhero that Elijah knows he can be.
Except… Elijah has a dark secret. And when the cat comes out of the bag, it changes everything we thought we knew about him.
Elijah’s final speech is simultaneously a cry of desperation, a statement of purpose, and a haunting warning. After an entire life spent looking for a purpose, Elijah has found one… and he’s not the hero of the story. Hopefully, if we’re lucky, M. Night Shyamalan will one day show us what happens to Mr. Glass, though we can’t imagine things go well for him.
3. Magneto (X-Men) – They No Longer Matter
We are the future, Charles. Not them. They no longer matter.
The X-Men movies have been running for two decades, and in that time, we’ve seen an entire alternate history play out, with Magneto often at the center of real life historical events. But back in 2000, when Ian McKellen first brought the comic book character to the big screen, the audience knew none of this. All we knew was that this elderly man in a hat and coat was both a Holocaust survivor and a mutant, and as the United States government threatened to once again restrict the rights of his people, he would not take it lying down.
Magneto is a man who’s never been afraid to say whatever is on his mind, with no concern for how it offends. But this line, uttered all the way back in the first X-Men movie, is his life philosophy boiled down to a single sentence. It’s a promise. A threat. From then until now, Magneto would put every resource he had into ensuring mutant supremacy, from lifting stadiums to ripping the Golden Gate Bridge out by its roots. But back then, we could have never known how perfectly this comic character would be brought to life.
2. General Zod (Superman II) – Kneel Before Zod!
Come to me, son of Jor-El. Kneel before Zod!
So yeah, speaking of authoritarian rulers that like to see folks bend the knee…
While General Zod’s depiction in the classic Christopher Reeve Superman films may not have been the most nuanced villain in cinematic history, we’ve got to hand it to Terence Stamp for his sheer presence, authority, and power. Though fans have always been iffy on Superman: The Movie‘s real estate developer version of Lex Luthor as played by Gene Hackman, nobody questions the power of General Zod. In an era before other superhero movies even existed, Zod was something new, and he would become the supervillain that all later supervillains would be compared to.
And the reason, at least partly, is this choice quote. “Kneel before Zod” is a line so iconic that even non-Superman fans can recite it by heart. Stamp delivers it in a way where you know that he’s not joking, he will force you, and resistance does mean death. When it comes to supervillain quotes, it really doesn’t get much more classic than this.
1. Joker (The Dark Knight) – Why So Serious?
Why so serious?
There is no comic book villain on Earth as well known as the Joker. That red-smiled, green-haired mug is almost as recognizable as Batman’s logo, and it’s been adapted to movies, TV, animation, and video games more times than anyone can count. And yet, somehow, The Dark Knight was able to supplant all previous incarnations of the Joker in the public consciousness.
“Why so serious?” may be a simple line, but it’s every bit as iconic as “Kneel before Zod.” Today, when people think of the Joker, this is the one line they always think of. It’s short. It’s brilliant. It sums up the Joker’s personality in just three simple words. It’s appeared everywhere, on posters and mugs, in parodies and tributes, becoming a meme on a level that few quotes could ever dream of. The Joker’s had a lot of great lines over the years (fittingly, considering he’s the greatest comic book supervillain ever), and will probably say many more, but it’s unlikely that any line will ever define the character as ingeniously as this one.
What other great supervillain quotes did we miss? Let us know in the comments!