As the saying goes, "a hero is only as good as his villain." Supervillains in comic book movies are an essential part of the hero’s journey and the story itself, that’s why when a superhero movie is bad, it’s likely because the villain was handled carelessly.
Villains can’t be one-dimensional, they need to be as interesting as the hero himself and have a sense of humanity within them. Granted, it’s hard finding the humanity in villains that are not human, but for many comic book villains, the humanity is already deep within the character. How? Because these supervillains were secretly never evil in the first place.
Many fans believe that supervillains have been evil since their inception, but that’s just not true. While there are actually some villains that are born with inherent evil within them (we are looking at you Ultron), most supervillains were actually forces of good before succumbing to a life of crime. As the Punisher told Daredevil, “you are just one bad day away from being me.”
It took only one day, one moment, to make these individuals forces of evil, while throughout all their lives they were people just like us, good people. Today we are looking at supervillains from DC, Marvel Comics, and other properties that were never evil in the first place.
Without further ado, here are 15 Supervillains Who Were Never Evil In The First Place.
15 The Joker
The Joker is perhaps DC Comics’ most iconic villain, but he was never really evil in the first place. What’s intriguing about the Joker is that his origin story is very ambiguous. Nonetheless, there’s one story that’s widely accepted by fans to be his true origin story, and that’s The Killing Joke. It is here that writer Alan Moore introduces us to the good side of the Joker; the time before he became the Clown Prince of Crime.
To care for his wife and put food on the table, the man we know as the Joker made a deal with the mob. He would go about dressing up as the Red Hood and break in the chemical company he used to work at. The break-in didn’t go smoothly and when he tried to run away, Batman appeared.
Utterly terrified, to escape Batman, the Red Hood jumped into a pool of chemicals, eventually turning him into the Joker. The experience left the Joker mentally unstable, thereby becoming insane.
14 Lex Luthor
When talking about Lex Luthor’s goodness we can sometimes run into some very sticky situations. He is one of the most evil, genius minds DC Comics has in its roster of evil people, but deep within Lex’s heart, there is a sense of good. And that is true in many iterations of the character.
In the Young Justice TV show, Lex became like a father to Superboy when every one of his team members ousted him. Of course, we later find out that Superboy carries part of Lex’s DNA, but Lex admits that his fatherly love for Superboy is real.
No matter the version of Lex, there’s a drive in him to save the world from alien threats, albeit very unconventionally. But that doesn’t mean that he is an evil guy. There have even been times when Lex even sided with Superman and when he aided the Justice League.
13 The Vulture
Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture, is not one of Spider-Man’s most recognizable supervillains, but he is not that evil either. We saw a version of the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, played by Michael Keaton. This Vulture was initially a law-abiding hardworking man. He ran a small business cleaning cities that were destroyed by alien tech. When the government and Tony Stark got involved (The Department of Damage Control), he was taken out of business and unfortunately turned to crime to care for his family.
The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming even shows his good side in one of the movie’s most thrilling scenes. We are talking about the car scene, of course. Realizing that Peter was Spider-Man and that he had saved Liz’s life in Washington D.C., the Vulture confronts Peter in his car. What follows is perhaps the best interaction between a villain and a hero in the entire MCU.
There's no question Alan Moore is one of the best comic book writers of all time. His bylines include iconic stories like The Killing Joke and V for Vendetta, but one of his most famous works is the graphic novel Watchmen.
In Watchmen we are introduced to a world where vigilantes were a common thing, but now they have grown to be hated by the public. The only actual superhero among these vigilantes is Doctor Manhattan, who is essentially a god. Throughout the graphic novel various themes are explored, but one of the most significant is the idea of saving the many, by killing a few. This was precisely the grand plan of Ozymandias, the main villain of the story.
While it works out a little bit differently in the novel, Zack Snyder’s live-action masterpiece puts forth the idea that Doctor Manhattan caused the huge explosion in New York City that killed millions of people. In turn, the entire world united as one and the Cold War and every other war ended. In reality, it was Ozymandias who caused the explosion, but Doctor Manhattan let the illusion transpire because he saw goodness in Ozymandias’s actions.
Though Magneto is classified as a supervillain, he has never acted as such in in the movies and TV shows. Even in the comics, Magneto has shown to act more as an antihero than a die-hard villain. His good side can mostly be seen in the live-action Fox X-Men movies.
