25 Greatest Movie Villains of All Time

It’s important for a movie to have a compelling protagonist. But a great movie often has a villain that steals the show. This is because a villain often has great dialogue that is full of threats and creative insults. The role of the villain also allows actors to be a bit more dramatic, which leads to some amazing performances.

But who are the best movie villains of all time? Well, we have come up with 25 who have stood the test of time. These villains have sent shivers down viewers’ spines, made us hate or even root for them, and gave us some of the best acting performances in cinema.

1. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs

Hannibal Lector with his face mask on in The Silence of the Lambs.
The Silence of the Lambs | Strong Heart/Demme Production

The Best Picture Oscar winner has not one, but two amazing villains. Although Clarice is on the hunt for a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill, she needs the help of Hannibal Lecter to get in the head of a psychopath. Hannibal Lecter is an interesting villain because he’s smart, is scary even when just giving a look, and of course, he eats people so that’s memorable.

Clarice and Hannibal only have four scenes together in the movie, but they are so good that many viewers probably assume there are more. The two characters eventually come to respect each other, which should be strange given she is in the FBI and he’s a criminal. The whole time viewers are questioning Hannibal’s true motives and wondering where this relationship could possibly go in different circumstances.

Anthony Hopkins decided to model the character after one of his friends who rarely blinked, which unnerved him. He was also cast because of his performance as Dr. Treves in The Elephant Man. Hannibal is currently ranked No. 1 on American Film Institute’s greatest villains list.

2. Darth Vader in Star Wars

Darth Vader looking back with his hand curled in Rogue One
Darth Vader in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story | Lucasfilm

In the original Star Wars movie, we see Darth Vader trying to retrieve the technical plans of the Death Star from the Rebel Alliance. In the sequels, he continues to try and stop our heroes from defeating the Galactic Empire. Darth Vader is a compelling villain, from his demeanor to his iconic costume and voice.

The villain has some of the greatest quotes in movie history, including, “I find your lack of faith disturbing” as he chokes an officer. His character gets an interesting arc by the end of the trilogy that reveals he’s much more complicated than we first assumed.

The character is so compelling that the prequel movies followed his earlier years rather than the heroes of the original story.

3. Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter

Voldemort casting a spell with his wand.
Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 | Warner Bros.

Lord Voldemort is one of the most powerful wizards ever. His goal is to get rid of Muggles and have only pure blood wizards rule. What’s great about Voldemort is that there is a lot of suspense built up around the character throughout the series. We don’t see him for quite some time, but we hear about the horrific things he did.

We eventually see Voldemort grow stronger and are shocked to find out the similarities he has with our hero, Harry Potter. Voldemort is great because he is a villain who shows that being evil is often a choice someone makes.

4. Annie Wilkes in Misery

Annie Wilkes swings a sledgehammer in Misery.
Annie Wilkes in Misery | Castle Rock Entertainment

Stephen King has written some horrifying characters. His character Annie Wilkes, is a mentally unstable former nurse who kidnaps her favorite writer. She ends up torturing him and things get pretty gruesome. Annie is quirky, friendly, and a psychopath.

King later revealed that Annie is actually a personification of his addiction to drugs and what they did to his body. Actress Kathy Bates actually won an Oscar for her portrayal of the villain, which marks the only Oscar win for a Stephen King adaptation.

5. Jack Torrance in The Shining

Jack sticks his face in the middle of a crack in a door in The Shining
Jack Nicholson in The Shining | Warner Bros.

In The Shining a father caretakes a hotel with his family for the winter. There, we slowly see him descend into madness while his family comes across the hotel’s evil spirits. Jack Torrance’s transformation is quite shocking, given where the character starts.

It also says a lot that Jack is the scariest villain in the film, even when compared to the ghosts that can take on the appearance of just about anything.

6. Norman Bates in Psycho

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates is smirking at the camera.
Anthony Perkins in Psycho | Universal

The character Norman Bates looks like a nice man who is simply tending to his motel and his elderly mother. But we find out pretty quickly in Psycho that this is very much a facade. The Alfred Hitchcock movie challenges the audience to watch a murderer from his point of view, which isn’t common. Even though we know Bates’ evil ways, we are still surprised by the ending, which reveals how deep the character’s problems are.

7. Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Nurse Ratched angrily walks down the hospital hall with two other workers behind her.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest | Fantasy Films

The movie adaptation shows a criminal, Randle McMurphy, going to a mental institution after pleading insanity. It’s unquestionable that Randle was guilty of crimes that included statutory rape, but he is the hero of the movie. Instead, Nurse Ratched, who rules the mental institution with an iron fist is the villain.

Randle befriends a lot of the patients and strives to find some sort of freedom in the institution. Because of that, he goes up against Nurse Ratched. We see her punishing patients with shock treatment and challenging them with mental games, leading her to become one of the most hated villains in film.

8. Hans Gruber in Die Hard

Hans Gruber is pointing a gun at John McClane.
Die Hard | 20th Century Fox

Die Hard’s Hans Gruber is a German terrorist who orchestrates the heist of Nakatomi Plaza and tries to steal $640 million. The villain, played by Alan Rickman, is calm, ruthless, and unpredictable. He might not be as flashy as other villains but he is a great adversary for the hero, John McClane, who has to take on Gruber’s team of 13 all by himself.

9. Patrick Bateman in American Psycho

Christian Bale in American Psycho is swinging an axe.
Christian Bale in American Psycho | Lions Gate Films

Patrick Bateman is an investment banker who starts to spiral out of control. The movie shows him trying to hide the psychopathic side of himself from people in his life.

Actor Christian Bale portrays the villain as creepily erratic, but still somewhat charming when he needs to be.

10. The Joker in The Dark Knight

The Joker with some of his makeup off is looking up in The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight | Warner Bros.

This memorable performance was one of Heath Ledger’s last before he died. The Joker is a lover of chaos, and is dangerous because his only plan is to create it. He offers a big bounty to other villains if they kill Batman, comes up with a smart backup plan that gets him out of jail, and forces Batman to make a horrible decision.

The Joker is great because he pushes Batman, along with many other characters, to become the bad guys by tricking them into making terrible decisions. Actor Heath Ledger really did disappear into the character, from his mannerisms to his voice, so it’s understandable why he won a Oscar for his performance.

11. Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street

Freddy Krueger's claw comes up from a bathtub in between a woman's legs in A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street | New Line Cinema

The Wes Craven movie follows Freddy Krueger, a serial killer who is able to kill his victims in their dreams. The kids who are being targeted, try to figure out what’s going on while avoiding death.

The sinister story behind Freddy, is just as chilling as the gruesome deaths of his victims. It’s no wonder there has been so many sequels and reboots since the original.

12. Magneto in X-Men

Magneto is in his cell and making marbles float.
X2 | 20th Century Fox

Magneto is a mutant who can manipulate magnetism. He is also determined to kill humans for revenge of the mistreatment of mutants. He is an interesting foil to Professor X who believes in fighting for rights through civil disobedience and still believes humans are good.

Magneto also has an interesting backstory, as a survivor of the Holocaust. He is a villain who is so complex that it’s understandable why many fans of X-Men still find themselves liking him.

13. John Doe in Se7en

John Doe has his arms up as if to surrender as he is covered in blood.
John Doe in Se7en | Cecchi Gori Pictures

Se7en is about a serial killer who kills people to remind them that they can’t avoid the seven deadly sins. We see his work rather than the character for most of the movie. Until we see John Doe, we know that whoever is behind the mystery is an intelligent monster who has a reason for his plan. His last blow before getting caught is a memorable moment that gives him a spot on this list.

14. Michael Corleone in The Godfather

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone and sitting on a bench in The Godfather.
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather | Paramount Pictures

The Godfather movies are some of the best that cinema has to offer. The franchise also shows the rise and fall of one of cinema’s greatest villains. Michael Corleone starts out as a discharged Marine who is trying to figure out what’s next for him. He ends up getting involved with his family’s business of organized crime.

It’s a beautiful character arc that features some of the best storytelling we’ve ever seen. Michael becomes ruthless, but he is always complicated. Because of this, we are constantly reminded that this villain is human.

Michael Corleone is probably one of the most quoted characters in pop culture, along with Darth Vader.

15. Tony Montana in Scarface

Al Pacino in Scarface sitting in a large leather chair.
Al Pacino in Scarface | Universal Pictures

This Scarface character is another iconic Al Pacino villain. Like Michael Corleone, Tony Montana starts off just trying to figure out what’s next after he makes it to the U.S. from Cuba. He ends up smuggling drugs and changing, due to greed and paranoia.

