Greatest Villains in Movies: It is a pleasure to hate them: film villains add spice to the plot. If these mean characters did not exist, the heroes would not be able to shine, because shadow always goes with light. The villains get us viewers to cheer and suffer, they make situations scary and missions dangerous. Some film bastards are so good at their viciousness that they even steal the show from the heroes.
Greatest Villains in Movies
The following 20 bad guys made a particularly lasting impression. Even if their sinister plans have mostly failed, they are among the most successful film characters of all time.
1. Darth Vader (“Star Wars” films)
‘I am your father’ – probably nobody likes to hear these words from a powerful villain with a black mask and long cloak who flies through space on a death star. Darth Vader, the most famous villain of the “Star Wars” universe and father of the hero Luke Skywalker, has long been a legend. In the “Star Wars” films, brave outsiders fight against an evil empire that is embodied by that very same Darth Vader.
As an eerie and at the same time tragic figure, whose last traces of humanity are buried under mechanical elements, Darth Vader has an impressive charisma. More than 30 years after his first appearance in the cinema, he is still one of the biggest (death) stars among film villains.
2. Thanos (“Avengers” films)
Anyone who wipes out half of life in the universe with a casual snap of their fingers has earned their place on this list. Thanos is none other than the final boss of some of the greatest superheroes of all time, known as the Avengers, and brings them to the brink of disastrous defeat.
Convinced that he has the right to prevent overpopulation with the help of powerful artifacts, this alien warlord will stop at nothing. His arrogance and cruelty don’t just piss off superheroes.
3. Commodus (“Gladiator”)
The ancient Roman emperors are as legendary today for their antics and debauchery as for their lack of realism and real leadership skills. In the 2000 film “Gladiator”, Joaquin Phoenix, as Commodus, gives the dangerously incompetent emperors a face.
Commodus is a coward eaten by envy who feels permanently unloved and misunderstood. He directed his hatred against General Maximus Meridius, who was actually intended to be the successor to the imperial throne by Commodus’ father Marcus Aurelius. Commodus possesses the self-centered emotional world of a defiant child while he rules an empire.
4. Joker (“Batman” films)
Wherever the joker appears, people’s laughter gets stuck in their throats. This made-up villain, world-famous as the archenemy of the superhero Batman, has been seen in several films, in numerous series, comics, cartoons and video games without losing any of his grotesque charm.
With murderous madness that is not lacking in creativity, the Joker always makes for memorable appearances. He’s crazy, dangerous, tricky, and mysterious. As a deadly pain in the ass, he is the perfect counterpart to the stoic hero Batman. The Joker wants to see the world burn.
5. Lord Voldemort (“Harry Potter” films)
Even seasoned wizards are afraid to pronounce this name: Lord Voldemort. The alternative designation “The one whose name must not be mentioned” is a bit impractical, but leaves no doubt about how much fear and terror this villain spreads in the magical world.
Conceived by JK Rowling and brought to life on screen by Ralph Fiennes, Voldemort is burned into the memories of many film fans as the archenemy of Harry Potter, the wizarding student. He is the embodiment of black magic, unstoppable, hateful and greedy for more and more power. Even its snake-like appearance arouses deeply hidden fears.
6. Head Nurse Ratched (“One flew over the cuckoo’s nest”)
Nurses have been considered legitimate villains ever since Mildred Rached stared off the big screen and froze the blood in the veins of the audience. In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Jack Nicholson ends up as the rebellious free spirit Randle McMurphy at Salem State Hospital, a mental institution where head nurse Ratched leads a ruthless regiment.
Coldheartedly she bullies the patients, intimidates them and stifles all hope in the bud. When Randie threatens her rule, a drama looms. Louise Fletcher received an Oscar in 1975 for her portrayal of Midlred Rached. The members of the film academy were too afraid of her not to give it to her.
