A great villain is not only determined by how much we despise them, but how much we endure their madness and sometimes even relate to them. A great villain has the ability to make your skin crawl as well as make you smile as if you too were turning to the dark side. Not that all villains have to be metaphors of our deepest, darkest untapped psychosis, but they leave an impact whether you liked it or not.
On this list, my villains will not have to fall under the category of being one type of villain. Just as long as they are truly the villain of the story itself they count. Don’t worry, you won’t be seeing many natural disasters or animals on this list because nature is doing what it needs to in order to survive and keep the balance of earth steady.
For the list, I made sure not to simply add the most iconic villains, but a plethora of movie bad guys and gals that personify what a villain should be. That does not discount the great villains most of us know nor does it make them undeserving of their titles.
- They have to be the antagonists of the story, not protagonists who go bad (sorry Daniel Plainview)
- They are not limited to certain movie genres
- They had to be in the movie more than ten minutes to really count
10. Lil’ Ze (City of God, 2002): There are countless forms of villainy in film and history, but it’s the men and women that seem to be evil for no good reason except because they revel in the shedding of other’s blood, and there isn’t quite a personification of pure evil like Lil Ze. It’s like he was touched by the devil as a child, dawning a handgun in the Rio de Jenioro slums mercilessly slaughtering whomever he wished. Not only does it make him terrifying, but it creates one of cinemas best villains.
9. Calvin Candie (Django Unchained, 2012): This movie was chalk full of villains and hateable characters from every racist slave trading prick to the endlessly unlikable Samuel L. Jackson character of Steven, but it’s the charismatic slave owner brought to life by Leonardo DiCaprio in all his smooth talking, tension inducing ways. He not only has a sick charm you can’t help but like, but there is that time bomb waiting to explode in his characteristics you are afraid to light a match towards and that is why he is number nine.
8. Max Cady (Cape Fear, 1962/1991): Rapists might be the worst kind of villains simply because they are infinitely unlikable. They strike fear in us because they do the most heinous of crimes, but couple that with the desire of revenge, stalking, and unrelenting determination to make your life a living hell, then you are in for one of the most fear inducing villains of all time. Cape Fear was originally released in 1962, but it was given the Scorsese treatment back in 1991 with Robert DeNiro in the villainous role as Cady, and the creep factor held up giving the title it’s signature emotion.
7. Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975): You love to hate her and you want nothing more than for her to be rung by her neck. The emotionless way she goes about her sick and twisted tasks of making zombies out her patients and denying them the reality they seek, she shatters hopes and dreams, and does nothing to make you like her which are all marks of a great movie villain. What’s worse is that she more or less wins.
6. The Joker (Batman franchises): Possibly the most famous of all pop culture villains that aren’t named Darth Vader or the Wicked Witch of the West, the Joker has become synonymous with Heath Ledger since he came onto the screen in 2008’s The Dark Knight, but with his other famed incarnation done by the great Jack Nicholson will go down in history as possibly the most likable bad guy around. The chaos that has no means to an end and no end with meaning, the Joker mirrors one of greatest heroes in a way we can’t help, but see in ourselves, chaos.
5. Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Gangs of New York, 2002): Even though Daniel Day-Lewis brought us another iconic baddy to the big screen in Daniel Plainview, it was his always blood thirsty Bill Cutting who won out the spot on the list. His intellect and talents with knifes make him the ruthless and greasy haired antagonist to DiCaprio’s Amsterdam. Any character that is crazy enough to cut their own eye out for the sake of honor and respect is not someone I want to mess with. The often tempered morality and wisdom of The Butcher is what makes him so enticing to viewers and his eloquently delivered monologues on just chopping meat is worth your attention.
4. TIE: Amon Goeth & Hans Landa (Schindler’s List & Inglourious Basterds, 1994 & 2009): It doesn’t get much worse than Nazis. They always tend to make infamously great villains in films because they were all too real back in World War II under one of the most evil men to ever live in Adolf Hitler. What these two men have is a demeanor that reveals a casual brutality to what they do. Aiming their guns at Jews with smiles on their faces and playing mind games like trained psychos, they don’t ever regret what they do or do what they regret, they just…do.
3. Sauron (Lord of the Rings, 2001-03): An insidious being with ability to control people through one small gold piece of jewelry, sounds pretty bad to me. With his crimson and orange flamed all seeing eye, Sauron controls a whole sector of Middle Earth and treats it like a scar full of demon like slave creatures as his eye sees all that his armies do and those who oppose him. For centuries, he poisoned the minds of anyone who faced him or who possessed his ring of power. People underestimate the villainy of Sauron, but he is one of the characters that once thought about, is deserving of a top tier villain position on your lists.
2. John Doe (Se7en, 1995): Those who take the word of the bible to murderous extremes are commonplace in our world and they feel they are doing right in “acting upon the Lord’s will”, but in reality they are usually just those who are too blind to see what they are doing wrong. Villains that don’t feel they are doing wrong bring a conflict of interest to the audience because they tend to argue valid points towards their action as they target some of the most imperfect people, but when they get someone closest to you or the main character, that conflict of interest disappears. John Doe, is not only a brilliantly planned out character, but one who does not care about what happens to him, but also has a thin moral code.
1. Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men, 2007): Your life can be decided on the heads or tales nature of a coin toss, literally and figuratively, but it’s scariest when a man comes up to you unflinchingly with a weird haircut. Javier Bardem gives a bone chilling performance as the stone faced killer Anton Chigurh armed with a cattle gun and bad intentions, it’s hard to not be taken in by the sadistic, but calming nature of Javier Bardem’s villain portraying in which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting-actor. It’s a character that you are scared and unsettled by who takes away the worry for the main characters.