The prevailing wisdom among movie fans is that a big-screen blockbuster lives or dies based off the quality of its main villain. It’s not hard to see why – after all, if the baddie in question isn’t a memorable or credible threat, watching our heroes triumph over them isn’t particularly satisfying.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course. With the exception of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, the rogues gallery of the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe have largely proven a disappointing bunch. But even so, the marketing machines behind virtually every blockbuster film – including those released by Marvel Studios – put a significant amount of effort into generating pre-release excitement around the supposed awesomeness of their villains.
Sometimes, these big bads really do live up to the promotional buzz. Brilliantly twisted creations like Heath Ledger’s Joker have since gone on to become iconic examples of what a cinematic antagonist should be, far exceeding audience expectations along the way. But more often than not, the hoopla surrounding these nefarious characters turns out to be grossly exaggerated.
Check out our list of 15 Major Movie Villains That Didn't Live Up To The Hype.
15 Captain Phasma - Star Wars
As the first female stormtrooper to appear in a Star Wars film, Captain Phasma was bound to whip up a certain degree of excitement. Toss in her distinctive chromium armor – worn by Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie, no less – and reputation for kicking butt, and fans were expecting big things from Phasma.
But despite her striking visual style and Christie’s involvement, Captain Phasma doesn’t really wind up amounting to much. Aside from leading a massacre in The Force Awakens and going head-to-head in a duel with Finn in The Last Jedi – admittedly, both pretty hardcore undertakings – Phasma doesn’t really do anything before her eventual (and sudden) demise.
Worse still, the good Captain is notorious for folding embarrassingly quickly to interrogation by Finn, Han Solo, and Chewbacca when captured by the trio on Starkiller Base – hardly the behavior of an ultra-tough baddie!
14 Oberhauser - Spectre
When the title for the 24th entry in the James Bond franchise was unveiled as Spectre, 007 fans began speculating that legendary villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld would appear. However, once casting announcements were made, it was disclosed that Daniel Craig’s Bond would be pitted against a new character, Franz Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz.
Despite frenzied speculation that “Oberhauser” was merely a cover for Blofeld’s true identity, the filmmakers insisted that this was not the case. Of course, it turned out everybody was right all along; Oberhauser and Blofeld were one and the same person.
You can’t blame director Sam Mendes and his team for lying to preserve the surprise – after all, they’re only doing it for our own benefit. But following the intense speculation around Spectre’s antagonist, this big reveal ultimately feels unearned, and Waltz is also less effective in the role than you would expect.
13 The Joker
Much was made of Jared Leto’s borderline-insane method acting asthe Joker in Suicide Squad.
In the end, the role is barely more than a cameo!
Director David Ayer and editor John Gilroy ended up excising the majority of the scenes featuring Leto, in order to better focus on the movie’s main narrative. While this makes sense, it’s a bit of a shame, considering how hype was built up around Leto’s Joker.
Although the tattoos and grill sported by this redesigned Clown Prince of Crime might upset purists, Leto is an undeniably creepy and deranged presence during his brief moments of screen time. Indeed, what we do see of the Joker in Suicide Squad suggests that we nearly got something special here – albeit maybe not quite equal to the level of buzz attached to him.
12 Ultron - Avengers: Age of Ultron
In the comics, genocidal android Ultron is one of the Avenger’s greatest foes – which ensured that fans were wildly enthusiastic to see the villain brought to life on the big screen. The perfect casting of James Spader to provide the voice and motion capture performance of the killer robot only fanned the flames of expectation, which made the ultimately lukewarm reception to Age of Ultron’s big bad seem almost inevitable.
The problem here lies with writer-director Joss Whedon’s script, which relies too heavily on Whedon’s trademark humor in its characterization of Ultron. Whedon presents Ultron as so glib that it undercuts his sense of menace, making it hard for us to ever truly fear him or his rather cliched “destroy all humans” evil scheme. As a result, we’re also less inclined to worry about the fate of the Avengers, leaving the film’s otherwise expertly-handled action sequences to fall somewhat flat.
11 John Harrison - Star Trek Beyond
Like Oberhauser, Star Trek Into Darkness evildoer John Harrison represents another “bait and switch” style ruse that fans saw coming a mile away. Even after director J.J. Abrams and actor Benedict Cumberbatch explicitly denied that Harrison would be unmasked as iconic Starfleet nemesis Khan Noonien Singh, the rumors still persisted. It didn’t come as a shock when the rumors were validated, but for some fans, the filmmakers’ deception was reason enough to feel let down.
