Everyone needs a hero to look up to, and what better examples are the ones from comic books? Superhero movies have a long line of inspiring protagonists from Batman to Spider-Man. With wholesome morals, these heroes are ones that always do the right thing, fighting for truth, justice and the American way. But being a hero is just one side of a double-edge sword. If you just alter your perception, put yourself in the shoes of someone else, than a hero with good intentions can suddenly turn into a villain with a hidden agenda.
Most of the characters on this list have the classic makings of a hero or so it would seem. While they come across as squeaky clean, we’re digging a little deeper to give you a newfound perspective involving the darker side of some of your favorite heroes. The next 15 films on this list feature superheroes who do some rather unheroic things that are at best, questionable, and at worst, down right villainous.
Here are 15 Movies Where Superheroes Were Really the Villains.
15. Batman v. Superman
After the events of Man of Steel, the world is in a full-blown panic about what to do with Superman. While some consider him a mighty savior, others condemn him, blaming the Kryptonian for leveling half of Metropolis. One of those naysayers is Bruce Wayne, who witnessed firsthand the complete destruction of Wayne Enterprises’ tower by the hands of Superman during his confrontation with Zod.
Though it suffers from a number of weaknesses, one of the greatest strengths of Batman v. Superman was the characterization of Bruce Wayne. We understand why Wayne wants to get rid of Superman, making the confrontation between the two heavy-weights a personal one. The Caped Crusader thinks that the Man of Steel poses too great a threat to the world, and must be destroyed at all costs.
Only, Superman isn’t a threat. He’s just an omnipotent alien struggling to do the right thing. Though Bruce is backed by understandable motives, he prematurely jumps the gun on sizing up Supes, and comes dangerously close to killing his future partner in the Justice League over some misconceptions. Good thing their mothers had the same first name or Batman would have definitely gone full-blown villain with that final killing stroke.
14. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
In this superhero sequel, the Fantastic Four start adjusting themselves to normal life. That is, until a mysterious alien named the Silver Surfer crash lands on Earth and all hell starts to break loose. After a brief period as enemies, the Surfer reveals to Sue Storm and the rest of the gang that the evil entity known as Galactus is on his way to consume and destroy Earth.
The Silver Surfer is one of Marvel Comic’s oldest superheroes, debuting way back in 1966 with The Fantastic Four #48. Before he lands on Earth, however, he’s the furthest thing from a hero as you can get. It’s because of the Silver Surfer that Galactus finds out about Earth in the first place, not to mention that the Surfer leads his intergalactic overlord to countless other worlds that are destroyed before landing on ours. While the Silver Surfer does find some sort of redemption after he meets the Fantastic Four, he still has a lot to make up for. We know he only serves Galactus for the sake of his own planet, but still. That’s a lot of carnage to own up to.
13. The Amazing Spider-Man
After Sam Raimi’s trilogy left certain fans of Marvel’s Spider-Man dissatisfied, Sony decided to answer their complaints with a new interpretation of the famous web-slinger. Understandable, as Toby Maguire’s portrayal of Spider-Man, while good, was a far cry away from a true comic book representation. Enter Andrew Garfield, who cracked more jokes, rebelled a lot more and even made home-made web-shooters.
The only problem is this Spider-Man wasn’t nearly as likable. In fact, you could go so far as to say that this Spider-Man was downright mean-spirited at times. He often mocks and ignores the advice of several of his peers, most noticeably Captain Stacy. As the policeman dies in Peter’s arms, he uses his last breath to make Peter swear to him to stop dating his daughter for the good of her safety. Peter tearfully agrees, but by the end of the movie he completely changes his mind and dates Gwen anyway. This decision eventually leads to Gwen’s death in the sequel when she bites off more than she can chew by showing up to an epic superhero showdown. Not the smartest decision, but most of the blame can be put on the web-slinger himself who failed to honor a promise from a dying ally.
