15 Most Memorable Movie Villains
There is a saying that a movie is only as good as it’s villain and while there are many heroes that endear themselves to people and into pop-culture, it’s definitely the villain that we all secretly root for. While antagonists have existed as long as protagonists have, there are really multiple kinds of bad guys; you have those that range froms psychopaths to sociopaths, to others that represent authority, and those that represent chaos. So, without further ado we here at BabbleTop will delve through the who’s who of Hollywood bad guys to find the Top 15 bad guys in movie history!
15. Loki – The Marvel Cinematic Universe
There’s one major thing that people point to when they’re asked to find a flaw in the essentially flawless Marvel Cinematic Universe films, well two. The first is that the film scores often leave a lot to be desired (especially when compared to the amazing Hans Zimmer scores from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy), and the other is the lack of compelling villains in their films. Now, MCU mastermind Kevin Feige has addressed this by saying that they’ve made a conscious choice to focus more on their heroes than their villains and while there is a trade-off to be made in a two hour film (in regards to which scenes make it and which don’t), there is a way to highlight both. Case in point? Loki, of Asgard. Introduced in Thor’s first film, titled Thor, Loki is the son of the Frost Giant king Laufey who was raised (by Odin) to believe that he was both an Asgardian and essentially Thor’s twin brother. When he finds out his true ancestry he essentially goes insane and while he is the descendent of a Frost Giant who can live thousands of years, it really makes you relate to his character. He then popped up in the first Avengers film and because of his role in that blockbuster he’ll always be remembered as one of the best villains in movie history. Actor Tom Hiddleston actually auditioned to play Thor and you can see his screen test on YouTube, but he clearly makes a better Loki and hopefully his career playing the conniving brother of Thor will last as long as his life span in the movies.
14. John Doe – Se7en
The only member of this list without a name, John Doe from the film Se7en ends up dead at the end of the movie and because of that he ends up winning, which makes him one of the only successful villains on this list as well. Seven is an extremely hard film to watch and while he only really shows up at the end of his movie, his plan clearly is what moves the movie from scene to scene. When he does show up, covered in what we learn is the blood of Brad Pitt’s character’s wife (who was pregnant at the time), it was meant to be jarring. Because of that that, Kevin Spacey wasn’t shown in any press for the movie. The “What’s in the Box?” scene was an instant classic and while he does end up shot in the face, he got what he wanted and ended up with a perfect seven on seven in the deadly sins category. Seven often leads the list of films that people can only watch once and it’s Kevin Spacey’s super creepy take as John Doe that helps bring the movie from good to great.
13. Nurse Rached – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Nurse Rached is a different kind of villain and that really helps her case here. Some villains are masochists, some are psychopaths and some are just the representation of authoritarian evil: a sort of benign evil that can permeate a society or institution. That is who she is in this classic film about a Mental Institution and it’s patients and the head nurse. Like John Doe before her, essentially Nurse Rached ends up winning against Jack Nicholson’s character as he ends up with a full frontal lobotomy after spending most of the film bumping heads with her in an attempt to make the lives of himself and his fellow patients better. The ending is utterly heartbreaking as he’s left as essentially a mental infant, which is made all the worse by the fact that he was essentially a con-man who lied his way into that institution to avoid doing hard time in prison. That and the the fact that there were thousands of people that ended up getting that same operation in real life. The movie essentially shows how hard it can be to win against ingrained or institutionalized evil. And, while the giant, mute Native American (referred to as “Chief” in the film) “saves” Nicholson’s character, Randle McMurphy, by smothering him to death and escapes by lifting the water fountain and using it to break through a window, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s won. Because, really, in a world of Nurse Rached’s, there were no winners as I’m sure “Chief Bromden” would have been picked up, returned to the institution and lobotomized himself after an hour or so, regardless as to whether or not he was pinned for McMurphy’s death.
12. Hans Landa – Inglorious Bastards
Hans Landa represents the type of villain that is a master manipulator. A sociopath that understands human emotion but just chooses not to feel it. It’s that lack of human emotion that makes him so great at his job as a Nazi officer, who essentially hunts down Jews during this fictitious take on World War II. There’s a theory out there that there are an infinite amount of universes, in which every possible scenario has happened, is happening and will happen. So one likes to think that the scene in the movie theater where some of the Inglorious Bastards open fire on Hitler and his associates, turning their faces into mush with shot after shot, actually took place somewhere out in the cosmos. However, it was Landa who ended up negotiating his way into a posh life in the United States by turning on the Nazis, as he was every bit an opportunist who always found a way to survive and it’s that nature that makes him such a hated person and a top movie villain. His only real belief is that he should be alive and in charge of whatever reality he now “believes” in. Luckily for us, at the end it looks like that reality will require a lot of hats and/or bangs.
