Who is the best movie villain of all time? There are a number of lists that include The Joker, Darth Vader, Freddy Krueger, and Nurse Ratched, but we wanted to make a list that wasn’t so… disparate.
In this list, we’re going to give you a list of the best realistic movie villains. These are the people that make your skin crawl because they might be sitting next to you on the subway or behind you in the grocery line, especially if you notice them buying fava beans in bulk.
Best Movie Villains Of All Time
Criteria for our best movie villain list
For our list of the best movie villains of all time, we had to make some hard decisions. We like lists here at StudioBinder, and that includes lists for the best horror movie villain and the best super-villains, so we decided to omit these types of movie villains from this particular list.
We based our movie villains and antagonists on a few things. The first of the criteria was that these villains had to have the ability to actually exist, which is why you won’t find Darth Vader on here. We looked at dialogue, performance, actions, and how well the villain's overall demeanor was able to instill fear and stress while you watch the movie play out.
This is all reliant on the competency of the filmmaking team which is why we used these criteria to help create our list of the best villains.
Best Movie Antagonists
15. Snatch | Brick Top (2000)
Played By: Alan Ford
If you’ve ever seen the film, you’ll know that Brick Top is a seriously creepy and oddly charismatic movie villain. He has a few awesome monologues, one on the definition of ‘nemesis’ as well as a few scenes where he uses a pack of dogs to torture his adversaries.
The reason he makes our list of the best movie villains is partly because of the great lines of dialogue, partly because of Alan Ford’s clever performance, but also because he constantly makes you concerned that he’ll feed the heroes to a pile of trained disposal pigs.
14. John Doe | Se7en (1995)
Played By: Kevin Spacey
John Doe is a great movie antagonist, but one of the reasons he doesn’t break the top 10 best movie villains of all time is due to his lack of screen time. The performance mixed with his deeds are “great,” but he doesn’t actually show his face until the last 30 minutes of the movie.
It’s true that an unseen villain can often be the scariest type, and John Doe’s string of thought provoking and gruesome murders add to this movie villain’s cachet. We just wish we got to see more of him.
Famous Villains In History
13. Scorpio | Dirty Harry (1971)
Played By: Andy Robinson
Scorpio was the movie representation of San Francisco's infamous Zodiac killer, which is sort of fitting that Scorpio lands next to a Fincher villain on our best movie villains list. Scorpio is a great antagonist partly due to his silence while he carries out many of his worst deeds.
Scorpio not only preys on children but also uses the media and his rights as a US citizen to shield himself from justice. What makes someone more evil than exploiting a system meant for our protection? Not much, which is why he makes out list of the best movie antagonists.
List Of Villains
12. Cpt. Vidal | Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Played By: Sergi Lopez
Captain Vidal is one of the best movie villains because he’s accountable to virtually no one. Like most fascists he has his own warped sense of pride, duty, and value system that legitimizes his horrendous acts.
One of the other reasons Captain Vidal is one of the best movie villains of all time is because he is surrounded by good people. When lighting a film, cinematographers are always thinking about contrast, but it’s important for screenwriters to see how narrative contrast can improve their screenplays and help to prop up the importance of their villains.
Greatest Movie Villains
11. Li’l Z’e | City of God (2002)
Played By: Leandro FirminoOne of the best things about Li’l Z’e in City of God is how we get to follow him around as a young man. You gain a much more complete picture of the character, and this makes him even more unlikable. Why?
Usually, seeing a character turn bad would provide context and thus empathy, but because we know how hard the residents of the City of God have it, his actions seem to be a sick betrayal rather than a rational turn.
Top Movie Villains
10. Anton Chigurh | No Country for Old Men (2007)
Played By: Javier Bardem
Anton Chigurh is one of the best movie villains because he is clever, determined, and almost clinical. He also seems to be the type of villain you might actually run into, whereas many of the other realistic antagonists on this ranked list seem specific and therefore avoidable.
The Coen Brothers often have great villains, but many are bumbling idiots that entertain but don’t necessarily create the same dread that Anton is able to produce. Bardem’s performance is also pretty stellar.
9. Bill “The Butcher” Cutting | Gangs of New York (2002)
Played By: Daniel Day-Lewis
Bill Cutting has so much going for him as a movie villain. Scorsese does bad guys well, but the mixture of intelligence, capability, and a grand philosophy is what makes Bill “The Butcher” so compelling.
He has a respectful side to him, a code of ethics, which is why his bad deeds hold so much more weight, and seem more calculated. He’s also very charismatic and a leader of men, which can be quite terrifying.
