It’s been said that a hero is only as interesting as their villains. While that’s not totally true, a great villain certainly doesn’t hurt in a superhero story and only helps.
On The CW’s Arrowverse, this fact is completely understood. Throughout the four (to five) shows and many more seasons, the Arrowverse has created almost as many villains, as heroes.
Whether they were a minor or much larger presence, there’s a whole variety of villains in the Arrowverse. They differ not only in goals, looks and power level but also in quality.
Like most things in the Arrowverse, the villains have been done extraordinarily well. However, there are a few examples of them being rather great disappointments. In fact, the quality of the villains has largely determined the success of the season(s) in which they appeared.
This isn't a ranking of every villain in the Arrowverse. There are some notable exceptions. For example, Captain Cold was left off because while he’s a great character, his arc has been one of a hero, not a villain.
Likewise, big villains like The Flash’s Zoom and Supergirl’s Queen Rhea were left off because they exist in a state of mediocrity. They're neither fantastic, nor quite terrible.
With those caveats in mind, here are the 11 Best (And 9 Worst) Villains In The Arrowverse.
20 Best: Tobias Whale – Black Lightning
Black Lightning has a lot of the same themes and tones of the Arrowverse but it exists in a weird limbo where it’s not confirmed to be that universe. In fact, the people behind the show have assured viewers that it's completely separate.
However, even if that’s true it’s easy to view Black Lightning being in the same multiverse, like Supergirl. Even if it’s not, villain Tobias Whale is an example of a type of villain other Arrowverse show have tried to create and failed.
Despite no obvious metahuman powers, the albino crimelord is a demanding presence in Black Lightning. He’s the most powerful person in the room at all times and has an obvious iron grip on his city. Tobias Whale is a grounded and more realistic villain but he more than stands up to the unbelievable Black Lightning.
Whale is the gangster you don’t want to challenge.
19 Worst: Captain Boomerang – Arrow and The Flash
Captain Boomerang is one of the biggest villainous disappointments in the Arrowverse. However, that’s due to more wasted potential than him being overtly terrible.
Everything was in place for Captain Boomerang to be one of the best that the Arrowverse had to offer. He was played by Nick Tarabay, a relatively unknown but fantastic actor.
He made his proper debut in the first Arrow and Flash crossover and managed to be a huge threat to both heroes. Sadly, after that first appearance, Boomerang was thrown into a prison on Lian Yu and almost completely forgotten.
He did finally return in the Arrow season 5 finale. Yet it was only to die, off-screen, and hardly anyone cared. Whether the use of Boomerang had to be lessened due to the character being in the DCEU or not, the Arrowverse portrayal was underwhelming.
18 Best: Cayden James – Arrow
There’s only one thing necessary to make Cayden James work on Arrow. It’s his actor, Michael Emerson. Since his breakout role, rather late in his career, as Ben Linus on Lost, Emerson has a well-established reputation of playing evil creeps. Yet it never gets at all dull.
Emerson is able to take a character, whose been done countless times before, in evil genius James and make him feel like the height of menace. There’s no way that diminutive James should be a threat for a mountain of muscle like Oliver Queen. However, whenever Emerson and Amell share a screen, the former is the obvious victor.
With a different actor, Cayden James could be hokey and boring. This point is irrelevant, though, because Arrow has cast Emerson. Every time James appears, he’s a villainous and bone-chilling delight.
17 Best: Lillian Luthor – Supergirl
As the mother of one of the famous baddies of all time, Lex, Lillian Luthor entered Supergirl with a lot of evil baggage. Luckily, Brenda Strong was up for the task.
Lillian isn’t the most complex or deepest villain. Her motivations boil down to hating aliens because one of them was mean to her son. Lillian’s also incredibly and one-dimensionally cruel to her daughter, Lena.
Yet the thing that matters with Lillian is that Brenda Strong obviously has a lot of fun playing her and that translates into a memorable and weirdly enjoyable performance.
It’s not as if Lillian is even the main villain of her debut season. Queen Rhea of Daxam was the real threat of Supergirl season 2 but Lillian was more memorable and way bigger of a struggle for Kara Danvers-- even without any powers.
