Movie villains are the backbone of the entire art form. Too often villains go unrecognized for just how important they are. Without villains there are no stories, no conflict, no drama, you get the picture. Of course there are exceptions, but I love a good villain. Usually the case is, the better the villain the better the movie. This is a list of my favorite villains in all of film.
There are many cases where the antagonist of the story is actually more interesting than the protagonist and even when that’s the case, I’m a sucker for watching a hero triumph over a villain. I took a lot into account when I made this list, but I’d have to say the order and choices were mainly based on a combination of the enjoyment I have watching the villain on screen and the actual malevolence of the character. Well, here it is.
10. Ra’s Al Ghul (Batman Begins)
Ra’s Al Ghul is the leader of The League of Shadows and the mentor to the greatest hero in existence, Batman. In a way, they both want to save the world. Bruce Wayne studied under the tutelage of The League of Shadows because he was seeking the means to fight injustice. Where Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul differ is in the way Batman, as a hero should, sets himself apart from the villains whereas Ghul believes in necessary evil.
9. Bill the Butcher (Gangs of New York)
Martin Scorsese’s epic about the early remnants of a city focuses largely on one of the most intense and cruel figures in the history of cinema, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting. Daniel Day-Lewis plays the character flawlessly and with fervor. His lust for power is matched only by a love for his country and the freedom it represents. Gangs of New York is a vengeance story and to watch protagonist Amsterdam finally smite Bill the Butcher is incredibly satisfying.
8. Amon Goeth (Schindler’s List)
Never have the senseless and discouraging crimes against humanity performed by the Third Reich ever been more personified in film than with Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Amon Goeth in Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus, Schindler’s List. This a film about the ability and will to do good. Amon Goeth represents the contradiction to this idea. He’s commanding, blood-thirsty and completely apathetic towards his actions.
7. Jack Torrance (The Shining)
I say Jack Torrance, but I more so mean the evil pumping through the veins of The Overlook Hotel that eventually forces sane writer/father, Jack Torrance’s transformation into a crazed/axe-wielding murderer. The first sequence in the bar where both Torrance and The Overlook Hotel show their true colors serves as a solemn warning for the horrific oddities that have yet to transpire. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy and one of the greatest villains in film.
6. Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs)
In a gorgeous performance, Anthony Hopkins supremely captures the essence and soul of an incredibly intelligent serial killer who not only murders his victims, but eats them. The grotesque violence that the character is capable of can only be spotted in a single scene of the film, but even during the moments where he’s only staring, you can still feel the gravity of just how despicable the character at hand actually is. He probably gets the least screen time of any villain on this list, but he is easily one of the greatest in the history of film.
5. Silva (Skyfall)
Raoul Silva (formerly Tiago Rodriguez) is the most sinister and formidable opponent James Bond will ever acquire. This isn’t some cackling, conniving or cat-petting villain bent on world domination. Silva wants one thing and one thing only, M. He’s a former MI6 agent, M’s “favorite” at his time of service before he was betrayed. He loves M if only because she gives him purpose and hates her for what she’s created in him. He’s a showman and he has fun doing what he does and he’s one of them, he knows all the tricks. Silva is a mastermind, he’s flamboyant, he’s malevolent and he’s completely deranged.
4. Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men)
Confident, cold, calculating, silent, creative, determined and soulless. These are just a few words that can be used to describe the brutal killer, Anton Chigurh. His weapons of choice are a cattle gun and a sawed-off shotgun fit with a foot-long silencer, but a pair of hand cuffs would do just fine for this man who will stop at nothing to reach his goals. “People always say the same thing” Chigurh says to a young woman who tells him he doesn’t have to kill her. This is a situation he’s been in before and it’s one he’ll be in again. Killing for him is just as easy as waking up. He is death incarnate in the Coen Brothers’ poetic masterpiece of crime and violence.
3. Col. Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds)
Col. Hans Landa is Nazi Officer, but he is so much more depraved than any other member of the Third Reich. Unlike the officers and foot soldiers who whole-heartedly believe Adolf Hitler’s poisonous words, Col. Landa is merely a Colonel of the S.S. because he knows it’s in his best interest. He’s a sly detective and easily earns himself the nickname, The Jew Hunter. At the end of the day however, he doesn’t care about the Third Reich’s plot for world domination. He cares about his own personal gain and if that means betraying his entire country than so be it. He just bleeds malevolence whether he’s drinking a glass of milk or strangling someone to death. Hans Landa isn’t evil because he’s a Nazi, he’s a very evil man who happens to wear a Nazi uniform.
2. Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)
Bane can be looked at as the absence of hope. A meeting with Bane, let alone a fight with Bane, would result in anyone’s demise. He’s strategic, tactical, he speaks with intelligence and eloquence, but at the same time he is a complete brute. The mask he wears makes it so he can survive an unbearable pain, but it also serves as a signature look and a reminder of how emotionless and inhumanly evil this man can be.
In order to exact his torture of Batman and the city of Gotham, Bane places himself in a seat of power. He’s a revolutionary warlord, he’s his own General and he’s his own greatest soldier. This is a highly demanding performance and not just physically. Tom Hardy plays the character to perfection. Bane is supremely fearsome, intimidating and though he has a strict regiment and plot, there is no denying his admiration for death and destruction.
1. The Joker (The Dark Knight)
The Joker is unlike any other movie character and villain in the way that he epitomizes pure evil. The Joker is always smiling because there is never a dull moment where he is not doing exactly what he wants, instilling evil into the world. As the dark, crusading, creature of the night Batman is good for the sake of being good. The Joker, a gleeful and colorful clown, is evil for the sake of being evil.
The Joker burns a mountain of money just show exactly how much he doesn’t care about the idea of a motive. “Do I really look like a guy with a plan?” he says to the White Knight, Harvey Dent. Even when faced with opportunities to kill the heroes of the story, he instead attempts to reveal their true colors by giving them opportunities to kill him. He would gladly die doing what makes him happy.
Heath Ledger gave the greatest performance of all time as the darkest and most “unstoppable force” ever portrayed. Despite the fact that The Joker is so fiercely evil, he is very charismatic in the way he is also a clown. Ledger utilizes this trait in creating not only the greatest villain, but the greatest character in all of film. There didn’t need to be some kind of origin story or flashbacks to when The Joker was young. All there was in The Dark Knight was a showcasing of the constant battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Anything less or more would have taken away from the perfection.