8. Hans Gruber | Die Hard (1988)
Played By: Alan Rickman
Hans Gruber is a fun movie villain to watch, and he uses his wit, charm, and German efficiency to carry out a highly organized bank robbery until an arrogant and foul mouthed American uses improvisation, reckless abandon, and sloppy instincts to tear everything to the ground.
This is part of the reason why Die Hard is such a fun movie to watch, and why is resonated with American viewers in 1988. Hans is devious, quick on his feet, and Alan Rickman gives an awesome performance.
7. Alonzo Harris | Training Day (2001)
Played By: Denzel Washington
Alonzo Harris is a different kind of movie villain. He’s a master manipulator, and someone who uses his power and position to exploit the goodness of others for his own gain. He’s sworn to protect citizens, but instead uses his power and influence to corrupt society from within.
One of the best things about Alonzo as a movie villain is that he's likable. He is charismatic, makes a lot of really compelling arguments, and uses his sense of empathy to keep himself above suspicion. This is all due to a great screenplay, great direction, and a really great performance.
6. Stansfield | The Professional (1994)
Played By: Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman is one of the best actors to ever play a villain. He’s also pretty good at playing just about anything else, but if you have Gary Oldman as the villain in your movie, you’ve got a pretty great movie.
Stansfield is the type of character that makes your skin crawl. He's also giddy. He takes joy while he carries out his evil acts, and this helps to make him extra creepy. Stansfield is a truly unique movie villain.
Greatest Villains Of All Time
5. Commodus | Gladiator (2000)
Played By: Joaquin Phoenix
Commodus os one of the best movie villains of all time because he’s a historical figure, but also because he’s an impetuous child at heart. His wrath and anger is born out of a self made victim narrative, where he is entitled to the throne of Rome and his father’s approval.
The logic of his actions, at least with regard to his status and Caesar, make him a really great antagonist. You’d be pissed if your dad gave the throne to someone else. The thing that is NOT relatable, but still adds to his character, is his sexual infatuation with his own sister. Weaving together relatable and abhorrent behavior creates robust characters.
Best Villains Of All Time
4. SS Col. Hans Landa | Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Played By: Christoph Waltz
Hans must be a really perfect name for a great movie villain because this is the second on our list. Col. Landa is also a Nazi, which probably adds a bit to his score on our ranked list of the best movie villains.
Landa is funny, charming, kind, complementary, clever, rational — in short he is super well adjusted. He is a pleasure to watch on screen, even when he’s carrying out terrible actions and lording his power over others. He is a bird of prey, toying with his food before feeding it to his clamoring hatchlings — the secret Nazi domestic police known as the SS.
3. Amon Goeth | Schindler’s List (1993)
Played By: Ralph Fiennes
Amon Goeth is the second Nazi on our list, but Amon also has a unique quality to his character in that he was a real person. Now, that’s not why he makes the list of the best movie villains, but it may be one of the reasons why he was well-conceived, well-written, and well-performed.
Amon is a very possible villain, and has his moments where he is funny in a very depraved way. He seems to alternate between a form of twisted logic and an arbitrary barbarism that resembles a young boy burning ants with a magnifying glass. He’s a really great movie villain to watch.
Best Movie Villains
2. Max Cady | Cape Fear (1991)
Played By: Robert De Niro
Max Cady is a great movie villain because he sort of defies expectations. He seems like a classic backwoods fool, but in fact is a highly intelligent conjurer of psychological dread. He always seems to be one step ahead.
Max Cady is also a great antagonist because he uses the indiscretions and negligence of his target as a dormant poison, something voluntarily introduced into one’s own system soon catalyzed by Cady’s cunning. Alliteration aside, Max is a plausible villain you shouldn’t ignore.
1. Hannibal Lecter | The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Played By: Anthony Hopkins
The recipe that made Hannibal Lecter’s character is too good to miss. He is capable, intelligent, manipulative, candid, cagey, well researched, six steps ahead, and really charming. He is likable because there is a somewhat justifiable rationale for who he chooses as targets and why.
The dialogue, filmmaking, and performance all combined to create one of the creepiest characters around, especially when you find yourself rooting for his escape. He brings that same excellence to following films in Hannibal and Red Dragon, both of which are worth the watch.
What do you think of our list? Do you have someone you think we should add to this list? Let us know in the comments. If you make a compelling case, we might just revise our list and add your submission.
Every James Bond Film Ranked
Make sure to check out our other lists on our blog. Next up is all of the James Bond movies ranked worst to best. They’re all great, but we touch on the absolute best 007 films so you know which to watch first.