Measuring how evil a character is can be a difficult task. It’s both subjective and relative to the universe the character exists within. We can look at the actions of a character, their motivations and how powerful they are, but at the end of the day, it’s our word against yours. But we’re going to try and approach this as objectively as we possibly can, so don’t start yelling just yet.
Harley Quinn is about as unstable as they come. She has no regard for human life and won’t hesitate to get rid of anyone standing in her way. She, like many villains, does have one weakness. Her weakness is The Joker. If it weren’t for him, Harley Quinn might be the most evil of them all. But, alas, she is not.
It’s no secret that the vast majority of the most popular villains are male. Villainesses haven’t been nearly as well represented as their male counterparts in film, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some all-time greats. It would be easy to pick a number of females from horror movies, but where’s the fun in that? We’ll try to include villains from a variety of genres so that everyone has a shot at the evil crown.
We should also mention upfront that there are some notable exclusions for specific reasons. The major omission in the list is Reagan from The Exorcist. While she is easily one of the evillest characters in the history of film, Reagan, the little girl, is not the villain. Pazuzu, a male demon, is the possessor and the villain. There are also some characters that were too close to other characters on the list, such as Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter) from Play Misty for Me. Even though some great female villains had to be cut, this list still represents the most horrifying female antagonists in cinematic history.
Let’s begin with the least evil and work our way toward the worst of them all. Here are 15 female villains more evil than Harley Quinn.
15. Catherine Tramell – Basic Instinct
Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) from Basic Instinct is famous for a number of reasons. One reason is “the scene.” You know the one. Yes. Well, she’s also known as being one of the most heartless villains around. Known for killing people and then making money writing books about it, Tramell lives dangerously with her crimes. She loves the thrill of almost getting caught almost as much as the thrill of sleeping with her soon to be victims. It’s unclear if Tramell has any weaknesses because she is so difficult to read. At various points in the film (we’re ignoring Basic Instinct 2 intentionally), she seems as if she has feelings for some characters, but that might all be part of her strategy to appear more vulnerable, more desirable and less guilty.
14. Dolores Umbridge – Harry Potter Franchise
Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter franchise is the type of despot that strikes fear in children everywhere. It’s a weird comparison with a crazy villain like Harley Quinn, but Umbridge is no slouch. She’s evil in a much more subtle way. She rules with cruel and unusual punishment and nothing, except maybe being villainous as well, is ever good enough for her. Played to near perfection by Imelda Staunton, Umbridge’s shrill voice, unreasonable expectations and pink outfits, oh lord, all that pink she wears, give her a spot in this top 15. There isn’t one particular thing that Umbridge does that makes her evil. For her, it’s an entire lifetime worth of crimes—particularly toward Muggles. As far as we know, Umbridge is still serving time in Azkaban prison for those crimes against Muggles.
13. The Evil Queen/Queen Ravenna – Snow White Films
While the Evil Queen from Snow White and Seven Dwarfs and Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) from Snow White and the Huntsman are only somewhat related, we will treat them as one here. The Evil Queen is only weakened by her vanity. Her need to be the fairest of them all is the only thing that really drives her. Both the Evil Queen and Queen Ravenna are evil through and through. They rule with an iron fist and have no mercy for their victims. In the original Snow White, the Evil Queen sought to kill Snow White in order to replace her as the fairest of them all; however, in Snow White and the Huntsman, Queen Ravenna needed to consume Snow White’s heart to take her beauty. As individuals, these two are fearsome women. Together, they form one giant supervillain.
12. Joan Crawford – Mommie Dearest
Even though the movie itself, Mommie Dearest, is a bit of a mess, the primary villain, Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) is brilliant and horrifying. Every child’s worst nightmare, Crawford is the most unstable mother ever shown on film. She is structured to the point of obsession, selfish and hateful. Her violent outbursts are amazing to see on screen—Dunaway said that she injured her vocal cords and throat performing this role. To show how evil Joan Crawford appears, Disney’s Evil Queen was even loosely based on the famous actress. Dunaway would eventually hate this role, saying that people so closely related her to the character of Crawford (as well as the real actress) that she would never be able to escape it.