16 Worst: Maxwell Lord – Supergirl
Lillian Luthor was Supergirl’s workaround to have a Lex Luthor character without bringing on Lex. Thankfully, it worked. Maxwell Lord, however, was the show’s first attempt and he was a total failure.
In the comics, Maxwell Lord is among the more interesting villains. While there were elements of his comic character, Supergirl essentially made Maxwell Lord into a knock-off Lex Luthor and it was unbearable.
Actor Peter Facinelli did the best with what he was given. It just happened all he had to do was smirk, leer at Alex Danvers and pretend to be the smartest person in the room (while in actuality being a huge dunce). Lord was creepy, and not in a good way, and sucked the life out of his every scene, also not in a good way.
While strange, it’s a relief that all existence of his character has seemingly been erased after season 1.
15 Best: Black Siren – The Flash and Arrow
Katie Cassidy joined Arrow as the eventual Black Canary, (Dinah) Laurel Lance. It’s not the role she was meant to play in the universe. Cassidy’s greatest role in the Arrowverse has been as the evil Earth-2 version of Laurel Lance, Black Siren.
There’s an element of Black Siren’s success that relies heavily on her being so different from the original Laurel. Black Siren’s greatest asset is in how she reminds Team Arrow (and the rest of the heroes) of what they’ve lost from Laurel.
However, there’s also no denying that Cassidy is relishing her every evil moment on-screen and it shows. Black Siren is far more lively than the original Black Canary.
There also manages to be these kernels of humanity in Black Siren that make her not just a fun villain but a complex character.
14 Worst: Ra’s al Ghul – Arrow
Ra’s al Ghul had one of the best villain introductions on Arrow during season 3’s midseason finale, “The Climb”. Ra’s fighting Oliver in a deadly sword duel and “killing” him seemed to cement Ra’s as the next great Arrow villain.
Unfortunately, everything that followed “The Climb” was a huge disappointment. Ra’s went from a mysterious and deadly leader to a dull man with perpetually wet hair and a bizarre obsession with Oliver Queen.
There was nothing enigmatic about Ra’s al Ghul. He was hundreds of years old but he was barely more recognizable than the average Arrow grunt and he had just about as much personality.
Arrow spent two seasons before his introduction hyping about Ra’s. Yet once he finally arrived, he was nothing more than a bore. It was a relief when he was finally written out of the show.
13 Best: Gorilla Grodd – The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow
Of all of the Arrowverse’s impressive special effects, Gorilla Grodd might very well be the most successful. The fact that The Flash believably brought Grodd to life at all is remarkable. Yet Gorilla Grodd isn’t just a technical achievement, he’s a story-telling one as well.
Grodd should be ridiculous. Yet The Flash has slowly built him up as a threat. There’s a tragedy to The Flash’s Grodd, in that he was experimented on by humans and turned into a monster not of his own making. Yet The Flash has conceivably turned Grodd into a threat of epic proportions, resulting in him crossing over to Legends of Tomorrow.
A telepathic evil gorilla seems like a thing that would only work on the colorful pages of a comic book. Yet The Flash is proof positive that Grodd can be terrifying in live-action.
12 Worst: Mirror Master – The Flash
The Flash’s rogues gallery might not be as mainstream as Batman’s villains. Yet the speedster’s baddies do rival the dark knight’s, at least in terms of creativity and interest.
For the most part, The Flash has embraced their staple of comic villains. On average, The Flash’s rogues are passable and honor their comic book counterparts. Yet every so often the show introduces a villain that ends up being a crushing disappointment. Mirror Master is one of the most notable examples.
Mirror Master first appeared in The Flash season 3 to “make up” for Captain Cold and Heat Wave moving on from the series. It should’ve been spectacular but Grey Damon’s version of the character dropped the ball.
Mirror Master wasn’t interesting or even mildly threatening. He was just a bit of an idiot with an even lamer sidekick, The Top. As such the character was quickly abandoned.
11 Best: Damien Darhk – Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow
Arrow season 4 might not be the best year of the series. The plotting was more than a little off and Arrow doesn’t do well with more supernatural threats. Yet as a character and a performance, Damien Darhk is fantastic.
