Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

Dr Peter Han Area 49 Lead Scientist Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

Would Die Hard be one of the most iconic movies of the 1980s without Hans Gruber? Would Conan the Barbarian have become Conan the Barbarian without Thulsa Doom? From Agent Smith in The Matrix to the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, from Gordon Gekko in Wall Street to the Predator in Predator, nothing makes a good movie like a good bad guy. And to illustrate that point here’s my list of the ten greatest villains in cinematic history, in reverse order, from worst to worstest.

#10 Goldfinger

Goldfinger Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

 “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”

There have been 24 Bond films that have featured a number of memorable villains since the series launched in 1962, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest: Auric Goldfinger. Played by German actor, Gert Forbe, with most of his dialogue dubbed by Englishman Michael Collins due to his thick accent, Goldfinger was  the most formidable bad guy James Bond ever faced. Driven by his lust for gold rather than world domination (boring!), Goldfinger concocted a novel scheme to break into the U.S. gold reserve at Fort Knox, not to steal the bullion but to irradiate it with a nuclear blast, thus rendering it useless and thereby significantly increasing the value of his own supply. When Goldfinger, the franchise’s third installment, opened in 1964 it achieved instant box office success and is still considered by many to be the best of the bunch, and much of the credit belongs to the film’s ruthless namesake. One of the few bad guys to ever make Bond really sweat (Remember that scene with the laser?), Goldfinger proved that Agent 007 is only as interesting as the villain he faces.

 #9 White Goodman

White Goodman Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

“Nobody makes me bleed my own blood. Nobody!”

There is a long and rich tradition of comedic movie foils, including such notables as Dean Wormer (Animal House), Judge Smails (Caddyshack) and Shooter McGavin (Happy Gilmore), just to name a few. But the best, meaning the funniest, would have to be Ben Stiller’s diminutive bully White Goodman from the 2004 film Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. The egomaniacal owner of Globo Gym and leader of the Purple Cobras, with his take the bull by the horns attitude, perfectly feathered hair and inflatable crotch, was the ideal opposite number for Vince Vaughn’s Peter La Fleur. It’s a go for broke performance where practically every line of dialogue uttered (“I wouldn‘t sell you your gym back for all of King Midas‘ silver.”), every action and every one of his ridiculous costume elicits laughter. Stiller obviously relished the bad guy role and his stellar performance turned an average formulaic comedy into an above average one, earning him a well deserved spot on this list.

#8 Ming the Merciless

Ming the Merciless Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

“My life is not for any earthling to give or take.”

Flash Gordon, launched in 1980, was no Star Wars or Star Trek, but a colorful, often over-the-top and sometimes downright silly space adventure that still remains one hell of a fun ride. But there was certainly nothing over-the-top or silly about Max Von Sydow’s portrayal of the tyrannical ruler of the planet Mongo, Ming the Merciless. With his shaved head, impossibly arched eyebrows and Fu Manchu-styled goatee, the 6’4” Swedish born thespian was the living embodiment of the Emperor Ming. And whether he was ordering Flash Gordon’s execution or putting the moves on Dale Arden, Sydow, a two-time Oscar nominee, gave the character a grounding and gravitas that managed to elevate the entire film to a level just a notch above pure camp — a Herculean task to say the least. And although Flash Gordon is a very entertaining movie, one watches Sydow’s performance in which every line is delivered with cruel perfection and wonders what if the rest of the film had taken itself as seriously.

#7 John Doe

John Doe Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

“I tried to taste the life of a simple man. It didn’t work out.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, “action is character.” So what does that say about Kevin Spacey’s John Doe who transformed the Seven Deadly Sins into a series of hideously murderous tableaus in which he happily turned “each sin against the sinner“? He only clocked several minutes of screen time in a film over two hours long, and the soft spoken and nebbish Doe was not particularly impressive, much less scary, but it was the audacious inventiveness of his blood-soaked crimes, and the will it required to carry them out, that blew moviegoers’ minds when Se7en debuted in 1995. Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Lust and Pride were each in turn depicted in incalculable human suffering and death. But like any good storyteller Doe saved the best for last when he sent Brad Pitt’s Detective Mills a care package special delivery. What’s in the box? The film’s climax where Envy and Wrath get their due is one of the most memorable of all time, and why John Doe makes the list at number seven.

