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Ranking Spider-Man movie villains from worst to best—and a TL;DR review of 'No Way Home'

Go get 'em, Tiger!

Text: Genie Leong

Image: Cover gif by Amos Yap for BURO Malaysia

Behind each great hero is an even greater villain. We've ranked 10 of Spider-Man's villains from the live-action films, from worst to best. Do you agree with our rankings?

Spider-Man: No Way Home officially premiered in Malaysian cinemas on 16 December and over the past week, has taken not just the nation, but the entire world by storm. Hailed as ‘the best Marvel movie to date’ by fans and critics alike, No Way Home has grossed over $1 billion in ticket sales worldwide—the first movie to do so since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in 2019.

Why 'No Way Home' is smashing box office goals

No Way Home fully immerses audiences into the complicated and mesmerising concept of The Multiverse. Maintaining the youthful edge that the previous Tom Holland Spider-Man movies so expertly utilised, while still packed with heavier subject matter for a teenage Peter Parker to face and for fans to mentally digest for days, No Way Home perfectly divulges Peter’s continued struggle to step up as a publicly adored superhero while still enjoying his normal life as an ordinary teen.

If you’ve seen No Way Home in theatres (if you haven’t, what are you doing?) or at least watched the movie's trailers, you’d know that thanks to The Multiverse, several of Spider-Man’s most iconic adversaries from the previous live-action films make grand appearances and even grander challenges for Holland’s Spider-Man. From Electro to the Green Goblin, No Way Home offers battles like none other before and pushes Peter Parker to new limits. With this, Spider-Man fans of all ages are in for a real treat, regardless of preferences for certain adaptations or characters through the years.

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So many movies, so many villains

Any great superhero needs a great villain to combat, and Spider-Man is no different. Since the original Spider-Man movie in 2002, we’ve seen many a tough nemesis for our favourite web-slinger, some greater than others. Below, we’ve ranked 10 of Spider-Man’s most revered foes from worst to best—with justifications for their rankings, of course. This list is in no way hating on any of the actors portraying the villains, focusing instead on how each villain was conceptualised and deployed in their movie’s plotlines. Extra points are awarded for iconic character designs, as well as their impact upon each Spider-Man franchise they appear in.

10) Venom, 'Spider-Man 3'

Played by Topher Grace, Venom ranks at the bottom of this list for two main reasons: 1) He is squeezed rather garishly into the film alongside two other (higher ranking) villains and had next to no room to leave an impactful impression, and 2) this rendition of Venom pales in comparison to the newer one played by Tom Hardy in the spinoff series about the villain. Though memorable enough as the character’s on-screen debut, it’s hard to think very highly of Venom when there are definitely better (and stronger) adversaries for our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.

It’s not all bad, though. The alien symbiote that eventually creates the foe that is Venom first finds a host with Peter Parker, attaching to his red and blue Spider-Man suit and creating the black Spider-Man suit. Under the symbiote’s influence, fans get to see Peter’s dark side bubble to the surface as the dark suit amplifies his negative emotions, not to mention that it’s thanks to the symbiote that we get the rather cringe-worthy, but nonetheless hilarious and extremely meme-able montage of a “bad boy” Peter dancing through the city streets. The man that the symbiote later attaches to and forms Venom, Eddie Brock, is also to an extent an insufferable, narcissistic parallel to Peter, making him the perfect vessel. Regardless, the fact that the most memorable things about this fiend didn’t actually come from Venom, but from a dark Peter affected by the same symbiote, demotes the character to its place on this list.

9) The Green Goblin, 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'

Let’s admit it, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was poorly executed, and The Green Goblin in the film is certainly no remedy for it. Played by Dane Dehaan (who actually plays the role of an angsty-turned-deranged villain way better in the 2012 sci-fi film Chronicle), the Green Goblin gets docked because he simply does not match up to any of the other Goblins (who rank higher on this list). As with Venom, Dehaan’s Goblin plays second fiddle to the film’s more pervasive villain, Electro, who has a much more prevalent and menacing role in the film.

As Harry Osborn, the friendship and conflict between him and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man suffices for the movie’s premise. However, this is a ranking list, and when pitted against James Franco’s Harry from the early Sam Raimi trilogy, Dehaan’s character lacks the quintessential closeness to Garfield’s Peter Parker that makes Harry Osborn’s Goblin a complex and compelling villain. The one truly villainous accomplishment for this particular Green Goblin is that he does kill Peter’s love interest, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). However, without a third movie to properly delve into the long-term effects this has on Peter, the wickedness of Dehaan’s Goblin is put to rest along with The Amazing Spider-Man franchise.

8) Lizard, 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

With no reptilian antics from the Dr Curt Connors that appears in the Sam Raimi movies as a mentor to Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker, fans had high hopes for the scientist-turned-scaly monster in The Amazing Spider-Man. The story between Rhys Ifans’ Dr Connors and Garfield’s Peter is well developed; Connors’ relationship to Peter’s late father serves as the foundation for their work together, which a distracted Peter sidelines his Aunt May for, an occurrence that catalyses the argument with Uncle Ben—and we all know how this one ends.

