Thanos character from Marvel Comics

Thanos character from Marvel Comics (Photo by Visanu Pongsuansri on Shutterstock)

While the world has become infatuated with superheroes and their stories, no solid comic book novel or movie would be complete without the foil to the superhero’s might – the villain. Mischievous bad guys across the fictional landscape have come in all shapes and sizes. The very best supervillains of all time are unforgettable and sometimes even more popular than the heroes they try to beat. But why do we choose to love villains? They’re evil!

Without the bad guys, what’s fun about watching a hero live their everyday life unbothered? More than half (51%) of Americans “always” or “often” root for the bad guy or gal when watching a movie or TV show. In a recent survey of 2,011 U.S. adults, three in five (60%) say they watch a series or movie just for the villain.

Every villain story involves heinous actions and evil deeds. Good storytelling often gives our favorite villains a redemption arc, which people tend to find fascinating. A study conducted by a team at the University of Michigan finds people just can’t help but see some good in the bad guys. Both adults and children surveyed during the study said that villains were inwardly good more often than heroes were inwardly bad. All supervillain origin story often stems from tragedy or unfortunate events.

We might even find villains more attractive at times because we naturally gravitate toward chracters who remind us of ourselves. A recent study finds there’s a perfectly scientific explanation for why we’re drawn to evil characters like Darth Vader, the Joker, or Professor Moriarty — we relate to them more!

Do you find yourself secretly rooting for the bad guy? StudyFinds set out to do the research, visiting 10 expert websites to put together this list of the best supervillains of all time that were mentioned most. If you’ve got your own suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!

The List: Best Supervillains of All Time, Per Experts

1. The Joker

It’s not a shocker that the Clown Prince of Crime sits at the top of the list. As Batman’s arch-enemy and main foil, his outright insanity makes him someone who’s easy to hate. Whether it’s through comics, animation or live action – the Joker is the top supervillain of all time. “In the world of comic books, no villain can match the pure malice and mayhem that is The Joker on a monthly basis. This sociopathic clown has spent the last seven decades wreaking havoc on Gotham City and the DC Universe at large. Yet despite his senseless love of violence, fans flock to read any story and watch any movie he’s featured in. You can argue he’s just as much of a household name as the Dark Knight himself,” says Complex.

Heath Ledger as The Joker
Heath Ledger as The Joker (“The Joker” by spaceninja is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.)

Chillopedia talks about his evil deeds when they say, “Unlike all of the villains in any major comic book corporation, the mysterious terrorist known only as the Joker has never been materialistic. In fact, Joker’s only goal has been to leave dead bodies everywhere as he goes to raise mayhem and chaos instead of targeting power or wealth. The clown prince of crime has been responsible for countless tragedies in Batman’s life such as murdering Jason Todd (the second Robin), crippling Barbara Gordon (the second Batgirl), driving Lieutenant Jim Gordon insane, etc, which easily makes him the ultimate comic book villain ever.”

WatchMojo says, “According to co-creator Jerry Robinson, the Joker was designed to be an enduring arch-nemesis for the Caped Crusader – a larger-than-life Moriarty to their costumed Sherlock Holmes. Of course, the accounts of Joker’s creation are as conflicting as his in-universe origin; some claim he was supposed to die at the end of his introductory arc. Regardless, debuting in Batman #1, the Joker would grow and evolve into a massive pop culture icon.”

2. Magneto

Set inside the Mutant world of the X-Men, this metal-controlling villain isn’t always on the evil side. Which is probably one of the reasons that people love his “morally grey” character. Being friends with Professor X, it adds compelling drama to every interaction between the two. IGN says, “Magneto has become bigger than his peers and virtually all of his enemies. It’s the sign of a great character when his presence dominates a story and his absence creates a vacuum that cannot be filled by any other. Through his legendary role in Marvel Comics over the years as well as fantastic portrayals in film and animation, it’s hard to argue that there has ever been a villain more complex, nuanced, sympathetic and yet irrevocably evil.”

Magneto Supervillain Figurine
Magneto Action Figure (“Magneto Figurine” by San Diego Shooter is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

His complex character is talked about by Screen Rant: “It’s sometimes hard to see Magneto as a villain. In his mind, he’s simply defending his people to ensure that a Holocaust like the one he grew up in never occurs again. Raised in Auschwitz, Magneto was one of the few survivors of the Holocaust the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews. He saw from a young age humanities potential to harm those we see as ‘different’ and adopted the philosophy that mutants would suffer the same fate if they did not band together and fight back.”

Entertainment Weekly agrees with the above statement: “Magneto only wants to ensure safety of mutantkind – even if that means humankind must go. Ian McKellen played him with wry cunning; Michael Fassbender exuded desperate exhaustion; comic book history has often cast him as a lesser-of-two-evils heroic figure. But 63 years after his introduction, one thing has never changed: Magneto is a monster, but only because our monstrous world made him that way.”

