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.
Played By: Various
Film: Gremlins/Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1984/1990)
Originally conceived as a hard R horror film, director Joe Dante and producer Steven Spielberg decided the script had potential to be massive hit, so they scaled back the graphic violence and innuendo and molded the project into the children’s classic it is today. While some dark elements still remain (“the Santa speech” has been killing Christmas for kids since 1984), the film is still very much for children. Which is refreshing. There’s a million monster films but there’s not that many horror films made specifically for children.
I have no idea who the hell was running Hollywood back in the 80’s but it seemed like whoever it was hated children. There was a huge string of dark films catered to kids and although the nightmare fuel well runs deep (seriously, there’s so many great kids film villains from this decade), the Gremlins eclipse them all in popularity. Adults have their Xenomorphs and the kids have their Gremlins. And I would pay any amount of money to see that battle royale. I have my money on Gremlins.
Played By: Joaquin Phoenix
Film: Gladiator (2000)
Is there anything more repugnant than a spoiled brat with absolute power? Commudus is a vile coward that seized control over an empire by patricide and rules with all the grace and compassion of a petulant child. His main rival is Maximus (Crowe), a general who was beloved by his father and was going to succeed him but Commodus caught wind of the plan and then preceded to murder his entire family, which inadvertently causes him to become a slave. It’s all very soap opera-y.
Crowe may be the star but Phoenix has all the heavy lifting. Crowe gets all the fun action shit, while Phoenix has to create a villain that’s somehow entertaining to watch despite having more mood swings than a pregnant woman and the personality of a trust fund douche but he somehow pulls it off.
88. Biff Tannen
Played By: Thomas F. Wilson
Film: Back to the Future/Back to the Future 2 (1985/1989)
“Don’t mention Trump…don’t mention Trump…” Biff is the worst high school bully imaginable. His penchant for beatdowns and general douche baggery aren’t relegated to the halls of high school. No, his legendary dickishness transcends time and space. Whether it’s the good ol’ 1950’s, the distant future of 2015, or an alternate version of the 1980’s, Biff is ever present and always a complete asshole.
Hypothetically speaking, he’s like The Doctor from Doctor Who mixed with a man who’s definitely not Donald Trump but is exactly like Donald Trump.
Fun Fact: Biff Tannen is based on Donald Trump. Not that that has anything to do with anything. Just thought it was interesting is all.
87. Ivan Drago
Played By: Dolph Lundgren
Film: Rocky IV (1985)
The Rocky films don’t take place on planet Earth. After the first film, each sequel got more and more ridiculous until Rocky IV annihilated any and all notions of reality. Equal parts propaganda and machismo fantasy, Rocky IV is the perfect time capsule of the 80’s. It’s absurd, self indulgent, and is damn near nothing but montages but fuck is it not fun.
America needed Stallone to end the Cold War and he did it the only way he knew how: by beating it the fuck up. If Stallone was going to be the stand in to represent everything great about America, there needed to be someone bigger and badder to represent mother Russia. Enter: Dolph Lundgren. A mountain of a man, he is a force to be reckoned with and even though he only has nine lines of dialogue throughout the entire movie, you know each and every one.
86. Sheriff of Nottingham
Played By: Pat Buttram/Alan Rickman
Film: Robin Hood/Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1973/1991)
The reason the Robin Hood mythos have survived for hundreds of years is partly due to his code of honor and cool sidekicks but mostly because he has a rogues gallery to rival the best comic book superhero. Guy of Gisbourne is a top shelf prick of the highest order and Prince John is usually depicted as either a supreme pussy (which had to be intentional in the 73′ version) or a conniving snake but neither touch the absolute treachery of the Sheriff of Nottingham.
The 1973 animated film depicted him as a large wolf who would shake down even the poorest of children and the 1991 version has one of the most gloriously over the top performances in history. Rickman must have been born with a rare eating disorder that requires him to chew as much of the scenery as humanly possible lest he die of extreme starvation because that man is making a meal out of every ridiculous line and it’s amazing.