11. The Wicked Witch of the West – Wizard of Oz
The most classic villain on this list, the Wicked Witch of the West, is the nightmare fuel of many a small child and has been since the late 1930’s when The Wizard of Oz was released. In that film, she’s a pretty cut and dry villain; one who is evil for the sake of being evil. Actually, if there was just that film, she wouldn’t have made our list. However, a prequel to The Wizard of Oz was released this decade and it showed her life before becoming the Wicked Witch and it shed a much more sympathetic light on the character. Not only was she screwed over by the Wizard of Oz himself, who used her like he did with so many before her, but she was also taken advantage of by her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East who died when Dorothy’s house fell on her. So, it’s those combined films that make you actually feel bad for someone who ends up showing you why she would hate people at that point in her life. And water. Which begs the question: why did she keep water around her castle if it could kill her? But, that’s a question for a different list!
10. Sauron – The Lord of the Ring Films
Sauron is the evil eye from the Lord of the Rings books and films, that essentially creates all of the evil in the world and thus IS evil. The story behind the Lord of the Rings is actually really very complex and thanks to books like The Simallarion, you get to read more about author JRR Tolkien’s universe and the history behind it. In it, it’s explained that Sauron was actually the lesser of the two most powerful and evil entities, the other being Morgoth. You’d have to know a lot about that world to understand Morgoth’s story but in the film’s it’s his mentee, Sauron, who is so powerful that he is able to exist as a giant flaming eye, and create countless orcs out of the mud and muck and also forge rings that essentially end up controlling all of the men, elves and dwarven kingdoms. While he’s only briefly shown in his physical form, his gigantic flaming eye is extremely creepy and his plan was actually pretty ingenious. It’s because of that that he makes this list (beyond the fact that again, he embodies evil as a construct which makes him probably the most powerful villain on this list as well).
9. Michael Myers – The Halloween Films
It was a lot harder than you may think having to choose between the late 70’s through mid-80’s slasher villains like Michael Myers, Jason and Freddie Kruger. Michael Myers ends up taking the cake because the Halloween films were the scariest and they also avoided the campiness that The Nightmare on Elm Street and Jason movies utilized. On top of that, we get to see more of his life story than the other slashers, which makes him a more developed, well rounded and interesting villain. From his first kill as a small child on Halloween until his final appearance, his main goal was to essentially murder his family. And, while he ended up getting pretty supernatural powers, the scariest thing about him initially was that he was just a regular guy, in a William Shatner mask (look it up!) that hated life so much that he wanted to punish the people that gave it to him.
8. Terminator(s) – The Terminator Film
There have been a handful of terminators at this point but the original two take the cake as they represent an unstoppable killing machine like Michael Myers above, but with the ability to eventually stamp out all of man-kind (or almost all of it, anyway). They represent the fear of technology and what it means to be human in a world full of machines; that storyline gets more and more relevant each year. The Terminator films are some of the most iconic in Hollywood history and the first two movies especially were instant classics. What makes them so interesting is that they took the villain from the first film and turned him into one of the good guys in the second film. While that trope has been copied multiple times since it was a really interesting take at the time, it ended up creating one of the best movies of the 90’s in Terminator 2 where it pitted Arnold’s T-800 against the liquid metal T-1000, easily one of the most iconic villains ever. Seeing two robots square off against one another in a film that was actually really good and emotional, shows what a great director James Cameron is. You’d be lying if you said that the thumbs up scene at the end didn’t get you all misty eyed. I mean, if the guy can make you cry over a killer robot taking it’s own life, then you know it’s good stuff.
Originally Magneto was slotted at this spot but he’s more of an anti-hero than a villain, especially when it comes to some of the more recent X-Men releases. Instead we slotted in the reason that many a child refused to step into the ocean or even lakes in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Jaws. There are many villains on this list that are framed as unstoppable killing machines and Jaws is probably the best version of that, as he’s really only visible for a handful of minutes in the first film; it’s what you can’t or don’t see that makes him so terrifying. This movie was so scary and so impactful that scientists have said that it essentially devastated sharks as a species, as people have limited sympathy for a gigantic fish that can eat through an entire boat (which they can’t do in real life, unless you’re a big canoe fan). This is the movie that created the summer blockbuster and Steven Spielberg, and it’s because of the Shark (and the great acting, directing, music, etc.), that this author will never, ever step foot in the ocean. Ever.
6. Agent Smith – The Matrix Trilogy
Agent Smith, despite only having one good movie out of three attempts, is thought of as one of the most iconic “new” villains. Played expertly by Hugo Weaving (who also played a great Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger), Agent Smith was essentially, at least originally, the head agent or representation of the Matrix in the first Matrix movie. But thanks to the fact that Neo essentially broke his brain/changed his code by flying into/through him at the end of that film, he essentially lost his marbles and ended up as a virus that was taking down the Matrix from the inside. It’s Weaving’s portrayal of Smith, which could easily borderline on absurd in the hands of a lesser actor that makes these films so great (that and the mind bending fight choreography). And, while he may be the least relatable villain on this list (outside of the shark), he’s just so darn good at being bad that you end up looking forward to seeing him on screen more than anyone else. Sorry, Keanu.
