Let’s face it, there have been some bad bad guys to make it into our beloved superhero films and shows in the past two decades.
So when the really great ones get a second curtain call, like Willem Dafoe as Green Goblin in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” it doesn’t take long for the internet to spark debate on who ultimately rules the world of evil.
That iteration of Norman Osborn was posed on Twitter against the likes of fellow MCU master of terror Thanos (Josh Brolin) and DC’s Bane (Tom Hardy) as to which of the three reign as villain supreme — at least from a standpoint of dialogue and intention.
In the name of good old journalism, I’ve thought a great deal on this today and have come to the somewhat sad conclusion that only the Goblin is worthy of the three to be considered a Top 5 villain to appear on-screen in the modern era of hero flicks.
It’s not to say that Thanos and Bane aren’t great villains, but there have been more compelling cases that epitomize the vice of evil whether their stage was larger, smaller, or maybe not even known to be one of a wrongdoer.
So after careful deliberation, here they are: the five greatest comic book supervillains, seen on both the big and small screens, in no particular order.
The Green Goblin
Whether it be the sinister laugh, painful inner conflict or simply on a zipping on hoverboard paired with advanced and destructive “pumpkin bomb” weaponry, you can always count on Dafoe’s Green Goblin to steal the stage.
What makes Goblin such a strong villain is that the good man who is Norman Osborn is still trapped inside of the Goblin’s mind following the infamous experiment-gone-wrong.
Time after time, the Green Goblin’s evil overpowers the innocent Osborn, using his body to do the dark will of the chemically induced sociopath. More than his brawls against Spider-Man (Tom Holland, Tobey Maguire), that’s what makes the Goblin so bad. He uses an innocent vessel to carry out his destruction in a way similar to how the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) was manipulated.
Magneto’s backstory, as told in “X-Men: First Class,” is certainly a harsh one.
Born as Erik Lehnsherr, a boy who lost his mother while they were both kept in a concentration camp during World War II, he has never been able to see the good in humanity due to his own awful circumstances.
As he rises to become one of the universe’s most powerful mutants through his ability to manipulate metal, Magneto uses extreme violence and all means necessary to punish ordinary people for their mistreatment of mutants.
The true terror in the mighty Magento, who was brilliantly portrayed by both Sir Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender, is his ability to indoctrinate other mutants who otherwise would have likely become heroes. Through the power of his telepathically resistant helmet, Magento also shuts out the only voice of reason who can steer him away from wrongdoing, his former best friend Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy).
You could argue that the Joker (Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto, Joaquin Phoenix) is not in control of his actions because of his severe mental issues. After all, in “The Dark Knight” the nameless villain said, “I’m like a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one, you know, I just do things.”
It’s a good theory, considering that the caped crusader will never kill the Joker nor pull the “I won’t kill you but I don’t have to save you” loophole he used on Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) in “Batman Begins.” That ambiguity of intention spliced into the Joker’s reign of terror is what makes the genius evildoer such a thrilling nemesis.
You never really know what’s going on inside the head of the Joker or if he actually can control himself.
Maybe as a New Yorker I’m biased to include the MCU’s version of Tony Soprano here. But that’s what makes Wilson Fisk (Vince D’Onofrio), the archenemy of Daredevil (Charlie Cox) so different: he has no unearthly abilities yet gives the New York-based superheroes a real run for their money.
With nothing but the shirt on his back, Fisk became the most feared crime lord, controlling police, politics and commerce across New York and stopping at nothing to remain top dog — even if he has to beat a journalist to death every once in a while. As fans are most likely to see in Wednesday’s season finale of “Hawkeye” on Disney+, the criminal mastermind has a deeper place in the MCU and could even tie into the future Spider-Man trilogy.
The Scarlet Witch
No matter how you sugarcoat it, mind controlling and kidnapping an entire New Jersey town — children and all — as a way to cope with the death of fellow hero Vision (Paul Bettany) is an act of evil.
Although remorseful, former Avenger Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) takes no true accountability for the events of “WandaVision” and flees the Garden State to control her powers and likely search the multiverse for her real family, neglecting the needs of those whose lives she tampered with.
Considering that the Winter Soldier sought redemption after being released from his years of brainwashed killing, it just makes Wanda’s actions appear to be those not of a hero but instead of someone confused by power they don’t understand. A narrative like that seems pretty in line with most origins of comic book villains whose heinous actions have not been excused. Regardless, it’s more than likely the Scarlet Witch will be given a great chance of redemption in the upcoming film “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”
Why not Thanos or Bane?
It’s for reasons beyond actor performance that Thanos and Bane get snubbed as both Brolin and Hardy brought their bad guys to vivid life and left us fans with some magnificent moments which shaped our adolescence, or let’s face it, adulthood. Their characters are omitted for a combination of movie sins and wonky comic adaptations that — no matter how much we look past for great parts of their films — just don’t sit right.
Thanos doesn’t make the cut because the mad titan’s quest to correct the universe is a galaxy away from the “Infinity Gauntlet” comics that much of “The Avengers” was based off. Originally, he wields the Infinity Stones for much more superficial reasons — to simply impress lady death with his own abilities. In the films, Thanos is depicted as a much more spiritual figure whose harsh desires to eliminate half of life are driven to benefit the universe and cease all problems related to overpopulation. The misguided humanitarian plotline feels forced into place and acts just as an excuse for a huge battle and heroic sacrifice connected to expiring contracts. Reality is often disappointing after all.
As for Bane, who was prepared to blow Gotham off the face of the Earth with a nuclear bomb core, his last scenes in “Dark Knight Rises” remove the big guy from contention here. After a film’s worth of badassery, including beating Batman to a pulp while reciting a chillingly fierce monologue about belonging to the world’s shadows, blowing up Heinz Field midkickoff and cunningly holding an entire city hostage and at the mercy of criminals, Bane is revealed to be only a sacrificial pawn of Talia al Ghul (Marion Cotillard). Even after learning that she was pulling the strings all along, that subpar plot twist might have been forgiven had Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) not gunned Bane down moments in later in the most anticlimactic, disappointing way. You’ll just have to imagine being in the Top 5.