The downside to Lizard lies primarily in the character’s design, which flatlines and joins the already overpopulated crowd of mediocre Hollywood CG characters. This is not to say that the movie should’ve kept Lizard in a lab coat throughout the entire movie (though that would’ve been fun, and definitely have scored a couple points for comic accuracy). Rather, the image of the monstrous fiend would have benefitted from a more distinctive and memorable appearance. He is also cured of his scaly malady towards the end of the film, so it’s back to an ordinary human look for Dr Connors.

7) Electro, 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'

Is it entirely possible that Electro (Jamie Foxx) would rank higher if The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a better movie overall? Absolutely, but sadly that is not the case. Electro aka Max Dillon’s villain progression is an overdone cliche: the nerdy loner who’s been bullied and pushed around his entire life acquires a superpower and becomes blinded by his new strength. Even down to Max’s insecure appearance and the pitiful scene where he spends his birthday alone singing Happy Birthday to himself, the trope is played to its death. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it's a story we’ve seen a million times before, dooming his villain transformation to lackluster predictability.

Electro has some good points though; from his beginning as the social outcast that is Max Dillon, his pain and struggle is very relatable to many. Everyone wants to feel heard and seen, and watching Max get browbeat at his workplace and then later shunned by the Spider-Man he idolised depicts an upsetting sense of insignificance that many can empathise with. Furthermore, Electro remains as one of Spider-Man’s most powerful foes, so much so that the way to defeat him entails overcharging him to the point of vaporising his body. Electro’s abilities are impressive to say the least, posing an undeniably serious challenge for Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, which is the least any decent villain can do.

6) The New Goblin, 'Spider-Man 3'

Love him or hate him, you have to admit that James Franco’s spin as Harry Osborn is well-done. Him as the New Goblin, however? Not so hot. Much like Venom who appears in the same movie, the New Goblin feels somewhat shoehorned into film, which is honestly an expected side-effect of stuffing multiple villains into one movie—one or two are bound to get pushed aside. This is regrettable, as Franco’s Harry had two previous movies' worth of backstory that could very well have served as the skeleton for a more evil and imperishable villain. With a more balanced and less crammed plot, or even without other villains to share the spotlight with, the New Goblin has what it takes to be a standalone villain, and this opportunity is completely missed.

The saving grace of the New Goblin comes in the form of his complexity and redemption arc. Though his cruciality to the movie’s plot is still rushed due to the need to make room for other villains, his deep connection to Peter Parker that is a key undertone to all three original Spider-Man movies never loses its footing. It's his motivation for going after Peter, and also the reason that he pushes past the desire to avenge his father who he believes was killed by Peter, and ends up saving Peter in the movie’s final battle and joining him to take down the real villains. This particular roundness of his character is something un-accomplished by any other villain on this list, earning him the title of the best live-action Harry Osborn thus far.

5) Sandman, 'Spider-Man 3'

It’s undeniable that Sandman aka Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) is one of the most pivotal villains Toby Maguire’s Spidey faces. Despite being in the same over-packed movie that demoted Venom and the New Goblin to lower placings on this list, Sandman’s significance extends all the way back to the initial 2002 Spider-Man, which is extra commendable when you note that he only appears two whole movies later. It turns out that the man who shot and killed Uncle Ben was actually Marko, who was the accomplice of the thief that Peter originally believes murdered his uncle. This is important because of the vital part Uncle Ben’s death plays in Peter’s evolution into Spider-Man as a superhero. Upon discovering that the man who killed Uncle Ben had gotten away, Peter’s guilt and anger are reignited, fuelling his vengeful nature as he pursues Marko through the film.

Marko’s backstory is also one of depth and worthy of sympathy from audiences. As an escaped convict whose only reason for committing crime is to pay off his sick daughter’s medical bills, Marko at his core is really just a father trying to do his best under difficult circumstances that have left him with little to no options. It’s also made clear in the movie that he never intended to kill Uncle Ben, and when Marko gets the chance to explain what happened to Peter, he tells him that the accident has haunted him ever since. With that layered on top of his dire family situation, one can only imagine the emotional turmoil Marko undergoes. It’s easy to feel sorry for him, and seeing that he’s not so much a bad guy as he is a man with very bad luck who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the feelings of pity are for good reason.

4) Vulture, 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'

Who better to kick off your superhero journey than the dad of your high school crush, huh? All jokes aside, Vulture aka Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) gets a high placing on this list that is mostly attributed to the shocking reveal that he’s the dad of none other than Liz Allan (Laura Harrier), the very first love interest to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. In contrast to the Vulture’s more goofy, slapstick nature in the comics, Keaton’s character is a lot more serious and threatening, with a decent backstory to justify his villainy that does paint him more as an anti-hero than a full-blown villain.

