The 50 best movie villains of all time

Go to the dark side with our ranked list of evildoers.

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  • Movie villains: Max Cady, Cape Fear (1991)

  • Movie villains: "Angel Eyes," The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

  • Movie villains: Hans Gruber, Die Hard (1988)

  • Movie villains: Little Bill Daggett, Unforgiven (1992)

  • Movie villains: Antonio Salieri, Amadeus (1984)

  • Movie villains: Phyllis Dietrichson, Double Indemnity (1944)

  • Movie villains: Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, Full Metal Jacket (1987)

  • Movie villains: Gollum, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–03)

  • Movie villains: Don Logan, Sexy Beast (2000)

  • Movie villains: Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest (1981)

Movie villains: Max Cady, Cape Fear (1991)

30
MAX CADY, CAPE FEAR (1991)

Max Cady, Cape Fear (1991)

Vengeance is mine, sayeth Robert De Niro's singleminded ex-con, and when it comes to collecting on that debt, this tattooed devil won't be denied. The violence he's capable of is shocking enough (that cheek bite!), but it's Cady's ability to inflict pain in subtler ways—like using young Juliette Lewis's loneliness as a seduction pressure point—that genuinely horrifies.—David Fear

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29
"ANGEL EYES," THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)

"Angel Eyes," The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

To be fair, none of the three title characters is especially upright in Sergio Leone's violent spaghetti Western. But you'd have to give the edge on evilness to Lee Van Cleef, just for that pointy nose and wicked sneer. He also shoots a bunch of people (including an innocent teenager) and commandeers a brutal prisoner-of-war camp.—Joshua Rothkopf

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28
HANS GRUBER, DIE HARD (1988)

Hans Gruber, Die Hard (1988)

As Euro-accented monomaniacs go, you can hardly do better than Alan Rickman's ruthless antagonist in John McTiernan's '80s action classic. He sidles around the building he's robbing like he already owns the place, killing anyone who stands in his way and giving Bruce Willis's off-duty cop a run for his money.—Keith Uhlich

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27
LITTLE BILL DAGGETT, UNFORGIVEN (1992)

Little Bill Daggett, Unforgiven (1992)

Gene Hackman's unscrupulous sheriff rules his tiny town with an iron fist, beating down strangers and thundering over small infractions. (He doesn't know Clint Eastwood's about to ride in.) Adding memorable resonance is Hackman's undeniable charm, even when playing a baddie: He's a terrible carpenter and a wonderful joke-teller.—Joshua Rothkopf

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26
ANTONIO SALIERI, AMADEUS (1984)

Antonio Salieri, Amadeus (1984)

He's the dude who kills Mozart—how much more villainous can you get? F. Murray Abraham does an expert job transitioning from court-approved favorite to seething inferior, as royal attentions swivel to Tom Hulce's bratty golden boy. Never mind liberties taken with the facts; the movie arrives at a terrible truth concerning genius and envy.—Joshua Rothkopf

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25
PHYLLIS DIETRICHSON, DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)

Phyllis Dietrichson, Double Indemnity (1944)

"There's a speed limit in this state," she says—not that Barbara Stanwyck's sensuous femme fatale actually gives a damn about such things. In Billy Wilder's great film noir, she seduces Fred MacMurray's insurance agent into killing her husband. And that's small potatoes next to the double-crossing shenanigans she has in store.—Keith Uhlich

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24
GUNNERY SERGEANT HARTMAN, FULL METAL JACKET (1987)

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Boot camp turns men into marines—and R. Lee Ermey's gung-ho drill sergeant is the one responsible for making them killing machines. Stanley Kubrick gives his barking ball-buster the best lines, but don't let the inventive obscenities fool you: Hartman is the military's dehumanization process made manifest.—David Fear

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23
GOLLUM, THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001--03)

Gollum, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–03)

Forget Sauron, that giant spider and those butch-beastly Orcs; the most memorable (and ickiest) bad guy in Tolkien's epic saga is the feral, fallen creature willing to do anything to possess his preciousss. Credit Andy Serkis for adding a sympathetic element to this tortured soul, turning this cursed character into a truly tragic figure.—David Fear

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22
DON LOGAN, SEXY BEAST (2000)

Don Logan, Sexy Beast (2000)

The buildup to the character's entrance is nail-biting: All we know, as British ex-gangsters cavort in their luxurious Spanish retirement, is that Don Logan's coming with one last job. And when he shows up, it's Gandhi, for Pete's sake. But Ben Kingsley makes no mistake about who's in charge, as his furious invectives start to fly.—Joshua Rothkopf

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21
JOAN CRAWFORD, MOMMIE DEAREST (1981)

Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest (1981)

Faye Dunaway suffered permanent career damage for her noxious portrayal of screen icon Crawford and the star's abusive domination over her adopted daughter, Christina. Often lost in the discussion, though, is how endlessly quotable ("Bring me the axe!") and blindingly impassioned Dunaway's work was.—Joshua Rothkopf

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