12. Iron Man
The MCU may be the biggest movie franchise alive today thanks to The Avengers, but it was 2008’s Iron Man that laid the groundwork for what was to come. Audiences ate up what was first in a long line of movies set in the same universe, mostly thanks to the relatable story of Tony Stark, a once cynical arms dealer turned high-tech vigilante. Stark’s journey is one about redemption as he becomes a much better person that puts the needs of others ahead of his own.
Or does he? After seeing the destruction and mayhem his beloved weapons do oversees, Stark comes back to America a new man and effectively shuts down the entire weapons division of Stark Industries. A bold power play by a passionate philanthropist who refuses to see any more harm befall innocent citizens by his company’s own hands. The only thing is that Stark Industries was the main provider of military grade weapons to the U.S. defense forces. That means no more Jericho missiles, no more armor, no more guns, no more tanks, no more anything to help protect the front lines of America from impending threats. Tony may think that discontinuing all of his company’s weapons may be a good thing, but it’s not exactly doing Uncle Sam any favors. Is that really the work of a hero?
11. The Mask
One of Jim Carrey’s earliest hits, The Mask tells the story of lovable loser Stanley Ipkiss who’s been suffering from a string of bad luck. As he walks home one evening, Stanley stumbles upon an ancient Norse mask that endows him with otherworldly abilities. And by “otherworldly,” we mean being able to conjure pretty much anything out of thin air, including a bazooka, rubber duck, and fully formed conga line.
So does Ipkiss learn to hone this awesome power in order to fight crime and stop evildoers? Well, if by “fight crime” you mean shoving mufflers in crooked mechanic’s anuses and by “stop evildoers” you mean robbing local banks, then sure. Truth is, Stanley Ipkiss is as far from a hero as you can get. While the mask endows its wearer with unlimited power, Stanley selfishly uses it to live out his wildest fantasies. This includes frightening his landlord, getting even with his mechanics, knocking over a bank, showing off for the girl of his dreams, and turning the entire police squad into an unwilling dance troop. In the end, Stanley’s broken far more laws than he’s helped protect and only late in the third act does he start to do something heroic.
10. V for Vendetta
This 2005 thriller written by the Wachowski Siblings stars Hugo Weaving as a mysterious masked freedom fighter known only as “V.” With his identity shrouded in secrecy, V becomes a symbol of opposition against the fascist government of a future British society. Our masked “hero” soon recruits the help of a woman named Evey who helps him bring down the tyrants that have led Britain into the deplorable state that it’s in.
V’s message about freedom is a noble one, but instead of marching in protest rallies or organizing sit-downs, this masked vigilante’s idea of a political demonstration is blowing up national landmarks like Big Ben. While V and his followers consider him a freedom fighter, there are others who would prefer to use the term “terrorist.” His methods are extreme to say the very least.
V’s idea of acting heroic is overturning an entire government without any kind of backup plan, which would undoubtedly lead to complete anarchy. And how does he recruit other followers to his cause? As we’ve seen from Evey’s story, he psychologically tortures them until they reach their breaking point and they submit to his organization. Not the most honest way to gain someone’s trust.
Before you rush to conclusions, this entry isn’t about David Dunn. That guy is definitely a superhero in our books. No, this spot goes to the other “hero” of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, a man who kills thousands of people foolishly believing the ends justify the means. We’re of course talking about Elijah Prince, better known by his alias, “Mr. Glass.”
For the majority of Unbreakable‘s runtime, the viewer can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Prince is confined to a wheelchair, his bones are made of glass, and he relentlessly tries to inspire Dunn to take up the role of a superhero. Unfortunately, all that sympathy goes out the window in the third act when Prince reveals he’s caused several huge transportation accidents over the years just so he could find his own personal Superman.
By the end of the film, Mr. Glass finally accepts his transition to that of supervillain: “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.” Delusional, yes, but there is a bit of truth in these words of a once sympathetic good guy turned evildoer.
Directed by Josh Trank, Chronicle delivers audiences a stark, realistic scenario of what it might be like if three high school students were suddenly granted superpowers. After three friends stumble on a mysterious underground object, they find that they can move things with their mind and gain the ability of flight. But as their powers grow stronger, they find themselves increasingly in danger of overstepping their boundaries.