There's a very good reason that after his first season on Arrow, Darhk moved over to Legends of Tomorrow and became the perfect nemesis for that crew.
Like Michael Emerson, Neal McDonough is no stranger to playing villains and also like Emerson he’s very good at being bad. McDonough is electric as Damien Darhk. He’s charismatic and as campy as you want from a comic book villain.
There is a tendency for Darhk to be more of a joke than a threat, but he’s almost always fun to watch.
10 Worst: Vandal Savage – Legends of Tomorrow
On paper, there would seem to be no better villain for the time-traveling Legends than the immortal Vandal Savage. While season 1 of Legends of Tomorrow did come up with some interesting concepts for episodes due to Savage’s immortality, everything about the character was a bit of a flop.
Vandal Savage was just a poorly drawn and written character. Legends of Tomorrow couldn’t find a more compelling motivation for him than being obsessed with Hawkgirl. Sadly, this just turned the character into a caricature, seeming more like a creepy lovelorn teen than an actual immortal.
Casper Crump has one of the best names of any actor in the Arrowverse and one of the sickest widow’s peaks. Unfortunately, he also turned in one of the most forgettable performances as a villain.
9 Best: Reign – Supergirl
Of any of the Arrowverse shows, Supergirl has struggled the most to find compelling villains for Kara to fight. The focus of Supergirl has always been much more on the heroes than the villains. The latter just turn into plot points. This is, however, what makes Reign such a great and refreshing threat for the series.
Introduced first with her “fake persona” of Samantha Arias, Supergirl built the character up and had her make a personal connection with Kara, Alex, and Lena. The happiness of their quartet’s friendship is marked by tragedy because Sam was created to be a worldkiller known as a Reign. Sam's evil side can take over her at any time.
It’s not a wholly original situation. It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with an alien twist but it results in one of the most tragic, scary, and threatening villains ever seen in the Arrowverse.
8 Worst: Cyborg Superman – Supergirl
Cyborg Superman is one of the more confusing decisions that Supergirl has ever made. In season 1, the show did come up with a very effective twist where Hank Henshaw turned out, not to be a villain but J'onn J'onzz in disguise. Yet in season 2, Supergirl brought back the real Hank Henshaw and turned him into Cyborg Superman.
The character was just dreadful waste of space and use of actor, David Harewood’s, talents. Cyborg Superman, a rather complex character in the comics became Lillian Luthor’s muscle and nothing else. Everything was confusing about Cyborg Superman, from his name to existence to why audience members were supposed to care at all about him.
Cyborg Superman is best used an evil analogue of the real Supes. He’s totally useless as the henchman of a villain facing Superman’s cousin.
7 Best: Malcolm Merlyn – Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow
Just as Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen set the tone for many heroes to follow, Malcolm Merlyn was the trendsetter for the villains. The father of Oliver’s best friend turned Green Arrow’s archenemy, Malcolm was a fantastic counter-balance for Oliver.
Arrow did have to bend over backwards to explain why and how Malcolm wasn’t dead, several times. Yet that was a small price to pay for one of the universe’s most magnetic characters.
Malcolm occasionally blurred the line between villain and ruthless anti-hero. However, that ambiguity just made him a stronger character, rather than resulting in any real confusion or faulty writing.
While he was best facing off against Oliver, Malcolm was equally fantastic as a member of the Legion of Doom on Legends. The double duty on Arrow season 5 and Legends season 2, resulted in Malcolm’s last full year in the Arrowverse being his best.
6 Worst: Non (and Indigo) – Supergirl
The first major baddie of Supergirl, Astra, wasn’t fantastic. Astra was campy and weird but actress Laura Benati at least made her fun to watch. When Astra was shockingly killed off early in season 1, her replacement(s) left a lot to be desired.
It might be a little bit of a cheat to include Astra’s husband, Non, and his AI mistress Indigo in one entry. However, Supergirl clearly meant for the two characters to be considered as one evil unit.
The two were meant to balance out the weakness in each other as villains. Sadly, Non and Indigo weren't two halves of a single interesting villain. They were more like two quarters.
