People in comics will always be larger than life, purely because the artists can draw them however they like. All superheroes can have a bodybuilder’s physique, and no female hero has ever had trouble fighting in eight-inch platform heels. On the other hand, supervillains can be believable-looking interdimensional demons and planet-munching giants, because why not?
This becomes problematic when adapting a character to screen, since you have to factor in annoyances such as a budget or an actor who doesn’t want to undergo a six-hour makeup procedure every day. Not to mention that supervillains often have years of characterization and history, and we’re asking an actor to do them justice with maybe thirty minutes of screen time.
There are a lot of ways bringing a villain to screen can go wrong. Here is Screen Rant's list of 10 Supervillains Who Were Ruined By Hollywood.
11 MALEKITH (Thor: The Dark World)
Look, I’m not saying I know exactly how a Dark Elf from Svartalfheim would act in real life. Still, I’m pretty sure it isn’t like that.
Christopher Eccleston does what he can with the character, but the version of Malekith the Accursed seen in Thor: The Dark World has all the charm and charisma of a dead pot plant. The Malekith from the comics is one of Thor’s archvillains, whipped out whenever the writers want Thor to face someone truly sinister who poses a genuine threat. He’s a powerful magician and has scored a number of significant victories, cementing him as a genuine threat to the Marvel Universe.
Meanwhile, movie Malekith wants to destroy the universe because…he likes it being dark? He’s taken down mid-movie in about three (very awesome) seconds by Frigga and is eventually defeated via super-spear tackle. This should perhaps be a lesson to Marvel: cool makeup and a great actor don’t count for much when your villain is written without a personality.
10 POISON IVY AND MR FREEZE (Batman and Robin)
The horrible Batman & Robin version of Bane gets a pass here, as Tom Hardy portrayed a far more accurate and menacing Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (even if we needed subtitles to understand anything he was saying). Meanwhile, the future Batman movies are going to have to work overtime to salvage Poison Ivy and Mr Freeze from this debacle, if they even attempt it at all.
The latter is hardly surprising; they hired Arnold Schwarzenegger and made him spout a steady stream of puns about ice. Combine that with the most needlessly glitzy and utterly impractical Mr Freeze costume you can possibly imagine, and it’s the perfect storm for no one being able to take him seriously.
Meanwhile, award-winning actress Uma Thurman may have just been swept up in the inherent silliness of the whole affair, as she gives us a version of Poison Ivy that would’ve been far more at home in the campy 1960s Batman series. She might have been trying to replicate the seductive temptress from the comics, but the bright green leotard (again) and slightly stoned performance make her memorable in all the wrong ways. It doesn't help that her costume was clearly modeled on Divine's iconic turn John Waters' Pink Flamingos.
9 BLACKHEART (Ghost Rider)
Blackheart is one of those reality-warping, interdimensional, magic-wielding demons that pop up in the Marvel Universe every now and then, though he’s mostly known as an enemy of Ghost Rider. The actual character of Ghost Rider isn’t exactly the most subtle of crime fighters, given that the concept reads like a four-year-old’s idea of ‘cool’ (he has a motorbike! And his head is on fire! And he wears a leather jacket!) so you’d expect his villain to be something equally gnarly.
What the Ghost Rider movie gives us is Blackheart, the slightly-demonic goth dude with nothing more than a skinny human form. Also, he might be Russian (but also a demon?) and mostly kills people by way of an evil finger poke. It gets worse when we learn that his grand plan is to find 1000 souls! That’s right, 1000!
It’s like watching a small child take out their toys and smack them together while making funny voices, except with more Nicolas Cage.
8 DOCTOR DOOM (Fantastic Four - 2005/2015)
Doctor Doom may be best known as an enemy of the Fantastic Four, but his comic version is more of an enduring pain in the butt for most of the Marvel Universe. He’s clashed with everyone, from the X-Men to Squirrel Girl, and is more or less the quintessential supervillain, complete with evil lair, nefarious accent and really obvious villain name. To be fair, he is a doctor with the last name "Doom."
