“Oh, I’m not gonna kill you … I’m just gonna hurt you really, really bad.”
– The Joker, “Suicide Squad” (2016)
While bright blue leotards and red jumpsuits will always have their place in the superhero world, not all comic-book protagonists keep the peace with kid gloves and words of wisdom. Some prefer to fight fire with fire – and brutal weaponry, graphic violence, and a lack of comedy relief. The darker the antihero, the darker the villains they combat must become – and the result is often pretty black (or grey when it comes to the blurring lines between good and evil). Here, The Massie Twins examine the best of these antiheroes and the sordid worlds they inhabit.
10. Punisher: War Zone (2008)
This third movie adaptation of the Punisher comic book character seems to forego decent storytelling, credible plot, and character development and just tries for the most violent and bloody events it can muster. The movie seems to take pride in its attempts to make each action sequence more graphic and disturbing than the last. It succeeds.
Darkest Moment: The main villain’s moniker is Jigsaw, named after the sloppy stitches that piece his face together. The wounds were incurred when he’s thrown into a glass-crushing machine that literally shreds his face from his skull.
9. Constantine (2005)
The war between Heaven and Hell to conquer Earth – and the subsequent battles over souls – gets pretty dark in the world of Constantine. Suicides, psychics, demons, witch doctors, spears, wrist-cutting, and Gavin Rossdale all find a place in the film, but in the end it’s the angels that are the darkest and most devious creatures.
Darkest Moment: Peter Stormare’s pasty Lucifer is surprisingly creepy even though his countenance is devoid of major prosthetics and intense makeup effects.
8. Spawn (1997)
Soldier Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is betrayed and assassinated and then gets sent to hell. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Devil entices him with a chance to see his beloved fiancée again in exchange for leading his eternal army of demons in hell – but fails to mention that five years have passed and his significant other is now married to someone else. Revenge is in order, as are several showdowns with the Devil and his henchman, the Violator, a fat clown demon.
Darkest Moment: When you realize the CG special effects have aged really, really poorly.
7. The Crow (1994)
Eric Draven becomes the Crow after his fiancée is raped and murdered – and he himself is thrown to his death from a six-story building. Crawling forth from his grave one year later, the white-faced vigilante hunts down and executes the gang that did him wrong. With names like Top Dollar, T-Bird, Tin Tin, and Funboy, each offending thug meets an appropriately brutal demise.
Darkest Moment: Impalement on a gargoyle, burning up in a fiery explosion, and getting a sword through the throat are all pretty dark, but Bai Ling getting her eyes plucked out by a pissed off bird takes the cake.
6. Blade (1998)
Born with all the powers but none of the weaknesses of vampire kind, Blade (Wesley Snipes) takes it upon himself to exterminate the bloodsuckers that rule the underworld. His arduous quest includes breaking up bloody raves, dueling the mighty blood-god La Magra, and competing with Stephen Dorff’s intense overacting.
Darkest Moment: Morbidly obese vampire Pearl (Eric Edwards) gets an unwelcome taste of sunlight.
5. Darkman (1990)
Darkman was technically not a comic book to begin with, but director Sam Raimi was forced to create his own superhero when he was unable to secure the rights to use The Shadow or Batman. Liam Neeson plays Peyton Westlake, a scientist who gets his face badly burned and is left for dead by a ruthless mobster. Along with his newfound craving for revenge, Westlake loses both his ability to feel pain and his capacity for sympathy – which is a good thing for the dark nature of the film but a bad one for the gangsters that tried to kill him.
Darkest Moment: The straight-to-video sequels Darkman II: The Return of Durant and Darkman III: Die Darkman Die
4. Wanted (2008)
Superhuman assassins battle it out over conspiracies, money, allegiances, and the “Loom of Fate” in this action flick based loosely on Mark Millar’s comic book series. The backstabbing treachery at the heart of the story gets pretty dark, as does the violence (the assassins have a special chemical bath that can quickly heal wounds, so everyone seems to enjoy beating the crap out of each other just for kicks). At least the cathartic transformation of protagonist Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) from timid wimp to badass killer can be quite uplifting. And Angelina Jolie’s scantily-clad figure has a similar effect.
Darkest Moment: An adversary’s skull gets in the way of Gibson’s gun and he continues to shoot up the place with the carcass in tow.
3. V for Vendetta (2005)
Guy Fawkes-masked antihero V (Hugo Weaving) is a rather dark fellow to begin with, constructing elaborate acts of terror and killing government officials of a fascist regime that wronged him. But kidnapping and torturing young Evey (Natalie Portman) just to free her from her own fears is just plain mean.
Darkest Moment: V takes a razor to Evey’s head – and cuts off her beautiful locks to effectively diminish her sex appeal (see “Alien 3” for a similar effect on Sigourney Weaver).
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
Even darker than Tim Burton’s vision of the Caped Crusader, Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film ups the depravity with two disfigured villains – The Joker and Two-Face. The Joker steals the show with his disgruntled temperament, merciless killing sprees, and snazzy fashion sense.
Darkest Moment: Blowing up a hospital and attempting to get innocent civilians to kill each other is pretty dark, but surgically inserting a bomb inside a prisoner to create a diversion seems particularly vile.
1. Watchmen (2009)
Alan Moore’s original graphic novel is pretty twisted and the film adaptation gets even darker with director Zack Snyder’s penchant for visceral thrills. There’s rape, murder, nudity, conspiracies, and an invincible giant blue guy who doesn’t like to keep his pants on – not what you’d expect from a comic book superhero movie.
Darkest Moment: While the excessive display of blue genitalia is rather disturbing, the most violent moment occurs when masked vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) takes an axe to a criminal’s head until it’s mush – and then keeps going a little longer for good measure.