Vulture’s moral ambiguity and stiff adult tone makes him the perfect parallel villain for Holland’s younger, buoyant and idealistic Spider-Man, especially when remembering that the film’s foundation is built upon Peter’s youthful desire to become a real Avenger that his mentor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), flat-out denies him at the beginning of the movie. Homecoming is definitely a bit of a coming-of-age movie for Peter as he figures out who he really is, both as Spider-Man and Peter Parker. As such, having a villain like Vulture that isn’t massively overpowered, and has a parallel dichotomy between his normal life and villain persona, makes for the perfect adversary for Peter.

3) Mysterio, 'Spider-Man: Far From Home'

Played by Jake Gyllenhaal, Mysterio aka Quentin Beck earns several evil points for conning Peter Parker through most of the movie. He’s unlike other Spider-Man villains in the way that his villainy is not a result of an ill-advised decision or just pure bad luck. No, Mysterio at his core is a man scorned and on a path for payback. His main quarrel lies with Iron Man, who disgraced and fired Beck when he was an employee at Stark Industries. With the events of Far From Home occurring after Tony Stark makes his big sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame, this is the first movie where Tom Holland’s Peter Parker must bear the full burden of his superhero expectations without his mentor there to save him. The decision to link Quentin Beck to Stark Industries received mixed reactions from fans, but it serves a good purpose for tying Beck to the MCU and subsequently, Peter.

Mysterio's costume design in the movie is also one of the best adaptations from the comics. His suit gets the usual Marvel cinematic upgrade, but his eminent fishbowl-like helmet complete with swirling clouds works flawlessly in tandem with his name and abilities. Much like Vulture, Mysterio as a mortal man without any superpowers plays his strengths to the maximum, threading the thin line between desperation and determinedness. His preciseness and intelligence pose a real threat for Peter as the first enemy he has to face alone, helping our adolescent hero grasp what being a real Avenger entails. Mysterio’s role as a top-notch villain is further solidified in his final act in the movie’s mid-credits scene, where he exposes Spider-Man’s secret identity to the world before dying, setting the premise for the new film, No Way Home.

2) The Green Goblin, 'Spider-Man'

Spider-Man fans need no introduction to this foe; Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin is not just one of Spider-Man’s best villains, but one of the most iconic characters within the general superhero movie genre. With an unforgettable and easily recognisable costume design, a haunting evil cackle that can be heard for miles, and of course, the stellar performance from Dafoe, the very first live-action Spider-Man villain deserves his high ranking on this list of despicable individuals.

Starting out as Norman Osborn, father of Peter Parker’s best friend Harry Osborn, the development of Dafoe’s character from someone Peter looks up to into the first big opponent he must beat makes him a crucial step in Peter’s journey to become Spider-Man. He’s brutal and relentless, delivering some of the most savage beatdowns any Spider-Man has had to face. Even before turning into the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn is presented as a rather layered character; the small peeks at the less savoury elements of his personality make it no surprise for when his self-experimentation goes awry, but luckily don’t downplay his character arc. Although he dies in the final battle with Spider-Man, his legacy lives on well into the next two Toby Maguire Spider-Man films. His lasting effect paves the way for Harry and Peter’s dynamic through the rest of the trilogy, and makes way for Harry to step into his father shoes as the New Goblin in Spider-Man 3. He sets a high bar for all of Spidey’s future adversaries, and if that doesn’t make for an excellent villain, I don’t know what does.

1) Dr Octopus, 'Spider-Man 2'

Admit it, you’re not surprised to see Doctor Octopus at first place on this list. Brought to life by Alfred Molina, Doc Ock slides into first place for similar reasons that the Green Goblin is in second. In arguably one of the best Spider-Man movies of all time, Molina’s Doc Ock maintains huge popularity even 17 years after his initial appearance on screen. In terms of visuals, Doc Ock’s four mechanical-armed silhouette triumphs over all others, terrifyingly menacing and unlike any other. As Dr Otto Octavius, Molina is equally compelling; his multi-dimensional personality as a passionate scientist, loving husband, and wise friend and role model makes Dr Octavius feel real, and thus, his later struggles in the movie are a lot easier to empathise with. Fuelled by grief and pride after his experiment goes terribly wrong and kills his wife, it’s easy to understand why he goes mad pursuing his work, almost as a way to right his previous mistake.

The physical fights between Doc Ock and Spider-Man are also some of the most memorable scenes in superhero cinematic history, from the coffee shop brawls, to disputes on high-rise buildings, and needless to say the moving train (where we get to see Toby’s Spider-Man pull one of the greatest feats any version of the web-slinger has accomplished). Like Harry in Spider-Man 3, Doc Ock treats us with the roundness we wish to see from any normal-man-turned-villain through unfortunate circumstances; his ability to see the fault in his ways and redeem himself is one of his most admirable aspects. He’s the first Spider-Man villain to take a leaf out of Spider-Man’s book by realising the catastrophic effects of his actions and holding himself accountable for it, giving Uncle Ben’s quote “with great power comes great responsibility” a new take. In every way possible, Doctor Octopus fulfils the role of a quintessential Spider-Man villain, and so rightfully deserves his reputation as the best Spider-Man villain ever.

Who's your favourite Spider-Man movie villain?


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