We don’t know yet whether Mysterio is a good guy or bad guy in Spider-Man: Far From Home. But we do know that he has some stiff competition if he wants to become Spidey’s best opponent. However, it shouldn’t be too hard for Mysterio to avoid becoming Peter Parker’s worst adversary. Spider-Man’s movie villains cover a great deal of ground. Some of it’s fertile ground, and other parts are metaphorically salted and scorched. But who’s the best villain? And who’s worst?
To answer those questions, we’re ranking the bad guys from every Spider-Man live-action film. And we want to know how you would rank them as well.
Note: pre-villains yet to bloom, like Donald Glover’s proto-Prowler or Dylan Baker’s Curt Connors/Lizard, are ineligible. We’re also not counting Avengers villains in crossover movies. The stand alone Venom movie doesn’t count here, because it’s not a Spidey story. Even the Oscar winning animated film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, has to sit this one out.
1. Doctor Octopus
Sam Raimi’s villain template would eventually become tedious, as he relied too heavily on the “decent guy gone bad, redeemed by suicidal sacrifice” trope. So let’s just note that he got it right the first time it all came together. Yes, it’s absurd that Doctor Octopus would give his mechanical arms an artificial intelligence capable of overriding his own. But Alfred Molina sells it. A character who’s a goofy fat man in spandex in the comics got a Matrix-style makeover into a familiar yet frightening threat. He’s also arguably the best mirror foe for Peter Parker of all: a scientific genius who fails to properly exercise great responsibility.
2. Green Goblin
Willem Dafoe was born to play a comic-book villain. He may look like the Joker, but as Norman Osborn, Dafoe doesn’t need to suffer from any comparisons to equally great versions of the role. Heath Ledger had to be equal to the likes of Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill, while Dafoe is exponentially better than Chris Cooper on a deathbed in terrible face paint. With Dafoe’s Osborn, it was only a matter of time before he went full Green Goblin. But doing so in a dual role that makes the Goblin an entire alternate personality — that’s good work.
He could have been the number one villain if not for his slightly goofy Power Ranger costume. But given what came later, we really didn’t know how good we had it.
He’s Batman! He’s Birdman! No, he’s an evil fusion of both! Michael Keaton’s hard-working scavenger, forced out of business by government regulations, is relatable at first. But hardship brings out the worst in him. Although Keaton doesn’t look as much like the comic Vulture as John Malkovich might have, he’s just as nasty. He’s also smart enough to figure out Peter Parker’s identity. It’s an advantage he uses much more effectively than previous villains, especially since his own daughter is a potential lure.
Because the Vulture was the villain in a Spidey movie controlled by Marvel, he was allowed to remain alive at the end. That’s good, because he’s one of the few we’d really like to see more of.
Electro in the comics has an outfit so goofy it’s hard to imagine even Kevin Feige adapting it properly. The shocking villain needed a makeover, and went for the blue supercharged look previously seen in the MTV animated series, among others. Jamie Foxx is a tad over the top as Max Dillon, nerdy fanboy, but once he transforms Foxx drops the comedy shtick and ably portrays an all-powerful creature in tremendous pain.
Sony was so eager to get to more spin-off movies that they crowded too many other plots into The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but when it’s just Spidey fighting Electro, the screen crackles in more ways than one.
Paul Giamatti’s favorite Spider-Man villain is the Rhino, and because it’s always good to have Paul Giamatti in your movie, Sony found a way to make that work. Sort of. He’s nothing like the muscular dude in a gray skinsuit that we see on the comic page. But it’s freakin’ Paul Giamatti in a fake Russian accent piloting a giant robot rhinoceros. That’s the sort of thing that makes any movie better.
6. The Lizard
The Lizard might rate higher if not for the fact that we were all conditioned to root for Dylan Baker to eventually get the role after three movies as Dr. Curt Connors. Rhys Ifans makes a decent villain, and he is able to go from frustrated to full bad effectively. It’s a shame his master plan to turn everyone into lizards just makes very little sense. That gave us a Spider-Man movie where the fights felt like a distraction, because the actual romance was more interesting.
Shocker is technically two people in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but they’re both effective henchmen who make very little impression. Neither of them have a big role in the story. So there’s nothing terribly good about either, but also nothing bad. Which by default still puts them higher on this list than some…
When you think Venom, you think Tom Hardy hamming it up with a Marlon Brando impersonation in a tank of lobsters. But that Venom doesn’t make this list, since he hasn’t encountered Spider-Man yet. That leaves us with Topher Grace playing a version of Eddie Brock that Sam Raimi didn’t like and Avi Arad clearly didn’t understand.
To everyone’s credit, the Venom in Spider-Man 3 is at least the first out-and-out bad guy in Sam Raimi’s trilogy. All of the other primary villains are some shade of good guy gone down the wrong path, but Eddie Brock is just a jerk. The moment he first bonds with the alien symbiote is cool, but once he starts unmasking regularly to reveal that the creature has somehow given him bad teeth, we tune out.
Thomas Haden Church looks great as Sandman. It’s not his fault the character is given a terrible retcon as the real killer of Uncle Ben, or that he just sadly lets himself blow away at the end. He seems to have been shoehorned in just because he gave everyone cool special effects ideas. And not because, done right, he’s a real physical challenge for Spider-Man.
10. Goblin II
Dane DeHaan makes a fine Harry Osborn. But whoever decided that his version of the Green Goblin should look like the lost love-child of Beavis and Butt-head should be forced to do push-ups with Mr. Buzzcut. The notion that the whole Green Goblin look is part of a disease that specifically makes you look like a goblin is already insane. If you’re going to go there, have the decency to go fully nuts. We suspect the design came about so DeHaan’s face would still look recognizable. It is, but why would anyone want to see his face like this?
11. New Goblin
New Goblin’s place at the bottom of this list is not a blanket knock on James Franco as Harry. Playing Peter’s best friend who feels betrayed by his father’s death, he’s perfectly tormented in the first two Raimi films. It’s when he adopts a villain identity in part 3 that things go south, as Harry’s version of the Goblin looks like a contestant for extreeeeme skateboarding and paintball. All-evil Harry is way less interesting than tormented Harry, losing the split personality that made his father’s wickedness such fun. And is it really too much for a character who uses the name “Goblin” to try to look remotely like one?
Honorable Mention: Bruce Campbell
In three onscreen appearances, Bruce Campbell’s character seemingly shows up everywhere in Sam Raimi’s trilogy. He manages to torment Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker far more than the majority of Spidey’s villains. It’s hard to really rank him, but he deserves some sort of inclusion.
How would you rank every Spider-Man live-action movie villain? Share your picks in the comment section below!