All Top 20 Villains
20. Michael Myers
Halloween series (1978-2018)
The shape. The silent killer. The psychopath with some serious family issues. It’s to co-writer/director John Carpenter’s credit that he turned an old William Shatner mask and some decidedly non-threatening attire into one of the most iconic killer characters in cinema history for the original Halloween. Michael is one of those who doesn’t need much in the way of personality or a massive backstory – we’re looking at you, Rob Zombie – to be effective as a threat. Like so many of his horror contemporaries, his impact has been diluted through the years, but in his original form, he can still strike terror into the hardest heart.
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Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
When looking for something to present a challenge to the hulking cyborg form of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original flavour Terminator, James Cameron conceived of something more complicated, even more driven and able to turn itself into almost anyone or anything, some laws of physics be . Robert Patrick was the man chosen to play the cunning metal killer, and left an impact that helped push Terminator 2 beyond the original in terms of popularity. Schwarzenegger’s version might be famous for never stopping, but with Patrick’s slinky shape-changer, you might never see him coming until it’s too late. Sorry, Wolfie.
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18. Freddy Krueger
The Nightmare On Elm Street series (1984-2010)
“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you… Three, four, better lock your door…” With his crispy complexion and deadly digits, A Nightmare On Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger was a chillingly effective bogeyman. But it wasn’t until dappy 1985 sequel Freddy’s Revenge that the killer began to really take shape. While still carving up teenagers in their pyjamas, Freddy (Robert Englund) developed a sense of humour, one that grew ever more demented. Freddy evolved into a loveable genre mascot, but losing his edge never dulled his appeal.
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17. Agent Smith
The Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003)
With that permanently down-turned mouth and magnificently furrowed brow, Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith is a remorseless enforcer whose remit is simply to maintain cold, hard order. Of course, he’s just an AI program in a virtual reality designed to keep humanity comatose. Technically, he shouldn’t even despise us, but clearly his files are corrupted, as that wonderful “I hate this place” speech to Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) reveals. That’s the key to Smith’s effectiveness as a baddie: he’s not just the epitome of an oppressive-regime stooge, but one who hates his job.
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16. Norman Bates
The man behind the woman behind the knife in cinema’s greatest shower scene (so great, it’s simply known as The Shower Scene) is no mere ‘villain’. He is the first of his cinematic kind: a movie monster who is one-hundred percent human. Not some fanged phantom or hairy bloke-beast, but a guy who could be standing next to you right now. Someone you’d never suspect of wanting to harm even a fly. Now, of course, our big screens are chock-a with serial killers, so it’s hard to imagine just how shocking and terrifying mother-possessed motelier Norman Bates was to 1960 audiences (or how much a kick Alfred Hitchcock got out of being behind the shocking), but it’s fair to say he truly redefined horror.
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The Star Wars Saga (1983-2005)
When we first encountered him in the flesh, we knew him simply as The Emperor: Return Of The Jedi’s porridge-faced, croaky-voiced overlord, who arrived draped in a heavy robe as black as his soul. Though played with grimacing relish by Scottish character actor Ian McDiarmid, Darth Vader’s less-forgiving boss was hardly three-dimensional. But with the prequel trilogy, we got to know Sheev Palpatine, the man behind the Sith Lord, and appreciate what a slick and sneaky political manipulator he was. Though the films are flawed, you can’t deny they make Palpatine a more compelling and disturbingly realistic creation.
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14. The Sheriff of Nottingham
Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991)
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Alan Rickman is the only actor to make it onto this Greatest Villains list twice — he does bad deeds with such gusto. Legend has it he kept refusing the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham until it was agreed he could do whatever he liked with it — which, to Kevin Costner’s rumoured chagrin, included stealing the whole show. Every sneer, every eye-roll, every flourish of splenetic exasperation is a joy to behold. Whether he’s cancelling Christmas or cutting your heart out with a spoon, Rickman’s crowd-pleasing pantomime villainy is downright heroic.
