Welcome to the epic conclusion of the countdown of the greatest live action portrayals of comic book villains! It’s been fun making this least and writing about it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey as much as I have. Without further ado, I give you the best of the best…or perhaps the best of the worst, as we are dealing with the bad guys, right? The best at being bad? However you want to put it.
As always, here’s a quick recap of the previous entrants:
25. The Penguin – Robin Lord Taylor (Gotham)
24. The Joker – Cesar Romero (Batman – TV Series)
23. Deacon Frost – Stephen Dorff (Blade)
22. Saint of Killers – Graham McTavish (Preacher)
21. Doctor Octopus – Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2)
20. Vulture – Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
19. Deathstroke – Manu Bennett (Arrow)
18. Green Goblin – Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man)
17. The Governor – David Morrissey (The Walking Dead)
16. Catwoman – Julie Newmar (Batman – TV Series)
15. Hela – Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok)
14. Captain Cold – Wentworth Miller (The Flash)
13. The Joker – Jack Nicholson (Batman)
12. Helmut Zemo – Daniel Brühl (Captain America: Civil War)
11. Magneto – Ian McKellen (X-Men)
10. Cottonmouth – Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage)
9. Bane – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises)
8. Ra’s al Ghul – Liam Neeson (Batman Begins)
7. Erik Killmonger – Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)
6. Negan – Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead)
On to the Top 5!
5. Kilgrave – David Tennant (Jessica Jones)
Performed to icky perfection, David Tennant took a surprise turn as not only a villain, but an altogether sleazy and irredeemable one like Kilgrave. It’s hard to take a character that uses their ability to control people’s minds to rape and murder, and actually make it charismatic without going into sympathetic territory, but Tennant pulled it off wonderfully. In fact, the writers’ brief attempts late in the season to try to make Kilgrave seem somewhat sympathetic by showing the tragedy of his backstory is the only real knock on the portrayal. The character is evil and manipulative, period.
4. Loki – Tom Hiddleston (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
Now, Loki on the other hand, while being manipulative and selfish, rarely comes across as actually evil. Oozing charisma and charm, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki quickly became one of the most recognizable and popular characters in the MCU. Even when he does things that are in conflict with the hero (most often his half-brother, Thor), you can’t help but like him. Easily the best portrayal at blurring the lines between hero and villain of any performance on this list, and even finally achieved heroic status in the opening scene of Infinity War, in a final sacrificial act of standing up to Thanos to attempt to protect the Space Stone.
3. Thanos – Josh Brolin (The Avengers: Infinity War)
Speaking of the Mad Titan. While he may have had brief appearances in the first Guardians of the Galaxy and mid-credit stinger of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Josh Brolin’s Thanos didn’t really become a thing until The Avengers: Infinity War. There was a lot riding on his performance, as Thanos was the biggest of big bads in the MCU…the villain that they’d been building to for 10 years. And he did not disappoint! Brolin delivers a powerful, layered, even emotional performance. The shifting of the character’s motivations from simply wanting to impress Death by wiping out half the universe in order to “balance the scales” to instead callously feeling like he’s actually “saving” half the universe due to dwindling resources added another layer of depth to an already incredible character.
2. Kingpin – Vincent D’Onofrio (Daredevil – TV Series)
As far as real-world type villains in the comics, the Kingpin reigns supreme. And Vincent D’Onofrio’s take on him in the Daredevil series on Netflix follows suit in the realm of comic book media properties. Charlie Cox is great as the titular hero, but D’Onofrio brings such a weight and depth to the Kingpin that they seem almost equals in importance and interest. Menacing and prone to tantrums of ultra violence, yet brilliant, calculating, and methodical in his schemes, he makes for a truly captivating villain. His performance is also a fantastic example of explaining a villain’s tragic backstory and motivation without generating sympathy for them.
1. The Joker – Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
As if there were anywhere else to go with the top spot. Not only is Heath Ledger’s Joker the greatest villain live action portrayal, it is the greatest character portrayal in a comic book property, period. As captivating a characters as you’ll find, Ledger’s performance is everything you could want in a villain: compelling, menacing, devious, cunning, and completely insane…not to mention insanely quotable. While the other two Jokers that made the list played up the crazy a bit over-the-top, Ledger delivered a grounded, utterly horrifying view of chaos personified.