Villains are what make a superhero movie interesting. These bad guys are also necessary for virtually any story that involves people who strive to do good, and strive to show the world that it’s possible for evil to be overcome.
What exactly makes a great villain? Villains can be horrendous and scary, or they can be comical and strange. Some villains even have a bit of sex appeal, which makes a movie particularly interesting. In many cases, the villain character in a movie is somewhere in between. The antagonist in movies and legendary comic book stories has to be terrible enough to be hated, but lovable enough to have at least a shred of admirable qualities. After all, people have to want to see the bad guy on screen and follow his story.
There are even some actors who have made their living by portraying characters who are evil and despicable. There have even been villain roles that were so iconic, several actors took a crack at these characters. There are also fans who prefer one actor’s portrayal of the villain over another, which makes for some pretty interesting movie trivia. Here are 12 of the greatest movie villains of all time.
12 Nurse Ratched
Actress Louise Fletcher did an extremely convincing job as Nurse Ratched in the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She was cold, mean, and almost as crazy as the people she was “taking care of” at the Oregon mental facility. The character was also referred to as The Big Nurse, and Fletcher won an Academy Award for her work. People even use “Nurse Ratched” as a term to describe battleaxe women. Unfortunately, Fletcher didn’t get much work after that, which sometimes happens when an actor plays a character too well. Louise did star in the sequel to The Exorcist, but the movie didn’t do well, and we haven’t heard much from her since.
11 Gordon Gekko
Gordon Gekko is the fictional villain from 1987’s Wall Street, and the 2010 remake Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The character is portrayed by Michael Douglas, and he won an Academy Award for his work in the first movie. Gekko is loosely based on actual Wall Street brokers, and the character is quoted as saying “greed is good.” That should give you an idea of how ruthless he was if you haven’t seen the movies. Clearly, Gordon Gekko would stop at nothing to get as much money as possible, and the characters name has been associated with unrelenting greed and selfishness.
10 The Hunter (From Bambi)
The hunter is never actually seen in the movie, but this villain made such a huge impact that some people are still angry with him for killing Bambi’s mother. Even Sir Paul McCartney stated that the hunting scene in Bambi motivated him to get involved in animal rights, since he was so upset about Bambi’s mother dying when he was a child. Just thinking back to Bambi’s look of bewilderment when he realizes that his mother is dead is enough to make you get a little misty. Fortunately, Bambi is able to cope with the loss and eventually goes on to fall in love with Faline.
9 Norman Bates
If you’re looking for a movie that will give you a deliberately icky feeling, Psycho is the movie for you. Norman Bates, the main character of the film, is a killer who is hiding the fact that he murdered his mother and her lover. He also dressed in his mother’s clothes, which shows that he both loved and hated her simultaneously. Bates, portrayed by actor Anthony Perkins, seems like an innocent boy next door, which makes the movie even more frightening.
8 Ivan Drago
Dolph Lundgren is the actor who played Russian boxer Ivan Drago. He was such a ruthless villain in the movie Rocky IV that he heartlessly killed Apollo Creed and stated “if he dies, he dies.” Drago also coined the catch phrase “I will break you,” which was quoted by fight movie enthusiasts way longer than it should have been. The character of Ivan Drago has even been used as inspiration for television episodes, such as Family Guy’s 'Brian Goes Back to College' and Chuck’s 'Chuck Versus the Final Exam' and 'Chuck Versus The Anniversary'. There’s even a Michigan-based band named “If He Dies He Dies.”
7 Buffalo Bill
When it comes to the movie Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter is often credited for being the creepiest guy in the film. However, Buffalo Bill was pretty evil as well. Ted Levine played this character in the 1991 movie, was the actual villain, and is known for applying lotion in the worst ways. We’re pretty sure most people were scared to help their friends move couches for the longest time. Also, it’s hard to forget that Buffalo Bill was a serial killer with a fetish for overweight women. He wanted to make a “woman suit” for himself, and you can’t get much creepier than that.
6 Joan Crawford (in Mommie Dearest)
If nothing else, Faye Dunaway’s performance as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest made you appreciate your mom just a little more, even if she was pretty strict. Crawford’s unsightly face and irrational hate for wire hangers was enough to make anyone cringe. The movie was actually an autobiographical account of Christina Crawford’s life (Joan’s biological daughter). It was downright scary to watch Dunaway act out the way Crawford would lavish Christina with expensive gifts without allowing her to keep all of them, or how she gave the poor maid such a hard time when she was trying her best to keep the house spotless. Then there were the scenes when Crawford locks Christina in the pool house and cuts off locks of her hair. Creepy, indeed.
5 Mr. Potter
If you thought Ebenezer Scrooge was bad, you’ve obviously never seen It’s a Wonderful Life. This holiday movie is a favorite among many, but not because of Mr. Potter. He’s a terrible man with absolutely no Christmas spirit. Lionel Barrymore played the character, and did so very convincingly. He’s a devastatingly evil slumlord and treats character George Bailey (who is the triumphant underdog in the movie) extremely poorly. Despite Potter’s evil ways, George’s life is saved by his guardian angel, who comes to show George just how much he’s needed in this world. Even though the movie was produced decades ago, it’s still an inspiring tear-jerker.
4 The Shark from Jaws
It’s safe to say that millions of people were at least a little afraid to get in the water at the beach after Jaws was released. The movie was released in 1975, but people still refer to it when they’re wary about getting in the ocean. Who knew that a mechanical shark could cause so much terror? That ominous theme music makes the movie, and the thought of sharks in general, even creepier. Even though Jaws was a pretty scary movie, people still went in droves to see it. Until Star Wars came along, Jaws was the highest-paying movie of all time.
3 The Queen (from Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs)
Few villains get a name like “the Queen” without truly earning it. This horrible character from Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, is also referred to as 'The Evil Queen' or 'The Wicked Queen', and she’s a prime example of what happens when jealousy takes over your life. The character was originally created by fairy tale authors The Brothers Grimm, and was a vindictive character whose obsession in life was being the “fairest in the land.” She’s also overly vindictive and messes around with black magic, which is never good. Of course, her plans were ruined when Snow White was born, but justice prevailed when Snow White was able to escape, hang out with seven guys who protected her, and fall in love with the prince who helped her reclaim her kingdom.
2 The Wicked Witch of The West
No matter how old you are, you likely remember the Wicked Witch of the West and her plans to destroy Dorothy and get a hold of those ruby slippers. She originally appeared in L. Frank Baum’s book The Wizard of Oz, before making her screen debut. She obviously wasn’t an animal rights activist, because she had lots of animals that she controlled and forced to do her bidding. Her prime motivation was to control the kingdom, but luckily, she had a huge fear of water and was eventually crushed underneath a house, thus ending her wicked rage. There was even a song in the movie, composed in honor of her death, entitled “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead.”
1 The Joker
Who can forget the wily smile of The Joker? This villain, originally played by Cesar Romero, then Jack Nicholson (and later Heath Ledger and Jared Leto), was just a petty crook who later became a bleach-faced villain whose only motivation in life was to attempt to defeat Batman. Sure, we got sick of people asking us “ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” but you’ve got to admit, it was a pretty catchy line. The Joker’s colorful clothing and overly animated moves also made him a pretty entertaining bad guy. The character was originally introduced as a criminal mastermind who was openly psychotic, but later softened into a bit of a prankster, but he was still very wily.