 #6 The Terminator

 The Terminator Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

“I’m a friend of Sarah Connor.”

Certain actors were born to play certain parts and Arnold Schwarzenegger was certainly born to play the cybernetic killing machine sent back in time to retroactively abort the future leader of the Human Resistance by murdering his mother. Cold and calculating, unrelenting and practically unstoppable, the T-800 was burned down to its metal skeleton by the film’s end, yet continued to pursue its prey, even after both its legs were blown-off, until it was finally crushed like a giant beer can by Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in an industrial hydraulic press. But before its demise the metallic monster rampaged through the darkened streets of L.A., sprayed the dance club, Tech-Noir, with automatic gunfire and, most infamously, took-out an entire police station full of cops. Like the character Conan the Barbarian, the Terminator role suited Schwarzenegger to a capital T, and what had previously been viewed as negatives by the Hollywood establishment: his large muscle-bound physique, thick Austrian accent and limited ability to emote, all greatly enhanced his performance. The Terminator, released in 1984, was a box office success and took Schwarzenegger’s career to the next level. He would go on to star in two more Terminator films, but this was the only time he played the heavy. And what a heavy he was.      

#5 Khan

Khan Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

“Later as they grow follows madness, and death.”

The genetically enhanced superman sent into exile on a remote planet by Captain James T. Kirk for fifteen years returned to the big screen in 1982 with a vengeance. A buffed-up Ricardo Montalban, looking like the lead singer of an ’80s hair metal band, reprised the role of Khan Noonien Singh, which he first played on the original Star Trek television series back in 1967. And after subjecting Commander Checkov and his new Captain to mind-controlling eels, Khan escaped the planet he was marooned upon, captured the Starship Reliant and nearly destroyed the USS Enterprise in a surprise attack. But in the end it was Khan’s own super-sized ego and mindless thirst for revenge, which Kirk knew he could exploit, that led to his ultimate undoing. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is considered by many moviegoers, both Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike, to be the best film in the Star Trek movie canon and the primary reason is undoubtedly because Khan was by far the single most formidable, and coolest, villain Kirk or any of the subsequent Enterprisers have ever faced. Khan’s death scene in which he spits out a quote from Moby Dick like a space-aged Captain Ahab going down for the count is a definite highlight.           

 #4 The Wicked Witch of the West

The Wicked Witch of the West Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

“Well my little pretty, I can cause accidents too!”

The Wizard of Oz was released in 1939, making Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch the oldest movie villain on the list, but even after more than seven decades the character hasn’t lost any of her venomous potency. From the ends of her curled fingers to the tip of her pointed black hat, the cackling, broom wielding green-meanie still packs a frightening punch to this day. Driven by her insatiable desire for those ruby slippers, she unleashed the creepy Flying Monkeys, threatened to drown Toto the dog in a river and set Scarecrow on fire. And remember those harrowing moments when the running red sands of the hourglass spelled out Dorothy’s certain doom? Goya’s paintings and Grimm’s Fairy Tales aside, when we think of witches chances are it’s Hamilton’s classic Wicked Witch of the West that leaps to mind.                  

  #3 The Joker

The Joker Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

“I’m a guy of simple taste.”

Batman’s psychotic arch nemesis was every bit as brilliant and equally determined to destroy Gotham City as the Caped Crusader was to save it. When the Clown Prince of Crime first appeared in The Dark Knight (sorry, Jack) during the exciting opening bank robbery sequence he displayed a knack for manipulating people by appealing to their baser instincts, a modus operandi he attempted to take to the macro level in the film’s climactic showdown until he was eventually thwarted by you know who. But before he was bested by the eponymous Dark Knight he appeared to beat Batman at every turn, including blowing up love interest Rachael Dawes and torching half of Harvey Dent, thus turning him into the maniacally murdering Two-Face. All the while he cunningly manipulated the mob into backing his misanthropic mayhem until eventually he decided to takeout the remaining heads of the city’s crime syndicate and completely takeover Gotham‘s underworld. Tragically Heath Ledger died several months before the film’s release in 2008, but his amazing performance would earn him a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and cement The Joker as one of the greatest movie villains of all time.

#2 Dr. Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal Lecter Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

 “And sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps, but not today.”

