TV shows based on comic books are like a treasure trove of excitement, filled with fascinating superheroes and their equally captivating archenemies. It’s like a rollercoaster ride of action and drama! Take shows like The Flash and Arrow, for example, where our heroes face a never-ending parade of villains, each more formidable than the last. And then there’s Jessica Jones, a series that dives deep into the psyche of a single major bad guy for a whole season.
Just like any other genre, comic book TV shows have their hits and misses. The performances can range from mind-blowing to meh. Some villains may not get the chance to fully spread their menacing wings, while others steal the show and give big-screen adaptations a run for their money!
What really makes a villain unforgettable is when they stick around for the long haul. These baddies become the ultimate nemesis, tormenting our heroes for an entire season or even the entire series. But there are also those actors who come in like a whirlwind, delivering such powerhouse performances that they leave an indelible mark in just a few episodes. Sure, they may not be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or those fancy DC movies, but their talent is just begging for a shot on the grandest stage of them all – the big screen!
1. Vincent D’Onofrio As Kingpin (‘Daredevil’)
Vincent D’Onofrio surprised viewers of Netflix’s Daredevil with his portrayal of Wilson Fisk, bringing a level of subtlety that was unexpected for an early Marvel villain. Even when Fisk speaks softly, there are subtle hints of the anger and pain he is repressing beneath his calm demeanor.
Unlike other villains, when Kingpin’s anger finally erupts, it doesn’t feel sudden or out of place. It is a satisfying culmination of D’Onofrio’s performance throughout the series. He skillfully crafts Fisk into a multi-dimensional character, displaying a wide range of emotions while always making sure the audience understands his motivations and the root of his anger.
2. Antony Starr As Homelander (‘The Boys’)
If you’re not familiar with The Boys or its source material, you might initially think that Homelander is a mashup of Captain America and Superman. But once you see Anthony Starr’s bone-chilling portrayal of this deeply insecure supervillain, you’ll realize that the show’s satire of superheroes is crystal clear.
Starr deserves major props for revealing just how flimsy Homelander’s heroic facade truly is. Even when he’s grinning, he manages to send shivers down your spine. It’s all thanks to his impressive control over his facial expressions, allowing him to convey both what Homelander wants others to see and what he’s actually feeling deep down inside.
3. David Tennant As Kilgrave (‘Jessica Jones’)
In Jessica Jones, Kilgrave stands out as a unique villain who sees himself as the victim. David Tenant portrays him with the demeanor of a petulant child, relishing in his victories and throwing tantrums when things don’t go his way.
Towards the end of the series, Kilgrave’s composure starts to crumble and his confidence wavers. Tenant skillfully portrays his declining mental state and his desperate attempts to regain control over Jessica. It is through Tenant’s exceptional performance that Kilgrave becomes a villain who audiences enjoy hating, and many would be eager to see him make a comeback in the MCU, despite his apparent death in Jessica Jones.
4. Aubrey Plaza As Lenny (‘Legion’)
Legion, hands down, stands as one of the most peculiar Marvel shows out there. So, it’s only fitting that Aubrey Plaza’s portrayal of Lenny on the show is just as unconventional. What sets Plaza’s performance apart is the fact that her character was originally intended for a middle-aged man. However, Plaza requested that the role remain unchanged, resulting in some truly intriguing moments.
By sticking to the original script, Plaza fearlessly delivers lines that touch on crude topics related to women or employ outdated language. This, combined with a David Bowie-inspired sense of androgyny, culminates in a performance that is both unforgettable and one-of-a-kind. Plaza brings an unexpected level of vigor to her role in Legion, surprising fans who primarily recognize her from her work in Parks and Recreation or Scott Pilgrim.
5. Jensen Ackles As Soldier Boy (‘The Boys’)
Homelander may be the one donning the stars and stripes, but the true parody of Captain America in The Boys lies with Soldier Boy. Unlike the virtuous Steve Rogers, Soldier Boy harbors a deep resentment for the time he lost, a sentiment flawlessly captured by Jensen Ackles.
Ackles skillfully portrays Soldier Boy’s bitterness towards being betrayed by his team, matching it with explosive powers that accentuate his anger. Whenever confronted with new technology or updated social norms, Ackles brilliantly conveys Soldier Boy’s surprise and at times, disdain for these seemingly ordinary things.
Fans eagerly anticipated the eventual return of Soldier Boy after being frozen at the end of The Boys Season 3, largely due to Ackles’ remarkable depiction of the character.
6. Kathryn Hahn As Agatha Harkness (‘WandaVision’)
Kathryn Hahn’s portrayal of Agatha Harkness in WandaVision takes an unexpected turn. Initially, she appears as the quirky neighbor, not giving off any villainous vibes. However, Hahn skillfully adapts her performance to match the distinct styles of various TV eras showcased in each episode. At the same time, she maintains consistent traits that define Agatha’s character.
