The 411 Movies Top 5 04.19.12: Week 370 - Top 5 Comic Book Movie Villians
Posted by Shawn S. Lealos on 04.19.2013
From Heath Ledger's Joker and Terence Stamp's General Zod to Ian McKellan's Magneto and more, the 411 staff counts down their top 5 comic book movie villains of all time!
Welcome to Week 370 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.
The 411mania writers were given the following instructions: Lets do something a little different this week. DC Comics announced that they are celebrating villains in September 2013 on the 2-year anniversary of the New DC 52. With that in mind, lets count down our Top 5 favorite comic book movie villains. Make sure you specify which version you are counting (instead of just saying Joker, you have to indicate whether it is Jack, Heath, Hamill or Romero).
Honorable Mentions: Bane- The Dark Knight Rises, Magneto- Ian McKellan - X-Men, The Penguin- Danny DeVito, Loki- The Avengers, Deacon Frost- Blade, The Joker- Heath Ledger
5. General Zod- Terence Stamp- Superman II (1980)
When I saw Superman II as a kid, General Zod scared me. His Kryptonian criminal companions scared me, too (Jack O'Halloran is scary because he's so big, and Sarah Douglas is scary because she likes to send people into space with no oxygen), but Zod was the scariest because he was so arrogant. He knew he was unstoppable, that he had Superman outnumbered and he could use the people of Earth as pawns in a game to trap Superman and destroy him. Plus, he wanted to kill Lex Luthor. Sure, Luthor is a despicable criminal, but how can you threaten to kill a man who helped you? That's just dirty pool. I'm sure Michael Shannon will do a good job playing the Zod character in the new Superman movie, but I doubt he'll have the same impact as Stamp. "Kneel before Zod!" Ha.
4. Dr. Anton Arcane- Louis Jourdan- Swamp Thing (1982)
When it comes to despicable comic book movie villains, Louis Jourdan's Dr. Anton Arcane is one of the best. He has no problem killing people when they get in the way of what he wants (I was mortified as a child that he would allow his henchmen to kill innocent people and dump their bodies in the swamp), he'll deliberately disfigure his own people in order to test new mad scientist formulas (look at what he did to Bruno and what he was willing to do to his girlfriend in the sequel), and he'll chain up Adrienne Barbeau in his basement. The only sort of redeeming thing about him is, in a pinch, he'll experiment on himself. But then he turns himself into a hairy pig monster, so points off for that. Still a great villain, though.
3. Jigsaw- Dominic West- Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Before he gets disfigured in the glass bottle recycling thing, Jigsaw was just Billy Russoti, a successful mob henchman. He was a violent prick, sure, but then what mob henchman isn't a violent prick? When he loses his face and finds out that it can't be repaired he loses his mind. He becomes even more violent and an even bigger prick. He breaks his disturbed brother Loony Bin Jim out of the insane asylum, he terrorizes a distraught family, and then shoots fat guy Microchip in the head (he probably also shot Microchip's mom in the head, too). He also recruits an army of bad guys to help him take out the Punisher. It doesn't work all that well, but the speech he gives is one for the ages:
Makes me laugh every time I hear it. I love this guy.
2. Lex Luthor- Gene Hackman- Superman franchise
When you look at Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor, you don't necessarily see a diabolical super genius, at least at first. He's charming, kind of a prick, but he seems like the kind of guy you might want to hang out with. You don't really approve of his treatment of Ned Beatty, but, again, Luthor is so charming you overlook that part of his personality after awhile. But then, when you look at the scheme he concocts in the first Superman, what he helps make happen in Superman II (he wanted to be Zod's best buddy in the whole world, the super villain that wanted to rule the world and kill him), and then what he creates in Superman IV. Nuclear Man may be one of those most irresponsible things any movie villain, comic book and regular genre movie, has ever done. But then, hey, he wanted to destroy Superman, and what better way to do that than with a man "born" from a nuclear bomb? Kevin Spacey did a pretty good job in Superman Returns, but he's no Gene Hackman. Not by a long shot.
