Heroes are loved, but nobody forgets a chilling villain because unlike their enemies they do not have limitations. A villain will happily watch the world, and the people populated within it, burn to achieve their goals. Some hold interest for the duration of their screen time, but others last forever. So, what makes a villain great?
They need to have power and others must fear them, including us. They generally have the ability to turn on charm and making others feel comfortable before snaring them in a trap. They have memorable uniforms, a way with words, and even a sense of sick humour. And they are seemingly impossible to stop until a hero rises to the challenge and thwarts their empire mere seconds before the world enters a chaotic state.
This is a coveted list. It takes into account not only those villains that have stood the test of time, but also those that have shocked audiences in recent years. For a great villain has no restriction of era. A great villain is drawn upon for inspiration in future adaptations. But a great villain means they can also be so despised that drawing such an emotion from us enhances their reputation. And sometimes they do not even view themselves as a villain, but a man/woman doing the work for the better of the world…no matter how delusional it seems.
15. Alex DeLarge
“There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.”
To begin this coveted list, we have Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange. He rapes, he murders, he fights and he steals all in the name of a bit of fun. He’s a teenage psychopath that represents a dystopian future of fear on the streets. Alex just wants to destroy things, and enjoy himself in the process. He is the ultimate rebel, leading his gang into violence. The hat, the eye make-up…this character has found a way into pop culture, representing the youth uprising made possible by drugs and fear. He scares, but he also partakes in strange acts, such as killing an old lady in her home with a giant ceramic penis. Alex gets his due, eventually getting tortured and brainwashed, but there is no doubting that we can’t take our eyes off the screen when he’s present.
“Apes together strong!”
Koba is the rising star of the villain world. Tortured by humans in a facility until Caesar, the leader of the ape clan, breaks him out, Koba just can’t forgive and forget. He begins as a loyal ally to Caesar but soon grows angry at the peace with humans. Koba then attempts to kill Caesar and lead the ape army into battle against struggling mankind. The war in the second movie, Dawn, is visually stunning and shows Koba ride horseback into battle with explosions shattering the environment around him. He takes prisoners, murders anyone who disobeys and threatens to remove both humans and apes from the chance of rebuilding the world. Koba is intimidating, scarred from head to toe, and you just can’t predict what he’s going to do next. He understands ape rules differently to the kind-natured Caesar, and in his final moments attempts to save his own life through a citation. But an after credits scene shows Koba to be alive, meaning we haven’t seen the last of the menacing ape.
13. Nurse Ratched
“If Mr. McMurphy doesn’t want to take his medication orally, I’m sure we can arrange that he can have it some other way. But I don’t think that he would like it.”
The only female character on this list, Nurse Ratched has become synonymous with those who treat their patients poorly. As she calls ‘medication time’ to her patients, they form a line and receive their dose…until Jack Nicholson comes along with his wit and desire for rebellion. The clash between these two actors/characters brings the evil out of Nurse Ratched. She can damage others by muttering a few words. She manipulates, pits patients against one another and does all in her power to reduce the life left in their souls. While it would be no easy job dealing with the men in her care, Nurse Ratched asserts arbitrary control simply because she can. There is no overall benefit to her, she just wants to rule with an iron fist and that’s a sign of pure villainy. In the book, she’s compared to a rat: quick, quiet and a carrier of the plague. No female villain has had more impact on viewers.
12. Anton Chigurh
“What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss?”
The softly spoken, weapon wielding mystery character from No Country For Old Men is haunting. From the moment we see him kill a person with a cattlegun, it is clear he’s not your average villain. He strikes fear into those he comes into contact with, flipping coins to decide their fate like a twisted Two-Face. Chigurh is a one-man killing machine with no emotion or compassion, but he does not kill at random. If you’re a target of Anton, you’re as good as dead. When given a mission to track down drug money, Chigurh kills the employers and looks for the money himself. He doesn’t care for others in any way whatsoever, dispatching them no matter their words of plea. Javier Bardem‘s take on the character made the villain leap right off the page and helps land Chigurh a worthy place among the best villains of all time. Oh, and there’s that haircut…
11. Tony Montana
“You need people like me so you can point your ****in’ fingers and say, ‘That’s the bad guy.’ So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!”
Barely missing out on the top 10 is Tony Montana, the Cuban drug king. He may be higher on the list if not for the fact that many view him as a hero. Tony loves drugs, kills people close to him and steals their women. He is vicious, funny and suffering from a large case of small man syndrome. The swearing, smoking, joking coke head has a rage like few others. He starts off small in the drug business and soon becomes the king of an empire through his ballsy deals with others. On a night in a restaurant, he tells everybody to look at the bad guy; he knows how he is viewed, and he simply doesn’t care. All Tony wants is money, power, and women. He’s an icon, and Al Pacino‘s acting is outstanding as he completely gets into the role of Scarface. It is no coincidence that many real-life gangsters hang a picture of Tony Montana in their homes as inspiration.
10. Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting
“I’m forty-seven. Forty-seven years old. You know how I stayed alive this long? All these years? Fear. The spectacle of fearsome acts. Somebody steals from me, I cut off his hands. He offends me, I cut out his tongue. He rises against me, I cut off his head, stick it on a pike, raise it high up so all on the streets can see. That’s what preserves the order of things. Fear.”
Making it to number 10 is Bill Cutting, the antagonist from Gangs of New York. Daniel Day-Lewis has been brilliant in many roles, but it is widely believed that this is his most underrated. Bill is terrifying. He is a butcher, meaning he is skilled in knife play, and he leads a gang that rules the roost. Leo joins his crew, fully aware that Bill killed his father, and eventually defeats him. But the fear Bill puts us through in the process is worthy of his position on this list. You just don’t know what he’s going to do next; kill, laugh, cry. One minute he’s indulging in absorbing dialogue, the next he’s shoved a carving knife into the back of a rival. He’s all about America, so much so that we should be happy he isn’t a real person supporting Donald Trump. Like many villains on this list, there are some iconic scenes and there is no doubt that Day-Lewis’ throwing-knife show is a scene to be remembered.
“Well, as far as brains go, I got the lion’s share. But, when it comes to brute strength… I’m afraid I’m at the shallow end of the gene pool.”
Scar knew his limitations, a fragile lion cannot challenge for the title of king. But through manipulation and planning, he managed to hold that exact title for a time. By killing his brother and ensuring Simba was out of the picture, Scar ruled the jungle (with the assistance of his clan of hyenas). Lion King may be a children’s movie, but the villain represents everything necessary for the role. Scar, voiced by Jeremy Irons, is the uncle to the heir and brother to the king. He is in the royal family, but he wants more as all villains do. He will happily see his family die to get what he wants, yet Scar makes sure he’s enjoying himself during the game. He befriends creatures that are dumb enough to do his bidding, he utilizes the environment and not only does he know others hate him; he revels in it. Scar’s villainy earns him this spot on the list, despite being animated and in a PG movie, perhaps because we know what it feels like to live in the shadow of someone. Not to mention if we didn’t hate Scar so much, he wouldn’t have been able to make Simba’s rise all the greater.
“I’ll be back.”
He’s a man of few words, but back in the 80’s (in the original movie), Schwarzenegger entered the world from the future intent on killing the parents of John Connor to prevent his birth. This villain eventually became the hero in later movies, but it was his presence in the first film that gave us a fright as he just seemed unstoppable. No bullets could kill him, as a machine was revealed. But his brutal ways won fans over everywhere and sparked a series that continues thirty years later. As the heroes run from the Terminator, we’re left wondering how on earth they can defeat this beast. His artificial intelligence, powerful make, and dedication to the mission makesSchwarzenegger’s creation a must have on this list and a deserved member of the top 10.
7. Hannibal Lector
I do wish we could chat longer, but… I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye.”
Hannibal Lector played by Anthony Hopkins, won a Best Actor Oscar for only 15 minutes of screen time. But it was well deserved, with every second of screen time a masterclass of acting. Hannibal is intelligent, unflinching and calculated with a hunger for humans and their organs. He’s a doctor, to make things more interesting, but aren’t so many villains given that title? Here is an ACTUAL doctor, with an appetite for knowledge and a desire to impact the world in which he lives. When we first see Hannibal, he is confined to a cell with other members of the asylum for the criminally insane. Hannibal is always calm and collected, smiling and full of manners. It is this quality that draws both us and Agent Starling to him, and even though we eventually see him play everyone, escape and rip people apart, we still feel like his isn’t the complete villain. This is an amazing trait to have, one used by others on this list, as we feel both empathy for their situation and enjoyment from their release. With sequels, prequels and a TV show based off the role, it is clear the role of Hannibal Lector is far from dead.
6. Ramsay Bolton
“This isn’t happening to you for a reason. Well, one reason: I enjoy it! If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
Game of Thrones is a juggernaut of a TV show that has captured attention worldwide. While there are many villains scattered throughout Westeros, none are more chilling than the bastard Ramsay Bolton. Using his dogs, his cunning nature and his taste for blood, Ramsay tortures his captives to the point where they no longer have a will to live. He uses mutilation, rape and his famed bow and arrow skills to destroy his enemies piece by piece. The actor took pieces from a range of villains on this list to construct the mannerisms and actions of the father-slayer, and his conclusion was perfect (ripped apart by his own ravenous pets). Every time it appeared someone had escaped his clutches or found a way to outsmart him, he’d appear out of shadow with a broad grin and pierce them with an arrow. He just had so much fun killing others. We hated him for it, but also enjoyed every minute of screen time he received. Especially when you compare him to Joffrey.
“I’m going to kill you, Harry Potter. I’m going to destroy you. After tonight, no one will ever again question my power. After tonight if they speak of you, they’ll only speak of how you begged for death. And how I, being a merciful Lord…obliged.”
