A true test of a hero’s strength is always measured by how great the villain is that pushes them. Supervillains have the power to elevate a story beyond the bland and repetitive, realistically threatening everything that our heroes hold dear. No doubt DC has had their fair share of great villain portrayals in movies, including Heath Ledger’s Joker, Terrance Stamp’s General Zod, and Aaron Eckhart’s Two Face.
DC has also had their fair share of terrible movie villains as well.
With every great movie villain DC has come out with, they’ve done about four mediocre ones. Overacted, underdeveloped, and just plain ridiculous, these villains are the kind of threats that Darkwing Duck wouldn’t even pay the light of day to. The bad guys on this list aren’t exactly threatening, but they are terrible. They can be a direct representation from the comics, or a brand new entity the studios have thought up. Either way, they assuredly stink up whatever movie they have the displeasure of starring in.
Here are the 15 Worst DC Movie Villains.
15. Jim Carrey as the Riddler (Batman Forever)
Kicking off our list is one of the more polarizing renditions of a DC movie villain. On the one hand, Carrey’s performance is over-the-top, bombastic, and just plain silly. On the other hand, it’s Jim Carrey — how else could he have played the character? In a Joel Schumacher production that fully embraces its inner camp, Carrey’s interpretation comes with the territory.
While he’s not exactly the calculating genius he is in the comics, Carrey’s Riddler is fun to watch. It might be impossible to crack a grin as he slinks about the batcave in his skin tight spandex, throwing ticking time-bombs while doing sportscaster one-liners. Batman Forever’s Riddler is essentially Ave Ventura and Lloyd Christmas rolled into one zany character doing his best Joker impression, but thanks to Carrey’s onscreen appeal, he’s at least amusing. Still, it’s not the character from the DC comics, and whoever gets the chance to play the character in future movies should give him a more grounded approach.
14. Peter Sarsgaard as Dr. Hector Hammond (Green Lantern)
In a movie full of dull decisions, Peter Sarsgaard as Dr. Hector Hammond is a beam of light, but still not all that bright. Sarsgaard is actually a fantastic character actor when he gets decent work like in Shattered Glass, Black Mass and Jarhead. Unfortunately he has an agent who also recommends some of the most abysmal projects in Hollywood, which include the failed horror flick Orphan, and of course, Green Lantern.
The actor does his best with the material he’s given here. He tries to flesh out Hammond with his tumultuous relationship with his father, but it’s not enough for the character to really flourish. After some time, Dr. Hammond is put on the backburner, and he’s completely written out of the third act as a result. It’s unfortunate, because in more competent hands, Sarsgaard’s performance of the egotistical Dr. Hammond could have been a noteworthy aspect of an otherwise terrible Green Lantern film.
13. Robert Vaughn as Ross Webster (Superman III)
After Gene Hackman’s devious Lex Luthor and Terrance Stamp’s imposing General Zod, Robert Vaughn had quite the shoes to fill when stepping into the main bad guy role for Superman III. Unfortunately, the failure of the movie was beyond his control, featuring a campy tone, a confused and out of place Richard Pryor, and a ridiculous subplot about taking over the tobacco industry with synthetic kryptonite.
Vaughn’s Ross Webster just piles on top of the madness, a villain with such comedic overtones he would have been better off in a Roger Moore-era James Bond film. While Hackman’s Luthor had brief period of sarcastic quips, everything that comes out of Webster’s mouth is a cringe-worthy piece of poorly timed comedic dialog that makes it impossible for the audience to consider him threatening. To make a long story short, he’s overshadowed by everyone in the movie, including Pryor’s Gus. Not what we would call a formidable Superman villain.
12. Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller (Green Lantern)
Amanda Waller is generally considered an antihero in the comics, even providing the Justice League with some help now and then. More often than not though, she rides that line between good and evil for whatever best suits her own needs. She uses her intelligence and devious methods of intimidation to influence others around her so they might do her bidding. She will be portrayed by Viola Davis in the upcoming Suicide Squad film, who entices the team of supervillains into action.