11. Bellatrix Lestrange – Harry Potter Franchise
Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham-Carter) is the worst of the females in the Harry Potter franchise. She is the main follower of Voldemort and is every bit as evil as he is. She has no real weaknesses that can be exposed except that she is so evil that she is predictable. Perhaps, like Harley Quinn, her devotion to her main dude, the Dark Lord, can be exposed. Ever since she graduated from Wizarding school, Bellatrix has been a loyal Death Eater. She was one of the only ones to doubt what Snape’s true intentions were, though hers was only a deep mistrust without any proof. In the end, Bellatrix was killed by Molly Weasley after it was learned that Fred Wesley had been killed by the evil witch. Evil or not, Bellatrix was pretty badass.
10. Alex Forrest – Fatal Attraction
Played by Glenn Close, Alex Forrest is an adulterer’s greatest fear, a mistress who cannot be dismissed. Forrest is so obsessive and psychotic that, if she can’t have her guy, then no one can. She will kill the man’s wife, the man himself and even herself in order to get her way. While this doesn’t quite make rational sense, nothing about Alex Forrest is rational. She is the epitome of the unstable and obsessive woman trope that has been copied numerous times. Though Play Misty for Me, predates this similar movie, Alex Forrest is the more convincing villain than Evelyn Draper, so she gets to represent both of them, in a way.
9. Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) – Rebecca
Mrs. Danvers is the unstable housekeeper in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film, Rebecca. In the film, Mrs. Danvers is employed by Maxim de Winter. Maxim was once married to Rebecca, but she was said to have died before the events of the film. Mrs. Danvers, though, was never able to let go of her employer’s (Maxim’s) late wife, Rebecca, and because of this attachment, the housekeeper is horrible to Maxim’s new wife, Mrs. de Winter. Through tricks and conniving plans, Mrs. Danvers sets out to make the new Mrs. de Winter look foolish in front of everyone. She constantly tells Mrs. de Winter that Maxim still loves Rebecca and almost convinces Mrs. de Winter to kill herself. In the end, Mrs. Danvers goes full-on psycho and burns the house down, killing herself in the act. Thanks to her poisonous tongue, Mrs. Danvers comes in at number 10.
8. Pamela Voorhees – Friday the 13th
Pamela Voohees (Betsy Palmer) is the primary antagonist in Friday the 13th, the mother of Jason Voorhees and pretty much the reason that Jason continues to kill in the film’s sequels. Pamela was the cook at Camp Crystal Lake and her son, Jason, attended the camp. One night, after being taunted and ridiculed, Jason snuck out to prove to the other campers that he could swim. Since the counselors were all partying and fornicating, as all teenagers in slasher films do so well, Jason was unattended and he drowned in the lake. The next year, Pamela returned to exact revenge, killing two counselors who had snuck away to have sex. The camp was shut down temporarily. Four years later, when the camp tried to reopen, Pamela sabotaged the water and set some fires. The camp would then stay closed for 17 years, until it was opened again, and that’s when Friday the 13th takes place. Pamela would once again return and kill almost everyone present except for one survivor. Pamela’s death in the end would be the inspiration that Jason needed to return and continue her task of killing camp counselors for doing teenager stuff.
7. Samara Morgan – The Ring
Samara Morgan was a neglected and mistreated little girl. Her adoptive parents were cruel and they would eventually kill her and throw her down a well. In death, Samara has turned into a demonic little creature that is set on forcing others to suffer. In a mysterious VHS, Samara has placed a number of images that tell the story of her and her family’s tragedy. It’s not quite clear why she kills the people that watch her film after seven days. The belief is that, if after seven days, the viewer hasn’t solved the mystery of Samara’s death, they are killed because they show that they don’t care about her. Samara just needs a little love and she will stop at nothing to get it.
