What’s a story without a good antagonist? Nothing. It’s literally nothing. Even the Teletubbies had antagonistic forces. As I mentioned in a previous post, you have to have a bad guy that our hero is able to take on without it being to over - or under - powered. A delicate balance.
Over the years we have been treated to many brilliant, devious or just outright ridiculous so-called "baddies" in cinema, some of which are liked more than the good guy. In the end, whether it’s death, incarceration, or left to live with a swastika etched into their forehead, most of these characters got what was coming to them. The others, however, still live on through half-assed hollywood reboots and homages in other media.
While I’m sure we have seen the last of some of these characters, and for a good reason, we are sure to see a few of them again in the future. With the amount of franchises being released, and some of the ones on this list already slated to be seen soon, it’s inevitable that we will get to see more of this wretched hive of scum and villainy.
These are the 12 best on screen villains in movie history.
12 Annie Wilkes - Misery
In 1990, we got a film adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery, a novel about a writer, Paul Sheldon, who is taken in by his ‘number one fan’ after a car accident. After finding out that Paul kills off his main character in the latest novel, his ‘caretaker’ Annie is having none of it, and vows to keep him prisoner until he can finish a revised version of the novel. Soon, we learn that Annie isn’t the loving caregiver role she’s playing, but in fact a certified, psycho serial killer. Kathy Bates’ ability to turn from nurturing and loving to downright crazy is incredible and has landed her on multiple best villains list. Including this one.
11 Hans Gruber - Die Hard
Probably the first action movie I saw ‘underage’ was Die Hard. Since then, it has been one of my favourite go-to films on rainy days. Or Christmas. One of the reasons is Alan Rickman’s stellar portrayal of a German thief intent on stealing millions from Nakatomi Plaza and it’s owner, Joseph Takagi, to teach him a lesson about greed. While his intentions may seem noble, he’s no Robin Hood. He kills innocent people, plans to blow up the tower, and leave with his riches. From the moment he kills Takagi, until his iconic descent to the concrete below, Gruber’s intelligence and suave cockiness make him an excellent villain.
10 Judge Doom - Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Also known as Baron Von Rotten (if that doesn’t scream bad guy, I don’t know what does), Judge Doom is the anti-cartoon. This is the man that wanted to wipe away everything we held dear as children - cartoons. There’s not too many crimes worse than that. While it may only be a cartoon genocide, it’s still genocide. After failing to frame Roger Rabbit for the murder of Marvin Acme, the owner of Acme Productions, and being slowly crushed by a steamroller, Judge Doom reveals himself to be a cartoon in one of the most frightening sequences in cinema history - at least for a child. Not only do we see the slow crushing of Doom, but when he re-inflates himself, we see what he really is: a psychotic half-"toon" with minor shape-shifting capabilities. Thankfully, he meets his demise from his own acidic concoction.
9 Hans Landa - Inglourious Basterds
There’s something odd and wonderful about someone who can make a Nazi somewhat likable. Given he is known as ‘The Jew Hunter’ and didn’t really do anything anyone should be proud of, somehow his mannerisms and personality make him a decent person to be around - unless of course you are Jewish. He appears intelligent, witty, and fairly level headed, despite his beliefs. Tarantino has a knack for making his antagonists relate-able, and Hans Landa is no exception. By the end, we see that while he may still be a bigot, he understands that it’s a fight he cannot win. He essentially surrenders under certain circumstances, including have a swastika engraved to his forehead for all to see. Good luck getting a job anywhere with that.
8 Immortan Joe - Mad Max: Fury Road
Max Rockatansky has faced off against a few warlords in his day, but none were more intimidating or fierce than Immortan Joe. After one of his trusted Imperators steals his brides in order to free them of his tyranny, he himself leads the hunt to retrieve them. It’s rare these days to find a bad guy that has an army at his bidding, yet still manages to get out on the front lines. He could have stayed in his cozy hideout, but instead got front row seat to see his ‘belongings’ brought back to him. Sure, Toecutter, Humungus and Aunty Entity squared off against Max, but Joe is the only one hellbent on his (and Furiosa’s) demise from the get go. No deals, no thunder domes, just straight, unabashed murder. That’s what makes him so badass. And that voice.
