One of the many things that Marvel does well is supply the audience with a great relatable hero they can relate to. Unfortunately that same method isn’t applied as often to their villains, who are usually left behind in the dust, at least in comparison to their heroic counterparts. Most of the time, a hero is only as good as the supervillain that challenges them, and this is where some Marvel movies run into problems.
The following villains on this list can fall into either three categories. They can be boringly lackluster/entirely forgettable, they can be so over the top and miscast they become mind-boggling more irritating than threatening, or they can simply (and blatantly) not remotely resemble the awesome comic book baddies that inspired them. We are including any big screen Marvel movies, not just those of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so almost anything is on the table as far as terrible villains go.
With all that in mind, here are the 15 Worst Marvel Movie Villains.
15. Rhys Ifans as The Lizard (The Amazing Spider-Man)
There’s nothing that drags down a movie more than a villain with zero motivation. The first two Spider-Man films had the wonderfully fleshed out Doc Ock and Green Goblin, but the villains that followed just got worse and worse. While the series was rebooted after the dismal reception of Spider-Man 3, Mark Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man featured one of the series’ weakest villains in Dr. Curt Connors, aka The Lizard.
As Dr. Connors, Rhys Ifans is decent enough, mirroring the mentor relationship between Dr. Octavius and Peter from Spider-Man 2. When the good Doctor Connors transforms into the Lizard however, the villain loses all credibility and sense of logic. He’s a one track villain with a cockamamie plan to turn the entire city into lizards, a plan which could only make sense to a crackpot cartoon caricature hell-bent on world domination. His goal is ludicrous and weakly supported, making Ifans’ portrayal just one of the many forgettable things about The Amazing Spider-Man reboots.
14. Colin Farrell as Bullseye (Daredevil)
Colin Farrell is, more times than not, unfairly chastised in Hollywood. Truth be told, Farrell has some real acting chops that indeed shine through when given the right material, like in the 2008 dark comedy In Bruges. Unfortunately, Farrell frequently takes film roles that just seem to be him going through the motions by irritatingly overacting, and such was the case in 2003’s widely-maligned Daredevil.
In the first onscreen depiction of the blind defender of Hell’s Kitchen, Farrell plays the psychopathic assassin Bullseye, who deviates so far from the source material, you would think the filmmakers had never even picked up a comic before. This version of Bullseye has an Irish background, due to Farrell’s accent, and his traditional costume is completely thrown out for an all leather biker wardrobe that would look far more suitable in a comical farce like Road Hogs. In all fairness to Mr. Farrell, most of the things in Daredevil missed the mark, which was visually and ambitiously lackluster.
Oh, and while the forehead branding is an obvious homage to the character’s more traditional look, it simply doesn’t work. At all. Here’s hoping Netflix handles the character a bit better, should a third season of Daredevil indeed become a reality.
13. John Travolta as Howard Saint (The Punisher)
It would be hard to tell from his numerous good guy roles, but actor John Travolta can play one seriously mean bad guy. He was a hypnotically sadistic madman as Major ‘Deak’ Deakins in Broken Arrow, and was even a formidable highlight as Gabriel in the otherwise disappointing thriller, Swordfish. Sadly, Travolta’s charm couldn’t save the character of Howard Saint from obscurity in 2004’s big screen adaptation of The Punisher.
Howard Saint is about the equivalent of a kid who throws a temper tantrum when he discovers that his mom forgot to pack a pudding cup in his lunch box. After finding out that Frank Castle has indirectly caused the death of his loser son, mob boss Saint makes a completely appropriate response: murdering Castle’s entire family in cold blood, including his sweet old parents and his young son and wife.
Other than the loss of his son, Saint’s motivation is chalked up to his wife pretty much ordering him to do the dastardly deed in order to keep her respect. It leads to Saint coming across as a hot-headed pushover with weak motivation and an even weaker threatening presence. Surely, the big baddie of the upcoming Punisher series on Netflix will have a bit more backbone, no?