Meanwhile, Doctor Doom’s film outings have been considerably less inspiring. Ignoring the early 90s attempt, 2005’s Fantastic Four gave us the twitchy playboy version, played by Julian McMahon, whitewashing the character into a smug businessman and removing all his motivation for doing anything ever (he’s evil because he’s crazy!).
Still, this version at least gets a fair amount of screen time and some decent characterization. The same can’t really be said in 2015’s Fantastic Four flop, in which Doom is an uppity scientist (Toby Kebbell) who causes all of the film’s problems because he just has to run around sticking his fingers into unknown substances. Cue his transformation into Glowy-Eyed Trash Bag Man, with the most ill-defined power-set and poorly CGI’d effects ever seen in a superhero film. Some of this is perhaps down to Doom’s extremely limited screen time, though if we’re being honest, it’s probably a mercy that this was all we saw of him.
7 GALACTUS/PARALLAX (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Green Lantern)
These two are lumped together. You’ll soon see why.
Galactus is known for two things: munching on planets and having bizarre fashion sense, even by comic standards. Still, when you’re an infinitely powerful cosmic being whose idea of a hearty brunch involves tucking into an entire civilization, you can dress how you want.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer took this iconic concept and replaced it with... a big space cloud. As concepts go, it’s probably not the worst. Comic Galactus generally stands at about twenty feet tall so he can chat to regular-sized characters; as a phenomenally powerful cosmic being, ‘space cloud’ is probably closer to what he should be looking like. Still, the film’s version of Galactus seems deliberately unfaithful, lacking a humanoid form and any of his personality and history.
Meanwhile, movie Parallax from the 2011 version of Green Lantern is…a space cloud who munches on planets. If that sounds familiar, it’s because you read it about eight seconds ago. Once again, Parallax’s origins and complex history with Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps are tossed aside in favour of him being a big ol’ evil space cloud who’s more or less there to show up and get punched into the sun for a slam-bang finale. Too bad we had no reason to care.
6 VALENTINE (Kingsmen: The Secret Service)
The Secret Service might be suffering a bit of adaptation displacement, as the film version - Kingsmen: The Secret Service - is already far more popular than its inspiration. Still, the original comic was fairly successful and tells quite a different story to the film. The central antagonist is Dr. James Arnold, a suave billionaire inspired by the old-timey Bond villains who plans to carry out a nefarious phone-related scheme.
Said scheme is the only real connection between Arnold and Valentine, the Kingsmen version bizarrely portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. Midway through the film, Harry (Colin Firth) states that old Bond films were “only as good as the villain.” Calling attention to Valentine's portrayal really doesn't bode well for the rest of the movie.
That Jackson is physically different to the Arnold from the comics is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is how he’s presented as a simpering, overly-camp caricature, thus ruining any chance he had of being considered a threat. Exactly how much of this was Jackson’s idea is unknown, but you can be sure that every time Valentine struts into the frame, you’re going to be getting a lispy earful of nonsense.
5 KING KOOPA (Super Mario Bros.)
Speaking of controversial villains, here’s one who definitely isn’t that. Bowser (or King Koopa) is the quintessential video game bad guy, complete with frequent kidnapping attempts and a permanent frown that was easy to render in pixel form. Sure, he and Mario might lay aside their differences every now and then to have a fab time go-karting, but Bowser is still one of the best known antagonists of all time, known on sight to people of all ages.
Except, of course, whoever was responsible for the Super Mario Bros movie, who seemed to think Bowser should look like Donald Trump with excessive hair gel and even less tact.
There aren’t many kind words to be said about the movie, but its version of King Koopa was a new low; in fact, it's unclear exactly why he's referred to as such, being a generic dinosaur-human hybrid president... thing. All traces of Bowser’s original look are expunged, and we’re left with a gun-toting blonde guy who looks like he could be snapped in half by a mean glance from one of his henchmen. The ties to the original character can be summed up with ‘is the bad guy’ and ‘vague dinosaur theme’. The turtle part was apparently left by the wayside.
Even actor Dennis Hopper had nothing good to say about the character, describing it as the worst role he’d ever played. And this coming from a guy who starred in Waterworld.
