Movie villains: The 50 best bad guys (and gals) of all time
From Cobra Kai to Colonel Kurtz, we've got the movie villains you love to hate. Go to the dark side with our ranked list of evildoers.
Mon Oct 22 2012
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)
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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When I was a kid, I thought the meanest man alive was Jack Palance's character Blackie in "Panic in the Streets". He was so mean he actually hit Richard Widmark in the head with a real gun. Blackie was evil personified and he treated friend and foe alike with equal contempt (even his friends were scared to death of him) . It was Palance's first picture, and he re-teamed with Widmark for "Halls of Montezuma" where his character was more likeable.
What about Thulsa Doom? Or the little girl from Let the Right One In? Or ANY of Gary Oldman's villians? Heath Ledger's Joker? The silent warrior from Valhalla Rising? (I realize he isn't the villian, but he's by no stretch a hero...at least until the end of the film) This list misses out on a lot. I like Vader, but he's just a take on The Black Knight.
A number of directors have commented that they used the Jack Palance role in Shane as a template of what a villain should be. I agree. Totally evil yet supremely confident. Many have credited his role as gunfighter Jack Wilson as why Shane is considered the greatest western of all time.
overall not a bad list, but it's unbelievable that Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight isn't on here. he was so good at being a maniacal psychopath in that movie that you almost found yourself rooting for him to beat the batman. also, christian bale's performance in american psycho is another must have on this list. he embodies all that is insanity
and gary oldman in Hannibal was immensely creepy. completely debilitated, physically and mentally, by the evil Lector committed upon him that he spirals into madness.
I had to check twice to realize you passed over the Joker. I mean, over-hyped a bit, sure. But still better than General Zod ffs...
Great list, but can I just add.... Gary Oldman in "Leon" is absolutely amazing, restrained insanity. Michael Gambon in " the cook, the thief, his wife and her lover" is chillingly cruel. Michael Madsen in "reservoir dogs". Mark Lewis in" Peeping tom" Also Witches and Vampires are movie monsters rather than villains in my opinion. :)
Number 24 Gunnery Sergeant Hartman does not count, he was not a bad guy, he was a Drill Instructor. Yelling and belittling new recruits is part of the job.
The joker from dark knight has to be number one or at least on the list, other than that i successfully killed 1 minute of my time
Awesome list. A few great villains on there that I didn't expect to see-- nice work!! I know *everyone* will be voicing his/her opinion about who was missing, so here's mine: Luther from The Warriors! "Warrrr-i-orrrs, come out to plaaa-y-aaaay"-- such a classic!! :D
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