1. The Joker- Jack Nicholson- Batman (1989)
As far as I'm concerned, Jack Nicholson is the Joker. He just is. He's a complete psycho, a madman who wants to destroy Batman and has absolutely no problem gassing Gotham City in order to do it. And how about deliberately contaminating various consumer products that, when used together, contort a person's face into a Joker smile right before they die? That is so goddamn messed up. And I'm still trying to figure out the art museum gassing: are those people in there dead or just unconscious? Either way it's still pretty awful. If only society figured out a way to keep him in prison (he murdered at least two people in cold blood as a young man). But then, he did refer to himself as the world's first full functioning homicidal artist, so what can we expect?
"Batman... Batman... Can somebody tell me what kind of a world we live in, where a man dressed up as a *bat* gets all of my press? This town needs an enema!"
5. The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Captain America
Weaving does exactly what should be done for the most famous Nazi in comics, go totally over the top with it. Cool most of the time, his rage is terrifying, especially given his horrifying face and willingness to eradicate those who fail him. A man willing to double-cross Hitler and establish his own Reich should not be taken lightly and his great strength is a benefit as well. That he carries himself as some sort of gentleman despite being a total monster makes it more amazing to watch.
4. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), The Avengers
While the Thor movie established the character, it was the follow-up film that boosted him to new heights. Yes, he's swaggering and arrogant with moments like telling a crowd "you were meant to be ruled." But you can also see the tragic side to him, a boy convinced he's meant to be a king and discovering his true origins causes him to break away. The talk between him and Thor is great, Loki's long held jealousy coming loose as he makes it clear if he can't have Earth, he'll gladly see it torn apart just to get back at his "family." Yet, he has an amazing charm as shown when, having been crushed to a pulp by the Hulk and surrounded by the Avengers, he calmly asks for a drink. Best of all, the ending hints we may see more of him as the Trickster is never one to be counted down for long.
3. General Zod (Terrance Stamp), Superman II
The problem with Superman is finding someone who can give him a truly tough time. For the sequel, the producers decided to go for brawn over brains with a trio of Kryptonian criminals out for blood. Zod is the best, once a trusted general who tried to become Krypton's dictator, imprisoned for decades and now thirsting for conquest. What makes this so brilliant is Stamp's performance, so cool and calm in battle, treating attacking soldiers as nothing more than annoyances, humans are just ants to him. It's briliant when he takes over the White House but is bored out of his mind without anything more to conquer. But he sells those beautiful angry moments ("KNEEL before ZOD!") with glorious conviction that you just have to love. This is a man you truly believe can be a ruler and makes the conflict with Superman all the better, elevating one of the best superhero movies ever.
2. Magneto (Ian McKellan), X-Men
What makes Magneto so compelling is the fact that you can actually see he has a point. A survivor of the Holocaust, he knows first-hand how humans can turn on those who are different and is determined not to see it happen to mutants. His methods may be extreme but he thinks it a necessary evil and that, combined with his compelling stature on screen, makes him fascinating to watch. Nothing sums up McKellan's performance better than the scene in X2 where Magneto breaks out of jail, floating across a chasm, arms crossed, a truly regal bearing. Few things are scarier than a bad guy who believes he's fighting for good...and when you see the anti-mutant forces out there, you have to wonder if maybe he's not right.
1. The Joker (Heath Ledger), The Dark Knight
Really no hard choice here. Mark Hamil may nail the Clown Prince of Crime on the animated series but Ledger brought the character to a terrifying new life in his Oscar-winning performance. He makes the Joker a twisted madman but always with a plan, despite his constant talk on how he doesn't have one. He's smooth, cunning and while you get the idea that some of his madness is feigned, he's clearly completely insane. He truly believes life is nothing but a joke, that all it takes is a push to make any person a killer and his battle with Batman is nothing but a grand game. Ledger just eats up the screen, you can't take your eyes off him and he makes the Joker fantastic, not just because of his actions but also because of the scary idea that someone like him can truly exist in today's world.