Throughout the majority of WandaVision, Hahn’s acting truly immerses us in the belief that we are witnessing the transformation of a single individual across multiple decades of television sitcoms. Even after the big reveal, Hahn effectively retains Agatha’s slightly theatrical nature while grounding it to align with the typical tone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) projects. Marvel clearly recognized the brilliance of Hahn’s portrayal, rewarding her with her very own spinoff series titled Agatha: House of Harkness.
7. Alan Tudyk As Mr. Nobody (‘Doom Patrol’)
Alan Tudyk absolutely nails it as Mr. Nobody in Doom Patrol. His performance is over-the-top and full of energy, adding a touch of theatrics that perfectly matches the show’s peculiar vibe. Tudyk effortlessly brings out the intimidating and antagonistic side of Mr. Nobody, while still making him incredibly entertaining to watch.
What’s remarkable is how Tudyk’s natural charisma shines through, even when playing a despicable villain. Through Mr. Nobody’s fourth wall breaks, Tudyk manages to create a connection with the audience, making us almost root for him despite his mistreatment of the heroes. It’s this unlikely bond that makes it so satisfying when Mr. Nobody has a change of heart and joins forces with the Doom Patrol to defeat the other villains he had previously allied with.
8. David Thewlis As John Dee (‘The Sandman’)
Netflix’s adaptation of The Sandman brings some changes to the original comics, including the character of John Dee. In the comics, Dee is known as the supervillain Doctor Destiny, a skeletal figure with missing teeth. However, in the series, David Thewlis delivers a remarkable performance that transforms John Dee into a horrifying villain.
Thewlis portrays John Dee as a quiet and unassuming man, which makes it believable that someone like Rosemary would initially trust him. As the story progresses, Thewlis effortlessly reveals the darker side of Dee’s character. This casual approach to portraying his evil nature is far more chilling than if he were to play the role with over-the-top theatrics.
In the episode titled “24 Hours,” Thewlis’s calm demeanor as he goes about his business while chaos unfolds around him is what truly sets John Dee apart as a memorable villain. The way he effortlessly causes mayhem adds to the intrigue and makes his character all the more terrifying.
Overall, Thewlis’s performance brings a fresh and nuanced take on John Dee, making him an unforgettable antagonist in Netflix’s adaptation of The Sandman.
9. Manu Bennett As Slade Wilson (‘Arrow’)
Slade Wilson, also known as Deathstroke, is considered one of the most merciless villains in DC’s arsenal. Although his presence in films has been limited, Manu Bennett’s portrayal of Deathstroke on Arrow is more than enough to satisfy fans of the character. Bennett’s depiction exudes an intimidating aura, and his deep growling voice convincingly suggests that Deathstroke is capable of following through on his threats, even before engaging in combat.
Furthermore, Bennett’s physicality is a standout aspect of his performance. Remarkably, he personally executed many of the show’s fast-paced fight scenes. As Deathstroke is a highly skilled fighter, Bennett’s execution of impressive moves truly showcases the character’s proficiency.
10. Mahershala Ali As Cottonmouth (‘Luke Cage’)
In Luke Cage, Mahershala Ali’s portrayal of Cottonmouth elevates the character beyond the typical crime boss archetype. Ali’s performance adds depth to the character, making him more than just a stock villain. Even when committing heinous acts like shooting his own associates or mercilessly beating people, Ali imbues Cottonmouth with a calm and controlled demeanor. This calmness only serves to heighten the villain’s intimidation factor, as it hints at the depths of his ruthlessness.
One of the most chilling aspects of Ali’s portrayal is the way he delivers Cottonmouth’s laugh. Instead of conveying genuine joy, it is evident that Cottonmouth laughs solely to provoke fear or anger in others. When Ali occasionally allows glimpses of Cottonmouth’s anger to surface, it becomes abundantly clear just how enraged the character truly is. This deliberate contrast makes Cottonmouth even more menacing than if Ali had played him as constantly angry.
11. Jeremy Irons As Ozymandias (‘Watchmen’)
At the start of the show, Jeremy Irons’s character in Watchmen remains shrouded in mystery. Initially, he appears to be a wealthy man enjoying his later years in a mansion with a staff of servants. However, Irons skillfully drops subtle hints that there is something peculiar about him. Therefore, when this enigmatic man disintegrates one of his servants as part of a play he has written, viewers may be taken aback, but it is not entirely unexpected.
Once it is revealed that Irons is portraying the Watchmen antagonist Adrian Veidt, also known as Ozymandias, his portrayal starts to make complete sense. Ozymandias has no qualms about sacrificing lives to achieve his goals, and Irons’s nonchalant demeanor while killing his numerous cloned servants solidifies this. Irons almost injects a darkly comical tone into some scenes by matter-of-factly instructing his servants to launch their deceased clones from a colossal catapult.