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In the new movie X-Men: Days of Future Past, two different generations of X-Men face the scourge of the Sentinels, created by Bolivar Trask. As fits his history, Magneto is both an ally and an adversary in the film. It has already been revealed that the next X-Men film will be called X-Men: Apocalypse, with the central villain of that film being the mutant Apocalypse. With decades of stories across many comic book titles, there are many individuals and teams who’ve faced off against the X-Men in the comics. So far, through the 7 X-Men-related films released by 20th Century Fox, we’ve already seen many of the classic foes of the X-Men (including some multiple times or in multiple versions). So who are the best X-Men villains of all time?
It speaks to Stryker’s importance in the X-Men universe that he’s been in three different X-Men movies, portrayed by three different actors (Brian Cox in X2; Danny Huston in X-Men Origins: Wolverine; and Josh Helman in X-Men: Days of Future Past). Stryker has often represented the prejudice and hate for mutants from regular homo sapiens. Stryker’s connection to the military is also an important part of his role, showing the U.S. government’s uneasy relationship with mutants. Stryker’s history in the X-Men comics isn’t quite as lengthy as one might assume from his frequent film appearances, but he was the main enemy in the heralded 1982 graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson. Stryker, who is a religious zealot in that story, has continued his torment of the X-Men and also has a legacy through his link to the Purifiers, a hate-group that uses violent tactics to terrorize mutants. The Purifiers have become frequent foes of the X-Men and X-Force over the years and had a key part in the recent Messiah Complex storyline.
I was hesitant to put Sentinels on the list because though they are clearly a frequent and powerful thorn in the mutants’ side, they are a collective group without individualized personalities. However, that’s not always true. Master Mold, essentially a sentient factory created by Bolivar Trask for producing the Sentinels, does eventually become a dangerous character in his own right. Similarly, Nimrod, an especially advanced and dangerous Sentinel from the future, becomes an important character in the 1980s and 1990s X-Men stories, even getting linked to Master Mold at some point. These forms of the Sentinels, along with the mostly-mindless giant robot versions, make the group one of the X-Men’s greatest foes.
There are some rather silly elements of this character (his name, costume, and that he once lead a pretty ridiculous team called the “Nasty Boys”), but there is also a great deal of interesting parts to him as well. As was demonstrated in a 2011 storyline by Kieron Gillen, Sinister’s powers (telekinesis, telepathy, and energy projections) and superior scientific intellect make him a very difficult character to handle, even for a team of powerful X-Men.
As with the best X-Men villains, there is a personal connection, too. Sinister is obsessed with Scott Summers (Cyclops) and has frequently tormented Summers, as he believes something about the Summers-Grey bloodline holds a great promise (usually developed as Nathan Summers, also known as Cable). Sinister has led the mutant assassin group the Marauders as well as the Nasty Boys. Oh, also, Mr. Sinister is practically immortal thanks to an agreement made with Apocalypse. Speaking of whom….
There is perhaps no more powerful single villain in the X-Men canon than the mutant Apocalypse. He can control his body to change shape, density, and exhibit any sort of ability. So he essentially has any power he wants. He also has telekinesis, telepathy, and the ability to absorb energy. Although he began as an X-Force villain, his stature quickly rose, as he’s now universally considered one of the best and most powerful X-Men villains.
He’s also had a hand in shaping X-Men history, dramatically changing Angel into Archangel and frequently besting the X-Men in pursuit of his goal: evolutionary survival of the mutant race. Like a maniacal and omnipotent Charles Darwin, he believes that destroying X-Men will only make the mutant race stronger in the long run.
While Magneto may not be quite as powerful, adaptable, or omnipotent as Apocalypse, he is clearly the most important villain in X-Men lore. He’s also one of the most interesting because of his psychology and background. A survivor of genocide, he wants mutants to be free of torment and subjugation from mankind. Frequently, that has caused him to utilize violent means and even murder, but he has also been frequently aligned with the X-Men’s cause, fighting alongside them and even leading the team at points.
Though he has been a X-Men at times, he has also given them some of their greatest battles and has frequently led the team known as the Brotherhood of Mutants (there is a nice allusion to this in X-Men: Days of Future Past), a team that has boasted a line-up of some of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel universe. It’s been often said that the key to a fascinating and compelling villain is that he/she has a logical and worthwhile motivation. The fact that “Magneto Was Right” has become a pop culture expression demonstrates that many fans can sympathize with the master of magnetism, cementing his place as the most important villain in X-Men history.
Many would include the Dark Phoenix on a list like this, but considering how linked it is to Jean Grey and how the Force itself is not exactly a “character,” I excluded it from my list. There are so many other important villains that could have made this list. Even outside of the mutants like Mystique, Juggernaut, and Sabretooth, who have at times been on Magneto’s team, there are many other important foes to consider. Cassandra Nova, The Hellfire Club, Onslaught, the Shadow King, Henry Peter Gyrich, and Stryfe are just some of the names that others might put on here. What do you think – does one of these characters (or some other) deserve a place in the top five? Tell us what you think in the comments.