As portrayed by Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender, Magneto was a Holocaust survivor in World War II. After discovering his powers of magnetism, he went about finding the ones responsible for his misery. Along the way, he met Charles Xavier and the two became the best of friends. Charles was one who saw good in Magneto and always believed in him when everyone else didn’t.
Both Charles and Magneto agreed to fight for mutanthood, but each had different ideas on how to do this. Magneto eventually went in the more violent route, thereby becoming the supervillain we know him as today.
He may have a terrifying face, a large physique, and a dark symbiote suit, but Eddie Brock never wanted to be a supervillain. In fact, he was never evil in the first place.
Eddie, a religious man, was a journalist working for the Daily Bugle. When an opportunity arose for him to get his big break with a scoop on Spider-Man, Peter Parker got to it first of course. Eddie became jealous of Peter and his hatred and jealousy only grew more after.
When Peter struggled to take off the the alien symbiote suit, Eddie was in the same church as Peter. The symbiote detached itself from Peter and merged with Eddie, eventually turning him into Venom. Because the symbiote was first linked with Peter, it retained many of the spider powers. This, in turn, gave Venom many of the same abilities as Spider-Man.
We saw a version of this story play out in Sony’s Spider-Man 3, where Eddie Brock/Venom was played by Topher Grace.
Venom is still a good guy within that the only person who vowed to kill was Spider-Man, but no one else.
9 Jean Grey (Phoenix)
Jean Grey is not a supervillain - until she is bonded with the Phoenix Force. As the Phoenix (or Dark Phoenix), Jean has done some pretty insane things, including that time she killed a huge chunk of the X-Men. Jean’s connection to the Phoenix Force allows for a dark and evil side of her to manifest, and as a consequence has caused various catastrophes.
This has taken a toll on Jean and there have been times where she has felt immense guilt over her actions as the Phoenix. Sophie Turner’s run as the Phoenix in the new X-Men film series has just begun, but we got a small taste of what’s to come when Jean unleashed the power of the Phoenix in X-Men: Apocalypse.
The next movie in the franchise is X-Men: Dark Phoenix, so don’t be surprised if the superhero we know as Jean Grey turns to the dark side and brings chaos to Earth.
8 Baron Mordo
The Baron Mordo from the comics was a jealous and evil wizard under the Ancient One. Mordo summoned Dormammu with the hopes of killing the Ancient One but he ultimately failed. Stephen Strange then went along in becoming the Sorcerer Supreme.
In the Doctor Strange movie, things go about a bit differently. The MCU version of Baron Mordo is not evil and is not jealous. He came to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) to battle his demons. Mordo eventually became one of the Masters of the Mystic Arts, protecting Earth from mystical threats like Dormammu. Even when Kaecilius allowed Dormammu to enter the Earth realm, Mordo aided Doctor Strange and Wong in defeating the demon.
It was after the Ancient One revealed to Mordo that she was harnessing power from Dormammu himself that Mordo's life mission altered. After the fight with Dormammu, Mordo swore to cleanse the Earth of too many sorcerers.
Flint Marko only cared for his family and turned to crime to support them. One of the best iterations of the character was in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. Here, Flint was running away from the cops when he accidentally found himself inside a particle accelerator. When the particle accelerator was ignited, Flint was merged with the surrounding sand, turning him into the Sandman.
This version of Sandman also accidentally killed Uncle Ben. By the end of the movie, Sandman was forgiven by Spider-Man and became a good guy, eventually aiding Peter in saving the day. Even in the comics Sandman has been portrayed to be a force of good.
For a time he became a member of the Avengers and in Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man even aided S.H.I.E.L.D. in missions. Sandman is not your typical supervillain and we can all agree he was the best part about Spider-Man 3.
6 Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn is another supervillain who was secretly never evil in the first place. Harleen Frances Quinzel was a professional psychiatrist before going insane at the hands of the Joker. After being assigned to treat the Joker at Arkham Asylum, she became DC Comics’ princess of crime.
A similar story transpired in last year’s Suicide Squad. Played by Margot Robbie, Harleen became obsessed with the Joker (Jared Leto) and eventually helped him get out of confinement. Later on, the Joker did all kinds of mental experiments on Harleen and even drenched her in the same chemical bath that left him insane. Harley Quinn was born and the good doctor was no more.
