Just as every positive has a negative, every hero needs a villain; their nemesis, their antithesis. Villains define any story they inhabit, because they are the active perpetrator of the evils the protagonist is trying to stop.
1 September 2014 sees the Blu-ray and DVD release of The Amazing Spider Man 2, and in celebration of Spidey’s latest feud with his nemesis Green Goblin, we’ve rooted through the best cinematic comic-book adaptations to find our top 10 greatest villains…
Runner up: Rico from Judge Dredd (1995)
10. Jack Rafferty from Sin City (2005)
Marauding misogynist Jack Rafferty meets a grizzly end when he has his neck sliced open (making him a “Pez dispenser”), but it is only after his death that this villain steals the stage. Quentin Tarantino guest directs what is certainly Sin City’s best scene, as protagonist Dwight (played by a deadpan Clive Owen) hallucinates the taunts and jeers of Jack’s corpse as he drives to dispose of it.
As Jack’s head lolls back and forth in the car, his gaping neck wound is occasionally exposed; turning his normally deep voice into a hoarse, sinister whisper. It’s a neat trick that makes Jack a truly memorable villain.
9. Todd from Scott Pilgrim (2010)
Todd may not be the final boss in Scott Pilgrim’s videogame-themed quest to vanquish all of his girlfriend’s evil exes, but he’s the best. When Scott initially lunges at Todd’s face, a forcefield of energy prevents his fist connecting.
Why? He’s Vegan. And being vegan “just makes you better than most people”. A backstreet brawl and a bass guitar battle ensue, before Scott manages to trick Todd into drinking coffee with real milk.
8. Karl Ruprecht Kroenen from Hellboy (2004)
The Hellboy canon is full of wonderfully gothic freaks and monsters – from epic Lovecraftian space squids to a reanimated Rasputin – but the villain who takes the centre stage in Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 Hellboy adaptation is Karl Ruprecht Kroenen.
Though little more than a masked henchman in the comics, he is revised through del Toro’s darkly exuberant imagination as a long-dead self-mutilated Nazi surgeon, with a clockwork heart and nothing but sand in his veins.
7. Ma Ma from Dredd (2012)
We are introduced to Ma Ma – the leader of a plethora of gangs in the mega apartment block of Peach Trees – as she orders her goons to flay the skin off three rival drug dealers and hurl them from the top of the block to their deaths.
Not before, we might add, she doses them with a drug to slow their perception of time to a crawl. As one character states, “guess it felt like a long way down.”
6. Comedian from Watchmen (2009)
Whilst technically one of the ‘heroes’ in Watchmen, Comedian is representative of how a heroic guise can be misleading, showing just how rotten this subversive superhero fable really is. A patriotic symbol, a Vietnam War veteran and an agent of the American government – Comedian seems like a typical hero on paper.
Of course, after witnessing his violent repression of a peaceful protest, the war crimes he commits, and his attempted rape of a fellow hero – you may think otherwise.
5. Magneto in X-Men: First Class (2011)
Though Ian McKellen may have brought an air of aged sophistication to the role in the original X-Men films, Michael Fassbender’s performance of a younger Magneto is nuanced, and holds surprising depth.
Though the plot of First Class may involve the lofty goal of stopping the Cuban Missile Crisis, the real heart of the story is Magneto’s insatiable lust to avenge the murder of his mother – and the tragedy of his eventual descent into villainy.
4. Green Goblin from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
The first Amazing Spider-Man film successfully differentiated itself from the wall-crawler flicks of the last decade, by sacrificing some of the action for well-executed teen drama. To bolster the on-screen charisma of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (playing Spider-Man and Gwen Stacey respectively), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 sees Dane DeHaan debut as the web-slinger’s close friend Harry Osborne – who soon turns into the villainous Green Goblin.
Of course, we’ve seen this plot strand before in Sam Rami’s trilogy – but this time around Garfield and DeHaan bring an exciting new dynamism to their characters’ friendship, which makes their eventual falling out all the more gripping.
3. Lex Luthor from Superman (1978)
The original Superman proved that comic-book film adaptations could actually be done, and done well. This is in no small part due to Gene Hackman’s riveting depiction of Lex Luthor – who had a charismatic confidence which came to define how the entrepreneurial tycoon would be portrayed on screen.
While Superman Returns allowed Kevin Spacey to give the role a more contemporary portrayal (and he certainly stole that show), it was Hackman’s 1978 incarnation of Luthor which laid the groundwork.
2. Loki from Avengers Assemble (2011)
Sure, he was first introduced in Thor and had a heftier role in Thor: The Dark World (albeit as more of a mischievous antihero), but the fan-favourite Norse God of Comic-Con was at his best in Joss Whedon’s glorious Marvel team-up.
A pitch-perfect mix of Tom Hiddleston’s Shakespearean grandeur and Globe-packing presence, mischievous charm and pure comic book silliness. Every second he’s on screen, the world seems somehow brighter.
The Avengers may have a Hulk, but Loki has an army: us.
1. The Joker from The Dark Knight (2008)
The Batman films have seen a vast array of captivating villains; from director Tim Burton’s tangibly revolting Penguin to Christopher Nolan’s brutal and intelligent Bane. But none of those spectacular portrayals – or any others on this list – can quite match up to The Joker, as played by Heath Ledger (with Jack Nicholson as an all-too-close second).
This Joker’s perpetual stand-up performance, delivered with a psychopathic deadpan drawl, is both darkly humorous and terrifyingly unpredictable. He navigates the film as an anti-Batman, slipping in and out of the film’s scenes inciting chaos through his nihilistic pranks, which manage to be both genuinely funny and incredibly sinister (“I can make this pencil disappear”, he says shortly before burying it into the eyesocket of a goon).
This Joker is malevolent, intelligent, captivating and entertaining – and the best comic-book villain on the silver screen.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is out now on Digital HD and on Blu-ray and DVD 1 September 2014. Find out more about the comics that inspired the film with new digital magazine Uncanny Comics.