Chronicleis unique in that it transforms who you think is going to be the hero of the story into the villain. Andrew Detmer is a socially awkward teen with an abusive father. While he initially uses his powers with good intentions, he ends up letting his darker side get the better of him. Andrew becomes increasingly more aggressive, which ultimately leads to him accidentally killing one of his superpowered compatriots. Andrew starts the story wanting to train with Buddhist monks, but instead transforms into a full-fledged supervillain by the movie’s end, toppling over cop cars and destroying half of a down town area.
7. Batman Begins
If there’s anyone who rides that fine line between hero and villain, it’s definitely Batman. DC’s Caped Crusader was given his most morally corruptible story yet in 2005’s Batman Begins, an origin tale that chronicles the hero’s beginnings. After training in the high altitudes in an unnamed country in Asia, Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City to fight the corrupt and show the citizens of Gotham that their city is worth fighting for.
But, as the movie so often points out, Gotham is a cesspool and breeding ground for criminals. Cops extort businesses for money and turn a blind eye to crime. Psychiatrists make back alley deals to keep criminals out of jail. Judges eat five-star meals in restaurants with mob bosses. At this point, it’s safe to assume that Gotham is beyond saving, but not in the eyes of Bruce Wayne.
In fact, Wayne is so convinced in the good of his city that he completely destroys a 2,000-year-old organization that has repeatedly kept human corruption in check. The League of Shadows, as Ra’s Al Ghul so vividly points out, is the last line of defense against societies that have overstayed their welcome. Bruce completely wipes out this organization after they threaten Gotham, effectively ending their two millennium run. Is that really the work of a hero?
6. Spider-Man 3
Peter Parker is usually not the bullying type. For the majority of his cinematic adventures, he’s portrayed as a socially awkward nerd who would rather use his spare time putting together an outdated computer than going out clubbing. That’s why his minor bad guy stint in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, equipped with jet-black emo hair, threw most audiences for a loop.
After stumbling upon a mysterious alien parasite that attaches itself to his suit, Peter comes out of his shell and starts indulging in his dark side. His bad streak causes him to blow a hole in his former best friend’s face, Harry Osbourne, while also taking up a fling with Gwen Stacy just so he can shove it into the face of Mary Jane.
Perhaps worse of all, he gets his co-worker, Eddie Brock, fired from his job at the Daily Bugle. Granted, Brock had it coming, but there’s a nice way of doing things and Peter purposely humiliates his fellow journalist in front of the entire staff. This pushes Brock over the edge, starting his journey to become one of Spider-Man’s biggest villains. If only Peter had been less of a jerk, viewers might not have been subjected to Topher Grace’s less than stellar representation of Venom.
5. Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War was one of the most hyped movies of last year, and it didn’t disappoint. Audiences flocked to theaters to see former allies Captain America and Iron Man go toe-to-toe in a grudge match to end all grudge matches. Sure, Zemo is technically the “bad guy” in this movie, but the real confrontation at the heart of the story is between that of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark who are both guilty of some villainous deeds.
For starters, Tony is largely to blame for the catastrophic events of Age of Ultron which inspires the government to adopt the Sokovia Accords in Civil War. The creation of Ultron also leads to the deaths of Zemo’s entire family, which motivates the disillusioned military man to drive a wedge between the Avengers. So if there’s someone to blame for breaking up the fabled superhero team, the finger can be pointed at Tony Stark.
But Captain America is not free from sin either. Steve Rogers is so concerned about the wellbeing of his best friend Bucky that he completely disregards the opinions of half of his other friends. If he had just listened to Tony at the airport, then the final fight between the three would have never happened. Depending on how you look at things, either Iron Man or Captain America can fill the role of the villain, which is ultimately what makes Civil War so compelling.
Director Zack Snyder didn’t pull any punches with his 2009 movie Watchmen, a comic book movie so dark and gritty that the line between heroes and villains is completely blurred. In an alternate 1985 where superheroes have been cracked down on by the government, the death of an associate reunites a band of heroes who uncover something deeply unsettling when investigating their ally’s murder.