7 Roy Batty - Blade Runner
All he wanted was to live. Unfortunately, when you are only programmed to live for four years, that could be problematic. Some debate that Roy isn’t necessarily the bad guy, that Deckard, in fact, is the antagonist. Rutger Hauer points out in an interview from ’82, that from Batty’s point of view, they are simply seeking their creator to confront him and fix the mess he started. If he can’t? Well, then it’s his turn to die. Which makes sense. See, if Replicants are programmed to perform tasks, and not able to think independently, then how can they be persecuted for such crimes? Is it not up to the creator to tell what’s right from wrong? And if he is proven wrong, would he not deserve the fate that was dealt to the Replicants? It’s a beautiful piece of cinema, and one that makes you think, who’s the real bad guy?
6 Leatherface - Texas Chainsaw Massacre
This chainsaw-wielding cannibal from Texas first kept us awake at night in 1974’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It changed what we could get away with in horror, with more gore than most had seen at that time. Before that, all we had was Night of the Living Dead. Although he seems to take orders from his equally sadistic family, Leatherface is the one who does the most damage - as well as the only one to appear in every film in the Chainsaw franchise. While there have been parts of the series that seem laughable or phoned in, there’s no denying that Leatherface is a force to be reckoned with. Plus, the fact that these are just humans with a deformed moral compass adds to their vileness.
5 Alien - Alien
Imagine yourself hunted by the pinnacle of hunters. It can sense you, it’s faster than you, and once you see it, you’re already dead. Now imagine that, but on a confined space ship with no escape. Well, that’s something the Alien's protagonist has had to deal with multiple times, and has somehow managed to escape with her life every time. Now, I know that there isn’t just one alien. It’s an entire species of lethal Xenomorphs, capable of wiping out an entire species in a matter of days. It’s that very fact that makes it so terrifying. Even after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, the human race has nothing on the Xeno’s. Face it, if we were to go to war against them, we would need some serious backup.
4 Freddy Kruger - Nightmare On Elm Street
It’s bad enough waking up from a nightmare dousing in cold sweat. It’s worse when that sweat is mixed with blood and guts that should be left inside your body. When Wes Craven brought Freddy to the big screen, it had people staying up late and sleeping with the light on for weeks. Sleep is supposed to be peaceful and relaxing, a time to let everything go and drift off into a fantasy of your liking. Not only that, it’s pretty much necessary to survive. Lack of sleep can lead to serious mental and physical trauma. Which is why a being that can kill you in your dreams gets at us. We have no defense, unless you’re a pro at lucid dreaming.
3 T-1000 - Terminator 2: Judgement Day
While Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first one to play a relentless robot hellbent on eliminating Sarah Connor to prevent the future human revolution, Robert Patrick’s emotionless murder bot in Terminator 2 is not only more bad ass, but has a far more devious goal - he has to kill a kid. Killing anyone is wrong, regardless of gender, but killing children amps up the evil factor. He can shape shift to appear like anyone he wants, as well as emulate their voice. His arms can become razor sharp blades or blunt hammers. He can even repair himself after being shattered into thousands of pieces. Sure the T-800 was built to kill, but the T-1000 was built to destroy.
2 Darth Vader - Star Wars
Forgetting about the lackluster reaction to finding out he has accidentally killed his one true love, Darth Vader had everyone’s palms sweaty whenever he appeared on screen. His dominance of the Dark Side of the force, plus his no malarkey attitude made for an excellent battle between good and bad. He is also responsible for one of the biggest twists in cinematic history, although some would have seen it coming knowing ‘Vader’ means Father in German. While he does realize the error of his ways and ends up killing his own Master, it took him years and 3 movies to do so. He even killed his previous mentor in the process.
1 Amon Goeth - Schindler’s List
There are many reasons why this guy is the best movie villain, but the main, and worst part about it, was that he was a real human. Amon Goeth was the commandant of the Płaszów WWII concentration camp, and did unspeakable things. Thankfully he didn’t get away with it, as he was found guilty of his war crimes and hung to death not far from the site of his atrocious acts. It’s just unfortunate that it had to come to that at all. However, what makes him a great cinematic villain, is that Ralph Fiennes actually managed to show his human side. There is a scene where Fiennes’ Goeth is talking with Schindler about his everyday affairs, and somehow makes it relate-able to us dealing with our own everyday lives. However, that commonality shared by both Fienne' character and the audience ceases when you realize the monster he really was.