It’s another story following the rise and fall of a man. But unlike Michael, Tony has fewer things to keep him grounded.

16. Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas

Joe Pesci as Tommy shooting a gun downward in Goodfellas
Joe Pesci in Goodfellas | Warner Bros.

This Goodfellas character is based off of Thomas DeSimone, an real-life gangster portrayed in the book, Wiseguy.

Many of the film’s characters are actually mobsters, but Tommy DeVito is the true villain of the movie because he’s impulsive and egotistical. These traits end up leading to his downfall.

17. T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day

T-1000 is dressed as a policeman and is standing in front of fire.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day | Carolco Pictures

The Skynet Terminator has a metallic endoskeleton that allows it to mimic other things. It is designed to be the better version of the Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator that we all know and love.

The introduction of T-1000, took an already interesting futuristic concept and pushed it further. It also gave the Terminator a much needed and impressive adversary.

18. Auric Goldfinger in Goldfinger

Goldfinger is lounging on a chair on a porch holding a glass.
Goldfinger | Eon Productions

James Bond goes up against multiple villains, but the best is Goldfinger. The gold magnate smuggler is memorable for killing Jill by painting her gold. He also has Oddjob, a great henchman who knows martial arts and has a razor-brimmed hat. All told, it’s pretty tough to beat!

19. Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange

Alex is in headgear that is keepin his eyes open and he's yelling in Clockwork Orange.
A Clockwork Orange | Warner Bros.

The psychopath, Alex DeLarge, is pretty terrible given he rapes, robs, and assaults people for fun. A Clockwork Orange is a memorable movie, given that it takes place in the future, has a despicable main character, and has its own style.

All of these things are probably why Alex made it onto the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest movie villains.

20. Begbie in Trainspotting

Begbie holds a gun to his head in Trainspotting.
Begbie in Trainspotting | Channel Four Films

Trainspotting follows a heroin addict named Mark Renton and his circle of friends. One of those friends is Begbie, who picks fights with pretty much everyone. Because he is a very terrible person, Renton strives to distance himself from Begbie and drugs by the end of the movie.

21. Gollum in The Lord of the Rings series

Gollum is in a cave looking up in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Andy Serkis in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey | Warner Bros.

The fictional character was first known as Sméagol, a hobbit who was corrupted by the One Ring, which extended his life and turned him into Gollum.

Gollum has no problem attacking people and will do anything to get back the ring.

22. Frank Booth in Blue Velvet

Frank Booth is in a car and turns around to the backseat and puts an oxygen mask on his face.
Frank Booth in Blue Velvet | De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

The drug dealer and pimp isn’t afraid to kidnap and rape. During his outbursts, his split personality comes out. In the movie, he gets obsessed with a singer and tortures her because of it.

The movie is critically acclaimed, but not everyone loves it. One common response, however, is that Frank Booth is one villain that deserves your hatred.

23. Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction

Alex and Dan are having drinks at a booth and looking at each other.
Fatal Attraction | Paramount Pictures

The thriller shows the married Dan Gallagher, having a one-night stand with Alex Forrest. The problem is that Alex doesn’t want their relationship to end there. Her reaction is extreme, due to her borderline personality disorder.

Glenn Close was nominated for an Oscar for her performance at Alex and is known as one of the best villains on-screen.

24. The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz

The Wicked Witch of the West Sends Her Flying Monkeys Away.
The Wizard of Oz | MGM

The musical is known for its great music and vibrant costumes and sets. People also end up quoting it a lot. Some of the best lines are from the Wicked Witch of the West herself, like, “I’ll get you my pretty!” The witch also has scary flying monkey henchmen and an iconic death scene.

The movie is for all audiences, so while she might not be as brutal as other villains, she does set the bar for many viewers, since it’s a movie many see in childhood.

25. Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist 

Linda Blair in The Exorcist is sitting on her bed and her head is completely turned around.
Linda Blair in The Exorcist | Warner Bros.

The iconic horror movie shows a young teenager who gets possessed and needs the help of two priests. The movie is interesting because the villain is in the body of a young girl. It allows her to do supernatural things, like spin her head all the way around. It also does obscene things to anger people.

The villain in The Exorcist is so good that it is often thought to be the standard for demons in newer exorcist movies.

Follow Nicole Weaver on Twitter @nikkibernice

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