6. Xenomorph Queen – Alien Franchise
Standing over 20-feet tall and with an extraordinarily long tail, the Xenomorph Queen in the Alien Franchise is a daunting villain. The standard drone or warrior aliens are creepy all on their lonesome, but the queen is so huge and ferocious that they pale in comparison to her. Despite her size and power, the queen does have some weaknesses though. Her loyalty to her hive and her underlings is both a negative and positive for her. She is shown to be somewhat vulnerable when her posse is in danger, which is something that can be and is exposed by the humans. There is also her drive to avenge anything that happens to her hive as well, though, and she will stop at nothing to kill whoever threatened or did damage to her family.
5. Yamazaki Asami – Audition
Yamazaki Asami (Eihi Shiina) is the brilliantly evil villain in the Takashi Miike horror film, Audition. When Asami was a little girl, she suffered through awful sexual abuse and, because of this, she evolved into a woman who hates all men, or at least that’s how it seems. She appears sweet and innocent on the surface, but she is troubled and exceedingly violent. She drugs her victims, injects them with a paralytic and then proceeds to torture and dismember them while they are awake. She keeps some of her victims alive and forces them to survive in disgusting ways. Though she is only seen to be violent in a limited number of scenes, the implication of her actions hang heavily over the entire film, especially the end. Like Samara, her crimes are half-justified, in a weird way, but the randomness of her victims and their innocence bring her over to the evil side.
4. Dark Phoenix – X-Men Comics
The Dark Phoenix, the uncontrollable entity within Jean Grey, is a bit of a mystery in X-Men comics. There are a few things that we do know about her though. Her primary (if not only motivation) is her own survival, and she is close to the most powerful being in the comic book world. The Dark Phoenix will destroy anything and everything just because she can. She’s wildly unpredictable and violent if she decides to be. In these dark moments, she is the most evil thing there is. She’s devoured a star because she was hungry and that led to the deaths of billions of people. She can really only die if Jean Grey sacrifices herself and she cares about nothing. If she wasn’t so misunderstood, she would easily be number one on this list, but she’ll have to settle for number four.
3. Annie Wilkes – Misery
The disturbed Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) is an image that is impossible to forget if you’ve ever seen Misery. Obsessive like no one else and psychotic, half the evil of Wilkes comes in her passion for a particular character in a set of novels, the character named Misery. The other half of Wilkes’ evilness comes in the majestic performance of Bates. She is captivating and terrifying in every scene. The intense violent outbursts and instability of Wilkes make her that much scarier for the viewer. She would rather die herself than see the character she so loves be killed off in a work of fiction. What’s crazier and more evil than that?
2. Wicked Witch of the West – The Wizard of Oz
Now that The Wizard of Oz is almost 80 years old, many film fans neglect to include the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) in talks about villains because she isn’t as scary to modern audiences as she once was. But that’s a bunch of malarkey. The Wicked Witch of the West redesigned the image of the witch. We see her face, hear her voice and think of her mannerisms whenever we think of witches. She’s ingrained in our imaginations. It’s possible that her feelings for her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East (the one killed by Dorothy’s house), was a vulnerability of hers, but since this character dies before we even meet the Wicked Witch of the West, she is completely invulnerable on screen. She’ll kill anything, a little dog, a lion, a human, it doesn’t matter. Don’t test the Wicked Witch of the West.
1. Nurse Ratched – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Easily the most terrifying nurse in the history of film, Nurse Ratched is the worst kind of person. Solely responsible for the popularizing vision of the Battleaxe Nurse, Ratched was the tyrannical authority in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and one of the main reasons we seem to have an innate fear of nurses in mental institutions. Like Kathy Bates playing Annie Wilkes, Louise Fletcher won an Academy Award for her performance as Nurse Ratched. She was so convincing and evil in the film that she has become a stand-in as the prototypical villainess: calm and domineering. This woman is evil at its very worst.