With the internet’s recent obsession with Suicide Squad and especially Margot Robbie‘s Harley Quinn, I started thinking about female villains. What makes them great? Who have been the greatest in history, and why? Well I don’t know the true answers to any of these questions, but here’s my best guess. A good villain is not only fun to watch through their interaction with the main character, but they are interesting and fun to watch on their own. The best villains bring out a weird cathartic release in audiences, letting us see a glimpse of the darker side of our souls without having to going full evil ourselves. This is the beauty of good vs. evil in films—both are convincing and both have their reasoning, no matter how much we agree with them.
Beauty, treachery, badassery, insanity, able to sport a cool outfit, dedication to being evil, these are just some of things that score points for me on my scale of villainess points. And, while it may not be an exact science, I’m sure that many will agree with my choices. That being said, there are so many great villains that didn’t make the list. Some I left off because I didn’t feel connected or convinced by their characters, other because I just didn’t like or never saw their movies, so sue me.
16. Pamela Vorhees – Friday the 13th
Pamela Vorhees was Jason before Jason was Jason. Really, she was, think about it. Before Jason came back, there was only the legend and the mysterious killings. While everyone thought it was Jason, it was really his over-caring, never-forgetting mother. Plus, she does a pretty spot on impression Jason as a child as well. Sure, she takes out her revenge-fueled rage on camp counselors simply for being part of a certain workforce, which is a pretty harsh sentence. But without her, we wouldn’t have Jason, and without Jason, think about how many more camp counselors would be out there taking our jobs. Good riddance I say.
15. Emma Frost – X-Men: First Class
Emma Frost is not only amazingly good looking, but she can turn into a giant freakin’ diamond. There’s got to be some value in that. I don’t know, maybe her powers aren’t the greatest, but her role in X-Men: First Class is enough for me. I mean, just look at her. You know what they say, “diamonds are a guy’s best friend or whatever.”
14. Catherine Tramell – Basic Instinct
When Sharon Stone famously uncrossed her legs on camera, VCRs everywhere got full value out of their pause features, but she’s so much more than a high-quality interview. The blonde seductress is so powerful in Basic Instinct it’s not only easy to see how she manipulates other people so effectively, it’s hard to imagine yourself not falling for her. Kill me or whatever you need to do Catherine; I just want to be in one of your books.
13. Asami – Audition
The soft spoken villainess of the Japanese horror film Audition is the perfect blend of evil and innocence. Despite her insanely evil acts towards men, the audience can’t help but identify with, or at least understand, Asami’s motivations. Sure, her methods can be difficult to watch, but how she executes her retribution and the way the film unravels, make her both captivating and unpredictable, a deadly combination.
12. Catwoman – Batman Returns
After an failed attempt to use a strong bleach solution mixed with sand to erase Halle Berry’s portrayal of Catwoman from my eyes, I decided to go back and watch Michelle Pfeiffer a few times to try to overwrite it. While I still wake up in cold sweats with faint memories of awful action sequences, Catwoman is now, once again, back in Pfeiffer’s beautiful paws. Mixing sexy, cool, powerful and dangerous with a touch of a conscience, Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is the epitome of Batman’s perfect villain.
11. Mallory Knox – Natural Born Killers
One of my favorite anti-heroes of all time, Mallory Knox is the definition of awesome. She’s fun, a little crazy, energetic, sexy, dependable and loyal, everything you could want in a psychopathic criminal partner. Not to mention that Juliette Lewis is simply amazing in this role as well. While it may be a stretch to call her a villain, she’s deadly and a little evil, so that’s got to get her into the conversation at least. If it wasn’t for this slight categorical dispute, she would be in the Top Five.
10. Mama Fratelli – The Goonies
Portrayed by Anne Ramsey, Mama Fratelli, the mama of the Fratelli boys and one of the bad guys of the kid’s classic, The Goonies, is such a great villain. She’s definitely a killer, but in a mid-80’s PG, “I’m gonna kill you but not in a scary or realistic kind of way.” Her mean mug, cool arm tattoo and super stylish chapeau make her threatening but in an “I’m gonna threaten to torture you but in actuality you’re gonna have a good chance to escape” kind of way. She’s also got one of those great voices that say, “I mean business but I’m gonna have a few smokes before I get down to it.”