He who shall not be named. Voldemort is the long-standing enemy of the one and only Harry Potter, and the nose-less wizard is feared by everyone in the wizarding world. Just a mention of his name causes people to lock the doors and hide under the bed. He is the ultimate horror story, intent on ruling with a power that is meant to be used for good. His failed attempt to kill a baby made said baby a legend, so once again it was a villain that created the hero. Children everywhere knew their nightmares to resemble Voldemort. While he had a name and a face provided by Ralph Fiennes, it was the seven books that built his tale in the minds of youth across the world. Due to his impact on younger audiences, it is only fair he ranks in the top 5. Eventually, he is defeated but with J.K Rowling‘s thirst for more, he may arise again to scare a new generation.
“Sauron has become now a sorcerer of dreadful power, master of shadows and of phantoms, foul in wisdom, cruel in strength, misshaping what he touched, twisting what he ruled, lord of werewolves; his dominion was torment.”
Here is the reason for the greatest quest in literature. Despite his lack of actual dialogue or presence in The Lord of the Rings narrative, Sauron is a feared leader that causes Middle Earth to shiver. With the one ring, Sauron rules the world. Without it, he’s a giant eye atop a tower in Mordor awaiting his minions to bring it back to him. But his legion of armies demonstrates his power. The pull of the ring demonstrates his power. He remains as a powerful God-like figure that watches the growth of his empire. How Frodo ever managed to sneak past his gaze and destroy the ring shows the arrogance of Sauron. Even with human armies at his gates, Sauron looked upon the wrong enemy. Before he lost the ring, Sauron was a monster on the battlefield that looked unstoppable. Given his time again, the likes of Aragorn would’ve had no chance. Lucky for that little hobbit and his tubby friend or Sauron would have resembled worldwide domination.
“Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live.”
This place on the list was meant to be reserved for Amon Goeth, the Nazi leader played by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List, but when you really think about it, Hitler stands as the most powerful non-fiction villain ever to exist, especially in regards to Nazi Germany. When you compare Goeth to Hitler, Hitler reigns supreme. His name is synonymous with evil, surpassing the devil as a figure of hate in the world 70 years late and he even still has followers. Responsible for the death of millions, Hitler has been portrayed countless times in television and cinema. While he may be mocked for his short stature, there is no doubting he had a tongue that could lead armies into battle. Hitler is a bad guy if ever there was one. He commanded infiltration, destruction, and mass genocide. His moustache, Nazi symbols, and salute are aspects of his character that live on long after his passing. Whenever you think of a leader who led with an iron fist, it’s this man.
2. Darth Vader
“I am your father.”
Darth Vader is the face of the greatest movie franchise of all time. His character leads the narrative from Episode 1 through to Episode 6, and his memory has a strong influence on the new trilogy. The deep voice that interchanged with heavy breathing added mystery to the villain, before we saw his origin story as the angered and skillful Anakin Skywalker. Vader is powerful, he can choke people with a mere fiddle of the fingers, he has an intimidating aura and few can stand toe-to-toe with the Sith lord without fear. What makes this villain so intriguing is his relationship to the hero. Being the father of Luke Skywalker makes their battles more enriching and enjoyable. Are we really rooting for the hero? Darth Vader eventually turns to the good side once again, defeating the man who turned him bad. But it is the rise and fall (and everything in between) that makes the former Jedi a loved figure in fiction.
1. The Joker
“Oh, yes! Fill the churches with dirty thoughts! Introduce honesty to the White House! Write letters in dead languages to people you’ve never met! Paint filthy words on the foreheads of children! Burn your credit cards and wear high heels! Asylum doors stand open! Fill the suburbs with murder and rape! Divine madness! Let there be ecstasy, ecstasy in the streets! Laugh and the world laughs with you!”
When it comes to villains, The Joker will always be king. From film adaptations to graphic novels, to camp TV shows and iconic video games, The Joker is more loved than any hero despite his madness. As Batman’s arch-nemesis, his character must constantly evolve to combat the ultimate hero. It is truly when a rock meets a hard place. Batman can’t kill The Joker because of a moral code, and The Joker can’t kill Batman because he is too much fun. But what makes The Joker a great villain? Well, first there’s the look; a constant grin that never opens to sadness, a colourful outfit, and childish gestures. There’s the wording; he is smart, he is funny and he knows how to influence others. He is formidable and despite not being a particularly trained fighter, his lack of a plan means he uses any means necessary to get what he wants, which is only anarchy and chaos. Every actor that portrays The Joker knows they must take it up a notch. Every writer who pens an origin story knows to do the same. Ledger, Nicholson, and Hamill added parts of themselves to the role, and we’re about to add Leto to the list. It’s an aspect of fiction everybody knows, and everybody cherishes. Every villain is compared to The Joker, and that just can’t happen unless he’s number one!
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