5. Hans Gruber – Die Hard
Speaking of amazing villains who chew the scenary, the late, great, Alan Rickman could’ve been on this list more than once if not for the amazing twist at the end of the Harry Potter books (“Always” will Always make us at BabbleTop cry!). The Die Hard films have really gotten away from what made them great in the first place, and that’s best represented by Rickman’s Hans Gruber: the brilliant mastermind of a heist at the Nakatomi Builiding who framed it as a socio-political move (but in reality was just after some insured bank bonds). He plays the role as such a cool, smarter-than-everyone in the room sort of way. It’s because of that that he makes the perfect foe for Bruce Willis’ blue-collar bad-ass, John McClane. It’s not a coincidence that the two best films in this series involve Gruber, as the third film focuses on his brother, who is back for revenge and… More money. It’s a testament to Rickman’s work that they went that route and he will forever be missed… Always.
4. Hannibal Lecter – The Silence of the Lambs films
Few villains are compelling enough to launch multiple other films and a television show named after that villain himself. Hannibal Lecter is and has been both the name of a film and television show titled Hannibal, and there is also the film Hannibal Rising. Hannibal the Cannibal is so compelling that it won Sir Anthony Hopkins the Oscar despite the fact that he was in The Silence of the Lambs for less than 20 minutes. He’s so good, in fact, that even lesser films like Red Dragon look like masterpieces when he’s on screen. He’s also, thanks to his popularity, probably the villain that we know the most about (perhaps outside of Darth Vader) because of the films and television shows that show where his love for human meat and hatred of imperfection come from (he famously fed the rest of the Baltimore Philharmonic the flautist from their “band” because he didn’t live up to his high standards, for example). It’s that high-class psychopathy that makes Hannibal one of the greatest villains of all time, as does his background in psychotherapy which allows him to help the police catch other psychopaths while also giving him an extremely creepy ability to get into the minds of those around him.
3. Voldemort – The Harry Potter Films
Speaking of villains we know a lot about, Lord Voldemort, aka He Who Shall Not be Named and Tom Riddle, was a half-blood wizard from the Harry Potter universe who went on to be the most powerful dark wizard of all-time. He was also thought to be the last heir of Salazar Slytherin until the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child updated his story to include a child that he apparently had with one of his followers, Bellatrix LeStrange. In the books and films, Voldemort is unable to feel or understand love and it’s because of that that he is so evil and it’s really not his fault as his mother tricked a rich Muggle into loving her and conceiving him with her by giving him a love potion. It’s his lack of understanding of love that ends up being his downfall multiple times: first when he attacks the baby Harry Potter who is under the protection of his mothers sacrificial love spell and later when he doesn’t understand that one of his followers would lie to him because of her love for her own son in Narcissa Malfoy. While he is evil for the sake of being evil, or at least checks those boxes, he’s a much more interesting character than that and unlike many on this list actually has the power to take over the fictitious world he inhabits. It’s that power mixed with his sad state of being that makes him extremely compelling and thus a top three villain of all time.
2. Darth Vader/The Emperor – The Star Wars Saga
Another villain who has the power to take over the world they inhabit, the villains of the original Star Wars trilogy (and even prequel trilogy) actually end up taking over their world or in their case, Galaxy. Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are both top ten villains in their own right so lumping them together gets them to the near top of this list. Vader’s story is a sad one, as he was lead down a dark path by the emotionally manipulative Palpatine who exploited Vader’s/Anakin Skywalker’s fear of death to essentially get him to murder most of the Jedi Order (including younglings) in the hopes that Palpatine would be able to save the love of his life (who he foresaw would die in childbirth). While she did end up dying in childbirth it was mostly Vader’s fault and after his defeat at the hands of Obi Wan Kenobi, he was essentially pure evil from that point forward, at least on film. There have been some scenes on the very excellent Star Wars Rebels cartoon that have shown how he has struggled with his new life as a Sith Lord, and it’s those small moments that make him such a compelling villain and tragic story. He did eventually bring balance to the force by murdering the Emperor to save his son, so the prophecy was true after all, even though… By killing the Emperor and himself by proxy, wouldn’t that put the force out of balance by removing the counter-weight to Luke and Leia’s white light?
1. The Joker – The Dark Knight/Batman (1991)
The Joker ends up as the top movie villain of all time thanks to two amazing performances from Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger that were so good that they couldn’t be ruined even by Jared Leto’s take on the character in 2016’s Suicide Squad. Nicholson’s take on the character was good enough to get him in the Top 3 of this list, but it was overtaken by Heath Ledger’s turn in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Despite the fact that the Hollywood Academy voters typically shun comic book movies, or especially did back in 2008, Ledger’s performance was so brilliant that they ended up awarding him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year. Some say that it was because he died before the film was released, but really he would’ve won regardless as it’s almost impossible to recognize the Australian actor (and the paint on his face is the least of the reasons why). He completely loses himself in the part and you find yourself rooting for him as he attempts to bring Gotham down to his and Batman’s level. In the end, despite the fact that his stunt with the two boats didn’t work he does end up winning as Harvey Dent transforms into Two Face.The combination of a once in a lifetime performance with a plan that works so well that you laugh even harder than you otherwise would when he tells Dent in the hospital “Do I look like a guy with a plan?” that gives him the top spot on this list. He’s the personification of chaos and it’s all of those factors that make him the best villain of any film in Hollywood history.
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