Non was ungodly dull being an obvious and embarrassing General Zod clone. Indigo, meanwhile, was not only tremendous fake-looking but egregiously over-the-top. There two were awful together and luckily were written off at the end of season 1.
5 Best: Deathstroke – Arrow
While Arrow failed to satisfyingly build up to Ra’s al Ghul as a villain, they nailed Slade Wilson’s journey. Arrow season 2 is considered one of, if not the best, year of the series and that’s in large part to Deathstroke.
Arrow season 1 created a solid foundation turning Oliver and Slade into friends and partners. Season 2 tore that all down by Slade devolving into madness and being obsessed with getting revenge on Oliver.
Arrow’s Slade is a little melodramatic and silly but only in ways that fit with the show’s universe and tone. Deathstroke is exact right balance of entertaining and menace.
The thing that really makes Deathstroke work, however, is his dynamic with Oliver. So much so, that Deathstroke is almost preferable as an ally, not an antagonist, of Oliver Queen. Yet when the two are at odds, there’s hardly a tenser situation.
4 Worst: Cupid – Arrow
It’s a relatively well-known fact that Arrow had plans for Harley Quinn that were abandoned due to the DCEU’s use of the character. So instead of using Harley, Arrow was forced to include the comics own obsessive-compulsive knock-off Harley character, Cupid.
Arrow tends to be very straight-laced, but camp can work, and work quite well on the show. Cupid, however, took things entirely too far.
Cupid is less a character and more of a cartoon. The character’s entire motivation is boiled down to her being obsessed with strong male figures in her life which is just vaguely insulting and incredibly demeaning.
She’s also been the centerpiece of some of Arrow’s most horrific episodes, “Draw Back Your Bow” and “Broken Hearts”. Cupid isn’t the sole reason why those episodes are embarrassments, but the character’s foolish and childish attitude certainly don’t improve matters.
3 Best: Prometheus – Arrow
Arrow season 2 might be the best season of the show but it’s not the only fantastic year or the peak, after which all subsequent seasons fell. This is because Arrow season 5 exists with its central villain, Prometheus.
Prometheus was a villain that could’ve only existed after five seasons of Arrow and he was well worth the wait. Adrian Chase was all of Oliver Queen’s past mistakes and regrets made into one hellish threat and he constantly was one step ahead of the Green Arrow.
The level of preparedness of Prometheus did often stretch the concepts of logic and common sense but so does the very concept of a bow wielding vigilante.
Prometheus was a living nightmare for Oliver and crew. The only reason that he doesn’t top this list, is he was a bit too deranged to form a real personal connection with Oliver.
2 Worst: Savitar – The Flash
The Flash was already running out of steam with speedster villains in season 2 with Zoom. Yet the gas tank ran completely dry with Savitar in season 3.
The one thing that The Flash managed to do with Savitar is make him an insurmountable threat for Barry, by having him be way faster and having Savitar try to kill Iris. Everything else was a disaster.
The Flash waited far too long to reveal Savitar’s identity, which severely limited how much the character could be developed. Even Savitar’s identity, as a time remnant of a future Barry, was more convoluted than emotionally satisfying.
It turns out that Grant Gustin can do many things as an actor but playing against himself as villain isn't one of them. In his gigantic suit, Savitar was ridiculous but outside of it, the character played like a bad parody of the show.
1 Best: Reverse Flash – The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow
Reverse Flash isn’t the first big villain of the Arrowverse. He’s preceded by a quite a few on Arrow. Yet the evil speedster did set a gold evil standard for the franchise. It’s a high that The Flash, in particular, has been struggling to reach since that very first season.
The Reverse Flash is everything a supervillain needs to be to be a success. Thawne is threatening but he’s a deep enough character that he can come back time and time again and still be explored as a person.
In season 1 and beyond, The Flash has created a fantastic dynamic between Barry and Eobard Thawne. There’s respect, admiration but also this great rivalry and hatred.
The logistics of the Reverse Flash and time travel in general on The Flash is a huge mystery. It’s all secondary to how entertaining (and terrifying) the Reverse Flash can be as a villain.
Who are your favorite (and least favorite) villains in the Arrowverse? Sound off in the comments!
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