They say a hero is only as good as the villain, and barring a few exceptions, this piece of wisdom holds true. Watching the good guy struggle and overcome their weaknesses while fighting a worthy opponent is what makes action cinema worthwhile; Luke Skywalker has Darth Vader, The Terminator has the T-1000, and John McClane has Hans Gruber (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Simon Gruber too).
On the flipside, a weak villain can drag a movie down and reduce the stakes. No one really remembers the villains of Live Free Or Die Hard or Terminator 3, and for good reason. A near constant complaint about Marvel movies is that the villains can be underwhelming, with same-y goals and a lack of character development bogging the baddies down.
Few members of the audience were cowering in fear at Malekith the Dark Elf or The Wolverine’s Silver Samurai, and while a lame bad guy isn’t a total deal breaker, it certainly doesn't help. That said, some evildoers get a little too much credit too, so gathered here are the 15 Most Overrated Comic Book Movie Villains. That’s not to say they all suck, but given their achievements and impact on the story, it feels like some of them get way too much hype.
15 Red Skull - Captain America: The First Avenger
Red Skull is the iconic arch-nemesis of Captain America in the comics, so it made sense for him to be the first villain Steve Rogers faced in the MCU. His distinct look and evil schemes made him the natural choice, though surprisingly, he hasn’t been seen since the original movie.
That could partly be down to Red Skull actor Hugo Weaving, who admitted that while he had fun working on it, he didn’t really care about the character, nor have any interest in returning to the franchise. This may have caused Marvel to bench Red Skull and figure out a way to recast later, but looking back on the character’s first appearance, he’s a fairly stock villain.
His plan and evilness are generic, and Weaving doesn’t seem keen on bringing any extra layers to him. Like his post-release statements reveal, he does the bare minimum with the material, and while he’s fun as sort of a moustache twirling supervillain, the character does nothing that hasn’t been seen a million times before.
14 The Scarecrow - Batman Begins
Cillian Murphy has become a regular face in Christopher Nolan’s filmography, from Inception to Dunkirk. It’s not surprising that the director keeps coming back to Murphy, who has the ability to jump from likable hero to intense villain as easily as anyone in the industry.
He actually auditioned for Bruce Wayne/Batman when Batman Begins was being cast, and while Nolan didn’t feel he was right for the Caped Crusader, he felt he’d make a suitably creepy Scarecrow. He was right on that count, with Murphy bringing an unsettlingly, slimy edge to the role.
That said, he never feels like a real threat. In Begins, he’s a placeholder villain until Ra’s al Ghul re-emerges, and after briefly getting the upper hand on Batman during their first encounter, he’s dealt with quickly. He gets a dose of his own medicine with the fear gas, and in the finale, he runs away after Rachel Dawes tazers him. He’s reduced to becoming a drug dealer in The Dark Knight, so an evil genius he’s not.
13 Ajax/Francis - Deadpool
Deadpool got off to a rocky start with his first appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where the studio – for some reason – decided a character known for his fourth wall breaking quips would be best served as a mute, albino dude with swords in his arms. To say his appearance was panned would be a polite understatement.
Fox finally set that right with 2016's Deadpool, where Ryan Reynolds proved he was the best and only choice to bring the character from page to screen. Despite the film’s generally light tone, it gets dark in the second act, where Wade subjects himself to various tortures in hopes of triggering his mutant gene at the hands of the villainous Ajax (aka Francis).
Ajax is a fine enough baddie, but the film is clearly too in love with Deadpool to even consider properly developing him. He’s a sadist with a dry sense of humor, and former Game Of Thrones star Ed Skrein is clearly having fun in the role, but Ajax is a fairly one-note nemesis.
12 The Riddler - Batman Forever
Batman Forever's cartoony tone was a reaction to Batman Returns, which was considered too dark and twisted for family viewing. This led to Warner Bros. nudging Tim Burton out of the director’s chair and replacing him with Joel Schumacher, whose vision for the character was lighter and contained one hundred percent more bat-nipples.
At the time, Jim Carrey’s casting looked like a masterstroke, with the then up-and-coming comic actor hamming up a storm. He received great reviews upon release and was compared favorably to Jack Nicholson's Joker, but like everything else to do with Forever, time has not been kind to his work.
What seemed entertaining back then is now kind of obnoxious, with Carrey portraying Edward Nygma as a wacky cartoon even before he becomes The Riddler. His commitment to physical comedy can’t be ignored, and his over the top turn is in keeping with Schumacher’s world, but he gets exhausting to watch after awhile. It’s hard to imagine such a performance being praised in the modern age.