3. Doctor Doom

Doctor Doom is the king of Latveria and the main archenemy of Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four. This mastermind controls both science and magic, the two pillars of power inside the Marvel Universe. This makes him a formidable opponent for any hero. With a name like Baron Victor von Doom… he’s gotta be evil. “Victor von Doom is the leader of Latveria and recurring enemy of the Fantastic Four, but has fought most of the Marvel world in his attempts to attain more power with his intellect, armour and scientific creations,” says Stuff.

Doctor Doom's Fearfall attraction at Universal's Islands of Adventure 1
Doctor Doom’s Fearfall attraction at Universal’s Islands of Adventure 1 (Photo by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Entertainment Weekly describes him as a “mad scientist, renegade mystic, despotic patriarch of a feudal-ish Soviet-ish nation, best friend-turned-sworn enemy: The Fantastic Four’s chief antagonist appropriately reflects four distinct flavors of crazy. He’s a man of science and a man of faith…and he’s got a cool mask, too.”

“Doctor Doom is a genius and, of course, a scientist (there are a surprising number of comic book villains with PhDs). Doctor Doom has invented a number of doomsday machines in his time. He is known as one of the most intelligent people in the Marvel Universe. On top of this, Doctor Doom is a powerful sorcerer, capable of energy absorption and protection, dimensional travel, and healing — a truly terrifying and formidable comic book villain,” says Quality Comix.

4. Lex Luthor

One of the main foils to Superman, Lex Luthor takes the 4th spot with a bevy of strengths that allows him to go up against one of the strongest superheroes ever. With his obvious fallbacks, Chillopedia talks about what he does right (or wrong): “Despite having no superpowers and being physically nothing more than a common man, Alexander Joseph ‘Lex’ Luthor has still received the reputation of Superman’s deadliest villain. Grasping reality by relying on political power and intellect, Luthor believes that he is, in fact, saving the world from an alien force (Superman being a native of planet Krypton) and sought any means necessary to eliminate the Man of Steel.”

Lex Luthor in DC Comics
Lex Luthor in DC Comics (“Lex Luthor” by andertoons is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.)

Complex explains how he’s everything Superman isn’t: “The reason why Lex Luthor stands out among Superman’s countless villains is that he’s the exact opposite of the Man of Steel. He’s bald, middle-aged, and, most importantly, human. Lex has been portrayed in two ways: as a mad scientist or a power-hungry businessman/politician. Both versions are supremely jealous of the love the people of Metropolis throw Superman’s way, and he has made it his life’s mission to debase and demoralize Kal-El whenever he gets the chance.”

“Lex Luthor is the son of wealthy philanthropist Lionel Luthor. As a kid, Lex grew up in Smallville and attended the same high school as Clark Kent. Lex became obsessed with Superman. What started as watchfulness soon escalated into envy and then hatred for any and every extraterrestrial. Lex became an evil genius with unlimited access to his father’s wealth. He became an adversary to Superman and caused him a lot of heartaches,” says Wheel Jack’s Lab.

5. Thanos

The Mad Titan himself rounds off our list. This Marvel villain has his heart set on Death (yes, the personification) and balance. This purple powerhouse took all the might of the Avengers to defeat. WatchMojo says, “With appearances reaching back to 1973, this member of an ancient alien race of immortal deviants is a godlike being. What makes him especially menacing is his fascination with death. That’s right, Thanos doesn’t want to rule the universe, he wants to make it completely lifeless in order to win over lady death herself.”

Close up of Thanos' fist
Thanos (“Lex Luthor” by andertoons is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.)

“Thanos has long been one of Marvel’s greatest villains, and he has an interesting history. Creator Jim Starlin made him into the ultimate cosmic villain before his epic appearance in The Infinity Gauntlet. This storyline would truly put Thanos on the map and inspire his portrayal in the MCU. Thanos’s popularity has always waxed and waned over the years. Similarly, there are also a few different versions of the Mad Titan to appear over the character’s history. Starlin’s more nuanced take led to the nihilistic destroyer that gained popularity and made Thanos the MCU’s best villain,” says CBR.

The Top Tens talks about all of his strengths and desires: “He is an amazing character, a combination of intellect, strength, speed, telepathy, durability, agility, and cosmic strength. All he really wants to do is impress his girlfriend, death.”

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About Winston McDaniel

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3 Comments

  1. Curtis Bellamy says:

    Nonsense list. Marvel characters are far more interesting and Dr. Doom would top on anyone’s list. Not well thought out.

  2. Cjn says:

    For me it’d be
    Joker
    Lex luthor
    Dr doom
    Black Adam
    Then a tie between magneto, Thanos, and sinestro

  3. Bluesun says:

    Weak list