The Arrowverse is verging on its triumphant return to the CW, which we're mostly excited about because it means the villains of Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash, and DC's Legends of Tomorrow are coming back, too. (Sure, Legends isn't coming back just yet, but its light burns so bright that we're including it anyway.)
With their return so near, it's time to rank the top ten villains of the Arrowverse. It's the kind of mad undertaking that only someone as crazy as these villains would even dare to undertake — and thankfully, I am exactly that kind of crazy.
To keep what little sanity I have left, we're going to keep things limited to the forementioned interconnecting shows, and so Black Lightning villains will not appear on this list (though there are some great ones in there), and Riverdale will also not be visited.
Special mention goes out to the true villain of Riverdale, however: Jughead's voiceovers. You're not Truman Capote, Jugs... but I guess that's just how the South Side rolls.
What're the criteria here? There are a few factors: whether or not the villain in question is formidable is certainly one of them, but what we're really looking for is entertainment value. Who gets you the most excited when they show up on screen, and how much joy do their dastardly deeds bring you? How much fun are they? More importantly, where do they rank on the Scale of Ham, which is a thing that I just made up?
None of the Arrowverse villains are subtle. The actors rightfully swing for the fences, and that's why we love them. With bold choices comes a little bit (or a lotta bit) of ham, and I'm thankful for it. How much scenery do they chew? That will be addressed as well. (For the record: nobody listed here will have a ham score that rates under a seven.)
With no further ado, here's the (unofficial) ranking of the Arrowverse villains! Long may they scheme, plot, and monologue.
Lillian Luthor on Supergirl
She's a Luthor... do I have to say more? While Kara's good friend Lena Luthor hasn't really gone the true family way, Brenda Strong's Lillian Luthor shows us the true spirit of the Luthors. She's as cold as ice and continually looks for new ways to mess up the lovely days of Kara Danvers.
Eventually she straps on a power suit and goes to battle herself (a thing she may have passed on to Lex) and though she doesn't win the battle, she does win our hearts. She's still around, too — yeah, she's locked up, but when has that ever stopped a true Luthor?
Scenery chewed: More than a few flats and some of the carpet.
Ham Rating: 7. Strong mostly plays it straight, but there's a burst of comic joy that comes out every now and then. She's persistent though, and that's why she's here.
Tobias Church on Arrow
He doesn't stay around for long, but I'd argue that Church is way more entertaining than Arrow Season 5's main villain, Prometheus. Chad Coleman gnashes every line with a deep, gravelly, menacing joy — he really believes that he can take down Green Arrow, and though he doesn't succeed, he definitely throws quite a few wrenches into the works. I'd watch Coleman do anything at this point, and his small group of episodes on Arrow were a surprising delight. He seems to be really enjoying himself, and that goes a long way.
Scenery chewed: Over half of the set, most of the carpet, some of the props.
Ham Rating: 8. He's bad and he LOVES it.
Cayden James on Arrow
Take a look at the video above — going solely on the way Emerson says "thermobaric explosive" alone, he earns a spot here. Let's be real, though, Michael Emerson is not only a genre legend (Lost, Person of Interest), he is one of the best actors working today. His talents and his performance were a gift to Arrow during Season 6, and he seemed to relish every line, threat, and gesture as only someone as talented as Emerson can. He makes choices that absolutely shouldn't work, but they always do. Cayden James kept us watching in awe.
Scenery chewed: The entire set, some of the stage, half of the audience...all of them were honored to be chewed by Michael Emerson.
Ham Rating: 8.5. Emerson's ham is one of a kind and oak-barrel aged — not an easy thing to pull off.
Black Siren on The Flash and Arrow
First introduced as Laurel's Earth-2 doppleganger on The Flash, Black Siren would eventually move over to Arrow and fill the Katie Cassidy void that was left when the actual Laurel Lance was killed off. Losing Laurel was hard, but thankfully this villainous and insane version of her came aboard. You sometimes got the feeling (especially before her death) that the writers on Arrow didn't really know what to do with Laurel after "Ollicity" happened.
As Black Siren, Cassidy seems to be having more fun than she ever had while playing for the good guys, and she doesn't need a science collar to produce her signature scream, either. She's catty, powerful, and always there when you don't need her. Though I do hope that she eventually turns good (and that Cassidy once again takes the Black Canary mantle), her outrageous streak of villainy since her debut secures her ranking.
Scenery chewed: The entire set, the entire audience, most of the backstage crew...all with a playful smile and plenty of probing, hurtful questions.
Ham Rating: 8.5. Wicked, and once again, living for it.
Grodd on The Flash and DC's Legends of Tomorrow
Grodd (Simon Burnett, David Sobolov) is a giant gorilla with mind control powers. This former lab experiment caused havoc on The Flash, and attacked a young Barack Obama on Legends. Case closed.
Scenery chewed: We're past that, scenery is being eaten now. Grodd chews, swallows and digests the entire theater.
Ham Rating: 9. Giant. Gorilla. Mind. Powers.
Eobard Thawne on The Flash and DC's Legends of Tomorrow
This is where it gets difficult. The top five are all worthy of the number 1 spot, and to be honest they've shifted around in my mind-ranking quite a bit. Still, decisions must be made.
When it comes to Mr. Thawne, aka Reverse Flash, there's an even tougher choice before us— which actor do you go with? I decided not to choose, as both Tom Cavanagh and Matt Letscher bring very different things to the role. Cavanagh was utterly brilliant as Thawne in the first season of The Flash, portraying a menace that I did not know he was capable of. He let that menace out of the box a little bit in the "Crisis on Earth-X" crossover, and it was equally wonderful.
