Sometimes, a hero is only as good as their villain. Whether they’re a charismatic villain that you love to hate or pure, unadulterated evil, these villains will stick in your mind for years to come. Be sure to check out our How to Write a Villain video essay below for a breakdown of three villainous archetypes. Without further ado, please join us in counting down the best movie villains of all time.

Watch: How to Write a Villain — 3 Archetypes Explained

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List of the best villains

23. Fletcher

Fletcher’s aggressive teaching style

Fletcher in Whiplash is concrete proof that a movie villain doesn’t need to be outright violent and murderous in order to be intensely threatening. Unlike most of the villains on this list, Fletcher has never killed anyone (at least, not that we know of), but that doesn’t stop him from being one of the most memorable villains of the past decade. Much is owed to J.K. Simmons’ performance as this extreme music teacher.

The best villains of all time

Conclusion

J.K. Simmons earned a much-deserved Oscar for his performance.

Top villains

22. Harry Powell

The story of love and hate

Harry Powell, as played by Robert Mitchum, is the villain of Charles Laughton’s 1955 noir-ish thriller The Night of the Hunter. Mitchum is terrifying as the deranged religious rambler who isn’t above a little bit of child murder.

If you ever wondered where Radio Raheem got the story of love and hate across his knuckles in Do the Right Thing, the answer is Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter.

Greatest villains

Conclusion

The Night of the Hunter was the only film Charles Laughton ever directed, though he did write and act in several other projects.

The best villains of all time

21. Candyman

Be my victim

With the character recently rebooted in the 2021 Candyman, it’s the perfect time to revisit the original 1992 film or to check it out for the first time. The titular Candyman, or Daniel Robitaille to call him by his real name, is played to perfection by Tony Todd. His large frame, deep voice, long coat, hook hand, and exposed ribcage full of bees all culminate in one seriously imposing figure. Think twice before saying his name five times into a mirror.

Best villainous characters

Conclusion

If you want to go all the way back to the origins of Candyman, you can seek out the original Clive Barker short story that served as the inspiration: The Forbidden.

Greatest villains of all time

20. Hans Gruber

The best of Hans Gruber

Hans Gruber served as the main villain in the first Die Hard film and was never topped, even after four sequels. Alan Rickman brings Gruber to life with far more menacing restraint than many actors would have likely brought to the part. From his complex plan to rob the Nakatomi building to his smaller one-on-one interactions with the heroic John McClane, Hans Gruber is always captivating and dangerous.

Best movie villains of all time

Conclusion

Even after he’s not directly involved, Hans Gruber still motivates the plot of Die Hard with a Vengeance, where his brother fills his shoes as the main antagonist.

The best villains of all time

19. Li’l Dice aka Li’l Ze

Li’l Dice’s shooting spree

The Brazilian epic City of God is a gangster film like no other. With a story that spans many years, we get to see several of the characters at different stages in their lives, including the main villain. As a child he goes by Li’l Dice, before changing his name to Li’l Ze years later.

Though he remains contemptible all throughout, this character is at his most villainous early on while still going as Li’l Dice. This psychotic child became a mass-murderer while still in single-digits, and the scariest part is how much fun he has doing it.

List of best villains

Conclusion

Young actor Douglas Silva brought Li’l Dice to life for the early stages of this disturbed character extremely well.

Top villains

18. Amy Dunne

Amy’s scheme unfolding

Amy Dunne seems like a sympathetic missing person at the start of David Fincher’s Gone Girl, but by the mid-point plot twist, we learn that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Amy was a cold-blooded sociopath masquerading as a suburban family woman, and her scheme is one of the most complex and dastardly ever put to screen.

Best movie villains of all time

Conclusion

If you enjoyed the Gone Girl film, it’s worth checking out Gillian Flynn’s novel as well, which continues the story a bit further after the end of the film.

Best villains in movie history

17. Vincent

Don’t take Vincent’s briefcase

Tom Cruise gives one of his best performances as Vincent, the cool, calm, and collected hitman who serves as the villain of Collateral. Director Michael Mann is no stranger to white-knuckle action sequences, and Collateral is no exception. Cruise’s commitment to the action training shows through in his performance, and Vincent is all the more threatening for it.

Best villainous characters

Conclusion

Beyond being a destructive force, Vincent’s outlook on life and manipulative abilities are also part of his villainous allure.

Greatest villains of all time

16. T-1000

The T-1000 explained

When Terminator 2: Judgement Day first hit theaters, it was a bit of a switcheroo when audiences realized that Arnold Schwarzenegger had swapped from villain to hero this time around. The Terminator was already a frightening villain in the first film, but the sequel upped the ante in the best way possible. Robert Patrick’s steely performance is a perfect fit for the T-1000 and his endlessly resourceful liquid metal abilities.