5. Ra's Al Ghul (Batman Begins)
It's almost hard to remember now, but people were initially skeptical of the idea of another Batman franchise. Joel Schumacher's disastrous Batman & Robin in 1997 killed any hopes of the initial franchise seeing any more films and even a near-decade later when it was announced that Batman Begins would be made under the guidance of Christopher Nolan, people were less than enthused at first. It didn't help that most of the more iconic villains in Batman's rogues' gallery were not being used; Ra's Al Ghul is certainly a favorite of comic book fans but people with less of a grounding in that medium were puzzled. Much to everyone's delight, Liam Neeson came along and gave us a fantastic turn as Ra's, the man who would be Bruce Wayne's mentor and Batman's first great enemy in the Nolan Batverse. What makes this character work so well is the fact that we rely on him so much in the beginning of the film. He is the man who guides Bruce Wayne and gives him a purpose after the death of his parents. It is only when Bruce sees that Ducard is out to destroy Gotham City that he takes a stand against him and believes he has died. The revelation after that Ducard is Ra's Al Ghul is a shocking moment and yet, it all makes sense. Neeson doesn't turn the character from an honorable man to a raving lunatic; the performance is consistent throughout and that makes him more interesting. He is an essential part of Batman's character and a high point of a movie full of them.
4. Catwoman (Batman Returns)
As much as I love Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the Joker, he was blown away by Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman in the follow-up film. Tim Burton's Batman Returns was a film that relied heavily on gothic overtones and a serious, terse Batman; adding to that was the fact that the Penguin was a very dour character as well (though he did have his fun moments). The movie needed energy to succeed and that was provided in spades by Pfeiffer's sexed-up portrayal of Selina Kyle. Wielding her whip and walking around in that leather outfit, she was a villain that you sympathized with because of her near-death at the hands of Max Schreck but who was undeniably evil. She was also, by far, the most successful of Batman's romantic interests in any of the films, Nolan's included. Vicki Vale had her moments and Chase Meridian was the sexiest, but the rest all felt superfluous because...well, they were. Pfeiffer and Keaton had that X-factor that made them click on-screen, both as Bruce/Selina and Batman/Catwoman. Her lack of inclusion in the later films was a big disappointment, seeing as she's the one Batvillain who survives. Pfeiffer, like Nicholson, had just enough camp in her performance to make it a wonderful portrayal and definitely my favorite female villain to date.
3. General Zod (Superman 2)
KNEEL BEFORE ZOD! Yeah, I had to say it. All due respect to Gene Hackman, who just missed being in the first part of my list, but Terrance Stamp is the best Superman villain by far. It's quite a testament to him to be on this list because Superman is not one of my favorite superheroes by any stretch of the imagination. But Christopher Reeve did a great job with him and he was helped out by some great villains...in the first couple films, at least. (Let's ignore Parts III and IV, shall we?) Stamp's Zod was the perfect match for Superman, the Kryptonian criminal banished to the Phantom Zone along with Ursa and Non. Ursa and Non are both iconic as well but neither of them really holds a candle to their leader. Zod's ruthless, megalomaniacal nature is brought to life with the kind of skill only a guy like Stamp could have provided. It is largely because of Stamp's work that the character is so beloved even in the comic books, and Michael Shannon has some very serious shoes to fill when he takes on the character in the forthcoming Man of Steel.
2. Magneto (X-Men franchise)
I have loved the X-Men ever since I was growing up. They weren't the first comic book line I fell in love with--that would be Iron Man, the Avengers and the Avengers West Coast--but they followed close behind and seeing them on the big screen was long a dream both of mine and countless others. People used to fantasy cast the role all the time and while everyone agreed that Patrick Stewart should be Xavier, there was a wide variety of people thought of to play Magneto. Ian McKellan was not first on many lists (including mine), but clearly he should have been. McKellan was one of the hottest properties in the movies at the time of X-Men, with a role as Gandalf just around the horizon in Lord of the Rings and it seemed like he was suddenly a star overnight. As much as I love Gandalf, I love his Magneto even better. McKellan had the perfect blend of gravitas and theatricality to make the character everything we could have hoped for; much like the character in the pages of Marvel's comic books, we understand why he felt the way he did and even sympathized but then viewed him as a villain when he took it too far. McKellan had everything--the chemistry with Patrick Stewart to make the Xavier/Magneto dynamic work, the tired look of a Holocaust survivor embittered by the world, the ability to personify Eric's arrogant demeanor based on his genetic superiority and even the swagger to carry off the comic book villain thing. One of my favorite moments in X-Men is when he looks down at the heroes inside of the Statue of Liberty after Cyclops has told Storm to summon lightning and says "Oh yes! A bolt of lightning into a huge copper conductor. I thought you lived at a school?" That had a level of condescension that was perfect for the character and helped make him iconic.
