From the Joker to the Riddler to Lex Luthor and General Zod, the DC Comics universe is home to some of the most iconic villains ever created. Directors like Tim Burton and Richard Donner have faithfully adapted the cartoonish villains from the pages of the comics, while filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Matt Reeves have come up with more informed interpretations of the characters.
Not every performance by a DC villain is as great as Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as The Joker or Michelle Pfeiffer’s definitive portrayal of Catwoman, but that’s what marks the best work.
10 Tom Hardy as Bane
When he was cast to terrorize Christian Bale’s Batman in the role of Bane The Dark Knight risesTom Hardy faced the insurmountable challenge of continuing Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning role as The Joker.
Hardy’s Bane might not be quite as chilling as The Joker – his supervillain gameplay is far more outlandish than Ledger’s sinister portrayal – but he’s just as iconic.
9 John Cena as Peacemaker
James Gunn’s reboot/sequel The Suicide Squad introduced John Cena’s Peacemaker as a member of the title team. Halfway through the film, however, he turns out to be a double agent. Peacemaker made his debut as a straight-forward comedic character, but Cena showed a glimpse of his dramatic ability with a tinge of regret when he killed Rick Flag.
With his last breath, Flag quips, “Peacemaker… what a joke.” Peacemaker really hits it as he realizes he’s become the thing he wanted to destroy. The wrestler-turned-actor would get an opportunity to showcase his full spectrum when the character got his own spin-off series. In this spin-off, Cena rounded out Peacemaker as a surprisingly likeable character.
8th Jack Nicholson as the Joker
As Adam West defined Batman as a comedic character, Tim Burton came along to bring a much-needed Frank Miller dark edge to the Caped Crusader’s on-screen adventures.
The always brilliant Jack Nicholson played the Joker with the same horror movie menace as Jack Torrance. Nicholson redefined the character by following Cesar Romero’s unforgettable yet cartoonish portrayal from the West series.
7 Colin Farrell as the Penguin
Colin Farrell is unrecognizable under all the makeup and prosthetics The Batman. The actor doesn’t play the penguin as a grotesque, cartoonish horror villain like Danny DeVito’s equally memorable but far less nuanced twist Batman returns.
He plays Oswald Cobblepot as a straight-laced mafioso. His lyrics have the same lyrical, darkly comic accents that Robert De Niro brings to Scorsese films with similar mafioso roles.
6 Terence Stamp as General Zod
Still hailed as one of the greatest superhero sequels of all time that’s incredibly entertaining Superman II introduced fans to General Zod, a Kryptonian crime boss whom Superman accidentally frees from the Phantom Zone, spectacularly played by Terence Stamp.
Stamp transformed Supes’ One-Note nemesis from the comics into a terrifying sadist. The actor is responsible for one of the most iconic moments in comic book history: “Kneel before Zod!”
5 Jim Carrey as the Riddler
It would be an understatement to say that Batman forever isn’t everyone’s favorite Batman movie, but Jim Carrey gave an undeniably memorable performance as the Riddler. Like many villains from Batman movies, Carrey’s Riddler stole the spotlight from the bat himself (played by Val Kilmer in this case). Some fans felt that Carrey’s performance was over the top, but there’s no such thing as “over the top” in a movie as wild and funky as this one.
Carrey’s acting style was perfect for the goofy hypercamp Adam Westian tone that Joel Schumacher was going for. Tommy Lee Jones tries in vain to match Carrey’s insane energy; he should have played Two-Face as the “straight man” to Carrey’s Riddler antics.
4 Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn
The DCEU got off to a shaky start, but Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the clear breakthrough star early on in the development of this cinematic universe. Robbie perfectly captured Harley’s signature sly wit and manic energy.
In a handful of film appearances, Robbie has played Harley both as a straight-forward villain who relishes chaos as much as her evil ex does, and as a likable anti-hero fiercely loyal to her friends.
3 Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman
Michelle Pfeiffer played Catwoman as the quintessential femme fatale seen in the comics, but she also brought an unnerving poignancy that suited Tim Burton’s dark, expressionist, horror-tinged vision of Gotham City.
Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is also a sympathetic feminist antihero, as her masked vigilante crusade is the result of violence and abuse at the hands of the powerful men in her life, particularly her ruthless boss, Max Shreck.
2 Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor
Christopher Reeves Man of Steel faced off against his nemesis Lex Luthor in his first appearance on the big screen (and his second and fourth appearances on the big screen). Luthor was played by the great Gene Hackman.
Hackman has a full head of hair for much of the film, but he makes up for his lack of physical resemblance to Luthor by capturing the eccentricity and megalomania of the megalomaniac.
1 Heath Ledger as the Joker
By far the most iconic performance as a DC Comics villain is Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker, for which he posthumously won an Oscar. Ledger’s Alex DeLarge-inspired clown Prince of Crime is a truly mesmerizing screen presence that steals every scene he’s in.
Ledger’s Joker isn’t just ranked among the greatest comic book movie villains of all time; He’s considered one of the greatest movie villains alongside Darth Vader and the Wicked Witch of the West, period.
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