7. Hannibal Lecter (“The Silence of the Lambs”)
He’s the gourmet among the serial killers. Hannibal Lecter, who enjoys a good wine with human flesh, was not only played by Anthony Hopkins, but it was his intense portrayal in the film “The Silence of the Lambs” that gave the villain cult status.
In the 1991 psychological thriller, Hannibal Lecter supports FBI student Clarice Starling in an investigation. The calm, polite manner of the imprisoned serial killer and his razor-sharp mind, which is inherent in so much cold-blooded madness, ensure pure thrills. Hannibal Lecter really gets under your skin.
8. The Alien (“Alien” films)
Until 1979, people’s fear of extraterrestrial life was still vague. After all, there were few convincing depictions of the alien beings. This should change with the sci-fi shocker “Alien – The uncanny creature from a strange world”.
Now we know pretty well what to fear: Of monstrous aliens with relentless hunting instincts that humans use as living incubators for their offspring. The alien, which first appeared on the big screen in 1979 to terrorize the crew of a spaceship, has become the often copied but unmatched prototype of the terrifying alien.
9. Terminator (“The Terminator”)
As the only villain on this list, the Terminator would also be a candidate for the top 20 greatest movie heroes. The robot, designed as the perfect killing machine, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, switched sides after its first cinema appearance in 1984 and has become the protector of the young John Connor.
The impression he made as an indestructible manhunter remains alive. He was followed by other impressive Terminator models as villains of the later films. The Terminator shaped a generation of uncompromising super soldiers who make us a little afraid of the future.
10. Agent Smith (“Matrix” films)
For him, humanity is nothing more than an annoying virus. Agent Smith, an artificial intelligence in the simulated reality of the Matrix, never leaves a doubt about his deep dislike for humans. His complete lack of understanding of values such as freedom, peace and justice, coupled with strength and intelligence, make Agent Smith a dangerous and highly effective villain.
He seems invincible, simply because he is as cold and consistent as a professional can be. Hugo Weaving has played his way into the ranks of sought-after villain actors as Agent Smith.
11. Freddy Krueger (“Nightmare on Elm Street” films)
The burned face, the red and green striped sweater, the glove with blades and the brown hat most of you recognize in your sleep – and if that happens, you have a serious problem. Freddy Krueger, who made his film debut in 1984 in “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, kills his victims in their dreams.
He takes advantage of their hidden fears, weaknesses and longings. It’s as brilliant as it is devious. Freddy’s preferred victims are teenagers, who are known to be quite fond of sleep. Like a recurring nightmare, this villain simply cannot be shaken off and clearly enjoys his murderous activities. His cynical humor looks almost as good on him as his sweater.
12. Norman Bates (“Psycho”)
The knife murder in the shower, committed by Norman Bates in women’s clothes, and the manic smile of the serial killer at the end are among the most famous scenes in cinema history. They come from the movie “Psycho” with Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.
This villain is a psychopath with two personalities: that of his cold, possessive mother, who kills anyone who gets close to Norman, and his own, rather harmless and shy self. The uncanny madness in the life of Norman Bates still captivates viewers after more than half a century that has passed since the cinema premiere of “Psycho”.
13. Pennywise (“It” films)
The scientific term for fear of clowns is coulrophobia. The character who fuels this fear like no other is called Pennywise. The horror clown, invented by Stephen King, made his television debut in a two-parter in 1990 and first hit the big screen in 2017.
As a supernatural villain, Pennywise can torture his victims – mainly children – in a variety of ways. He does this with undisguised joy. Pennywise is a heartless, cruel sadist who appears to have escaped straight from the shallows of hell. Everything about him is terrifying.
14. Sauron (“Lord of the Rings” films)
For a long time, the “Lord of the Rings” novels by JRR Tolkien were considered impossible to film, also because of their creepy villain Sauron, who appears in various forms thanks to his shapeshifting abilities. One of these shapes is a large eye surrounded by flames.