In the comics, her adventures with the Joker are long gone and now she is acting more as an antihero than a villain. She recently even had her own animated movie, Batman and Harley Quinn, where she saved the entire world from turning into humanoid trees.
Almost identically, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) like Mordo was also never evil in the first place. It was revealed in the Doctor Strange prelude comic that Kaecilius went to the Ancient One after his wife had died. His stay in Kamar Taj was to learn how to control death itself. Eventually, Kaecilius discovered that Dormammu was a source for eternal life.
In Kaecilius’s eyes, giving the world eternal life was an inherent good deed, because according to him, death and time were the real villains of humanity. That while time goes on, death comes close. Dormammu was supposed to be the cure to the world’s timely disease.
What Kaecilius didn’t know was that eternal life under Dormammu was not paradise in Heaven. So, while Kaecilius brought a dangerous mystical threat to Earth, he did so believing that it was for the good of all people. And from a more deeper perspective, he did it so no one would lose another loved one ever again.
4 The Lizard
Dr. Curt Connors, aka The Lizard, is one of those supervillains that never wanted to be a supervillain in the first place. After losing his arm, Dr. Connors always wished to regrow his lost limb. He experimented with various different chemicals and formulas, unsuccessful every time. But one day he got it just right using lizard DNA.
Almost miraculously, Dr. Connors grew his arm back in mere seconds (minutes and days in other iterations), but unbeknownst to him, the cure had a terrible side effect. Moments after growing his arm back, Dr. Connors turned into the supervillain we know as the Lizard. As the Lizard, Connors is as evil as it gets and in Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, the Lizard almost turned the whole world into humanoid lizards.
So, while the Lizard is one at the top of Marvel’s most evil villains list, in reality Dr. Connors just wanted his arm back. There’s nothing evil about that.
3 Agent Smith
The Matrix is home to many iconic characters, like Neo and Trinity, but one of the most iconic is definitely Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith. Many fans might consider him to be the main antagonist in The Matrix franchise, but he was actually never evil in the first place.
Before Agent Smith was seemingly killed by Neo in the first movie, Smith was an integral part of the system of the Matrix. He was a piece of code, and he had a purpose: to fix any anomalies present in the Matrix. One of those anomalies was Mr. Anderson, aka Neo, who discovered that the world he was living in was a lie.
Neo’s awakening disrupted the balance of the Matrix, so as programmed, Agent Smith was forced to kill him. From that point of view, Agent Smith was just doing his job, which just meant trying to kill the movie’s main protagonist.
2 Harvey Dent (Two-Face)
“Harvey Dent, can we trust him?” were the famous words uttered by Batman in The Dark Knight when inquiring about Gotham’s District Attorney to Commissioner Gordon. Indeed, Harvey can be trusted, but only in that time when he was never Two-Face. Perhaps the best version of Harvey Dent is in this movie, as he not only juxtaposed Batman as the white knight of Gotham, but we also got to see exactly how good he is.
Harvey was a man of the people and one of the few good lawmen in Gotham. His battle against corruption and his trust in Batman made for one of Gotham’s most flourishing times. Unfortunately, he was caught between the Joker’s evil and elaborate games. When Harvey was pushed too far off the edge, he eventually went insane, becoming the villain we know as Two-Face.
Over the years in the comics Two-Face has done some very evil things, but we must never forget that before getting half of his face burned with acid, Harvey Dent was a good man with very good intentions.
Nebula is the daughter of Thanos and that is why she is as bad and evil as she is today. As stated in the comics and depicted in the MCU, Nebula was mentally and physically tested by Thanos. Her failures led the mad Titan to dismantle her piece by piece, eventually making her more machine than flesh. This left a psychological strain on Nebula and crime and a life of evil became her escape.
So much did Thanos break her that killing him became her only goal in life. Time and time again Nebula came so close to achieving her goal. She even wielded the Infinity Gauntlet!
In the MCU the same motivation seems to be the case for Karen Gillan’s Nebula. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, one of the movie’s most heartfelt scenes was when Nebula confronted Gamora about their relationship with Thanos. It was here that Nebula revealed how Thanos replaced parts of her body every time Gamora bested her in combat.
Gillan is set to reprise her role as Nebula in Avengers: Infinity War, so the time may finally come when Nebula confronts Thanos.
What other supervillains were actually good guys before committing to evil? Let us know in the comments.