1. The Joker (The Dark Knight)
C'mon. Was anyone possibly going to top Heath Ledger's unbelievable performance as the Joker? It's simply the thing of legend. I always remember everyone immediately crapping on the casting choice, as Ledger was not necessarily known as a great actor at that time. You can't really blame people; he was only just building his reputation with work in films like Brokeback Mountain and I'm Not There and most people knew him from stuff like The Brothers Grimm or A Knight's Tale. As it turned out, he was beyond perfect for the role. The performance has caused some backlash, as all beloved things do; there are those who feel that he has been elevated beyond what he should have been by the circumstances of his death. With all due respect, that's silly. Just look at his performance, which is alternately terrifying and hilarious but always brilliant. There have been few times I've marveled at an actor's performance the way I did watching The Dark Knight that first time, and indeed any time since. It holds up over multiple viewings and is, without a doubt, the greatest comic book movie villain of all time.
I still count The Crow as not only one of my favorite comic book adaptations or all time, but also as one of my favorite movies of all time regardless of genre. The always awesome Michael Wincott plays Top Dollar, the main antagonist in this movie. Sure, his sister Myca (Bai Ling) is the crazy one but Wincott just makes Top Dollar such a great freaking villain. He ordered the rape of Shelly and murder of Eric and then just kept on being a giant Grade-A asshole the entire movie. Brandon Lee was a great Crow, but damn if Michael Wincott wasn't just about a perfect villain to face off with him.
4. Magneto, Original X-Men Trilogy
The best villains, in movies or comics, are the men who believe that what they are doing is right. It makes it challenging to watch as the superheroes that fight for truth, justice and the American way battles a bad guy who believes he is on the right side. Magneto is a perfect example of this type of villain. He was kept in a concentration camp as a child, tortured because of who and what he was. He now sees how his kind, mutants, are treated and sees the government attempting to create ways to hold them down and control their lives and destiny. Professor X believes in hope and faith, while working with the enemy to create a peaceful resolution. Magneto believes in fighting for his rights and has an army of mutants who follow his word. Of course, Magneto's hatred turns into vengeance as he wants to control the same people he is fighting for his freedom from, making him a hypocrite. Regardless, he is the most well rounded villain to ever come from comics onto the movie screen.
3. General Zod, Superman II
When looking at the original Superman movie, the one thing holding it back was a great villain. Of course, producers wanted Superman's most hated rival, which was Lex Luthor, but he is also one that has to be played right. Use him as a brilliant businessman who manipulates those around him. Don't use him as a buffoon. Now, when you want a great villain, look no further than Superman 2. General Zod is the perfect bad guy for Superman. Instead of someone who comes to earth to be its protector, Zod comes to earth to be its ruler. He is the polar opposite of Superman with the same powers. This means Superman can't rely on his superhuman everything to win, he has to use his brain. Plus, Terrance Stamp brought that Shakespearian training to his performance, making Zod one of the most memorable movie villains of all time.
2. Joker, The Dark Knight
There are many people who over praise the performance of Heath Ledger because of his tragic death. Forget about his tragic death and just look at what he accomplished on the screen. Heath Ledger took The Joker to a dark place, one that he had not been to in his movie appearances. He has always been a vicious criminal in the comics but no one dared to push him that far in the movies. Ledger gave himself over to the role and what we saw was one of the best portrayals with one of comic book's greatest villains. He as even the second best villain in The Dark Knight
1. Two Face, The Dark Knight
Many people rave about Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight, and for good reason. He brought the character to life like no one else before. However, the character that I believe was the heart and soul of the movie was Harvey Dent, the man who became Two Face. Look, The Joker was the big bad guy of the movie, the man who made everyone's life hell. However, it was Harvey Dent that was the tragic figure of the movie. He started off as the white knight, the one man that even Batman believed could turn around Gotham City and finally save it. Unfortunately, Dent failed and it cost him his humanity. Dent couldn't save Gotham, he couldn't save himself and he remains the most tragic figure in all of comic book movies.