12. Christopher Eccleston as Malekith (Thor 2: The Dark World)
Christopher Eccleston’s alien overlord Malekith is pretty much the most cliché supervillain you’ll ever come across (we hope). The motivations for his character are completely absent. We don’t understand who Malekith is, and we don’t understand his goals. His big bad plan consists of destroying the entire universe, which is about as paper thin as it can get. The character belongs more in a Saturday morning cartoon than he does in a big budget MCU movie.
Doctor Who alum Christopher Eccleston does what he can here with the half-baked character, but nothing about the performance is really noteworthy. At the end of the day, the screenwriters are really to blame for writing such a poorly established villain. Thor 2 suffers from a lot of hiccups (seriously, Malekith is about to destroy the galaxy, why haven’t you called your Avengers buddies for help yet, Thor?), but none of them are quite as unforgiving as this letdown of a villain.
11. Wes Bentley as Blackheart (Ghost Rider)
This is another bad performance, by an otherwise solid actor, in an unfortunately shoddy production. Starring in critically acclaimed movies like American Beauty and Interstellar, Wes Bentley has been in a fair amount of respectable projects, which begs the question, “What was he thinking?” when he signed on for this live-action adaptation of Ghost Rider.
Directed by Mark Steven Johnson — who also gave us 2003’s Daredevil (yikes) — and starring Nicolas Cage as the titular (and horrifically mishandled) motorcyclist, Ghost Rider was doomed before the cameras even started rolling.
Bentley plays the demon Blackheart, who is basically the son of Marvel’s version of the devil — an interesting premise that just didn’t translate well on to the screen. The performance that Bentley puts in is a drab, one-note affair with such campy overtones that it becomes merely a prime example of what not to do in a comic book movie, villain-wise.
10. Famke Janssen as Phoenix (X-Men: The Last Stand)
The “Dark Phoenix” storyline is one of the most popular arcs in X-Men comics history. It tells the story of Jean Grey’s split alter-ego, Phoenix, who becomes an uncontrollable force of nature as the most powerful mutant alive. With its rampant popularity among X-Men fans, it was only a matter of time before the story was adapted into a feature length film, but like so many movies on this list, Phoenix here is wasted in an already bloated production that just doesn’t do the character justice.
Actress Famke Janssen does an okay job playing the mutant, as she did in the other previous X-Men films, but it doesn’t excuse that fact that Phoenix is forced in without allowing her character the proper time to develop. The film takes the easy route by writing off the character as a split personality from Jean Grey that was suppressed, a lazy troupe that has already overstayed its welcome in Hollywood. The fact that she herself lays waste to several prominent members of the X-Men (including Professor X and Cyclops) also didn’t sit well with fans. The deaths were, in a word, anticlimactic — they didn’t feel earned.
With the timeline of the X-Men franchise having been altered by the events of Days of Future Past, it’s possible that we may see the character return in some form or another in the near future, and this time, hopefully done right.
9. Julian McMahon as Doctor Doom (Fantastic Four 2005)
2005’s Fantastic Four really isn’t as bad as some critics make it out to be. It’s certainly not the worst incarnation of the franchise, thanks to the 2015 version’s efforts, but its main problem is that it doesn’t push itself to be anything more than average. It’s perfectly content to be nothing more than standard issue popcorn fare, which is disappointing on so many levels.
From the performances to the special effects, everything about this production comes across as just plain lazy, and that’s none the more true than in Julian McMahon’s bland performance as Dr. Victor von Doom.
Fresh off of his stint in television’s Nip/Tuck, McMahon had gotten a reputation for playing characters that are deviously underhanded. When it came down to casting the arch rival of Marvel’s First Family, McMahon seemed like a solid choice on the surface. The end result, however, came across as stunted and underdeveloped, likely the result of poor direction (Tim Story isn’t exactly a purveyor of fine art, after all). It unfortunately seems that a live action portrayal of this incredibly awesome Marvel villain will always spell doom for the audience, but we’ll dive deeper into that in a bit.
8. Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut (X-Men: The Last Stand)
Overcrowded with one of the biggest X-Men rosters in the franchise, Vinnie Jones’ Juggernaut is just another casualty in the questionable production that is X-Men: The Last Stand. Widely considered the weakest entry in the franchise, Last Stand is more of a firecracker than an explosive climax as it tries to elevate its source material with philosophical pretensions.
