No superhero narrative is complete without a supervillain to oppose them. But what is it about these dastardly foes that audiences find so appealing? After all, a memorable supervillain has to be more than convoluted schemes done in the name of world domination. They have to sound memorable as well, leaving a lasting impression that truly unnerves the viewer.

Nowhere is this emphasis on vocal performance more essential than in the world of animation. Some of the most iconic supervillain roles can be found in cartoons, and the superhero genre is no exception. Whether they’re calm, raspy, elegant or just plain psycho, these voices make it fun to watch bad guys in action. Thus, without further ado, here are my top 10 picks for the best supervillain voice acting performances.

10. “Powers Boothe — Gorilla Grodd (JUSTICE LEAGUE/UNLIMITED)”

Gorilla Grodd, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

It takes a very powerful and charismatic voice to make people fear something as goofy as a psychic gorilla. Luckily, an actor of the late Powers Boothe’s caliber excelled at playing characters you can’t look away from. Just watch DEADWOOD or SIN CITY to see how menacing this man can get.

Boothe brings a sense of haughty elegance to Grodd, playing up his intelligence and arrogance as one and the same. He’s a master of manipulation, PSI abilities, and a strategic organizer, as well as founder of the DCAU’s Secret Society. Grodd is an ape with a plan and perfectly capable of acquiring the power to execute it. Based entirely on Boothe’s voice alone, you believe the threat he poses to the Justice League as a supervillain.

9. “David Hemblem — Magneto (X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)”

Magneto, Courtesy of Fox Broadcasting Network

Before Ian McKellen defined Magneto for the big screen, there was David Hemblem on X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. This groundbreaking cartoon not only successfully adapted the 90’s team roster but also touched upon the comic’s deep political subtext. Thus, adapting Magneto required successfully making audiences sympathize with his cynical outlook towards mutant-humanity coexistence. Luckily, Hemblem’s voice was perfect in depicting someone who viewed his aggressive measures as a necessary response to human aggression.

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Having witnessed the worst of humanity firsthand, Magneto seeks to subjugate mankind in order to protect mutants from further persecution. Like Charles Xavier, Magneto cares about mutantkind’s survival but does not share his old friend’s hope that unification exists. Instead, he teaches his Brotherhood to use their powers publicly, take pride in being mutants, and fight back when threatened.

Yet Hemblem’s focus on the tragic aspects of Magneto’s life humanizes his actions. Through his voice, we hear a man who lost so much to human persecution that he refuses to let it happen again. If history is to repeat itself, then he would rather see his species as conquerors than another victim of genocidal intent. This moral dynamic makes Magneto more than just another “world conquering” antagonist.

8. “Michael Ironside — Darkseid (DCAU)”

Darkseid, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

Darkseid, despite being a New God adversary, made a lasting impression in the DCAU as one of Superman’s greatest opponents. The ruler of Apokolips is a cunning and powerful tyrant hell-bent on reshaping the universe in his image. This involves numerous attempts to indirectly destroy the planet Earth, resulting in confrontations with the Man of Steel.

Ironside, an actor best known for playing villain roles, imbues this character with a sense of quiet menace. Darkseid never raises his voice and always uses his supply of minions and resources to get what he wants. Only when all else fails does this supervillain step out of the shadows, revealing strength and powers unlike anything in the DC universe. One blast of his Omega beams is enough to destroy all but the strongest of beings.

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It’s the dynamic Darkseid shares with DCAU Superman that makes him even more terrifying. Throughout their encounters, Darkseid remains one of the few characters to have not only bested Superman but also rendered him helpless. The disdain these characters have for one another isn’t just believable- it’s all-consuming. If you don’t believe me, just check out this fight for yourself.

7. “Jensen Ackles — The Red Hood (BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD)”

The Red Hood, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

The death of Jason Todd is often regarded as one of the defining moments in Batman comic history. This narrative was eventually translated into BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD, often regarded as one of DC’s best-animated movies. Here, a man calling himself the Red Hood, voiced by Ackles, seeks to overtake Gotham’s criminal underground as a means of controlling crime. Once Batman gets involved, however, this agenda reveals itself as the extension of an old wound between hero and antihero.

Ackles, best known for his work on SUPERNATURAL, is stellar as the Red Hood. Never portrayed as neither malevolent nor sentimental, his actions feel calculating and organized, yet driven by a deep-seated rage. This is someone who could have been Batman, yet uses his teachings in a manner that crosses Batman’s moral code. The fact that he is the result of Bruce Wayne’s failure to save his partner makes the former’s guilt even more tragic.

6. “Steve Blum — The Green Goblin (THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN)”

The Green Goblin, Courtesy of Marvel Animation

With a high-pitched, cackling laugh courtesy of veteran voice actor Steve Blum, SPECTACULAR’s Goblin simply drips villainy. He’s calculating and menacing, but also hilarious in his interactions with other characters. The Goblin’s goals always involve a need for power, manipulating Spidey, crime bosses, and various criminals to fulfill his agenda. Blum makes this supervillain feel as enigmatic as he is insane, consistently making viewers question the extent of his scheming.