4 VENOM (Spider-Man 3)
Most people who know nothing about comics could tell you what Venom looks like. He’s the guy in the black suit who looks like an evil Spider-Man, except with a face that’s pure nightmare fuel. His connection to Spider-Man in the comics is legendary, as is Eddie Brock’s complicated relationship with the Venom suit.
The extremely hit-and-miss Spider-Man 3 took a swing at Venom and missed by a very wide margin. Funnily enough, for the time Venom is on-screen (about fifteen minutes, tops) he’s quite an effective villain. It’s just a shame he was hiding Topher Grace underneath his well-CG’d face. The most infamous member of Spider-Man’s cast of villains is reduced to a smug blonde guy who has to peel his face back whenever he talks, utterly ruining Venom’s intimidation factor. There’s also the fact that Topher Grace was given hammy dialogue and somehow manages to ham it up even more:
“Never wound…what you can’t kill.”
Gee, maybe the delivery sells it (spoiler: it doesn’t).
3 EMMA FROST (X-Men: First Class)
Emma Frost might be well-known as one of the X-Men, but she spent a good few years as a villain associated with the Hellfire Club. As an immensely powerful telepath, The White Queen was one of the X-Men’s most persistent foes, and even after switching sides, she’s far from a run-of-the-mill hero. Emma Frost is also known for her complex personality, self-assured manner and razor-sharp wit.
It’s just too bad that X-Men: First Class extinguished almost everything that made her a compelling villain and reduced her to near-silent eye candy. She retains her psychic abilities and even her diamond form, but the film’s Emma Frost (January Jones) is essentially Sebastian Shaw’s token female henchwoman, giggling at compliments and otherwise going along with Shaw’s every whim like an obedient puppy. Not helping matters is giving Frost a pointless American accent along with several other characters (Moira MacTaggert and Banshee, specifically). The X-Men have always been a cosmopolitan bunch, and removing the sizzling British wit of the character made her flat enough to expunge from the sequel altogether with no consequences.
2 WHIPLASH (Iron Man 2)
Whiplash might not be one of Marvel’s premier villains, but as a foe of Iron Man, the various versions of the character have managed to distinguish themselves as dangerous adversaries. The common theme has been wielding (surprise) varying kinds of whips, some energized and others with adamantium spikes. Either way, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of any such nasty business. The sound is bad enough.
Portrayed by Mickey Rourke, Iron Man 2’s Whiplash instead distinguished himself with such traits as ‘really loves birds’ and ‘hair like an old lady’. Rourke has made no secret about his ire for Marvel, and perhaps if we’d seen the elements he claimed to have brought to the role, Whiplash might have been a bit more compelling. Sadly, what we got was a bird-obsessed guy with whipping technology who lasts all of a couple of minutes in the final showdown, later sinking firmly into the pile of forgettable MCU villains. If there was a compelling villain underneath the bizarre costume choice and grumbling accent, Whiplash just wasn’t given enough screen time to make us believe it.
Still, at least he wasn’t another rich guy in a suit. Well, sort-of.
1 HONORABLE MENTIONS
Two-Face (Batman Forever): Somewhat redeemed by Aaron Eckhart's more threatening version in The Dark Knight, it’s still hard to miss Tommy Lee Jones’ phoned in performance and mangling of the character.
Deadpool (Wolverine Origins): Hardly a villain in the comics, though his neutered, mouthless and generally awful depiction in this film turns him into one. Looks set to be redeemed in his actual upcoming movie.
The Mandarin (Iron Man 3): For those of you who weren’t pleased with Aldrich Killian and Trevor Slattery claiming the title, don’t worry; Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King has established that there’s a real Mandarin out there, and he’s pretty ticked off that his identity has been stolen by a portly British man.
Dark Phoenix (X-Men: The Last Stand): Calling Phoenix a ‘villain’ here is generous. This film’s version is more of a dangerous force of nature…with weird froggy eyes and no iconic flames whatsoever.
Found yourself disappointed by any villains brought to screen? They are pretty hard to get right. Let us know in the comments!