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13. Nurse Ratched
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
The coldest of hearts, the sternest of looks, the reddest of tapes. Nurse Mildred Ratched is more than merely the head of administration at a psychiatric hospital. In Louise Fletcher’s Oscar-winning turn, she rules the ward with a quietly terrifying iron fist, serving passive-aggressive put-downs to break the spirits of the mentally ill, efficiently and effectively. It’s little wonder that über-producer Ryan Murphy last year looked beyond Jack Nicholson’s protagonist McMurphy in granting Ratched her own spin-off Netflix origin series. As McMurphy himself puts it: “She’s somethin’ of a , ain’t she, Doc?”
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The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy (2001 – 2014)
“A great eye, lidless, wreathed in flame.” This description of the Dark Lord of Mordor is all well and good on paper, but how the do you make a massive fiery peeper remotely sinister on screen? Somehow, Peter Jackson and the Lord Of The Rings team pulled it off. It helped that the prologue shows us Sauron as an enormous, mace-wielding maniac, capable of twatting entire battalions with a single . But even when he loses his corporeal form he’s the stuff of nightmares, flashing into Frodo’s mind whenever he touches the Ring and scouring the land around him like a very angry person looking for a contacts lens.
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The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the Hobbit trilogy (2001 – 2014)
While Sauron is seen as the main villain of the Middle-earth movies, and Gollum can be viewed as a much more sympathetic character (especially as brought to life by Andy Serkis), there’s something to be said for his relatively normal origins that gives Gollum the edge. Sauron, after all was evil to begin with, whereas Gollum became twisted by the power of the One Ring and became something almost more dangerous… something your pity could lower your guard down around. From the moment he comes into contact with the Ring, his mind is shattered and his initial impulse is . Go ahead and feel as sorry for him as you please… Just don’t ever, ever trust him.
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10. The Alien
The Alien series (1979-2017)
When Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett wrote their treatment for Star Beast back in the mid-’70s, they can have had little idea they were creating one of the most enduring monsters in cinema. Delivered by Ridley Scott, nurtured by James Cameron and subsequently used (and abused) by countless films, comics and games over the decades, the Alien is most effectively summed up by Ian Holm’s Ash: “The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility… A survivor; unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”
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The Harry Potter series (2001-2011)
Some say Voldemort’s name was inspired by decaying Edgar Allan Poe character M. Valdemar. In reality, though, it was J.K. Rowling’s love of French that resulted in the moniker, meaning “flight of death”. “I needed a name that evokes both power and exoticism,” she said in 2009. Those two words sum up the Death Eater Supreme nicely. Exotic, because he’s a chilling mix of man and snake, slit-nosed and cold-blooded. Powerful, because his command of dark magic is so complete he can fly without a broomstick. You sense his presence in every shadow on screen. Whatever his name means, there’s a reason no-one dares say it.
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8. Anton Chigurh
No Country For Old Men (2007)
When Javier Bardem accepted his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2018, he thanked the Coen brothers, specifically for putting “one of the most horrible haircuts in history on my head”. No Country For Old Menwouldn’t be the last time Bardem would blend bad barnets and extreme villainy (Skyfall, Pirates 6), but he’s never topped the tired-eyed malevolence of Anton Chigurh, the cartel hitman who uses a bolt pistol to execute his victims as if they were cattle, and takes or spares lives at the whim of a coin toss. It’s a truly marrow-chilling, human-yet-inhuman turn.
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7. Kylo Ren
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Appearing in a film series that also contains the likes of Palpatine and especially Darth Vader is enough to give anyone performance anxiety issues. But Kylo Ren, so well played by Adam Driver, has become so much more complicated than his initial, mocked emo baddie stance might have suggested. In just two short films, he’s evolved into a driven, deadly character who knows his path and will do anything to achieve victory. Sure, Vader blew up planets, choked the living snot out of enemies and struck down Obi-Wan, but Kylo “Ben Solo” Ren murdered his own dad in cold blood.
