Few superheroes in comic books can claim to have as many colorful villains as Spider-Man. While Batman’s foes are iconic and make great Halloween costumes, Spidey’s enemies are more personal in nature. The Green Goblin was his best friend’s father, Doctor Octopus dated his dear Aunt May, the Lizard was his high school chemistry teacher, and Venom was his colleague at the Daily Bugle. That’s why the villains are consistently the best part in any Spider-Man movie — even the bad movies.
Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming raising the bar yet again with Michael Keaton as the Vulture, which gives us occasion to look back at every Spider-Man movie and rank them by the quality, drama, and overall impact of its villains.
6. The Amazing Spider-Man (2014)
Arguably the worst Spider-Man movie, Marc Webb’s follow-up to his 2012 reboot crammed three of Spidey’s villains into one story, sort of like the ill-fated Spider-Man 3. But for most of the film’s runtime, Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) is pitted against Electro (Jamie Foxx), a nobody named Max Dillon who becomes an electrical avatar after an accident, and the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan), Peter’s estranged best friend Harry Osborn, who injects himself with a deadly venom toxin.
While it’s possible to feel pity for Max, who lives a very lonely and sad existence, there’s just so little between him and Spider-Man that even with a marquee actor like Jamie Foxx, he feels like an afterthought. Meanwhile, Dane DeHaan’s Osborn/Goblin pales in comparison to James Franco’s version, who was allowed three movies to become a supervillain.
There’s a lot of things wrong with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 besides its villains, but they don’t do much to help the film at all. At least Rhino’s mechanical suit looks kind of cool?
5. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Sam Raimi’s final installment in his trilogy crammed too many villains — the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Venom (Topher Grace), and the “New Goblin” (James Franco) — which made what was going to be a personal revenge movie feel too bloated and busy. But at least all three characters had some history with Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), as well as some killer visual designs, which helped keep this Spider-Man film from the bottom rung.
4. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
I’ll be honest: I can’t even remember much about Rhys Ifhans as Dr. Curt Connors, who becomes the Lizard in Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man. The CGI was OK, at least. The Lizard is a decent first-time villain for any Spidey origin movie, but Webb’s direction was just too flat to make the Lizard a truly compelling nemesis.
3. Spider-Man (2002)
There are many great things about Raimi’s first Spider-Man, but by far its best move was casting Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn. The father of Peter’s best friend, Norman is an accomplished man who is so desperate to save his legacy that he turns himself into a monster. That he exists as a father figure to Peter makes him as the Green Goblin that much scarier. He isn’t some super-powered being leveling Times Square, nor is he after the Infinity Stones. He’s just an arch-nemesis who is lovingly hosting your for Thanksgiving.
Between Raimi’s unparalleled sensibilities as a comedy-horror director and Dafoe’s unbelievably charismatic presence, the Green Goblin is and was the first movie villain for an entire generation.
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
After Spider-Man, it seemed impossible that a villain could be as compelling and personal as Norman Osborn. Then came Alfred Molina, welded to four mechanical arms, who became one of Spidey’s best movie villains. Like Osborn, Otto Octavius isn’t after plot MacGuffins to achieve some twisted goal. Instead, he just wants to complete his life’s work (renewable energy, something our planet could really use). He’s a man of science whose arrogance cost him the love of his life. But more than that, he was Peter’s friend.
If Norman was Peter’s surrogate father, then Otto was Pete’s teacher. In two crucial minutes, Otto teaches Peter everything to know about love and responsibility, lessons all good superheroes need to understand. When it comes down to it, Peter doesn’t want to stop Octavius because he’ll destroy the city, he wants to stop Octavius because he doesn’t want to lose a mentor. It was these personal stakes that allowed Spider-Man 2 to surpass its genre-defining predecessor to become the best Spider-Man movie of all time.
Until Spider-Man: Homecoming.
1. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
For so long, Doc Ock ruled as the best Spider-Man movie villain… until Michael Keaton came around and stole that title this month. Until Homecoming, villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe all shared the same, boring motivations with the same, boring results. Not the Vulture. As a freak force of nature, Adrian Toomes is even scarier in his mundanity. He’s a blue-collar guy selling weapons to criminals; it just so happens he’s using alien tech to do it. Toomes doesn’t want to rule the world, but if you threaten the livelihood of his family, he will end you — even if his daughtehas a crush on you, as Peter found out the hard way.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is in theaters now.