That said, those not upset over the sneakiness surrounding the John Harrison/Khan reveal weren’t exactly thrilled by the character’s depiction, either. Cumberbatch turns in a suitably chilling performance as Khan, however he’s hindered by the revered status of Ricardo Montalbán’s earlier portrayal of the character in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Toss in the whitewashing as well, and you’ve got a real recipe for dissatisfaction on your hands.
10 Venom - Spider-Man 3
As the old saying goes, “be careful what you wish for”, and this was certainly true when it came to the version of Venom seen in Sam Raimi’s controversial Spider-Man 3. Fans had been clamoring for a movie incarnation of Spidey’s symbiote-powered rival for years.
Raimi finally bowed to pressure and delivered a Venom – just not one anybody wanted.
Topher Grace brings an undeniable energy to the role, but he seems woefully miscast as the psychotic Venom. The CGI used to realize the villain’s rarely-worn mask is equally unconvincing, coming across as more cartoonish than frightening.
Combined with the film’s over-stuffed plot, which features three major antagonists – leaving precious little time to properly flesh out Venom or his alter-ego, Eddie Brock – this dark doppelganger never really had a chance of living up to the hype!
9 Darth Vader
Settle down: we’re not talking about the half-man, half-machine Dark Lord that stalks through the original Star Wars trilogy! No, instead, we’re taking aim at the younger, (mostly) human incarnation of Anakin Skywalker portrayed by Hayden Christensen in Revenge of the Sith.
In fairness to Christensen, his performance does improve in his second outing as Anakin/Vader. However, he still struggles to fully make the transition from awkward, petulant apprentice to confident yet conflicted Jedi Knight. Likewise, despite his best efforts, the actor fails to communicate the darkness in Anakin’s soul at anything other than a superficial level, which undermines his eventual seduction to the dark side.
These shortcomings, along with some ungainly line readings – not helped by an often clunky script – render Darth Vader’s chronological first appearance a bit of a mixed bag, rather than the out-and-out triumph fans were hoping for.
8 Helmut Zemo - Captain America: Civil War
As alluded to earlier, Marvel Studios has a dubious habit of casting fantastic performers to portray rather forgettable baddies. One thespian to have fallen victim to this practice is Daniel Brühl, who did the best he could as Helmut Zemo, ostensibly the main villain in Captain America: Civil War. We say “ostensibly” because really, Zemo serves more as a living “MacGuffin”: a walking, talking plot device designed primarily to set up the real conflict in the movie between Cap and Iron Man.
As such, it’s left to Brühl to develop a thinly written part, and he admirably manages to wring at least some audience sympathy out of Zemo’s grief-stricken quest for revenge on our heroes. The word on the grapevine is that Civil War might not be Zemo’s last excursion in the MCU, so here’s hoping that Marvel gives Brühl a bit more to work with next time around!
7 Lex Luthor - Batman v Superman
Labelling Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a polarizing film is massive understatement. One of the many elements of the movie that fans continue to debate is Jesse Eisenberg’s unique take on villain Lex Luthor. As portrayed by Eisenberg, Superman’s archenemy is a comedic, eccentric super-genius with an affinity for Jolly Ranchers – quite a departure from the taciturn criminal mastermind of the comics (and arguably not in a good way).
Whilst Eisenberg’s performance has its defenders, the majority of critics and moviegoers gave it the thumbs down, with some arguing that the character he portrayed had more in common with the Joker than Luthor. On the plus side, Eisenberg at least shaved his head for the role – something fellow Luthor Gene Hackman famously refused to do – but unfortunately, this last minute glimpse of a bald Lex is as close as the actor comes to getting the part right.
6 The T-X - Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines makes more than a few missteps – there’s a reason why it (along with every other sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day) has subsequently been wiped from the canon.
The biggest sin T3 commits is mishandling the introduction of the first ever female Terminator.
Part of the problem with the T-X is that, default gender aside, it isn’t that different from previous series baddie the T-1000. The T-X possesses a limited variant of the T-1000’s liquid metal shapeshifting abilities, with only a built-in hand cannon and implausible ability to remotely control machinery distinguishing the pair.
