Get us in your inbox

Photograph: Time Out

The 50 best movie villains of all time

From slashers to femme fatales, these are the villains we truly love to hate

Written by
David Fear
Andy Kryza
Written by
Keith Uhlich
Joshua Rothkopf
Phil de Semlyen

They say a hero is only as good as the villain they’re up against. But what happens when a villain is so deliciously evil that the hero ceases to be the star of their own story? Cinema’s greatest baddies come in all shapes and sizes: They’re the slashers lurking in the shadows and the sociopaths wreaking havoc in broad daylight. They’re the femme fatales turning the screws and unholy warriors carving a bloody swathe across the battlefield. They may not all fit the same profile, but they all have the uncanny ability to charm audiences into rooting for them. 

For this list of the 50 greatest villains in film history, we combed through the decades of scum and villainy. We’ve limited our selection to mostly human antagonists (you’ll find your xenomorphs and mutants here) and came up with a murderers‘ row of malcontents. There’s no room for heroes here. These are the 50 villains we love to hate. 

RECOMMENDED: All Halloween NYC coverage

  • Film
  • Family and kids

Played by: Hugh Grant

Advancing the theory that there is no more terrifying, more singularly malevolent force than a thespian with a grudge, Hugh Grant’s psychotic luvvie is a villain with a little je ne sais crois in the otherwise stupidly feelgood Paddington 2. He pursues a pop-up book that holds the key to untold treasures, but ultimately finds something so much greater: An audience. His closing Busby Berkeley song-and-dancer number is the camp classic encore he deserves.
Phil de Semlyen
Global film editor
Roy Batty – Blade Runner (1982)

49. Roy Batty – Blade Runner (1982)

Played by: Rutger Hauer

The bleached-blond replicant of Ridley Scott’s milestone sci-fi thriller is nearly unstoppable – poking out eyeballs, head-butting walls and reducing Harrison Ford's hard-boiled cop to a quivering, broken-fingered mess. But there’s more to this bad guy than seething menace; the late, great Rutger Hauer invests him with a wide-eyed soulfulness that ultimately breaks your heart.

Asami Yamazaki – Audition (1999)

48. Asami Yamazaki – Audition (1999)

Played by: Eihi Shiina

Everyone knows actors are crazy, but our hero can't have expected this level of limb-slicing extremity. To be fair, he’s holding a fake casting call just to meet chicks – a move that would infuriate anyone. But after deceptively meek Asami  shows up, this is one player who's about to get a forcible re-edit.

The Joker – The Dark Knight (2008)
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Played by: Heath Ledger

Stripped of the backstory that lent humanity to both Jack Nicholson's and Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, Heath Ledger's greasepaint-smeared Joker careens through Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight like a force of pure chaos. Ledger’s every tick, cackle, quip and sigh feels like the cocking of a hammer. He’s not simply a villain, he’s a tsunami ready to lay waste to anything at any time. Hide your pencils.

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Played by: Michael B Jordan

Marvel’s long parade of lacklustre villains came to an end the moment Michael B Jordan’s Wakandan outcast burst on to the screen, presenting a layered, unpredictable foil to Chadwick Boseman’s hero. Killmonger stands out from a sea of megalomaniacs due to one simple fact: The guy kinda has a point, making him at once a modernised revolutionary in the mold of Malcolm X and a morally complicated idealist who only loses viewers’ loyalty when he lives up to his name and starts claiming victims.

Dean Wormer – National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)

45. Dean Wormer – National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)

Played by: John Vernon

‘The time has come for someone to put his foot down — and that foot is me,’ John Vernon’s dastardly dean declares. This nincompoop head of Faber College took impotent authority figures to a new level, making him the ideal foil for the Deltas. He exemplifies gross-out comedy’s golden rule: The more smug you are, the more likely you’ll be vomited upon.

Lord Voldemort – The Harry Potter series (2005–11)

44. Lord Voldemort – The Harry Potter series (2005–11)

Played by: Ralph Fiennes

From his serpentine face (the missing nose is a perfect touch) to the bone-chilling way he hisses his arch-nemesis’s name– ‘Haaa-ryyy Pahhh-ter!’ – Ralph Fiennes turned J.K. Rowling’s fallen wizard into the personification of that old black magic. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named doesn't really need a moniker; he simply answers to evil.

Baby Jane Hudson – What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

43. Baby Jane Hudson – What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Played by: Bette Davis

Hollywood icon Bette Davis throws subtlety to the wind in the flamboyant title role of this aging-starlet standard. Her unhinged former child actor sticks in your mind not only for her memorably schizoid outbursts (parakeets, beware), but for the ferocious way Davis battles costar and real-life archenemy Joan Crawford for the spotlight.

  • Film
  • Thrillers

Played by: Rosamund Pike

David Fincher executes an all-time heel turn about halfway through Gone Girl, pulling back the lens to show that Rosamund Pike’s Amazing Amy is far from the victim of Ben Affleck’s Scott Peterson stand-in. Duplicitous, meticulous and handy with a razor, Amy is the very embodiment of hell’s fury manifested through Pike’s steely, distant stare as she plots her next deceit in the service of making her philandering husband suffer to the fullest. And that murder scene? Yikes.

Colonel Kurtz – Apocalypse Now (1979)

41. Colonel Kurtz – Apocalypse Now (1979)

Played by: Marlon Brando

Lording over a compound of Montagnard mercenaries like some demented slaveowner, Brando's bald, batshit colonel one-upped Joseph Conrad’s conception of Kurtz as a mere colonialist run amok; you believe this guy actually possesses a heart of darkness. Whether reading T.S. Eliot aloud or decapitating soldiers, this military madman truly communicates the horror of Vietnam.


    More on Time In

      You may also like