Characters who always do the right thing and always win in the end can be boring: audiences of the 21st century want anti-heroes, those who muddle the line between hero and villain and are more complex (just like real human beings). Of course, cinema would not have interesting, believable anti-heroes today if they didn’t take notes from the best villains of the past. Here are the top 10 greatest movie villains of all time.
List of Top 10 Greatest Movie Villains of All Time until in 2017
10. Stepmother (A Tale of Two Sisters)
Heo Eun-joo, the stepmother in this South Korean psychological horror, offers a bit of everything from the movie villain bag of tricks. Played by actress Yum Jung-ah, Heo begins as the live-in caretaker of the main character’s mother, but quickly and openly becomes the mistress of the father. The day she brings in her own relatives to kick out the sickly mother (and possibly the two young daughters), terrible things happen. Not only does she leave an innocent child to die a prolonged and painful death, but she also shows no compassion for a traumatized sister whose family Heo has destroyed. Taking all “versions” of Heo into consideration, she is a deceitful wife, relentlessly cruel stepmother, and a shoddy live-in nurse. Her radiant beauty and (ambiguous) happy ending only make her that much more infuriating as a villain.
9. Darth Vader (Star Wars)
Once a talented Jedi, Darth Vader has no qualms wiping out the Jedi Order en masse or overshadowing the heroes, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, in every way. This cyborg-y masked man chokes underlings with his mind for minor mistakes and commissions an entire “moon” (or not) so he can murder people more efficiently, unhindered by his amputations. According to IGN, “If there’s one Star Wars character that deserves his own ongoing series, it’s Darth Vader.” Although the movie’s prequels are less well received, Vader’s younger self, Anakin Skywalker, certainly adds dimension to the character. His portrayal as an adorable boy with a sad childhood and loving master makes his future betrayals that much sadder and more despicable. Even his whining is defensible: consider how he has overcome his upbringing as a slave to try to abolish slavery and save his wife, while being held back or dismissed by those who imposed their own plans on him in the first place, notes Psychology Today. Unfortunately, because Vader answers to a master — although he eventually overthrows his master, still in accordance with teachings — he never fulfilled his villainous potential.
8. Magneto (X-Men, X2, etc.)
Magneto is a leader, rather than a follower. A mutant who can control metals (the ones that can be magnetized, at least), he incites an uprising of mutants against ordinary human beings. His handy ability is updated with a dose of modern science when Sir Ian McKellen’s Magneto escapes from his futuristic plastic prison through a guard who basically overdoses on iron supplements. Magneto forces the tiny amounts of iron out of the man’s blood vessels and molds them into bullets, as described in Digital Spy. The mainstay villain of the Marvel movie series ranks a mere #9 here, however, because he not only survived a Nazi concentration camp, his core motivations are actually reasonable — human racism and fear-mongering are endangering the lives of his people, after all — and he is too often stopped or swayed back onto the side of good. Also, his bucket helmet and cape look a bit silly.
7. Zed (Pulp Fiction)
In one unforgettable segment of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, a professional boxer and an equally buff mob boss are captured and confined in a pawn shop basement by slender Zed (Peter Greene) and his redneck cousin. Zed then sexually assaults the mob boss while shouting demeaning things at the victim in a dirty bathroom. Although Zed is foiled by his intended second victim, what makes the character more disturbing is that Tarantino sees the rape as almost a comic scene: in describing his first choice of music for the scene, Tarantino says “the song “has a really good sodomy beat to it. I thought, oh, God, this is just too funny not to use,” according to Rolling Stone. Zed is not only a remorseless rapist, he is also a grim reminder that society allows male-on-male rape or its survivors to be portrayed as a comic relief moment in an otherwise dark movie.
6. The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Unlike previous incarnations, The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Batman film, The Dark Knight (2008), was gritty and quietly terrifying rather than cartoony and cringeworthy. He also wears modern tailored suits. Comfortable blowing up both convicts and innocent children, this villain tells dark, creepy “jokes” about the disturbing scars on his face and sets up elaborate schemes to trick the “good guys” into killing other good guys for his amusement. At the same time, he clearly has a sense of humor, as shown when he demonstrates his pencil trick for the gangsters. Best or worst of all, he manages to accomplish numerous goals — explosions, murders, theft — in spite of the hero.
Portrayed by Heath Ledger in a surprising, typecast-shattering performance, this villain’s bittersweet ending transcended the screen when Ledger, who was “impeccable, perfect” as the calmly brutal Joker, according to Us Weekly, passed away before the release. Although Jared Leto took on the role in Suicide Squad, his Joker led the Atlantic to report that “Jared Leto killed method acting” and Grunge to write an article entited “Everything That’s Wrong with Jared Leto’s Joker.” Critics generally cite Ledger and Nolan’s Oscar-winning Joker as more original, more timeless, and just as importantly, more cool. he is one amongst the Top 10 Greatest Movie Villains of All Time until 2017.
5. Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991), which turned 25 in 2016, showed us that cannibals and the criminally insane could be refined, highly educated, and even sexy. They didn’t have to be messy eaters. While the film was breathlessly suspenseful, with serial killer Hannibal Lecter oozing danger out of his straitjacket and cell, helping a strong woman whom he comes to respect, and eventually escaping when he feels the time is right, its sequels includes some truly gut-turning scenes: in Hannibal (2001), Lecter cuts out pieces of a man’s brain, cooks it in front of him, and feeds the pieces to the now brain-damaged victim. Originally portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, Lecter manages to make slurping a frightening sound and convince audience members to root for him. According to Ted Tally, who wrote the screenplay, Hannibal “blinks only one time in the entire movie,” which makes both Hannibal and Hopkins himself sound a little strange. Tally also describes Hopkins and his Lecter are both sexy and “very, very smart,” according to Rolling Stone — a winning combination for the stereotypically bloody and unnuanced “occupation” of cannibal. The fact that the villain’s name rhymes with what makes him a villain is definitely a bonus.
4. The Mirror (Oculus)
The mirror in Oculus, the well-received 2013 psychological thriller, is no inanimate object. Not only does it have a mind of its own — a mind more evil than pet owner Lord Voldemort and the Babadook put together — it contains the minds of all the people it has killed throughout history. Director Mike Flanagan describes the mirror as “an alien force that if you even were to try to comprehend it completely it would drive you mad,” according to Den of Geek. This villain violates fairness principles by freely and imperceptibly controlling human beings and altering what they see, hear, and feel, even when they arm themselves with seemingly infallible, modern science, making it impossible to destroy or resist for long. It is also happy to target children. In the end, the sentient mirror emerges victorious with only minor damage (it’s just a scratch), making it more impressive than most movie villains in cinematic history.
3. Takeo Saeki (Ju-on, or The Grudge)
Takeo Saeki murders his wife, son, and family cat out of a paranoid suspicion that his wife is unfaithful. This results in masses of innocent people being terrified by, losing their loved ones to, or being killed by ghosts. Takashi Matsuyama’s Saeki is particularly insidious as a villain because his crimes have resulted in his wife and son (Kayako and Toshio), the innocent and earliest victims, becoming feared and hated as villains and monsters themselves. Kayako’s piteous death rattle becomes the chilling soundtrack of the film series. Many of the characters in the series do not discover that Takeo Saeki, rather than Kayako, is the “real” killer and creator of the curse. This failed father is possibly less of a human than the mirror in Oculus, with little to no prompting required for his “violent rage and terrible vengeance,” According to Something Wicked This Way Comes. The scariest thing about Saeki is that he looks like any quiet, middle-aged man, and in real life, some quiet, ordinary-looking men do hurt or kill their wives and children.
2. Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
This monster haunting the memories of all American children is introduced in A Nightmare on Elm Street as a middle-aged child killer or child molester, either of which would be bad enough on its own. By the time the movie kicks off, Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger has been reborn as an invincible dream demon who murders minors in their sleep. His severely scarred face offers a jarring contrast to his whimsical signature sweater, and the giant blades he brandishes add a touch of over-the-top cruelty: he can kill with dream magic — why does he even need weapons? That said, Krueger has serious weaknesses. Both disbelief and lack of fear cause him to lose his powers, while pulling him into the waking world leaves him human, notes Blastr. Because avoiding sleep is so much more difficult than feeling brave, however, Freddy Krueger still deserves a decent ranking in this list.
1. Cesar (Sleep Tight, or Mientras duermes)
Don’t be fooled by the movie title: Cesar is not a dream demon like Krueger, and no one gets to sleep tight. He is human, and a physically repellent and psychologically messed up one at that. By day a sticky-looking, sycophantic apartment manager, Cesar (Luis Tosar) sneaks into tenants’ units at night to threaten a small girl and inject acid into a friendly young woman’s face cream. One reviewer describes this villain’s head as a “chamber of horrors crawling with maggots and the usual childhood torments,” according to The New York Times. When the young woman fails to become as miserable as Cesar, for instance, he ups his game by infesting her place with cockroaches, murdering her boyfriend, and impregnating her in her sleep. Unlike his friend in the stripey top, Cesar does not get his comeuppance. In a way, he might actually be more of a dream demon than Freddy Krueger.
These above are the Top 10 Greatest Movie Villains of All Time until 2017. There are other movie villains who may be more terrifying (e.g. Mama in the 2013 film of the same name), more despicable (e.g. Brother Lorenzo in Goya’s Ghosts), or more into artistic self expression (e.g. Goldfinger of the 007 film franchise), but one way or another, they fall just short of being “great.” Here is a salute to the 10 greatest movie villains ever; let’s hope never to meet their kind in the real world.