11 Alexander Pierce - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Russo Brothers seemed like an odd choice for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but time has shown that they were a perfect fit. They raised a few eyebrows before the film was released by claiming the movie was inspired by '70s paranoia thrillers like Three Days Of The Condor, and they even got that film’s iconic star – Robert Redford – to play a supporting role.
Alexander Pierce was a younger S.H.I.E.L.D agent in the comic, but in The Winter Soldier, he’s an old friend of Nick Fury and Secretary to the World Security Council. His villainous side is only exposed halfway through, where he’s revealed as a deep cover HYDRA agent who’s going to use Helicarriers to assassinate his enemies.
It was nice seeing a pro like Redford in a Marvel movie, and while his performance is fine enough, Pierce is overshadowed by the likes of The Winter Soldier and Brock Rumlow. It’s hard to see him as a credible threat against Cap or Black Widow, though, and in the end, he’s simply not terribly memorable.
10 The Clown - Spawn
Spawn is another casualty from the period when studios were still trying to figure out how to take cult comics and turn them into glossy blockbusters. The movie was a dark, gothic adventure heavily styled on Tim Burton’s Batman and The Crow, but a weak script and poor CGI have caused it to age poorly.
While the movie didn’t receive the best reviews upon release, John Leguizamo’s turn as Spawn’s enemy The Clown got good notices, with his performance widely considered to be the best thing about it. On reflection, it’s the same kind of hyper hammy turn from a Schumacher era Batman film, and one that gets grating real fast.
The character delights in being gross – witness him eating maggots on a slice of pizza – which Leguizamo commits to with gusto. His transformation into the demonic Violator ups his threat level considerably, but it only happens a couple of times, leaving the Clown to deliver more bad gags.
Hopefully, the forthcoming reboot will make him truly creepy.
9 Sebastian Shaw - X-Men: First Class
Sebastian Shaw is the man responsible for creating Magneto in the X-Men film series, where he tormented the young Erik – and murdered his mother – in an attempt to activate his mutant powers during World War 2. Magneto then spent years tracking him down seeking vengeance, and finally gained it in the finale at the cost of his soul.
Kevin Bacon is enjoyably smarmy in the role, and Shaw is a suave, intelligent figure. It feels like he’s ultimately X-Men: First Class' Magneto stand-in, however; he’s got the same goals and hatred of the human race, but he’s not nearly as layered. Erik is seen in the film as more of a tortured anti-hero struggling with his feelings, while Shaw is more of a Bond villain from the Roger Moore era.
Bacon is always good value and he adds an enjoyable edge to his scenes, but Shaw doesn't come anywhere close to living up to the villain he ultimately creates.
8 The Shredder - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie from 1990 induces a warm glow of nostalgia in a certain generation, and while it hasn’t aged all that well, it’s still a lot of fun. It’s surprisingly dark for a kid’s movie too, but there’s a reason it remains a cult film to this day.
The Shredder is the most popular villain from the franchise, with his super cool look and intimating voice, best seen in the '90s cartoon series. On reflection, he's a little lame in the original movie; sure, the outfit is still cool, but he’s basically kind of a weedy dude in a costume designed to make him look bulky and muscle-y; plus he lets his henchmen do most of the work.
Flashbacks reveal that he couldn't even beat Splinter when he was just a normal rat. He’s not much better in the second film either, though when he evolves into Super Shredder during the climax, things improve a little.
7 Obadiah Stane/The Iron Monger - Iron Man
It’s odd looking back on the original Iron Man, which seemed like a risk at the time. Marvel stated their game plan of producing solo movies for their heroes and teaming them for a big event movie with The Avengers, something that had never been attempted on such a large scale.
Now, all the big studios are doing it, and it’s hard to think of a time people doubted it could work. The original is still a great piece of entertainment, with Robert Downey Jr. outright owning the role of Tony Stark. It’s got a great supporting cast too, including Jeff Bridges as secret villain Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger.
Bridges is never less than entertaining in any film, but Obadiah’s switch to power mad bad guy halfway through feels rushed and unsatisfying. The Iron Monger fight never really gets the blood pumping either, and sadly it seems like Obadiah became something of a poster boy for disappointing villains in the MCU.
6 Yellowjacket - Ant-Man
Things didn’t look great for Ant-Man when original director Edgar Wright bowed out shortly before filming was set to begin, after spending nearly a decade developing it. He wasn’t willing to compromise on certain elements of the script, which led to him and Marvel going their separate ways.
The resulting film still came out well, even if it’s considered one of the minor entries in the franchise. It was another film afflicted with a flat villain, with Corey Stoll playing antagonist Darren Cross. It feels like Cross’ only motivation is to make his former mentor Hank Pym jealous, and he comes across like a brat rather than a twisted genius.