Middle aged, narrow shouldered and a bit paunchy, “Hannibal the Cannibal” was not physically imposing to say the least, yet he was more frightening a figure in The Silence of the Lambs than fellow movie mass murderers Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, which is all the more remarkable considering he’s either locked in a cage or heavily restrained for most of the film. The insightful and sadistic psychiatrist who dined on human flesh wielded his brilliant mind the way Leatherface did a chainsaw and with equally devastating affect. Remember he got fellow inmate, Multiple Miggs, to swallow his tongue just by talking to him. He also executed one of the greatest escapes in cinematic history when he disguised himself as a badly wounded police officer in need of immediate medical attention by literally wearing the man’s face. Cultured, refined and well mannered, at least when he wasn’t killing people, Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter made an indelible impact on pop culture when the film was released in 1991, and the movies have never been the same since.

 #1 Darth Vader

Darth Vader Top 10 All Time Movie Villains

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

A nightmarish amalgamation of man and machine, the tall, dark and horrifically evil Lord of the Sith was the very visage of villainy when he first appeared in the opening sequence of Star Wars back in 1977. Embodied by David Prowse and ominously voiced by baritone James Earl Jones (backed up by that wonderfully raspy mechanized breathing apparatus), Darth Vader was capable of crushing a man’s throat with his bare hands or using the awesome power of the Force. He supervised the interrogation of Princess Leia, obliterated Obi-Wan Kenobi in a lightsaber duel, wiled the location of the hidden Rebel base and came within a split second of destroying the pesky Rebellion once and for all  (although he did fire his guns before the Millennium Falcon intervened). This epitome of evil and all-around bad-ass combined an intimidating physical presence with fiendish cunning, a relentless sense of purpose and a cool black cape, making him the ultimate movie antagonist, the bad guy you most love to hate.

Honorable Mentions

Jaws Top 10 All Time Movie Villains Jaws: The most famous movie monster of the deep, this “smart big fish” made people afraid to go into the water whether it was the ocean or a darkened swimming pool after the movie premiered in the summer of 1975. The estimated 25 foot long, three ton eating machine terrorized the summer tourist town of Amity and devoured five people, and one dog, before it was finally put-down by Roy Scheider’s Sheriff Brody. An unfortunate and unforeseeable consequence of the film’s massive box office success (it was the first official summer “blockbuster” in motion picture history) was that sharks would become widely hunted for decades — a tragic testament to just how scary Jaws really was.           

Catherine Tramell Top 10 All Time Movie Villains Catherine Tramell: Beautiful, blonde and bi-sexual,  a successful author of crime fiction with a degree in psychology and a hedonistic lifestyle, Sharon Stone’s Ms. Tramell managed to manipulate everyone around her, especially Michael Douglas’ troubled SFPD Detective, Nick Curran, and got away with murder, presumably multiple times. With a fondness for white scarves and a preference  for ice picks over ice trays (she liked rough edges), the cold blooded, hot bodied femme fatale of Basic Instinct caused a media whirlwind when she uncrossed her legs revealing her naked nether region during the film’s now legendary interrogation scence, and also generated a ton of free publicity for the film when it opened in 1992. Unfortunately this infamous moment was a distraction in more ways than one, drawing critical attention away from Stone’s wonderfully compelling performance, though she did receive a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. Her Catherine Tramell was the quintessential Hitchcockian Blonde. If only the great director was still around when she was in her prime, what magic they could have made.            

Unicron Top 10 All Time Movie Villains Unicron: Voiced by the legendary Orson Welles, the monstrous planet-sized Transformer that devoured entire worlds was the main bad guy in The Transformers: The Movie, an animated film released in 1986. The intergalatic gargantuan consumed the robot planet Lithone and all but two of its inhabitants, forcibly recruited the villanous Megatron to help it destroy the Autobot Matrix – the one thing in the universe that could defeat it – and then set its sights on the Autobot’s home planet of Cybertron. The last film performance of Welles’ storied and turbulent career (he died of a heart attack five days after completing the picture), the director, co-screenwriter and star of Citizen Kane reportedly resented working on a movie based on a line of children’s toys, but somehow the oversized Unicron seems a fitting final role for such a titanic talent who always appeared larger than life.

Dr. Peter Han