Played By: Michelle Pfeiffer
Film: Batman Returns (1992)
There have been multiple iterations of Gotham City’s most prominent cat burglar but none have come close to matching Pfeiffer’s iconic take. She’s a cat burglar in more ways than one. In addition to stealing whatever catches her fancy, she steals every scene she’s in. Which is no small feat, considering the film is stuffed with clowns, penguins with missiles strapped to their backs, giant rubber ducky mobiles, Batman and Christopher Fucking Walken but when Selina Kyle is on screen, it’s her movie.
Bonus bit of useless trivia: she proved so popular among fans and audiences, that she was *this* close to getting her own movie. Warner Brothers actually spent 250,000 dollars to reshoot the ending to include a shot of Catwoman looking at the bat signal because they were positive a spin off was inevitable. Unfortunately they were wrong. But at least we got Batman Forever out of the deal.
84. John Ryder
Played By: Rutger Hauer
Film: The Hitcher
In 1971, Steven Spielberg directed a horror film for television called Duel which was about an unseen driver of a tanker truck terrorizing a business commuter for no real reason other than the fact that he can. Cut to fifteen years later to The Hitcher, which is similar in concept but gone is the massive truck and unseen driver and in their place is a man hellbent on making life as miserable as possible for poor C. Thomas Howell.
John Ryder isn’t a man so much as he is a force of nature. He’s a tornado of destruction and everything in his path will be destroyed but this tornado has a target and there’s nothing that will stop it until he gets what he wants. It’s not revenge. He’s playing a game that Howell doesn’t understand the rules to until the final scene. And by that point, it’s far too late.
Played By: David Carradine
Film: Kill Bill: Vol. 1/ Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2003/2004)
When Casino Royale was first announced as the newest Bond reboot, Quentin Tarantino desperately wanted to write and direct it but when the producers wisely decided to not bring back Brosnan, Tarantino walked. Although Casino Royale is far and away the best Bond film, It’s a shame that we never got to see what Tarantino would’ve done with the character.
A part of me believes he really wanted Casino Royale because his original plans for Bill never came to fruition. Before Carradine was cast, the role was meant for Warren Beatty as more of a James Bond-esque spy. It obviously didn’t happen but the elements are still there. Bill may not be Bond but he’s not dissimilar from Bond’s most notorious nemesis: Blofeld. Both are villainous masterminds that oversee criminal empires and both have a penchant for monologuing while sitting down. The only difference between the two is the fact that Bill doesn’t own a cat.
That and Bill shooting his pregnant wife in the head and taking her baby to raise as a miniature assassin. I don’t remember Blofeld ever doing that.
82. Bridget Gregory
Played By: Linda Fiorentino
Film: The Last Seduction (1994)
Because this film debuted on television before getting a theatrical run, Fiorentino was ineligible for an Academy award nomination. Which is a goddamn shame because her role as Bridget Gregory is one of the all time best femme fatales to ever grace the screen. She’s a black widow that uses sex to ensnare innocent men into her web of rape and murder.
The Female praying mantis shows more love to their mates, than Gregory does to any male in this film. She is an unpredictable siren leading every man she encounters to their doom. Film noir was a genre that died out a long time ago and with it, the hardboiled femme fatale but after this perfect performance, there’s no reason to bring it back.
81. Daniel Plainview
Played By: Daniel Day-Lewis
Film: There Will Be Blood (2007)
Daniel Plainview is personification of the dark side of ambition. Scrooge McDuck to the Nth degree, Plainview embodies as many of mankind’s negative attributes as possible. He’s ferociously ambitious and terrifyingly ruthless. A master manipulator, he’ll use every situation to his advantage and will eventually discard everyone who’s no longer useful to him.
Plainview not only spits in the face of the old proverb “No man is an island” but considers it a challenge. The only close relationships he has in the film are his son and brother and both are violently cast aside and were only ever used as a means of securing his legacy. Plainview proves that blood maybe thicker than water but oil is thicker than both.