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.
50. Nurse Mildred Ratched
Played By: Louise Fletcher
Film: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
The easiest way to describe Nurse Ratched is to say that she’s less a human and more a robot with ice water flowing through her veins. Which is the overly complicated way of saying that she’s cold blooded.
A passive aggressive monster that delights in torturing the mentally ill, Nurse Ratched rules her psychotic hospital with an iron fist and an indifference to her patients well being. The way she decides to punish Billy (Brad Dourif) for his misbehaving, is akin to a kid ripping off the wings of a butterfly and throwing the body in a pile of ants. It’s needlessly cruel.
49. Jason Vorhees
Played By: Various (most notably Kane Hodder)
Film: Friday the 13th [Series] (1980-2009)
The first film had his mother doing all the killings. The second one involved a Jason with a burlap sack over his head. It wouldn’t be until the third film in the series that we’d finally get the iconic look. A look that catapulted him into the upper echelon of horror icons.
There’s something about that machete/Hockey mask combination that really struck a chord with audiences and has made him one of the most recognizable figures in pop culture. And that’s just his look. Based on his body count and the variety of kills, Jason might be one of the big screens most violent killers.
48. Tyler Durden
Played By: Brad Pitt
Film: Fight Club (1999)
The dude bro messiah. Tyler Durden is the male equivalent to Holly Golightly. They’re both characters that have inspired generations of fans that don’t understand that they’re not role models. If you modeled your life after Durden’s philosophies or even legitimately tried to join/start a fight club, the meaning of the film completely went over your head. Tyler Durden would hate people who loved Fight Club.
Palahniuk created a cynical satire that took aim at damn near everything and in order to make sure he was hitting as many targets as possible, he came up with the perfect representation of chaos this side of the Joker. He literally exists to beat perfection out of everything and to bring cause as much mayhem as possible. All because Starbucks and Ikea exist. Or something.
47. Baby Jane Hudson
Played By: Bette Davis
Film: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
As any stupid YouTuber with a popular channel can attest, fame can be an all consuming drug. It’s a drug that feeds off of fear of replacement and the desire to be noticed. Such is the case with poor “Baby Jane” Hudson. She started her life immediately famous thanks to her immense popularity as a child star but that star eventually dimmed but her sister’s didn’t. And she’s not too happy about it.
In the greatest stunt casting in Hollywood history, the Hudson sisters were played by Bette Davis and Joan Crawford who notoriously hated each other. That lifelong animosity seeps into every pour of this film to the point where you start to question whether or not Davis is actually acting or not. There’s a strong possibility that when “Baby Jane” is beating the shit out of her sister, she’s doing it for real.
Played By: Ralph Fiennes
Film: Harry Potter [Series] (2001-2011)
When author J.K Rowling set out to create the ultimate antagonist for the titular boy wizard to go up against, she drew from three major sources: Adolf Hitler, Ronald and Reginald Kray and a snake. The dictator was chosen because he’s one of the best examples of supreme evil, the twin gangsters that ruled England’s underground were chosen because they inspired such fear among people, that most refused to say their names aloud and a snake was chosen because, as you know, snakes are mother nature’s assholes.
Combine all that with magical powers that exceed that of Sauron or Darth Vader and you have yourself a threat that’s so formidable, it took eight films and and an entire school of wizards to take him down.
45. Captain Vidal
Played By: Sergi López
Film: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Real life villains such as nazis and fascists automatically get placed atop their own special pedestal of villainy. They immediately have a leg up on their competition but Captain Vidal doesn’t rest on his laurels; he goes out of his way to earn every ounce of hatred the audience can muster.
Cold, brutal, unsympathetic and self righteous, Vidal truly believes every terrible atrocity he commits is right. In any other film, the Pale Man Ophelia has to contend with would be the major baddie but Vidal is so unrelenting vicious, he makes an actual child-eating monster seem less threatening by comparison.
44. Hans Beckert
Played By: Peter Lorre
Film: M (1931)
“But I… I can’t help myself! I have no control over this, this evil thing inside of me, the fire, the voices, the torment!…I want to escape, to escape from myself! But it’s impossible. I can’t escape, I have to obey it. I have to run, run… endless streets. I want to escape, to get away! And I’m pursued by ghosts. Ghosts of mothers and of those children… they never leave me. They are always there… ”
In the film M, Peter Lorre plays a monster so vile (he’s the ultimate double whammy of evil: a child molester and a murderer), that the criminal underground teams up with the police to catch him. His actions could easily land him a spot on this list but it’s the slight sympathy we feel for this devil that makes him unforgettable.
Played By: Linda Blair/Mercedes McCambridge
Film: The Exorcist (1973)
Is there a character (besides Jesus), that’s been through as much as Regan in this film? The amount of shit this demon puts her through (and the amount of shit the director put her through during the making of the film) is insane.
Between the effects, the make up and McCambridge’s gravely voice, you’ll believe in possession. The Catholic church declared the film a work of evil and the Pope himself said the devil lived within the celluloid. That’s a testament to the power of this film and the effectiveness of Pazuzu. While not the devil, this is the closest the cinema has come to convincing me that he could exist.
Played By: Tim Curry/Bill Skarsgård
Film: IT (1990/2017)
Before I got around to watching the miniseries proper, my mother decided to give me an extremely detailed plot synopsis that involved a sewer dwelling clown that eats a child by popping up out of a shower drain. If you’ve seen the film, you know I got some of the details mixed up but to make a long story short, I flooded the bathroom by clogging the shower drain with towels.
Clowns were already on my “no fucking thank you” list thanks to Poltergeist and an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, so the prospect of a supernatural one that can shape shift was too much for me to handle. Stephen King has created many a masterpiece but I believe Pennywise the dancing clown will be his legacy.
41. Emperor Palpatine
Played By: Ian McDiarmid/Clive Revill
Film: Star Wars [Series] (1980-2005)
The almighty puppet master that orchestrates every act of villainy throughout the entire Star Wars saga, Emperor Palpatine is a a weasel that’s shockingly good at the long con. He uses everyone he meets as chess pieces in his quest to take over the galaxy.
The original trilogy gave him not much more than a title and some cool lightning powers but it wouldn’t be until the much maligned prequels till we’d get a backstory proper. Watching him manipulate every situation to his benefit almost makes the second trilogy worth it. Almost.