It’s not just its derivative qualities that make the T-X such a let-down, though. No, the real issue here is T3’s sub par script, which lacks the smarts of its predecessor and fails to generate more than a mild sense of suspense around its antagonist.
5 Steppenwolf - Justice League
Any villain powerful enough to take on the combined might of the Justice League is bound to elicit more than a little excitement, and so it was with Steppenwolf. Sadly, this enthusiasm would turn out to be misplaced.
Steppenwolf was one of the weakest aspects of Justice League.
Even the talents of veteran actor Ciarán Hinds can’t overcome Steppenwolf’s thin characterization and one-dimensional “conquer the Earth” motivation. Those who have seen Zack Snyder’s initial rough cut of the movie have commented that Steppenwolf was originally a more nuanced figure, something that was lost when Joss Whedon stepped in to take the reins.
Also worth noting are the digital effects used to render the all-digital despot, which are just plain fake looking – lending credence to speculation that this VFX work was rushed due to a last minute re-design, as well as to accommodate new scenes added by Whedon.
4 The Riddler - Batman Forever
Jim Carrey was a huge star in the mid-90s, thanks to his comedic turns in box office hits Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask. His casting as the fiendishly clever Riddler in Joel Schumacher’s much-maligned Batman Forever made sense, at least from a commercial stand point.
Unfortunately, while Carrey would go on to deliver restrained performances in critically acclaimed flicks like The Truman Show, he offers none of that subtlety here. On the contrary, even in a film as insanely over-the-top as Schumacher’s neon-drenched fever dream, Carrey’s misjudged antics as the Riddler mean he still manages to stand out!
Along with Tommy Lee-Jones’ similarly cartoonish portrayal of the traditionally pathos-laden Two-Face, Carrey chews so much scenery you can almost see him suffering indigestion on-screen. Together, this duo’s goofy shenanigans overshadow the sombre psychological journey of Val Kilmer’s Batman,steamrolling the film’s emotional core in the process.
3 The Mandarin - Iron Man 3
We’re a bit torn when it comes to Iron Man 3’s interpretation of the Mandarin. On the one hand, not only was the revelation that Ben Kingsley’s ruthless terrorist leader is really a fictional persona assumed by drunken British actor Trevor Slattery a totally unexpected plot twist, it’s also a lot of fun, too. On the other hand, it’s hard not sympathize with hardcore comics fans who were left bitterly disappointed when this grounded take on the Mandarin ends up being a sham.
Although Guy Pearce’s more serious baddie Aldrich Killian later lays claim to the title – restoring at least some gravitas to the Mandarin name – in many ways, this only poured salt on the wound. There is hope for these jaded fans, however, as Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige has since suggested that a more comics-accurate version of the Mandarin might show up in future Iron Man sequels.
2 Apocalypse - X-Men
As his name suggests, Apocalypse is one of the X-Men’s most fearsome foes. Thanks to his devastating powers and brutal, “survival of the fittest” mentality, the villain has built a strong reputation among fans of Marvel’s Merry Mutants. Unfortunately, the Apocalypse seen on screen in X-Men: Apocalypse doesn’t live up to the standards set by his pen-and-ink counterpart – not by a long shot.
Despite his best efforts, acclaimed actor Oscar Isaac comes across looking more ridiculous than intimidating, buried under a mountain of prosthetics.
He's clad in a costume reminiscent of Power Rangers enemy Ivan Ooze!
Then there’s Apocalypse’s less than imposing physique – a far cry from the hulking figure of the comics. Director Bryan Singer later over-compensates for this by digitally enlarging the character to ludicrous proportions, and coupled with the unintentionally hilarious vocal effects added to Isaac’s voice, this big bad ends up a bit of joke.
1 Supreme Leader Snoke - Star Wars
When Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke first appeared in The Force Awakens, fans of the Star Wars saga immediately wanted to learn more about this shadowy new threat. Although The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson warned us not to expect much from this powerful practitioner of the dark side, no one could have anticipated the character’s abrupt demise half way through the film!
Admittedly, bumping off Snoke was a remarkably bold plot choice, as well as a brilliant way to subvert existing Star Wars franchise tropes. Nevertheless, the Supreme Leader’s death at the hands of apprentice Kylo Ren is so sudden – and the information we glean about him prior to this so minimal – that it’s hard to escape the feeling that he was ultimately an underwhelming baddie.
Who are some other major movie villains who didn’t live up to the hype? Let us know in the comments!
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