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This level of secrecy extends to SPECTACULAR’s overarching mystery of the Goblin’s true identity. While the answer might originally seem obvious at first, the show’s writers do an excellent job playing with fan expectations. This results in a long-running “whodunit” sequence of events that make investing in the Goblin’s plans worthwhile. It’s just a shame the show was canceled too soon.

5. “Ron Pearlman — Slade (TEEN TITANS)”

Slade, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

Yes, this is technically Deathstroke, but I always found Slade’s motivations different enough from his comic counterpart to let the name change slide. After all, one is an ultra-proficient superhuman mercenary and the other is a criminal mastermind with world-ruling ambitions. Yet, despite removing “death” from his title, Slade remains one of most menacing supervillains to be portrayed in a superhero cartoon. And all that is thanks to Ron Pearlman’s sinister voice coming out of his masked face.

Pearlman’s Slade is ruthless, persistent and vicious in his various schemes to achieve victory. Much like Darkseid, he never raises his voice beyond a quiet whisper and deals blows with an heir of self-superiority. Despite a willingness to get his hands dirty, Slade would much prefer calculating his plans from afar. His obsession with the Titans, most notably Robin, makes Slade’s status as their greatest foe feel more than believable.

4. “Arleen Sorkin — Harley Quinn (DCAU)”

Harley Quinn, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

In the lineup of comic book characters originally created for animation, none have shown more success than Harley Quinn. Going from one-note appearance to a central Batman character to DC solo star, Harley is like a psychotic bff. Arleen Sorkin made Harley feel charming and bubbly, yet also a victim of Joker’s Stockholm abuse.

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One only needs to watch ‘Mad Love’ to see the extent of Harley’s tragic connection to her ‘puddin.’ It defined Harley’s characterization as grotesquely Shakespearian, torn between zany individual happiness and a monster she believes truly loves her back. Much like BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES’ treatment of Mr. Freeze, this origin would go on to become canon in DC comics. Without Sorkin’s performance, Harley would never have existed at all.

3. “C.C.H. Pounder — Amanda Waller (JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED)”

Amanda Waller, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

How many characters can say they’ve argued with Batman and bested him? How many can say they did it in a bathrobe? The DCAU version of Amanda Waller can attest to both.

While not an “evil” villain per say, Waller’s antagonism towards the Justice League highlight a growing skepticism of their agenda. As head of the government-run Project Cadmus, Waller views herself as the last line of defense against rogue metahumans. The knife-twist is that, despite what we know about the Justice League, their abilities and resources validate Waller’s actions.

C.C.H. Pounder’s performance as Waller remains one of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED’s biggest highlights. Playing the ruthless, no-nonsense government operative isn’t anything new, but Pounder offers a clear case behind her actions. If you pose a threat, she will kill you without blinking and you’ll believe her threat without hesitation. Remember, this is someone who has managed to out-intimidate the goddamn Batman.

2. “Clancy Brown — Lex Luthor (DCAU)”

Lex Luthor, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

Clancy Brown is just too good at playing villains. There’s something about his voice that is as charismatic as it is diabolical. The man’s extensive list of voice roles in animation and video games practically rivals that of his film career. Outside of his time as Mr. Krabs, however, Brown is best known for providing the definitive voice of Lex Luthor.

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Unlike Gene Hackman’s Bond villain-like schemer, Brown took Luthor in a more grounded direction. A genius billionaire, inventor, and industrialist, DCAU Luthor prefers to run his operations behind the scenes than make grandiose speeches. Rather than ham things up, Brown’s cool demeanor makes Luthor’s philanthropist image feel much more believable. Yet he remains committed to dedicating his inventions and intellect to a single purpose: defeating Superman.

What’s most impressive about Brown’s Luthor, however, is how much he evolves across the DCAU. From dealing with a crisis of mortality to acknowledging his flaws, Luthor acts like more than just a conniving billionaire. Even when his actions feel like an extension of his ego, Brown’s voice ensures that they are still compelling.

Honorable Supervillain Voice Mentions:

  1. Michael Ansara- Mr. Freeze (BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)
  2. “Roscoe Lee Browne- Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (SPIDER-MAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)”
  3. “Corey Burton- Brainiac (SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)”

The Ultimate Number One Supervillain Spot Goes To…

1. “Mark Hamill — The Joker (DCAU)”

The Joker, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

Compared to Clancy Brown, however, no one ever expected Luke Skywalker to be known for his villain roles. Let alone the greatest comic book supervillain of all time. Yet, as cliché, as it sounds, Mark Hamill remains the best Joker interpretation to date.

Shifting from menacing to hilarious at the drop of a hat, Hamill’s Joker is the definition of unpredictable. His plans follow a similar path, always spreading chaos for either power or the sheer joy of it all. It’s fascinating to watch Hamill get into character for this role, to the point that you forget it’s actually him. The laugh alone is practically synonymous with Joker as a pop culture icon.

Like his BATMAN co-star Kevin Conroy, Hamill has played the Joker for over two decades and across multiple mediums. His performances in the DCAU and ARKHAM video games are on par with Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger’s legendary work. I wish I could say something new about this supervillain performance, but everything has already been said. Hamill just kills it, sometimes literally.

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