Supervillains of the United Underworld from the 1966 film Batman, a film adaptation of the comic books based on Batman and the 1960s television show of the same name. From left to right: Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, and Joker.

A supervillain or supercriminal is a variant of the villainous stock character. It is sometimes found in comic books, and may possess superhuman abilities. A supervillain is the antithesis of a superhero.


Supervillains are often used as foils to present a daunting challenge to a superhero. In instances where the supervillain does not have superhuman, mystical, or alien powers, the supervillain may possess a genius intellect or a skill set that allows them to draft complex schemes or commit crimes in a way normal humans cannot. Other traits may include megalomania and possession of considerable resources to further their aims. Many supervillains share some typical characteristics of real-world dictators, gangsters, mad scientists, trophy hunters, corrupt businesspeople, serial killers, and terrorists, often having an aspiration of world domination.[1]

Notable supervillains

The Joker, Lex Luthor, Doctor Doom, Magneto, Brainiac, Deathstroke, the Green Goblin, Loki, the Reverse-Flash, Black Manta, Ultron, Thanos, and Darkseid are some notable male comic book supervillains that have been adapted in film and television.[2][3] Some notable female supervillains are Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Mystique, Hela, Viper, and the Cheetah.[4][5]

Just like superheroes, supervillains are sometimes members of groups, such as the Injustice League, the Sinister Six, the Legion of Doom, the Brotherhood of Mutants, the Suicide Squad, and the Masters of Evil.

In the documentary A Study in Sherlock, writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss said they regarded Professor James Moriarty as a supervillain because he possesses genius-level intelligence and powers of observation and deduction, setting him above ordinary people to the point where only he can pose a credible threat to Sherlock Holmes.

Fu Manchu is an archetypal evil criminal genius and mad scientist created by English author Sax Rohmer in 1913. The Fu Manchu moustache became integral to stereotypical cinematic and television depictions of Chinese villains. Between 1965 and 1969 Christopher Lee played Fu Manchu five times in film, and in 1973 the character first appeared in Marvel Comics.[6]

The James Bond arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (whose scenes often show him sitting on an armchair stroking his cat, his face unseen) has influenced supervillain tropes in popular cinema, including parodies like Dr. Claw and M.A.D. Cat from the Inspector Gadget animated series, Dr. Evil and Mr. Bigglesworth from the Austin Powers film series, or Dr. Blowhole from the animated TV series The Penguins of Madagascar.

The overarching villain of Star Wars, Emperor Palpatine, leads the tyrannical Galactic Empire, and was inspired by real-world tyrannical leaders.[7][8]

See also


  1. ^ Charlotte, Ahlin (May 14, 2018). "10 Villains in Literature Who Were Apparently Based on Real People". Bustle.
  2. ^ "Joker tops supervillain poll". 2012-04-25. Retrieved 2012-05-09.
  3. ^ Albert, Aaron (2012-04-10). "Top Ten Comic Book Super Villains". Archived from the original on 2012-11-11. Retrieved 2012-05-09.
  4. ^ "Lethal Ladies; The 10 Best Female Supervillains". Retrieved 2013-10-22.
  5. ^ Dockterman, E; Conniff, K (31 May 2014). "Maleficent and 16 Other Famous Queens of Mean". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2015-04-09.
  6. ^ Maynard, William Patrick (12 June 2016). "Blogging Marvel's Master of Kung Fu, Part One". Black Gate. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  7. ^ Rinzler, J. W. (2010). The Making of The Empire Strikes Back. London: Del Rey. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-84513-555-3. OCLC 506251987. The best way to set up a super-villain is to take the biggest villain you've got and make him afraid of the super-villain. The Emperor is even more powerful than Vader. He's the classic devil character ...
  8. ^ "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones". Time. New York: Meredith Corporation. April 21, 2002. Archived from the original on June 5, 2002. Retrieved May 15, 2023. The people give their democracy to a dictator, whether it's Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Adolf Hitler.