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: Count Dracula, Dracula (1931)
Movie villains: HAL 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Movie villains: General Zod, Superman II (1980)
Movie villains: Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (1987)
Movie villains: Noah Cross, Chinatown (1974)
Movie villains: Freddy Krueger, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Movie villains: Mrs. Iselin, The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Movie villains: Auric Goldfinger, Goldfinger (1964)
Movie villains: The Terminator, The Terminator (1984)
Movie villains: The Alien, Alien (1979)
Movie villains: Count Dracula, Dracula (1931)
Count Dracula, Dracula (1931)
"I never drink...wine," says Bela Lugosi in his immortal performance—which he originated onstage—while chomping on every pause and flick of the cape. It's a strange turn, casting a warp over the entire movie and singlehandedly creating goth-chic. All Hollywood horror movies basically owe a debt to this one.—Joshua Rothkopf
HAL 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick's galaxy-traversing masterpiece gave us a bad guy for the ages in the artificially intelligent computer HAL 9000. It's the voice, by Douglas Rain, that chills the most: flat and affectless, with just a hint of superiority. There's no rage in this machine, just cold indifference.—Keith Uhlich
General Zod, Superman II (1980)
Terence Stamp is marvelously stern and sinister as the chief antagonist of this buoyant Man of Steel sequel. A Kryptonian criminal mastermind with superstrength and a hilariously condescending leer, he plans to take our hero out and make all Earthlings his slaves. With a performance this delicious, we'd kneel before Zod any day.—Keith Uhlich
Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (1987)
Equal parts seductive charm and cutthroat corporate Darwinism, Michael Douglas's iconic role turned a stock-market Master of the Universe into Satan in suspenders. Gekko's philosophy—"Greed...is good"—summed up the get-rich '80s to a tee; his idolization by a generation of white-collar alpha males suggests Douglas may have played this villain too well.—David Fear
Noah Cross, Chinatown (1974)
John Huston's decrepit patriarch could be mistaken for just another 20th-century opportunist hell-bent on owning "the future, Mr. Gittes!" Then you find out what's hiding behind that reptilian grin, and out comes his true self: Cross exemplifies not just free-market capitalism run amok but the bone-deep corruption of a nation built by evil men.—David Fear
Freddy Krueger, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
One, two, Freddy's coming for you.... Robert Englund's razor-fingered adversary wasn't always a wisecracking slasher: In his first appearance, he was a petrifying bogeyman who, with that ratty red sweater and fire-scarred face, made more of a searingly visual than verbal impression.—Keith Uhlich
Mrs. Iselin, The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Angela Lansbury is scarily perfect in John Frankenheimer's Cold War classic as the senator's-wife-cum-communist-plant who uses hypnotic suggestion to make her sleeper-agent son carry out everything from breakups to assassinations. Don't believe that Queen of Diamonds getup she wears; there's nothing noble about this character.—Keith Uhlich
Auric Goldfinger, Goldfinger (1964)
"No, Mr. Bond...I expect you to die!": With all due respect to Ernst Blofeld, Rosa Klebb and Jaws, the Bond villain we most love to hate is the man with the Midas touch. Whether killing a traitorous cohort with gold paint or pointing a laser at Sean Connery's crotch, nobody threatened 007 with more panache than Gert Frbe's aurum-obsessed foe.—David Fear
The Terminator, The Terminator (1984)
He became something of a softie in the sequels, so we'll always prefer Arnold Schwarzenegger's relentless cyborg in James Cameron's lean, mean '80s action flick. He stalks his prey so mercilessly (innocents in the line of fire be damned) that you long to pull the plug yourself.—Keith Uhlich
The Alien, Alien (1979)
Evolving over the course of the movie into three distinct creatures, this landmark beast is, first and foremost, a brilliantly dark conception (by original screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, exploring rape fears). Costume-work by creepy Swiss designer H.R. Giger and director Ridley Scott's eerie atmosphere sealed the deal.—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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