Before we see Davis’ interpretation, you might want to avoid the performance by Anela Bassett in the Green Lantern film. Having an Oscar nominee is usually a squandered opportunity in comic book movies, and unfortunately, Bassett is a case and example. The movie just uses the character’s name as bait, resulting in a frivolous addition to an already mess of a movie. While she’s not laughably bad in the role like other entries on this list, she’s not given much to do here, and as an audience we’re left wondering what such a fantastic actress was doing in such a trainwreck of a movie.
11. Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face (Batman Forever)
In a world of mediocre comic book villains, Harvey “Two Face” stands above the heap thanks to his complex and conflicting nature. Harvey Dent, Gotham’s once noble District Attorney, turns to a life of crime after being horribly disfigured, allowing his split personality to get the better of him. Tommy Lee Jones, who usually plays an authority figure, should have been ideal for bringing a grounded sense of dark realism and grit to the character in 1995’s Batman Forever.
Instead we got just another watered down version of the Joker. After Nicholson’s powerhouse performance in Tim Burton’s Batman, Jones goes over the top and cartoony for a character that should have been internally conflicted and emotionally torn. Jones laughs it up as he parades across the screen, throwing hissy fits whenever he moronically and inevitably fails to take out the Caped Crusader. Another example of deviating miles away from source material, Jones’ Two Face fails to capture the essence of Harvey Dent. Let’s hope the character’s more human and less caricature if Affleck’s standalone Batman film ever decides to bring back Gotham’s conflicted D.A.
10. Sharon Stone as Laurel Hedare (Catwoman)
Originally planned to have Michelle Pfeiffer and Tim Burton return from their work on Batman Returns, the idea was eventually scrapped, and Catwoman was plagued with problems starting from the very beginning. Warner Bros. and director Pitof (who egotistically only goes by the one name) made the impressive feat to screw up every creative decision that came along with this movie, including the villain, played by the usually wonderful Sharon Stone.
A good supervillain might have helped Catwoman just a smidge, but Stone’s rendition of Hedare is the final nail in the coffin. Catwoman’s nemesis is just an evil face for the cosmetic industry with a lackluster plan. Her motivations are almost nonexistent, and the audience constantly wonders why Hedare bothers showing up at all. Her end is fitting, as she takes her own life after realizing how disfigured she is after her brawl with Catwoman. Like the character’s actual fate, Stone’s performance of Hedare will eventually be lost in the void of forgotten movie antagonists. Eventually.
9. Christopher Reeve as Evil Superman (Superman III)
The sad thing about Clark Kent’s split dark side in Superman III is that it’s actually an interesting idea. Superman is the symbol of everything noble and righteous, which opens up all sorts of possibilities about his conflicting morality. When a synthetic form of kryptonite and tobacco tar splits the Man of Steel into one evil and one good incarnation (yes, apparently fake kryptonite and tobacco do that), the two engage in a physical and metaphorical fight over their clashing ideologies.
Evil Superman does his thing, destroying oil tankers, getting drunk, and sleeping with random women on top of the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, the character comes across more campy than dark and sinister, further derailing the Superman franchise until the deathblow of Superman IV. The final fight between the righteous Clark Kent and the Evil Superman is as campy as it gets, with not much room for philosophical interpretation. Why Richard Lester didn’t just use Bizarro as the main baddie in this failed production is beyond us.
8. Marion Cotillard as Talia Al Ghul (The Dark Knight Rises)
Unlike most movie villains, Talia al Ghul is rather shortchanged in The Dark Knight Rises, her character not emerging until well into the third act. Perhaps her limited screen time is the reason that Talia doesn’t fully engage audiences, which is a shame, because she’s rather a formidable foe in the comics. The daughter of Ra’s al Ghul is an expert in hand-to-hand combat with an off-again, on-again relationship with Bruce Wayne.
