10 Superhero Movie Villains That Aren't Really Bad People

The first rule to creating a memorable villain is to craft an antagonist that, while working against our hero, is someone who could be viewed as a hero from a different angle. We were reminded of this fact with Michael B. Jordan's virtuoso performance as Killmonger in Ryan Coogler's Black Panther, and it's gotten us to thinking long and hard about the past villains we've seen in the comic book firmament.

Indeed, there's been a rich and interesting history of villains that, while playing the baddie to a well-known hero, aren't exactly that bad to begin with. This isn't saying that our rogue's gallery are without sin, rather that their respective actions aren't as evil as those of the many more vile counterparts that exist throughout history. So keep that in mind as we run through the 10 supervillains who aren't as bad as you thought they were.

Batman & Robin Mr. Freeze Arnold Schwarzenegger gazing lovingly at a diamond

Dr. Victor Fries / Mr. Freeze - Batman & Robin

Let's just forget the fact that Batman & Robin stinks on ice. When you really look at Dr. Victor Fries' mindset that transitioned him into his Mr. Freeze alter ego, all he was really trying to do was cure his terminally ill wife. Of course, with mad science at play, the campy villain played by Arnold Schwarzenegger was more of a theatrical bank villain than a stone cold killer. Threaten his wife, and he'll ice you; but all others need not worry. The most he can do is encase you in a frozen state, with your own custom made pun!

X-Men: Days of Future Past Michael Fassbender Magneto's serious visage

Magneto - The X-Men Series

The horrors of a Nazi concentration camp are what started to turn young mutant Erik Lehnsherr into the powerful force we've all come to know as Magneto in the X-Men series. And yet, reading his intentions for what they truly are, it's always been hard to completely be against the man. In fact, his collaboration with Professor Charles Xavier and his X-Men team from time to time has lead to some great successes, and in the beginning all he really wanted was to avenge his mother's death. Though even as he grew harsher, he still had somewhat of a friendship with the professor, and he always had an eye on putting mutantkind in the driver's seat.

Spider-Man Willem Dafoe Norman Osborne looking dejected in the lab

Norman Osborn / Green Goblin - Spider-Man

When you've built a successful weapons company from the ground up, you'd be pretty angry if a stuffy board of directors tried to take it away from you. That's exactly the crux of how Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) became the Green Goblin in the first film of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. Taking it upon himself to test the experimental Goblin armor, complete with its performance enhancing fog, Osborn slowly slipped away from sanity, turning into the Green Goblin over time. But even out of his right mind, his sights were only the board of Osborn Industries, and even after his eventual comeuppance, his mind was focused on the well-being of his son.

Spider-Man 2 Alfred Molina Doc Ock tears up the train

Doctor Otto Octavius / Doctor Octopus - Spider-Man 2

While mad science and loss aren't strangers to the creation of a supervillain, the tale of Doctor Otto Octavius's transformation into Doctor Octopus is something that made Spider-Man 2 all the more bittersweet. Playing with the boundaries of the revolutionary power source Tritium, Doctor Octavius went too far with his efforts to harness the volatile element and ended up losing his lab, and his wife, in the fallout. Another case of sanity slowly wearing away, the AI in the tentacles fused to his body are the cause of his evil deeds. In the small respites of normalcy, Octavius is haunted by his actions committed when his normal, kinder self is overridden by the needs of the evil intelligence infiltrating his brain.

Spider-Man 3 Thomas Haden-Church Sandman makes off with the loot

Flint Marko / Sandman - Spider-Man 3

Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Spider-Man 3 saw street hood Flint Marko (Thomas Hayden Church) stumbling into an experiment that fused his molecular structure with that of sand. Now, while he did use this power to steal some more, and cause some damage, he was only doing it to pay for his sick daughter's chronic medical care. Even the fact that he accidentally killed Uncle Ben while robbing his car is forgiven, as he has a heart to heart with Peter Parker, showing him the better person who turned to an unfortunate life of crime. If Peter can forgive him, then can't we?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Sebastian Stan Bucky in action

Sgt. James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes / The Winter Soldier - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

You've been waiting for this case study since frame one, so let's go over the facts. Sgt. James Barnes, better known as "Bucky" to Captain America fans was turned into an agent of H.Y.D.R.A.'s usage over decades of mental conditioning and bionic enhancement. Yet despite his role in destabilizing the course of human history, one assassination at a time, the titular menace of Captain America: The Winter Soldier slowly started to rediscover his past self. While he's more of a hero these days, there was a period where he was one of the baddest, most lethal operatives on the global stage.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Robert Redford Alexander Pierce explains his point

Alexander Pierce - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

If you really want a villain to pin Captain America: The Winter Soldier's events on, Alexander Pierce would be the man you'd look to shake hands with. A big wheel in the intelligence community, Pierce succumbed to H.Y.D.R.A.'s wiles in the name of one concern: security. While he knew full well who he was in bed with, Pierce isn't trying to conquer the world. Rather, he's working towards a system that protects everyone, even if it means eliminating the opposition's superheroes to do so. You can't wreck a city if there's no superheroes to fight back!

Captain America: Civil War Daniel Bruhl Helmut Zemo poses as a psychiatrist

Col. Helmut Zemo - Captain America: Civil War

After the devastating events of Avengers: Age of Ultron destroyed the nation of Sokovia, the losses suffered inspired great action to make sure they'd never happen again. In the case of Col. Helmut Zemo in Captain America: Civil War, his schemes to compromise Cap and the rest of the Avengers are motivated to disassemble the superpowered group that previously had no oversight to challenge their destructive ways. While his methods did incur a bit of a body count, it was a very limited path for Zemo to cut in order to protect the world from any future Winter Soldiers and unchecked superheroes.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Karen Gillan Nebula piloting her ship with vengeance

Nebula - Guardians of the Galaxy

Being a part of a family can be hard, as Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy can attest. But what sets her familial stress apart from your run of the mill sibling rivalry is that her father, Thanos, liked to pit her against her adopted sister Gamora. Add injury to insult through the various enhancements and tweaks that her father would force upon her with each defeat, and you can see why there was such a seething hatred on Nebula's end. But over time, even she realized that she really just wanted a sister. She just had a really angry way of showing it.

Spider-Man: Homecoming Michael Keaton Adrian Toomes has a warehouse chat

Adrian Toomes / Vulture - Spider-Man: Homecoming

While all of the talk surrounding supervillains was inspired by Erik Kilmonger's sudden rise to the top of the MCU pile, there's one villain that could still give him a run for his money over time. Adrian Toomes, better known as Spider-Man: Homecoming's Vulture, did a bang up job of running a weapons racket under the radar for almost a decade after the events of The Avengers. He never got greedy, wanting only to provide for his family, and was forced to greater lengths of criminality thanks to a friendly neighborhood web slinger poking his nose into his business. Hell, Toomes only ever killed a man by accident, and he only threatened Peter Parker with death because he was protecting his family.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.