Letscher on the other hand, well, he mostly gets to let loose. He's a nasty piece of work, and it may still be my residual hatred for Letscher's Captain Harrison Love (The Mask of Zorro, unrelated) that makes him a guy I just love to despise. If I had to choose, I'd give the edge to Cavanagh... but I've decided that I don't need to choose.
Scenery eaten: Between the two of them? The entire theater district goes down.
Ham Rating: For Letscher, an unabashed 9.5. For Cavanagh, a slow-boiling 10.
Slade Wilson on Arrow
The Hobbit's Azog comes to the Arrowverse! The second season of Arrow is my personal favorite season (thus far) and that is all thanks to Manu Bennett's performance as Slade "Deathtroke" Wilson. He hates Oliver Queen (for some silly flashback reasons) and he wants to make him pay.
He toys, tortures, monologues, and fights his way through the season — and his defiling days were not done at the end of it. He's showed up a few more times, and has even slowly come over to the side of good. Despite that, Bennett's Wilson is always (always, always) a most welcome addition to any episode. Here's hoping that we see more of him.
Scenery eaten Half of New York, including every museum and Off-Broadway venue.
Ham Rating: 10.5. Eyepatch monologuing at its finest — accept no substitutes.
Malcolm Merlyn on Arrow, The Flash, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, and Cheers
All right, maybe he wasn't on Cheers, but the unstoppable Mr. Merlyn has been on so many shows at this point that I feel like he could have been and I just missed it. He simply won't die, or at least he wouldn't die for a very long while.
He was the main antagonist of Arrow Season 1, and after that he had to do something that all of my favorite villains do— he had to join forces with the heroes. They weren't happy about it, and betrayed them as soon as possible. He tried to protect his daughter, Thea Queen, and he never let her (or the audience) forget it. He was the new Ra's Al Ghul, and then he wasn't. He went time traveling with Damien Darhk, wrought his havoc across time and space, and still, he just kept springing up all over the place, and always with that signature John Barrowman twinkle in his eye.
He was Captain Jack Harkness (Doctor Who) for heaven's sake — I'm never going to completely root against him. Though Merlyn popped up more times than a broken whack-a-mole machine, Barrowman has said that his days in the Arrowverse are over following the destruction of Lian Yu. I hope he's lying about this. Arrow without Merlyn is like Batman without the Joker, or Superman without Lex — he is pivotal.
Scenery chewed: In an "undertaking" style event on a more massive scale, Merlyn devours the entire eastern seaboard.
Ham Factor: 11. That mischievous little twinkle hits me right where I live, and Barrowman plays with it a lot like John Hammond played with genetic discovery— irresponsibly.
Leonard Snart on The Flash and DC's Legends of Tomorrow
It kills me to put the masterful work of Wentworth Miller in the number 2 spot, but I had no choice. The truth is, Leonard "Captain Cold" Snart is not a full-time villain. Even at his worst (on The Flash) he's more of a rogue — when he transferred over to Legends (along with the wonderful Dominic Purcell as his partner, Heatwave) he went a little too close into hero territory. How close? He sacrifices himself for the team at the end of Season 1. A triumphant moment to be sure, but not a villainous one.
Thankfully, other versions of Snart started showing up, and Season 2 Snart in particular was a stone-cold devil. We won't mention the honorable "Citizen Cold" from "Crisis on Earth-X," because that guy was all hero. Still, the insane work of Miller demands attention — he revels in every pause, every line, every syllable, every letter. He rolls around in his lines like a pig rolls around in truffle excrement... I apologize if that's gross, but it is accurate.
Wentworth is as precise in his line readings as Snart is with his bank jobs. Once again, what he does here should not work... but it does. Whenever Snart shows up, I'm beyond excited. His days in the Arrowverse may be over, but Miller has said that given the right circumstances he may yet live to freeze another day.
Scenery eaten: Miller freezes the Earth and uses it as an ice cube in his drink of choice. He's so very, very cool while he does this.
Ham rating: 50, and that's as high as the scale goes. He's that good.
Damien Darhk on Arrow, The Flash, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, and my dreams
There's a lesson to be learned here. If you really want to bring the entertainment, the fun, and the scenery-chewing ham, there's only one thing to do... call a magician. This was a tight one, but it really had to come down to Neal McDonough's gravity defying portrayal of one of the hammiest wizards ever seen in genre. That is not a statement that I make lightly.
As is the case with so many of these villains, he lights up the screen every time he appears. He's unbeatable for most of Arrow Season 4, until he isn't. Sir Oliver Broodsalot may "kill" him at the end of it, but wouldn't you know? Somehow, he pops back up in Nazi Germany during Legends. Not only that, he starts the "Legion of Doom" with good pals Merlyn and Thawne. The three of them are made for each other, though it's usually McDonaugh who stands out.
He plays his powers with grace and an apparent effortlessness, though that's not really the case. McDonough just makes it seem effortless because he's great at what he does and is having a blast. With a role like this one, you'd have to. Even without his magic, Darhk's one true power is his perfect use of the one-liner, and that's something that nobody can ever take away from him. We'd be surprised if we've seen the last of Damien Darhk — he's the Arrowverse gift that keeps on giving.
Scenery eaten: The entire universe is enveloped by the unquenchable maw of his magical craft. We're all devoured whole, and we don't mind.
Ham rating: The number has not been invented yet. In trying to calculate the rating, the ham scale destroyed itself.