9. Kathryn Merteuil – Cruel Intentions
Sarah Michelle Gellar plays one of the most amazing heroines (Buffy) and one of the best villainesses, not a bad resume if you ask me. In Cruel Intentions, it’s her conniving personality mixed with her powerful seduction techniques that make her so imposing. Beauty and brains can be a terrifying mix in a villain, and Kathryn has both in spades. Look out for her to reprise this impossibly awesome role in an upcoming TV series.
8. Regina George – Mean Girls
Regina George, the leader of the high school gang “the Plastics,” is almost as feared as she is smoking hot. With the power to crush the social dreams of any high schooler, Regina is a socialite’s worst nightmare. While she may not use physical violence as her weapon like many on this list, her powers of influence within her high school’s walls make her a villain to fear nonetheless. Since, reputation is very often everything for a teenager, Regina’s abilities to exploit and extort others around her make her both a terrifying enemy and a great politician.
7. Mystique – X-Men
When Rebecca Romijn first dressed up for the part of Mystique in X-Men in 2000, it finally became clear what blue body paint was created for. In addition to giving the world the weirdest blue fantasy since Smurfette, Mystique is also total badass. Her shapeshifting abilities allow her to mimic the look and voice of anyone; mix that with regeneration and superhuman agility and her knowledge of the power of seduction, and she becomes a force to be reckoned with. While J-Law is the better actor and a maybe portrays a more identifiable version of the character, it’s really Rebecca’s villainous character that gets the attention here.
6. Maleficent – Maleficent/Sleeping Beauty
Maleficent is a ruthless evil queen who cursed a child to death because she wasn’t invited to a party. Who’s crazier than that? She’s been seen in a few films, but, for the purposes of this list, we will stick to her two big films in which she was really two different characters. One is totally fake and the result of a significant amount of work, or Angelina Jolie as her friend’s call her, and in the other she’s a cartoon. In both she’s flat out evil. Here’s to Maleficent, one of oldest and best female villains in movie history.
5. O-Ren Ishii – Kill Bill: Part 1
Assassin by 11 years of age, cold hearted gangsta soon after, one the world’s top killers by 20, leader of Tokyo’s crime underworld by 26, O-Ren Ishii plays to win and she looks fly doing it. It is probable that O-Ren’s underestimation of The Bride (Uma Thurman) is what causes her to lose their final showdown, but she does so with grace, even apologizing for mocking Beatrix Kiddo early on in their tussle. Lucy Liu’s character is also a social justice warrior, decapitating a crime boss for his insensitive racial remarks, so there’s that too.
4. Bellatrix Lestrange – Harry Potter Franchise
A lot of people would come at me with their broomsticks if I didn’t include Bellatrix in list, but, truthfully, that’s not really why she’s here. She’s here because she’s actually a really incredible character, and this list would be totally incomplete without her. Sporadic, a scosh crazy, dependable, cool hair, great wand, probably the second evilest character in the films, and she’s played by Helena Bonham Carter. See villainess in the dictionary.
3. Nurse Ratched – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
While you may not know it, the character of Nurse Ratched has influenced the way that you probably look at mental institutions and their nurses in your head. Whenever you picture mistreatment from a power-hungry authoritative figure in a hospital setting, you’re probably picturing the evil Nurse Ratched. Her freedom to mistreat and abuse her patients as she wishes in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was largely responsible for a growing public fear and mistrust of public institutions. She is living proof of the power of film and character.
2. Annie Wilkes – Misery
Kathy Bate‘s Annie is a just an outright terrifying person. Under her charming, happy exterior is an obsessive, tortuous fan. She is the reason why I never wrote novels, well her and I lack the general storytelling ability that’s often required, but she had a big impact on my decision to not try and become an author of fiction. Despite how crazy she seems to be, I think that our celebrity-obsessed culture is becoming more and more like Annie, which is even scarier than the movie, minus the hobbling scene of course. Oh God. The hobbling scene.
1. Wicked Witch of the West – The Wizard of Oz
Here’s a test. Ask someone to close their eyes and think of a witch. Ask them to describe the witch. Now, I’m be willing to bet that nine times out of 10 that description matches the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. For me, Margaret Hamilton’s insertion into the public consciousness as the prototypical witch makes her the greatest villain of all time, male or female. The voice, her green skin (just to show off their new fancy technicolor feature), the digs, the broom, the hat, everything. She’s the witch I think of when I think of witches. But if this witch is my witch, which witch is your witch?