The film is so bogged down with the amount of things going on that it doesn’t allow proper time for certain characters to click with the audience. One of those characters is Jones’ Juggernaut, who is haphazardly shoehorned into the film without any real reason for being there, other than the story’s demand for some mindless muscle.
While he’s given the film’s most quotable line (“I’m the Juggernaut bitch!”) it’s easy to tell that the Juggernaut was given more of a comical edge, making the role more of a comic-relief lackey than a threatening villain. That’s too bad, because Vinnie Jones is truly an intimidating presence on-screen, even in that ridiculous muscle suit. It was probably for the best that the character was written out of a possible appearance in the already-overstuffed Days of Future Past.
7. Paul Giamatti as Rhino (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
If you’re a budding young actor and want to examine what you should NOT do when playing a villain, just look up this cringe-worthy performance from Paul Giamatti. As the Rhino, Giamatti takes the terms “camp” and “silly” to soaring new heights in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is remarkably hard to do when you consider all the silly and zany comic book villains that have popped up in movies over the years.
Still, Giamatti stands alone with his cornball interpretation of the Rhino, a character which mixes the personalities of Rocky’s Ivan Drago with the physical presence and demeanor of Elmer Fudd. The actor shouts, hoops, and hollers in Russian jibberish as he checks off every tick from the cliché bad guy checklist, including robbing, looting, and taking part in mindless destruction.
The performance comes across so outlandish that the Rhino would give the European bad guys in Beerfest a run for their money. The man wowed us with outstanding efforts in films like Sideways and 12 Years a Slave, so why Giamatti chose to throw out such a hammed performance in this film will forever remain a mystery.
6. Mickey Rourke as Whiplash (Iron Man 2)
Besides the charismatic Loki, the MCU doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to their villains. They’re often just a one-off villain with weak motivation that throws an all-too-easily-removed wrench into the works of our hero. Indeed, no MCU villain has made such a weak impact than that of Whiplash, who was basically just Mickey Rourke going through the motions in a stoic Russian accent.
It’s no secret that Rourke and director Jon Favreau had problems onset, and studio interference (read: their prioritizing of world-building in Iron Man 2 over storytelling) certainly didn’t help. The actor would even go so far as to ignore the direction given to him, often causing his co-stars to adlib lines when in a scene. Stubborn and irritated, Whiplash is a villain with shoehorned motivations that lead to a paper thin revenge scheme on Tony Stark. It also didn’t help that Rourke was only putting in about 10% effort on this one.
5. Toby Kebbell as Doctor Doom (Fantastic Four 2015)
While both onscreen incarnations of Dr. Victor von Doom make this list, we’re going with the newer version for who really takes the crap cake. 2015’s Fantastic Four is well known at this point for being one of the worst movies of the year, and one of the worst superhero movies ever. The film is the classic example of a movie that was plagued from production problems from the word go. Director Josh Trank constantly had disagreements with the studio, leading to a lifeless and disjointed product that Fox reportedly cut themselves.
As a result, the acting in the movie obviously suffered, with Toby Kebbell’s performance as Dr. Doom being the harshest casualty. Thanks to a lack of backstory, the motivations of Victor von Doom are largely put on the backburner. He’s demoted to just another run of the mill supervillain that really doesn’t do much, aside from showing up in an extremely underwhelming third act to try and destroy the world.
While Julian McMahon’s take on the character is certainly nothing to write home about, at least we get where that character is coming from. Kebbell’s Doom is just another poor attribute that makes 2015’s Fantastic Four the legendary mess of a movie that it is.
4. A cloud as Galactus (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer)
For a villain who claimed the #5 spot on IGN’s greatest comic book villains of all time, Galactus certainly deserved more than this laughably weak portrayal in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Like everything else in the sequel to its slightly (but not by much) better predecessor, Galactus is stuffy and boring — a villain that is given no cause for his actions other than his ultimate goal to destroy worlds.