Best villains in movie history

Conclusion

Robert Patrick had only begun acting a couple of years before he landed his career-defining role as the T-1000.

Best movie villains

15. Freddy Krueger

Freddy Krueger nightmare sequence

While there are many frightening slasher villains, Freddy Krueger at his essence just might be the scariest. Though some of the sequels certainly lessen his scare potential, the original A Nightmare on Elm Street shows Freddy at his most threatening. A supernatural villain with the power to not just haunt your dreams but kill you within them is about as terrifying as you can get.

Greatest villains of all time

Conclusion

Actor Robert Englund thoroughly embodied the role of Freddy, and no one else could pull off the part, though others have tried.

Best villains in movie history

14. Annie Wilkes

The Hobbling

Annie Wilkes is the obsessed fan who holds her favorite author captive in Misery. Wilkes is easily one of horror maestro Stephen King’s most frightening characters. Kathy Bates was so chilling in this role that she walked away with the Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar for her efforts. The hobbling scene alone would be enough to land this character on the list.

The best villains of all time

Conclusion

Misery topped our list of the best Stephen King adaptations. Find out what else made the cut.

Best movie villains

13. The Joker

The pencil trick

The Joker in his many portrayals and permutations must be one of the most iconic and imitated villains ever created. Whether it be Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, Joaquin Phoenix's take in Joker, or Mark Hamill’s voice-over work in the role, the Joker frequently makes for a grade-A villain. The Joker is one comic-book villain that even manages to overshadow his heroic counterpart on occasion.

Top villains

Conclusion

Check out our breakdown of the ending of 2019’s Joker for more on this iconic character.

The best villains of all time

12. Nurse Ratched

Nurse Ratched in action

Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest embodies a different sort of villainy than most of the characters on this list. Rather than murder and mayhem, Nurse Ratched’s villainy comes in the form of her iron-fisted rule of the psychiatric hospital. She serves not just as an effective literal villain, but also as a personification of the inherent systemic problems of institutionalization and the villainization of the mentally unwell.

Greatest villains of all time

Conclusion

Fletcher won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched. Check out our ranking of the top Best Actress winners of all time.

Best villains

11. Hans Landa

How the opening scene of Inglorious Basterds was crafted  •  Subscribe on YouTube

The Nazis remain many of history’s worst real-life villains, and there have been many deplorable Nazi characters throughout cinema. In Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Hans Landa stands out from other Nazi characters in a multitude of ways. His cunning, exceptional intelligence, mastery of multiple languages, and more all make him both despicable and magnetic. Christoph Waltz won a much-deserved Oscar for his performance.

Top villains

Conclusion

To see how Hans Landa was written, check out our breakdown of the Inglourious Basterds screenplay.

Best villainous characters

10. Bob

Bob creeping around the bedroom

The Twin Peaks television series and by extension the Fire Walk With Me movie is packed with captivating and often enigmatic characters. With so many despicable characters behaving brazenly throughout the film and series, it says a great deal about Bob that he manages to stand head and shoulders above the rest as the absolute worst of the worst. This supernatural force of evil is as difficult to unravel as he is terrifying.

Best villains

Conclusion

Twin Peaks co-creator David Lynch made it onto our list of the greatest directors of all time. Find out who else made the cut.

The best villains of all time

9. Jack Torrance

Here’s Johnny!

Jack Torrance is the deeply disturbed man at the center of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Jack Nicholson’s captivating performance straddles the line between protagonist and antagonist all the way up until the horrific climax. Stephen King, author of the source material, famously hated this film adaptation and retold the story in mini-series form in 1997, but the comparison is far from favorable.

List of top villains

Conclusion

The Shining made it onto our list of the best horror movie soundtracks of all time. Find out what others made it onto the list.

Greatest movie villains

8. Jaws

Jaws  •  The Unseen Villain

In the well-known lore around Jaws, we were meant to see the shark a lot more. If we had, an argument could be made that it would not have become one of Steven Spielberg's best movies nor would it have landed a spot on this list. Other than some precise glimpses (until the end), the shark is more a product of our imagination than it is on screen. Combined with that relentless music from maestro John Williams and some point of view shots, a truly memorable villain is born.

Best villains ever

Conclusion

Find out where Jaws landed on our Best Horror Movies of All Time.