Unfortunately, all of that is pretty much thrown out the window in Rises, in which Cotillard fakes her true identity until the climax of the film. Of course the deception was meant to fool audiences, even though any Batman fan worth his salt knew that the actress was going to be playing the daughter of Ra’s. The end result is a rushed villain that not only glosses over her own motivations, but demotes the importance of the film’s main baddie, Bane.
7. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
There’s plenty of things that drag down Zack Snyder’s superhero showdown, and Jesse Eisenberg’s questionable take on Lex Luthor is certainly one of them. When it was announced that the Social Network actor would be taking the role of Superman’s arch nemesis, fans were hesitant to say the least. Eisenberg’s brand of spaz-induced acting didn’t exactly scream the cold calculations of Luthor, and it now seems that the naysayers were proved right.
There’s a time and a place for the hyperactive spaz attacks that Eisenberg is so fond of, and Batman v Superman wasn’t really the time to indulge in any of them. Luthor comes across as a frenetic, spoiled business mogul that suffers from daddy issues, more reminiscent of Carrey’s rendition of the Riddler than Hackman or Spacey’s take on the character. Sometimes deviations from source material works, à la Heath Ledger’s Joker, but Eisenberg’s take is just too far off base to gel with audiences, especially with that infinitely awkward scene with granny’s peach tea.
6. Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy (Batman & Robin)
Like everything else in Batman & Robin, Poison Ivy is a colorful and over-hammed production wrapped in the nostalgia of everything that made the Dark Knight so campy to begin with. Ivy’s transition echoes that of Catwoman in Batman Returns, minus the dark and gothic overtones in favor of cartoonish camp. Uma Thurman plays the botanist supervillain, who starts the film as a nerdy scientist and transforms into a poisonous sex symbol after being drenched in dangerous chemicals.
The crushing thing about Batman & Robin is that it’s filled with good actors who put in questionable performances. Thurman is indeed talented, but her character is stilted, clichéd and overacted, with motivations that are questionable at best. At one moment she’s preaching total plant take over in favor of humanity, but then teams up with Mr. Freeze to bring the world back into the ice age. Not the ideal condition for a botanist takeover. Why would these two ever be on the same side?
5. A Cloud as Parallax (Green Lantern)
Don’t you hate it when movies screw up some of your favorite villains from the comics? Spider-Man 3 botched Venom, Iron Man 3 destroyed the Mandarin, and Green Lantern completely wasted Parallax. This shapeshifting entity from the comics has the ability to possess certain individuals and make them do heinous acts of evil. Parallax uses its yellow light of fear to frighten and control everyone from Superman to Green Lantern, making him a formidable foe to say the least.
While he’s frighteningly dangerous on the pages, he comes across unintentionally comical on screen. The biggest flaw in his onscreen persona is the creative decision to change the character design to a big doofy dust cloud that gobbles up fear (the lessons learned from Galactus’ interpretation in Rise of the Silver Surfer were apparently completely lost on the producers of this film). While there are fleeting moments of intimidation, Parallax comes across more as a joke with no clear motivations or goals. Just chalk this one up to the numerous other sins Green Lantern committed.
4. Faye Dunaway as Selena (Supergirl)
It’s shocking to think that a movie with so many great actors can fail as hard as Supergirl did. Not only did it have the immortal Peter O’Toole and Mia Farrow, but it had Faye Dunaway star as the main baddie, Selena. Dunaway is the kind of actress that Hollywood legends are made of, earning Oscar nods for classics like Network, Chinatown and Bonnie and Clyde. No doubt the producers of this failed superhero experiment cast the actress to replicate the Marlon Brando effect from Superman, giving the actress top billing in an effort to pull in viewers.