Worse than all these misgivings, however, is the infinitely confusing creative decision to change the God-like figure from the comics to a pathetic cosmic dust cloud in the movie. The makers of this Fantastic Four sequel supported their decision by saying they wanted the villain to be “discreet.” Discreet would certainly be a word used to describe this version of Galactus, considering that most audiences wouldn’t even begin to recognize this giant cosmic hurricane as one of Marvel’s toughest villains. Lackluster and tone deaf, Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer totally disservices the character from the comics, and the worst part is, Hollywood didn’t even learn its lesson regarding the use of cloud-like big bads in superhero films (see: Parallax in Green Lantern).
3. Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
Earlier this year, Ryan Reynolds and company made history when they released Deadpool, which went on to become the highest grossing R-Rated film ever made. Before the character was completely knocked out of the park, however, he was nearly destroyed forever in the horrifically misguided X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Now infamously known for horribly misrepresenting the character, Deadpool in Origins is shamelessly shoehorned in for cheap shock value, provided by the inability to do something meaningful with the character on behalf of the screenwriters. This version of Wade Wilson is basically a throwaway, turning him into yet another mindless villain after being disfigured into “Weapon X.”
The character’s trademark humor and tongue and cheek personality are completely absent here, leaving only a lifeless puppet in its place. Thank goodness we got the Deadpool movie that encapsulates everything iconic about the character, and not just another haphazard production where his mouth is sewn shut.
2. Topher Grace as Venom (Spider-Man 3)
Venom is one of the most recognizable villains that Spider-Man has on his roster. The supervillain is the darker version of the webslinger — an insanely powerful foe with a bone to pick with the hero that ruined his life. When it was announced that Sam Raimi would be including the powerhouse villain in the third entry of his Spider-Man trilogy, fans were ecstatic. Unfortunately, no one could really foresee the problems that the movie, especially the Venom character, would suffer from.
The introduction of Eddie Brock and his hate-fueled transformation into Venom really deserves the merit of its own movie, but sadly, Spider-Man 3 stuffed so many bad guys into its story that it became impossible to flesh any of them out. Venom is tacked on in the third act as a throwaway villain, and it doesn’t help that the character was completely and utterly miscast.
The inexplicable decision to drop Topher Grace into the role is as head-scratchingly asinine as any casting call in recent memory (in any film genre), and Venom is left to become just another one-off supervillain, thus undermining his vast importance and popularity from the comics. With the possible forthcoming solo Venom movie, we might finally get the film that introduces us to a proper version of Eddie Brock and his alter ego, though we’re not sure how it will work without Spidey on board in some capacity.
1. Ben Kingsley as “The Mandarin” (Iron Man 3)
The Mandarin is to Iron Man what the Joker is to Batman. As Iron Man’s archenemy, the supervillain is defined by the most dangerous aspects of both the physical and mental — a genius scientist that’s also one of the most dangerous martial artists on the planet. His threatening presence is only enhanced by his ten rings of power, which were made from alien technology from a crashed space ship. After the events of The Avengers, it seemed like the alien tech was there for the Mandarin to finally come to fruition and give Iron Man a run for his money as the smartest and most dangerous mind on the planet. The hype train was in full swing when it was finally revealed that the character was going to be played by none other than Oscar winner Ben Kingsley.
Nothing could have prepared audiences for what was to come in Iron Man 3, when the wind was completely taken out of fans’ sails. Not only was the Mandarin not the genius tactician and martial artist he was from the comics, but he wasn’t even a villain at all. In a bizarre twist, it was revealed that the Mandarin was really Trevor Slattery, an actor who was being paid to create a character in order to put a false face on the actions of another terrorist, played by Guy Pearce. Tony Stark eventually finds the actor whimpering and cowering for his life as he exits the bathroom and crawls up next to two prostitutes in his bed, thereby revealing the film’s big twist.
Fans were obviously let down and offended that one of the most threatening villains from the Iron Man comics was reduced to a complete farce. The door has been left open for “the real Mandarin,” however, so let’s hope that the franchise takes more time to faithfully depict this classic villain in future cinematic installments.
Who was your least favorite Marvel baddie? Will we ever see faithful depictions of characters like the Mandarin and Galactus, or are they simply too difficult to adapt? Sound off in the comments section.