The Monomyth was first conceived by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 novel The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It is a literary term conceptualized by Campbell that details the stages of the hero’s journey. He identified a pattern throughout mythology and literature and condensed it down to seventeen stages. Hollywood executive Christopher Vogler would later edit it down to twelve stages and his version would be the blueprint that every film would use from then on. The Ordinary World, The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting with the Mentor, Crossing the first Threshold, Tests, Allies and Enemies, Approach of the Innermost Cave, The Ordeal, The Reward, The Road Back, The Resurrection and The Return with the Elixir.
Just like how every script has a three act structure, every film that involves a hero on a quest can be broken down to these twelve elements. But that doesn’t mean that each step is important. The formula may be ironclad but there’s one step that’s far more crucial than the others and that’s step six: Tests, Allies, and Enemies. The hero can be uninteresting and the quest uninspired but if your villain is lame, nobody will remember. The hero is only as memorable as the villain he’s fighting. James Bond is one of the most iconic characters ever but the only films anyone gives a shit about are the ones where the villain is amazing.
From the mustachio twirling, train track tying ne’er-do-wells to mask wearing slashers to universe destroying uber baddies, cinema has had a long love affair with evildoers but which one is the most dastardly?
What Makes a Great Villain?
When ranking the best of the worst, there had to be a set of ground rules.
1. The villain doesn’t have to be fictional but his evil deeds must be depicted in a film. Hitler may be the ultimate evil but the film needs to depict him as the ultimate evil.
2. Anti-heroes can be included based on the the strength of their villainous period. Travis Bickle and Loki, for example.
3. The villains have to be intelligent beings with malicious intent. This rules out animals, forces of nature (such as storms, plagues or viruses), or characters that aren’t aware they’re doing evil. No Godzilla, no shark from Jaws and no Zombies.
4. The list will be covering the character and not the performance. Which means all versions of Dracula or the Joker will be counted as a single entity.
5. The villains were ranked based on influence, impact, degree of evil and style. The more Halloween costumes based on the character the better.
This is The 100 Greatest Villains Of All Time.
40. The Queen
Played By: Lucille La Verne
Film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
It’s easy to forget that the legacy of Disney is built upon the back of a film that’s plot boils down to a boss bitch hating another chick so much, that she wants to cut out her heart or poison her ass dead. Her hateful vendetta is built upon nothing but extreme jealousy.
The Queen set the standard all other Disney villains would follow. Before the wicked stepmother relegated Cinderella to a life of slavery and before Maleficent crashed a party and cursed a baby in order to “keep it real”, The Queen was there.
39. Ernst Blofeld
Played By: Donald Pleasence
Film: You Only Live Twice (1967)
James Bond is a man of many things. Throughout the series, he’s used many gadgets, bedded many ladies, drank many a martini and collected an impressive list of villains. Arguments could be made regarding which gadget was the coolest or which Bond girl was the hottest but at the top of Bond’s rogues’ gallery sits only one name: Blofeld.
The first and only recurring villain throughout the series, Blofeld was pulling the strings from the very beginning. Starting the series as an unseen head of the criminal organization SPECTRE, Blofeld would finally be revealed in all his scarred face, bald headed beauty in the fourth entry. Though a few would step into the role after You Only Live Twice‘s release, none could hold a candle to Pleasence. He’s a villain with such an enormous shadow, that the series immediately started to go down hill once Blofeld left the picture.
38. Don Logan
Played By: Sir Ben Kingsley
Film: Sexy Beast (2000)
The “one last job” cliche is as old as the genre that constantly uses it. It’s the dream of every thief and gangster within the crime genre but none actually achieve it except for Ray Winstone’s Gal in Sexy Beast. He’s an ex safe cracker that’s happily married and happily retired, living the life until a giant boulder crashes into his pool, disrupting everything. That boulder is what screenwriters refer to as a “visual metaphor” because shortly after that, an even bigger nuisance is about to crash into Gal’s life.
And that nuisance is the arrival of Don Logan. He’s coming with a job offer and won’t leave until he convinces Gal to do the job. He’s what would happen if you were to merge a chihuahua with a pit bull and had Joe Pesci teach it how to speak. Ghandi may be the film Kingsley will forever be associated with but this is easily his best performance. He’s an unpredictable sociopath that can and will do anything at any given moment, which is made all the more terrifying when you remember that it’s fucking Ghandi on screen.
37. Mr. Blonde
Played By: Michael Madsen
Film: Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Is there a better creator of villains than Tarantino? Almost every single one of his films has appeared on this list and every one of them save for The Hateful Eight was in consideration. He has an almost supernatural ability to conjure up the worst of the worst and give them all amazing scenes and dialogue.
Case in point: Vic Vega aka Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs. A film comprised of almost nothing but criminals, Mr. Blonde is easily the best of the worst. Mr. White has no remorse when killing civilians or cops and Mr. Pink is inarguably the most effective thief but they’re all still professionals. Mr. Blonde isn’t. He’s not even a thief. He’s a recently released convict that got put on this job by his old boss but based on his actions, he’s more of a hitman. A hitman that you hire when you want the victim to suffer before they die. He’s a sadist and his most memorable bit of action is what built Tarantino’s career.