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6. Hans Landa
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
On-screen Nazis tend to be cut from a particular Wehrmacht cloth: psychotic (Schindler’s List), deformed (Raiders Of The Lost Ark), cartoonish (The Great Dictator), or all of the above (Captain America: The First Avenger). But SS Colonel Hans Landa was entirely different: verbose; culturally high-minded; multilingual; unrepentant in his love of strudel. He’s a psychopath, certainly, but also disarmingly charming, which makes it all far more disturbing. He finds the ideal (and Oscar-winning) vessel in Christoph Waltz, whose fizzy ebullience and intellect make him ideal to speak Tarantino dialogue.
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5. Hannibal Lecter
The Silence Of The Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2000) and Red Dragon (2002)
Both Brian Cox and Mads Mikkelsen have put memorable spins on Robert Harris’ murderous gastronome, but Anthony Hopkins made Hannibal a legend. Most great villains are defined by their actions, but Hopkins’ stillness is what’s so unsettling. Staring at Jodie Foster’s Starling through toughened glass, he peels away her layers with softly spoken words. Lecter’s horrific acts are more implied than shown, but his tongue proves as violent as blade or bullet. Somewhat diluted by Ridley Scott’s Hannibal and Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, Lecter still remains a captivating foe.
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4. Hans Gruber
Die Hard (1988)
“I’m going to count to three. There will not be a four.” Possibly the most perfect combination of voice and face put to screen for a villain, Alan Rickman brought something so very special to Hans Gruber. A cultured, conniving villain who could improvise and change the situation even when his original plan was compromised by a pesky, barefoot NYPD cop (Bruce Willis’ John McClane), Gruber sears himself into cine-history. It doesn’t hurt that he was given some truly memorable dialogue by writers Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza. His delivery is precise, belaying his theatrical training, and just gives more weight to everything Hans says. And all great villains need a noble defeat; few get to fall the way Gruber goes.
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The Thor films (2011-2017), The Avengers (2012)
Even in the MCU, a place overflowing with memorable, witty heroes, there’s a chance for a villain to make more of an impact. So it was with Tom Hiddleston’s bitter, scheming adopted child of Asgard; Odinson by accident instead of birth. He was great in the original Thor, brightened up moments of The Dark World no end, but truly shined in the hands of Joss Whedon for Avengers Assemble. Both Hiddleston and Loki’s cinematic creators understood the power of the classic scheming “British” – he’s from another realm, don’t forget – villain and with Whedon he got to shine comedically as well. The punchlines worked, his comeuppance (“puny god”) was fun and he comes bearing a proper backstory and character arc that stayed entertaining even in the joke-packed Thor: Ragnarok.
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2. The Joker
Batman (1966), Batman (1989), The Dark Knight (2008)
From his comicbook roots as a maniac, through the campy incarnation brought to movie and TV screens by Cesar Romero, The Joker was always a figure of fun (shout out also to Mark Hamill’s cartoon take). Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson found some darker shades in the 1989 big-screen re-invention, but it’s not hard to argue that Chris Nolan and Heath Ledger found the perfect form for the character when he entered the more grounded film universe in The Dark Knight in 2008. Ledger’s Joker is a thing of beauty, a man who will do anything to achieve his aims and, to paraphrase the words of Michael Caine’s Alfred, just wants to watch the world burn.
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1. Darth Vader
The Star Wars trilogy (1977-1983) Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge Of The Sith (2005), Rogue One (2016)
And so we come to the villain you voted as the best of all time. Darth Vader often appears at the top of these lists, as the character has had more of a lasting impact than the blast that took out Alderaan. Sure, the revelations of his younger years might not have helped the mythos, but it didn’t hurt it either. A blend of tragic figure and evil presence, Vader’s story takes all the great twists and turns, even ending in redemption with the help of Mark Hamill’s Luke. With the looming presence of David Prowse and the booming voice of James Earl Jones, the big V stalks across the screen and inspires awe in every scene. He also wears a mean cape, which not many men can pull off.