7 of the Scariest Movie Psychopaths

Anthony Perkins in Psycho | Universal

Anthony Perkins in Psycho | Universal

Movies have given us all types of scary villains, from extraterrestrial predators to supernatural creatures. Although these imaginary monsters can be frightening, some of the scariest villains ever portrayed on screen are simply crazed human beings. After all, unlike alien hunters or flesh-eating zombies, human psychopaths are real. Some of the fictional psychopaths portrayed in movies are even based on real-life killers. While most of us probably did not worry about encountering a fire-breathing dragon after we saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, we may have felt uneasy about taking showers at motels after seeing Psycho.

Among the dozens of frightening psychopaths that have been featured in various films over the years, there are a few in particular that we found to be especially disturbing. It should be noted that we have chosen to exclude any psychopaths with supernatural abilities, such as Freddy Krueger from the A Nightmare on Elm Street film series. Keeping that stipulation in mind, here is our list of the top seven scariest movie psychopaths.

7. Norman Bates in Psycho (1960)

Any list of top movie psychos would be incomplete if it didn’t include Norman Bates from the classic Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho. In the film, Norman (Anthony Perkins) is a seemingly mild-mannered motel proprietor with a taxidermy hobby. However, his façade of normalcy soon crumbles after a secretary on the run (Janet Leigh) makes an unscheduled stop at the Bates Motel.  Besides being scary for his tendency to commit sudden acts of violence, Norman earns extra creepy points for his disturbing mother issues. Despite being over 50 years old, Psycho has remained one of the most critically acclaimed movies ever made about a psychopath, with a 96% Certified Fresh rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.

6. Max Cady in Cape Fear (1991)

In this film directed by Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro plays Max Cady, a convicted rapist who is seeking revenge on a lawyer who he believes betrayed him. While Max is hell bent on getting his hands on lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), he is also more than willing to make anybody close to Sam suffer as well. Some of Max’s most psychopathic acts include poisoning Sam’s dog, brutally raping his work colleague, and murdering his housekeeper. It should also be noted that as a buffed up ex-convict covered with creepy religious tattoos, Max may have one of the most intimidating appearances of any of the movie psychopaths on this list. De Niro’s convincing portrayal of this crazed killer earned him a nomination for a Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar in 1992 and a place on this list.

5. Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990)

Kathy Bates earned a Best Actress in a Leading role Oscar for her portrayal of a psychopathic nurse in this Rob Reiner-directed adaptation of a Stephen King novel of the same name. In the film, writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is rescued from a serious car crash by Annie Wilkes (Bates). Although Annie describes herself as Paul’s “No. 1 fan,” she soon begins exhibiting some unsettling behaviors, including flying into a rage when she finds out that Paul’s latest book has killed off one of her favorite characters. While Annie does numerous things in the movie that would easily qualify her for this list, one of her most disturbing acts involves a block of wood and a sledgehammer.

4. Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men (2007)

Javier Bardem earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his blood-curdling portrayal of this psychopathic hitman in this Coen brothers-directed film. Although Anton is a professional killer who is paid to kill people, he also seems to enjoy murdering people that randomly come across his path. In true psychopathic fashion, many of Anton’s victims are slated for death based on the outcome of a coin toss. While Anton’s actions definitely qualify him as a one of the scariest psychopaths ever seen on screen, his bowl haircut may also qualify him as the one of the goofiest looking as well.

3. John Doe in Seven (1995)

Kevin Spacey turned in an unforgettable performance as a psychopath obsessed with the seven deadly sins in this horror crime thriller directed by David Fincher. In the film, John Doe (Spacey) sets up elaborate mutilation and torture scenarios that reference each of the deadly sins: Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. While the gruesome murders he commits are more than enough to make him a frightening character, John Doe is made even scarier by the fact that he sincerely believes he is doing God’s work. Doe’s final murder victim also results in one of the most disturbing shock endings in movie history.

2. Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000)

Christian Bale pulled out all the stops when he tackled the role of Patrick Bateman in this film based on Bret Easton Ellis’s novel of the same name. In the film, Patrick is a wealthy investment banker in the 1980s who spends his time committing violent murders when he is not obsessing over his expensive material possessions. Bateman is an especially disturbing psychopath due to his tendency to carry on monologues about his musical preferences while committing horrific atrocities. He also appears to be unstoppable, since even his friends don’t believe him when he confesses to being a serial killer.

1. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Anthony Hopkins plays a renowned psychiatrist with some serious mental health issues of his own in this Academy Award winning film directed by Jonathan Demme. In the film, the cannibalistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter is confined to a mental hospital, where he is visited by FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who is seeking his help on a case. After changing forever how we think about the pairing of fava beans with Chianti, Hannibal manages to kill several guards in an incredibly gruesome fashion while making his escape. Besides his infamous face mask, Hannibal is also an especially memorable movie psychopath for his tendency to switch from refined manners to vicious brutality at the drop of a hat. Hopkins was awarded the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for his tour-de-force performance as this deranged character.

All movie cast, crew, and awards information courtesy of IMDb.

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