36. Bill the Butcher
Played By: Daniel Day-Lewis
Film: Gangs of New York (2002)
Thank God Scorsese never got to make this in the 70’s because though it would’ve been cool to see The Clash play street gangsters against a crazy young De Niro, this film needed Day-Lewis. The film ultimately may be a bit of a mess (this is the rare instance where I think Leonardo DiCaprio was miscast. It should’ve been Colin Farrell) but every shot involving Day-Lewis’s Bill the Butcher is like a million volts being shot at your eyes.
Bill grabs your attention like a dog going after your throat. Every element that makes up his character is damn near the greatest element of any character. The proto pimp wardrobe he constantly rocks, his mustache that an entire generation of hipsters have failed to imitate, his penchant for throwing knives, his exaggerated accent that would be ridiculous if it wasn’t historically accurate and his silver eagle glass eye that he constantly taps with a knife, it all comes together to make one of the best characters in Scorsese enormous oeuvre.
Played By: Robert Patrick
Film: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
When James Cameron cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as the unstoppable killing machine in his 1984 action hit The Terminator, he was relatively unknown outside of the bodybuilding world but by the time the sequel was green lit, Schwarzenegger had become the biggest movie star in the world. Instead of recasting the part with another giant made of muscle, Cameron had the brilliant plan to twist the narrative and have the Terminator come back but instead of trying to kill Sarah Conner, he’s sent back to protect her. It’s still the only case of having what is essentially the same character play both the hero and the villain within the same franchise.
But then Cameron backed himself into a wall. How could you possibly top the villain from the first, if the villain from the first is now your hero? Unless you have him fight himself (which in retrospect, seems kind of crazy didn’t happen. The early 90’s was obsessed with twin themed action films for some reason), finding a worthy adversary would be impossible. Enter Robert Patrick and the best CGI the 90’s could muster. Made of liquid metal, the T-1000 is the ultimate killing machine. He can imitate anyone he comes in contact with, can manipulate his mass, is faster and stronger than the T-800 and is far more efficient.
The T-800 are the slow, shambling zombies from the Romero films and the T-1000 is the wicked fast zombies from the Snyder remake. Both are scary but one will fuck you up faster.
34. Judge Doom
Played By: Christopher Lloyd
Film: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
The crazy origin story of Who Framed Roger Rabbit Is damn near the perfect example of art imitating life. Where the film is a groundbreaking amalgamation of live action and animation, the script is also the byproduct of smashing two unlikely things into each other. One a novel about a private investigator teaming up with living Sunday comic strip character and the other, an unused script for the second sequel to Chinatown.
Almost nothing about the film should work but against all odds, it not only works but is frequently cited as one of the best of the 80’s. I believe a lot of that is due to the exceptional performance given by Christopher Lloyd. His Judge Doom was in neither the novel, the other script and almost wasn’t included at all. But after Lloyd beat out a veritable who’s who of the Hollywood elite, Zemekis rewrote the part to be bigger and (based on a suggestion from Lloyd himself), made the character a toon himself. He’s menacing until he’s over the top insane and in an early draft of the script, it was revealed that he was the one that shot Bambi’s mother. Which immediately makes him just the worst person.
Played By: Kevin Peter Hall
Film: Predator (1987)
It speaks volumes of the Predator’s badassitude that it takes 5000 pounds of testosterone and steroid infused meat to take him down. Originally intended as a vehicle to showcase Jean-Claude Van Damme’s kickboxing abilities, the production quickly realized that that was a terrible idea. Van Damme hated being in the suit and the creatures design at that time was less predator and more mutated bug. After they fired Van Damme for either being too short or being too much of an asshole on set (sources differ), they scrapped all the designs and cut Stan Winston a check for 1.5 million dollars.
The end result is the second greatest alien ever made. Every aspect of its design is iconic. From the silver mask, to the tendrils/dreadlocks, expanding mouth, to its bulky ass armband, the predator is a masterclass in special effects and is one of the coolest creatures in cinema history.
32. Jame Gumb–Buffalo Bill
Played By: Ted Levine
Film: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Loosely based on the real life serial killer that inspired Leatherface and Norman Bates, Jame Gumb is a simple man with a simple desire: to be a woman. The problem is, Jame Gumb wasn’t born a woman. The solution is obvious, save up your money to have a sex change operation but Gumb decided to go with door number 2. Kidnapping overweight women and starving them so that making a suit from their skin would be easier.
It’s impressive that anyone else in The Silence of the Lambs is remembered considering it’s a film that also includes the inimitable Hannibal Lector but between the “Goodbye Horses” dance and his endlessly quoted line about lotion and baskets, Buffalo Bill is a monster so heinous, it took another monster to catch him.
31. John Doe
Played By: Kevin Spacey
Film: Seven (1995)
The Saw franchise is one of the biggest horror franchises in history and that entire series is inspired by one of John Doe’s lesser kills. That’s how wickedly ingenious his plan is, that an entire other icon could be created by riding the coattails of what is essentially 1/7th of Doe’s murderous M.O.
By the time John Doe finally appears in the film (right around the 90 minute mark), he’s already made an unforgettable impression. He’s one of the only villains on this list that still would’ve made the cut even if he never made an appearance. That’s how haunting his plan is but once he does materialize, you realize that being caught was another step in the plan he ultimately wins.