The director Peter Jackson finally succeeded in capturing “Lord of the Rings” and thus Sauron in an impressive way on the screen. Sauron is an evil being driven by the goal of mastering everything. He has the personality of a classic tyrant, only with much more powerful powers. Defeating him is a task for true heroes.
15. Michael Myers (“Halloween” films)
Can a person be born bad? Michael Myers seems to answer this question in the affirmative with every phase of his being. The serial killer from the “Halloween” film series kills his older sister at the age of 6 and spends his entire youth in an institution. 15 years after his first murder, he escapes to continue his bloody work.
He has now murdered himself through numerous films and seems unstoppable. He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t hesitate, he never backs down. Like a force of nature, Michael Myers destroys without remorse, fear or pity. This baseless malice is terrifying to the core.
16. Hans Landa (“Inglourious Basterds”)
The scary thing about Hans Landa is that at first glance he doesn’t seem scary at all. The main villain of the film “Inglourious Basterds” shows a sunny disposition, is educated and likes to drink milk. Behind this facade lurks a cold-blooded Nazi henchman who tracks down Jews hidden with the precision of a master detective and sends them to their deaths.
His opponents are the members of a small special unit of the US Army. Hans Landa, Oscar-winning portrayed by Christoph Waltz, goes to work with a terrifying naturalness. He regards himself as intellectually superior to his fellow human beings and never doubts what he is doing.
17. Sheriff of Nottingham (“Robin Hood – King of Thieves”)
Actually, Kevin Costner should have been the sole star in “Robin Hood – King of Thieves” in 1991, which the hearts of the audience fly to. But he did the math without Alan Rickman in the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham.
This villain brings humor to the action with his sarcastic, constantly angry and deliberately frustrated manner, without ever doubting that he is a dangerous man. He exploits the people mercilessly. In no other film about the legendary King of Thieves does his archenemy know how to steal sympathies. Of course, he still doesn’t triumph in the end, the good guys have to win in this classic story.
18. Annie Wilkes (“Misery”)
One moment she is friendly and charming, the next she is furious. Annie Wilkes, the antagonist in the Stephen King film “Misery,” has a schizophrenic personality. She holds her favorite writer Paul Sheldon prisoner and tortures him to prevent him from letting the main character of his novel series die.
Annie, played by Kathy Bates, is the stunning example of a psychopathic stalker who made a celebrity’s life hell. Paranoid, obsessed, and with extreme mood swings that can be fatal, she considers herself perfectly normal. When stars who have everything have such a fan, they are not to be envied.
19. John Doe (“Seven”)
The viewers never find out his real name. In the dark thriller “Seven”, Kevin Spacey, who has since fallen out of favor, shines as a serial killer obsessed with the seven deadly sins. He kills his victims in such a way that their respective sins such as gluttony or lust are displayed in the most brutal way possible.
He wants to hold up a mirror to society that it would rather not look into. John Doe shocks as a decidedly intelligent, manipulative villain who plays cat and mouse with the investigators. He’ll keep the strings in his hand until the end.
20. Jason Voorhees (“Friday the 13th” Movies)
Unless Michael Myers is chasing a teen in a horror movie or seeing Freddy Krueger in his dreams, there’s a good chance Jason Vorhees is after him. The risk is particularly high if the teenager in question is attending a summer camp. As a serial killer from the “Friday the 13th” films, Jason is one of the most famous horror characters.
His trademarks are the hockey mask, behind which he hides his deformed face, and the machete, with which he particularly likes to hunt people. The vulnerable child Jason once was has become a superhuman murderer who is very successful in spreading fear and terror.
Despite aliens, robots, and mages, most of the bad guys on this list are humans. It doesn’t always take supernatural powers to be terrifying. Of course there were other candidates who narrowly missed the honor of the Top 20 and are now probably really angry: Gollum (“Lord of the Rings”), Jack Torrance (“The Shinning”), Hans Gruber (“Die Hard”) and Loki (“Avengers”) to name a few. Nevertheless, we have found a good or rather bad mix.