Stoll is a great actor, but there’s not much he can do to inject life into the role, and while the showdown between Cross – wearing his Yellowjacket suit – and Ant-Man is a blast, it’s the only really memorable thing the villain achieves. Well, that and shooting an ant, and even that was probably just a lucky shot.
5 Crossbones - Captain America: Civil War
In an alternate universe, Frank Grillo would have been perfect as an older, grizzled version of The Punisher. He essentially played the role in The Purge: Anarchy anyway, but the actor signed on for Brock Rumlow in The Winter Soldier instead.
It made sense in one way because if there’s a human opponent who could be a credible threat to Captain America, it would be Grillo. He made an impression with his role in the sequel, with the ending teasing his transformation into Crossbones. Fans speculated that Marvel could follow through with killing Cap in Civil War – like Crossbones did in the comic – but sadly, he didn’t get much to do.
He appears in the opening scenes, where he tries to kill Rogers by blowing himself up, only for Scarlet Witch to deflect the blast and accidentally kill civilians instead. Crossbones was essentially a plot device to kick off the story, and it felt like the character’s potential was ultimately wasted.
4 Bullseye - Daredevil
Colin Farrell was an up and coming actor back in 2003, where he seemingly appeared in every movie released that year, including S.W.A.T, The Recruit and Phone Booth. He also popped up as Bullseye in Daredevil, an assassin who likes to kill people with random objects like pencils and peanuts.
Farrell’s cocky swagger and hammy acting made Bullseye one of the most entertaining elements for viewers, though looking back, there’s not much to the role. He only appears in a handful of scenes, and Farrell’s refusal to dial back winds up making Bullseye feel more like a live action cartoon than a credible bad guy.
The Daredevil movie had plenty of issues aside from Bullseye, and while Farrell is great fun in the role – and the actor is clearly having a ball in his leather duds – it feels like the character gets a little too much praise. It gave Farrell a chance to turn off the acting filters, but his Bullseye isn’t a great villain.
3 Justin Hammer - Iron Man 2
In an attempt to build up excitement for The Avengers, Iron Man 2 found itself overburdened with subplots and easter eggs. The core story wasn’t terribly interesting and felt aimless at times. The Avengers teasing was nice, but it came at the cost of delivering a satisfying solo adventure, which is why Iron Man 2 is considered one of the weaker efforts of the MCU.
Mickey Rourke was decent as Whiplash, but judging from comments made by the actor, he didn’t really enjoy the role, and he felt Marvel didn’t care about making its baddies particularly interesting. Sam Rockwell also took a villainous turn as Justin Hammer, a rival to Stark and general sleaze ball.
Rockwell can play that kind of character in his sleep at this stage in his career, and he provides plenty of laughs. The trouble is that he’s never the least bit threatening, and even the movie treats him like a joke character. Fans rightly loved Rockwell’s comic turn, but Hammer's a weak villain to center a movie around.
2 Ultron - Avengers: Age Of Ultron
Loki is considered one of the best bad guys in the MCU by the fanbase, and it’s easy to understand why. Despite being evil and insane, he’s also a lot of fun, which is the reason he’s gradually evolved into more of an anti-hero than a straight up antagonist; audiences like him too much.
When James Spader was cast as the title villain in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, it appeared that another great villain was about to arrive, because Spader is too interesting an actor to just phone it in. Sadly, Ultron just felt like another stock baddie with another grand plan to wipe out the human race, with the only difference being that he delivered his ultimately empty threats in Spader’s memorably growly voice.
The movie as a whole is a little unbalanced with the amount of story and characters it has to serve, and Ultron winds up feeling like a subplot in the movie, instead of the near undefeatable mastermind he should be. His introduction scene is still really creepy, though.
1 Lex Luthor - Superman
Even people who’ve never read a Superman comic or seen a movie will know Lex Luthor is his most famous foe; a bald, power-hungry genius who enjoys playing mind games with the Man Of Steel. Jesse Eisenberg’s turn as the character in Batman V Superman received decidedly mixed reviews, with some loving his more frenetic take on the role, and others...not so much.
Gene Hackman took on the character for Superman, Superman II, and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, playing the role with gusto. Lex Luthor is portrayed as less of a mad genius in the movies and more like an amoral businessman. Hackman brings charm to Lex, but he makes for an underwhelming threat to Superman in nearly every way.
His actions are played for laughs, and Hackman’s refusal to play the role bald – save for a couple of moments – means he’s not really recognizable as the famous villain either. Zod completely overshadows him in the second movie, and with good reason.
Are we way off the mark with our selections? Do you have any more comic book villains that you feel are highly overrated? Let us know in the comments.