Unlike Brando, who was given a character that was at least somewhat relatable and well-written, Dunaway’s Selena is given no motivation, and plagued with very forced scenes involving magic. Dunaway has no choice but to embrace the camp and misdirection, choosing to overact in every scene that she’s in. The character ultimately suffers from a cartoony performance, generic and tired script, as well as a horribly annoying sidekick to deal with. The worst part is that it misuses all the potential that a world class actress like Dunaway could have brought to the table. What a waste.
3. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze (Batman & Robin)
Like Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, and Uma Thurman, Schwarzenegger gets railed for his Mr. Freeze for how over-the-top and campy the performance is. Schwarzenegger makes his character in Jingle All the Way look award-worthy by giving Freeze the goofiest demeanor in DC history (yes, we’re counting Carrey’s Riddler). He becomes a supervillain satire that makes up the things in film critics’ nightmares, blasting off an ice pun every minute or so, to the point that it’s hard not to bust out laughing while watching the atrocity that is Batman & Robin.
Director Joel Schumacher’s decision to dumb down characters’ backstories and motivations will forever haunt loyal Batman fans. There was zero attempt to carry over Mr. Freeze’s nuanced intelligence the comics and animated television series worked so hard to develop. This cringe-worthy rendition is honestly so cartoonish that it might as well have been Elmer Fudd on screen blasting away at Batman with his ice canon. His goal to turn Gotham into one giant icicle makes little to no sense in the grand scheme of things, and his weak motivation to save his beloved wife is questionable at best. Schumacher and Schwarzenegger should have taken their own advice, and iced out this terrible performance from the franchise.
2. Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man (Superman IV)
Comic book movie villains, nay, all movie villains, rarely get as half-baked and convoluted as Nuclear Man. In 1987, Superman IV was released to a universal critic bashing, poor box office returns, and fan hate that it’s now regarded as the Batman & Robin of Superman films. Evil mastermind Lex Luthor makes a brief appearance in the entry, and this time he creates a dastardly new villain, Nuclear Man, who is supposedly trying to rid the world of nuclear arms.
Of course, the good intentions are not what they seem, and Nuclear Man eventually meets up to duke it out with the Man of Steel. Unfortunately, the character design, motivations and cringe-inducing dialog make Nuclear Man a dumpster fire of a big bad. Mark Pillow, who played the supervillain, had never starred in a movie before, and has subsequently never been in another movie since this disaster. Pillow plays the character as a knock-off version of Bizarro, whose voice has inexplicably been replaced by Gene Hackman’s, making the character that much more jarring for the audience. For a guy that deals in nuclear warfare, the only real bomb here is Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
1. Jeep Swenson as Bane (Batman & Robin)
It’s not just because Jeep Swenson’s Bane is one of the worst DC movie villains of all time that he claims our top spot; this list is riddled with terrible villains from DC films. No, Swenson’s rendition of this classic Batman character is crowned the worst because it single handedly destroyed what made Bane so formidable and unique in the comics.
Bane is a genius tactician that is also inhumanly strong, thanks to his super-drug, Venom. He’s one of the few villains that’s able to deduce Batman’s secret identity and best him at hand to hand combat. Indeed, his most infamous maneuver involves taking the beaten Batman, lifting him above his head, and cracking the Dark Knight’s back, resulting in a crippled Batman.
Bane’s rendition in Batman & Robin couldn’t be further from the comic source material. In the 1997 film, the supervillain is reduced to a mindless, hulking goon whose vocabulary only consists of his own name and the word “bomb.” Gone is the genius strategist that could challenge the Caped Crusader in both a game of strength and wits. The only aspect of the character that makes it over into the movie is his origin from South America and the inclusion of Venom. Other than that, Bane is reduced to just another mindless thug, a thug that is being controlled like a dumb puppet by Poison Ivy nonetheless.
While Swenson is responsible for the performance, most of the blame can go to director Joel Schumacher, who openly admitted knowing nothing about Bane before putting him in the film. It certainly showed Mr. Schumacher. Let’s hope you stay clear of beloved villains you know nothing about from now on.
Did we miss any particularly awful baddies? Let us know in the comments section.