SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers of Birds of Prey. If you have not yet seen the film, continue reading at your own risk!
There have been many ups and downs in the seven-year-long history of the DC Extended Universe, and perhaps nowhere is that better illustrated than the franchise’s history with villains. After all, with most of these films the antagonist drives the plot, and so the quality of the antagonist often reflects the quality overall. The most recent title in the canon, Cathy Yan’s Birds Of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) is a perfect example, as Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis a.k.a. Black Mask is one of the best baddies that we’ve seen so far from these movies.
This thought led to another thought: how do all of the villains of the DC Extended Universe – as defined by their nefarious plots in the various films – stack up against one another? We put some thought to that idea, and after reflecting on the eight blockbusters we’ve seen in the franchise thus far (including Birds of Prey), we’ve put together this ranking that sees them subjectively put in order from worst to best:
12. Enchantress (Cara Delevingne)
Being entirely blunt and honest, it’s hard to think of anything overly nice to say about Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress from David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Even immediately after seeing the movie it’s hard to describe her motivation or abilities; instead you can really only conjuring an image of the actress waving her hands in the air near a bunch of swirling CGI. She seems to exist solely to generate groups of ugly monsters that the characters in the titular team can kill, and it’s entirely lame. Going back to the point in the intro, Enchantress is really central to most of the things wrong with the movie as a whole.
11. Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds)
When the Avengers came together in 2012, they were forced to unite against a charismatic, sly, and clever trickster god in Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. When the Justice League had their similar moment to come together in 2017, however, their main foe was a glob of personality-less visual effects named Steppenwolf. Obviously this was a production with a lot of issues behind the scenes, but the Justice League villain as he exists in the blockbuster is really just all kinds of terrible – never presenting any kind of interesting motivation or threat that causes us as an audience to either care about or fear his goals.
10. Doomsday (Ryan Watson)
In the pursuit to catch up with the firmly-established Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe rushed a good number of things, and this list very much includes the death of Superman depicted in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not only did it lack any kind of emotional resonance – as audiences hadn’t had time to get to know Henry Cavill’s incarnation of the character, and knew he would be coming back immediately in Justice League – but it was simply poorly executed with the first big screen incarnation of Doomsday. The Kryptonian monster looks really bad from a VFX standpoint, and his part in the blockbuster feels totally tacked on.
9. Joker (Jared Leto)
Jared Leto had some big shoes to fill playing the Joker in Suicide Squad, being the first actor to take on the character in live-action since Heath Ledger posthumously won an Academy Award for his performance in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. It was this that perhaps that inspired Leto and director David Ayer to take some extra big swings with the part… and some of them didn’t exactly work out as planned. It doesn’t help anything that Joker’s role in Suicide Squad feels entirely vestigial, but they probably should have known from the start that the “Damaged” tattoo on the forehead was a bad idea.
8. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg)
Given how the world has changed since Lex Luthor was first introduced in 1940s, it made sense to give the character a bit of a youthful makeover for the age of Silicon Valley billionaires… though the ultimate execution of the idea in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice leaves a lot to be desired. A mix of absurd plotting and trying to do too much results in the character being half-baked and underwritten in the blockbuster, leaving us to only remember weird highlights like jars of piss and nonsensically shaved heads.
7. Ares (David Thewlis)
Ares’ role in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is much different than any other antagonist role mentioned on this list, in that he is a puppet master who orchestrates events in subtle-yet-substantial ways, and in that sense he is one of the best implemented baddies in the DC Extended Universe. There are some points lost because the third act battle against Wonder Woman feels a little too forced for the good of the film, but you have to give due credit to a villain that is able to escalate something as massive as World War I.
6. Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson)
“Ocean Master” is one of those comic book villain names that simply invites a ridiculous load of personality, and Patrick Wilson most definitely took a “go big or go home” attitude in the making of James Wan’s Aquaman. While it lightly grazes melodramatic, however, it’s actually a perfect performance for the movie it’s in. Orm, who is the half-brother of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, has the great mix of intimidating presence, and a solid plan, and the third act battle he winds up motiving in the film’s third act is among the DCEU’s best.
5. General Zod (Michael Shannon)
Michael Shannon is an actor whose reputation for intense energy precedes him, and it was because of his repute that his casting as General Zod in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel generated immediate excitement. A couple years later, that anticipation was justified with the release of the film, and the reveal of an excellent antagonist role for the performer. Being a genetically engineered soldier born to try and save the Kryptonian race, the character has a fantastic backstory, and while it’s long been a challenge for movies to find legitimately formidable foes for Superman, his battle against Henry Cavill’s Supes through both the streets of Smallville and Metropolis is tense and exciting.
4. Black Mask (Ewan McGregor)
It can be tricky to play a sinister villain in a movie that is mostly a comedy, but it helps for a project to have an actor the caliber of Ewan McGregor to pull it off. Roman Sionis a.k.a. Black Mask walks a tightrope in Birds Of Prey, but it’s an act pulled off with tremendous skill. Roman (or Romy, as Harley Quinn likes to call him) is a total lunatic, and utterly fascinating because of it. He’s both effete and a horror show, and his tastes are perfectly disturbing. He’s an amazing screen presence, and while it’s sad to see his life reach a definitive conclusion at the end of the movie, it’s a pretty epic exit from the mortal coil.
3. Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya)
As a German scientist with the desire to kill as many Allied troops as she possibly can, Dr. Isabel Maru a.k.a. Doctor Poison’s motivations are pretty straight-forward during her arc in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, but you have to love the execution. The character design is fantastic, as the mask/scarring is an excellent comic-inspired touch, and it’s utterly creepy just how much sadistic joy she clearly gets from killing people – be it enemy soldiers or higher-ups in German command that threaten her plans. For a single-movie villain, she makes an impressive and lasting impact.
2. Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong)
Mark Strong has some unfortunate history playing DC Comics villains, as his Sinestro was arguably the best part of the rather terrible Green Lantern in 2011, but he got his chance at redemption playing Dr. Thaddeus Sivana in David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! As goofy as the movie can be at times, Sivana has some scenes orchestrating the Seven Deadly Sins where he comes across as a legitimately scary threat, and it’s honestly intimidating to watch a villain who cares so little about harming/potentially killing a bunch of foster kids. Hopefully the upcoming sequel will find some way to bring him back into the action.
1. Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II)
The look of Black Manta from the comics was not an easy one to translate for the first ever live-action Aquaman, but director James Wan and his design teams absolutely crushed it – and it also helps that Yahya Abdul-Mateen II delivers an excellent performance. As an audience you really do understand where Manta is coming from, as he witnesses Aquaman make the active decision not to save his father, and the battle they have in Sicily (replete with an incredible one-shot) is one of the best hero vs. villain showdowns we’ve seen in the DC Extended Universe.
That’s our ranking of the 12 main villains of the DC Extended Universe that we’ve seen so far – though the list is only going to grow and change as we see the release of upcoming movies like Wonder Woman 1984, The Batman, The Suicide Squad, Shazam! 2, Black Adam, Aquaman 2, The Flash, and more. For now, hit the comments section to tell us how you would stack all of the antagonists in this feature against each other.