Greatest movie villains ever

7. Dracula

Comparing all of the Draculas

Dracula is one of the all-time classic movie monsters. Similar to the Joker, there are more compelling portrayals of Dracula than you can shake a stick at. You can go with Christopher Lee in the Hammer films. Or with Bela Lugosi in the original Universal classic. With Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the gothic tale. Or Claes Bang for a refreshingly different spin on the character in the recent Dracula mini-series on the BBC. Maybe Klaus Kinksi for Werner Herzog’s unique take on the mythos in Nosferatu the Vampyre. Or you can go all the way back to Max Schreck for the original Nosferatu that first brought the character to the silver screen. All are great options.

Greatest villains ever

Conclusion

Check out our list of the best vampire movies ever made for more from this type of classic movie monster.

Top movie villains

6. Norman Bates

The greatest villains  •  Norman Bates

Casting a young and wholesome Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is just one of many strokes of genius in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Before Bates, horror films were populated with monsters, literally. Abominable creatures from unfathomable places can certainly give audiences a thrill. But the idea that a murderous psychopath could be the "boy next door" is far more unsettling.

With Norman Bates, Hitchcock brought horror into your neighborhood. Of course, real-life murderers and psychopaths existed before Bates. Ed Gein, on whom Norman was based, committed unspeakable atrocities. But it wasn't until we saw him on-screen, ironically, that those threats became real. 

The best villains ever

Conclusion

If you consult Alfred Hitchcock's best movies, you'll encounter a plethora of cinema's top villains. But Bates takes the cake.

Best movie villains

5. Hans Beckert

Hans first appears as a shadow

A third Hans finds himself on the list alongside Hans Gruber and Hans Landa. He might not be the most recognizable name of the bunch, but he just might be the most disturbed and tormented. Hans Beckert, as played brilliantly by Peter Lorre, is a murderer of young children who stalks the streets of a German city. M, from pioneering director Fritz Lang, was released in 1931 during the early days of sound, but already delivered one of cinema’s best villains.

Best villain ever

Conclusion

Check out our breakdown of Pre-Code filmmaking for more on the history of early cinema.

Best villain ever

4. Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal escapes

The infamous cannibal Hannibal Lecter is routinely touted as one of cinema’s greatest villains, and for good reason. Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for the role, but he is actually just one of three actors to give excellent performances as Hannibal Lecter. For a more subdued and quietly menacing take on the character, check out Brian Cox’s portrayal in Michael Mann’s Manhunter. And, for a long-form portrayal of the character, look to the Hannibal TV series where the excellent Mads Mikkelsen put his own spin on the iconic character.

Greatest movie villains of all time

Conclusion

Check out our breakdown of The Silence of the Lambs’s screenplay for more on Hannibal the cannibal.

List of the best villains

3. Frank Booth

An analysis of Frank Booth

David Lynch is a master of the surreal and experimental, but it’s one of his most grounded characters that is the most terrifying. Frank Booth is the volatile, oxygen-huffing, sexually-twisted villain of Blue Velvet. Dennis Hopper gives one of his best performances as this absolutely unhinged madman. Frank Booth is violent, unpredictable, and as disturbing as he is disturbed.

The best villains of all time

Conclusion

David Lynch received a Best Director Oscar Nomination for his work on Blue Velvet.

Top villains

2. Anton Chigurh

The best of Anton Chigurh

The enigmatic Anton Chigurh is the villain of No Country For Old Men, and is arguably the single best element in an all-around masterful film. Javier Bardem’s performance is pitch-perfect for this elusive, impossible to pin down character. Part of Chigurh’s allure is how unrelatable and alien he seems, as if he’s something more or something less than a mortal man.

Greatest villains

Conclusion

Find out how this enigmatic character was written in our breakdown of the No Country For Old Men screenplay.

The best villains of all time

1. Darth Vader

What makes Darth Vader the best villain ever?

From his very first appearance on-screen, Darth Vader commands your attention. He is an imposing figure, soundtracked with one of the most iconic leitmotifs in film history. As the Skywalker series unfolded, he also became a truly tragic character lured away from the light and into the dark.

Are there more complicated villains? Can we point to more evil villains? Has there been more charismatic villains? Yes, yes, and yes. But there is something primal and universal about Darth Vader's villainy.

His voice, his power, his aura of mystery all add up to a textbook villain to which all others are compared.

Best villainous characters

Conclusion

Download the Star Wars screenplay and read our breakdown of just how this iconic bad guy was brought to life.

UP NEXT

Realistic Villains

That was our countdown of the greatest movie villains ever brought to life on the silver screen. If you just can’t get enough villains, you can continue the villainy by diving into our list of great realistic villains. If you prefer your antagonists to be more grounded, this rundown does away with any supernatural or unrealistic abilities, coming up next.

Up Next: Great Realistic Villains →
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