What good is a hero without an equally menacing and compelling villain? Sure, the hero is the focus of the story, but he/she has to have something or someone to overcome. That’s what makes the hero’s journey so interesting and entertaining. Comics have long featured the best baddies that pop culture has to offer, so why would the movies and television series that are based on them be any different? So let’s countdown the best portrayals of villains in comic book properties (note: I’m only including live action portrayals…though there are some truly fantastic villain performances in cartoons…including the greatest villain portrayal ever: Mark Hamill’s Joker).
25. The Penguin – Robin Lord Taylor (Gotham)
While I’m not a fan of the show as a whole, for several reasons that I won’t get into here, I very much enjoy the portrayal of a young, power-hungry Oswald Cobblepot delivered by an underrated Robin Lord Taylor. Seeing the Penguin’s rise to power was one of the things that first interested me in the show. Sadly, it was not enough to overcome my other issues with the series.
24. The Joker – Cesar Romero (Batman – TV Series)
The original Joker. His take on the character may not be the scheming, homicidal lunatic that the Joker was originally created to be, Romero’s performance was a perfect characterization of the Clown Prince of Crime’s comic counterpart of that era. Luckily the comics eventually dropped the camp and returned Batman to his darker, grittier beginnings, and in doing so saw the Joker’s portrayals change in kind.
23. Deacon Frost – Stephen Dorff (Blade)
It’s sad that the movie Blade is so often forgotten when it comes to discussion of comic book films, and with it, the fantastic performance of Stephen Dorff as the vampire Deacon Frost. Frost is violent, conniving, overly ambitious, and just as dangerous to other vampires that don’t share his vision of the future as he is to the humans he views as cattle. With his dark charisma, he very much plays the foil to Wesley Snipes’ dry and stoic titular half-human/half-vamp slayer, and ends up stealing the show in the process.
22. Saint of Killers – Graham McTavish (Preacher)
Preacher hasn’t been quite the frame-for-frame re-telling of Garth Ennis’ seminal series that I had hoped for, and the characterization has been a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to capturing the essence of the comic’s counterpart. But one of the major hits has been the portrayal of the Saint of Killers. Cold, mostly emotionless, and virtually indestructible, he is the ultimate killing machine and is played to perfection by Graham McTavish. His origin story is easily one of the best parts of Season 1.
21. Dr. Octopus – Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2)
There are plenty who would probably claim I’m blasphemous for rating Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2 so low, but I’ll explain why. There wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with his performance, but I was not a fan of the decision to portray him as sympathetic and giving him a personal connection to Peter Parker…a theme that was rampant throughout the Tobey Maguire lead Spider-Man series. Literally EVERY villain was connected to him in someway. It wasn’t necessary and felt very forced. Then with the sympathy angle on top of that, it felt like a slight to the man that, until the Green Goblin murdered Gwen Stacy, could have been argued was Spider-Man’s primary antagonist.
That’s all for this round. I’ll try to get this pumped out quickly. With Ant-Man & the Wasp releasing this week, I want to make sure I can get around to its review before it’s been out too long.