That something unsettling is their former cohort, Ozymandias, who plans to wipe out a huge chunk of the world’s population in an attempt to bring America and Soviet Russia together. Even worse is that by the time the heroes uncover the plan, it’s too late to stop it. In a horrifying reveal, Ozymandias tells the heroes that he’s already destroyed several of the world’s major cities to unite the people against Dr. Manhattan.
So who is really the villain here? On the one hand, Ozymandias is a hero turned villain by killing millions, but his plan actually works and saves the lives of billions. Then there’s Rorshach, who threatens to reveal the plan to the world, unable to see the bigger picture. Even the super powerful Dr. Manhattan could be construed as a bad guy as he’s the one who kills Rorshach in the finale. In the end, you could easily make the case that most of the heroes are villains in Watchmen, something rather difficult to pull off in a movie about superheroes.
3. The Incredibles
On the surface, The Incredibles appears to be a light-hearted Pixar film about a family of undercover superheroes that are brought out of retirement from their cozy life in the suburbs to save the world. It’s touching, hilarious and clever, with plot beats that are sure to keep the audience invested in the heroes’ plight.
If you dig a bit deeper however, it becomes clear that the patriarch of the family, Mr. Incredible, is really to blame for the countless deaths of numerous superheroes. In the film’s prologue, an over-enthusiastic fan named Buddy desperately tries to become Mr. Fantastic’s ward. Fed up with Buddy’s overly persistent attempts, Mr. Incredible crushes his fans’ dreams and denies him the access to ever become a superhero.
Flash-forward many years later and that peppy hero-in-the-making has now become the world’s deadliest supervillain, Syndrome. After being humiliated by Mr. Incredible, Buddy uses his super intellect to build catastrophic robots that he uses to wipe out other remaining superheroes. If Mr. Incredible had just taken the time to give Buddy the time of day, it’s possible that all those countless deaths could have been avoided.
2. The Dark Knight
This is the second entry on this list to feature DC’s Caped Crusader. Unsurprising, given the fact that Batman does some morally questionable things in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. In this world, being a hero is a double-edged sword where you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.
Batman chooses the latter of those options. Just when Batman has cornered the Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime reveals the ace up his sleeve. Harvey Dent, the once noble D.A. of Gotham, has turned to a vengeful vigilante, gunning down crooked cops and mob bosses for killing the love of his life, Rachel. It leads to a showdown in which Batman has no choice to tackle Dent, causing the former district attorney to plunge to his death.
In an act to preserve Dent’s good name, Batman takes the blame for all the murders. Noble, perhaps, but his decision to lie to the thousands of citizens of Gotham isn’t the most heroic deed. As we see in the sequel, the reveal about Dent sends the city into an uproar, fuelling Bane’s rebellion. Though the Dark Knight tries to be the hero Gotham deserves, he ends up not be much of a hero at all.
1. Man of Steel
Superman is the very symbol of heroism and nobility. He unselfishly puts the needs of others against the needs of his own while protecting the core belief system of America and his adoptive planet. How can a hero like this make this list? Well, it’s rather easy with a movie that turns the biggest symbol of truth and justice into a non-stopping fighting machine that destroys half of a city that he’s supposed to be protecting.
Worse yet, is giving audiences a villain that is arguably more sympathetic in comparison. Though Zod is supposed to be the antagonist of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, it’s hard to root against him. The Kryptonian General’s entire motivation behind his evil scheme is too resurrect his destroyed planet. Sure, it’s at the cost of destroying Earth, but Zod’s quest is one that we can identify with, perhaps making him too much sympathetic in the process.
That’s why when Superman breaks Zod’s neck in the third act, he doesn’t come across as the most heroic. He effectively snuffs out the last of his race, becoming the last survivor of the planet Krypton. Although Superman tries to broker a peace between Zod’s forces and Earth beforehand, we can’t ignore the fact that he spends most of the movie wiping out what remains of his planet while destroying a lot of ours in the process.