The marker of a truly great hero isn’t in the qualities they possess or the actions they take, but in the obstacles that stand in their way. And there is no bigger obstacle than the villain. Villains have intrigued audiences for centuries. Similar to audience members’ fascination with psychological characters, the actions a villain takes and the motivations behind them are largely enigmatic to viewers. Generally, the villain defies societal norms and introduces a worldview contrary to what we know. Overall, a great villain has a distinct personality, compelling motivations, and manages to challenge the hero in profound ways. In this blog post, we list the 10 greatest movie villains of all time.
There are few characters worse than Noah Cross when it comes to scheming corrupt businessmen. At first, Cross can come off as a typical business tycoon character consumed with wealth and greed. However, by the end of the film, his true colors are revealed to be darker than we could’ve ever imagined. Chinatown is about a private detective who’s hired to expose an adulterer and finds himself caught up in the dark underbelly of 1930s Los Angeles.
Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher, is one of the worst nurses you can get in a mental institution. She abuses her authority to subject the patients to terrible punishments and emotionally manipulates the patients to control them. She is a cruel character that reaffirms the notion that some people aren’t fit for any type of power. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is about a criminal who pleads insanity and is admitted to a mental institution, where he rallies patients against an oppressive nurse.
Nazis are typically depicted in film to be as evil as humans can be. Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds is no different. Played by Christoph Waltz, Hans Landa is a colonel officer in Nazi Germany that has the unique responsibility of hunting down any remaining Jews in Europe. The film is about a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers and a theatre owner who both coincidentally plan to assassinate the Nazi leadership at the same time.
Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, may not appear to be a ruthless serial killer at first and that’s partly because he isn’t – at least he doesn’t believe himself to be. On the surface, Norman is a fairly normal, awkward, and kind young man with one caveat. Norman is extremely close to his mother and he rarely does anything without her. The relationship between Norman and his mother may seem innocent at first but they share a secret that puts everyone around them in danger. Psycho is about a Phoenix secretary who embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.
Many evil artificial intelligence characters have been created since 1968, but none are more memorable than the classic supercomputer Hal 9000. Hal, however, wasn’t necessarily evil. The supercomputer simply went haywire after he was given a directive that contradicted his original programming. Hal 9000 was depicted on-screen as just a camera with a red light and a calculating voice. And yet, the A.I. villain has affected entire generations. 2001: A Space Odyssey follows a group of astronauts who take an expedition to Jupiter with the help of H.A.L. 9000: the world’s greatest supercomputer.
The Terminator is a relentless and objective-oriented killer with only one goal: to kill John Connor. The heartless machine seems like an unstoppable force in the film and Arnold Schwarzenegger built on that impression. The Terminator was Schwarzenegger’s breakout role and he looked like the perfect “human” soldier. The sci-fi film is about a human soldier who’s sent from 2029 to 1984 to stop an almost indestructible cyborg killing machine, sent from the same year, which has been programmed to execute a young woman whose unborn son is the key to humanity’s future salvation.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins, is one of the most famous villains in cinematic history thanks to his genius-level intellect and bloodthirsty impulses. Dr. Lecter is a cannibalistic serial killer and, despite his blood-drenched history, serves as an invaluable asset to the FBI as an informant of other serial killers. However polite and civil Dr. Lecter seems, it’s only a mask for his malicious intentions. Silence of the Lambs is about a young F.B.I. cadet who must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims.
The greatest heroes have even greater villains. The Joker is the perfect foil to Batman in The Dark Knight. The clown prince of crime challenges Batman by attacking his worldview and moral values. The Joker is also impervious to Batman’s typical approach to criminals. He’s not easy to understand or predict and he’s not easily intimidated. Heath Ledger gave one of the best performances in film history in The Dark Knight. He’s unrecognizable as the Joker and unfortunately, Ledger died before seeing the final result. The Dark Knight follows Batman as he’s forced to accept one of the greatest psychological and physical tests of his ability to fight injustice.
Darth Vader is arguably the greatest cinematic villain of all time. At first glance, Darth Vader is an emotionless machine, loyal to Emperor Palpatine. Although, Darth Vader demonstrates that he has his own hopes and ambitions that go against the Emperors. Darth Vader is a striking character and is one of the reasons Star Wars became a cultural phenomenon. The original Star Wars saga follows Luke Skywalker as he goes on a journey to save the galaxy from the Empire.
Anton Chigurh is not a machine. Not a business tycoon or a cannibal. He is only a man with a philosophy which in many ways makes him the most unsettling villain on this list. Much like The Joker, part of what disturbs us about Chigurh is the fact that we know nothing about him. He has no backstory. Chigurh is a manifestation of the unpredictability of life and the seeming randomness of death. No Country For Old Men is about the violence that ensues after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.
The characteristics of a villain can be incredibly versatile but they all have one thing in common, villains always oppose the hero. Much like good can’t exist without evil, heroes cannot exist without villains. Conflict is essential to create a story and the hero vs villains conflict is a tale as old as time. Although most audiences aren’t rooting for the villains to win, they enjoy watching compelling villains on screen, and these 10 villains are some of the most entertaining to watch.
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