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.
30. Amy Dunne
Played By: Rosamund Pike
Film: Gone Girl (2014)
John Doe created the ultimate serial killer M.O. because he felt that it was his calling. Jigsaw placed people in elaborate traps to test their will to survive. There have been many a villain with many a diabolical plan but there aren’t many examples of a more intricate plan designed around nothing more than revenge. Lee Woo-Jin from Oldboy is a good example but his revenge is kind of understandable. He’s torturing a world class asshole who was indirectly responsible for [redacted], which would make anyone distraught but Amy is a beast of a different color.
Amy Dunne isn’t getting revenge on a stranger that did a terrible deed, intentional or not. She’s ruining a man’s entire life because she caught him cheating on her. A dance in an alley with another woman, ends with a man getting brutally murdered and another almost getting completely ruined. She’s a calculating devil that’s always two steps ahead.
Hell hath no fury like a crazy bitch scorned.
29. Norman Stansfield
Played By: Gary Oldman
Film: Léon: The Professional (1994)
It would be easy to fill this entry with nothing but memes and gifs. You’ve seen them, you know them. “Everyone” is the most famous and for good reason. I don’t think any other actor has made more of a meal from a single word. Oldman is allowed to chew every inch of the scenery and he does so in the most spectacular way possible. It’s over the top, yes but it’s never cartoonish. Even when he’s at his most outrageous, he never loses menace.
He’s an actual threat. There have been a million corrupt cops in film and a couple even appeared on this list but none are as memorable or as dangerous as Stansfield.
28. Roy Batty
Played By: Rutger Hauer
Film: Blade Runner (1982)
It’s almost ironic that the most emotionally complex character on this list is the one that isn’t a human. What makes Blade Runner so fascinating (among other things), is that if you look at the film from the reverse angle, Deckard is clearly the villain of the film. Batty doesn’t want to take over the city or lead an android uprising, he just wants to live. Every person he kills is out of frustration with the fact that he was born with a time limit and he’s not going gently into that good night.
But the film isn’t from his perspective. He may be sympathetic and the film may focus on the wrong character but Deckard is the protagonist. Which means Batty is the antagonist. He commits multiple heinous crimes throughout the film but at the end (after the greatest monologue in film history), he ends up the punchline to a terrible joke. That, whether your good or bad, man or machine, life ends for all of us.
27. The Wicked Witch of the West
Played By: Margaret Hamilton
Film: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
If I could go back in time to see only film during its premier, it would be the Wizard of Oz. It’s been a staple of so many of our lives that we forget how revolutionary it actually is. It has so many mind blowing scenes, that I honestly can’t fathom how audiences of the 30’s would react. I know it’s a beloved classic now but I have a hunch that this was the Poltergeist of its day. A family friendly horror film that entertained the adults and scared the bejesus out of the youngsters.
To add to my completely bullshit theory that’s backed up by no evidence whatsoever, I believe there’s a reason Universal made a film about every major monster except for the witch and that’s because the Wizard of Oz already nailed it. Between her menacing voice and cackling laugh, Margaret Hamilton may not have been a Universal Monster but she sure as shit created the best female monster of all time.
26. Harry Powell
Played By: Robert Mitchum
Film: The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Sometimes a film is too effective in its depiction of horror. There’s a multitude of reasons why a film flops at the box office but in the case of The Night of the Hunter, I truly believe it was a case of right place, wrong time. Critics tore it apart and audience’s had no idea what to do with it. Because they had never seen anything like it.
Audiences could handle the Universal movies because there was an automatic disconnect. They were scary but they weren’t real. These were fictitious monsters that don’t live in our world. Harry Powell is a monster that does. He hides behind the visage of a holy man to commit truly terrible crimes but it’s his unwavering need to chase two young children to collect some money, that makes him unforgettable. There are times throughout the film where he is depicted as more of a darkly cartoonist boogeyman but you never question what would happen if he caught those kids. He’d kill them.
25. Patrick Bateman
Played By: Christian Bale
Film: American Psycho (2000)
It’s 1987 and Patrick Bateman works for an extremely successful investment banking firm. He wears the slickest suits and is in peak physical shape. He’s a yuppie that bitches about other yuppies and has a strong affinity for Huey Lewis and the News. He flaunts his business cards as a sign of vanity and ego and enjoys the company of prostitutes.
He also murders people.
There’s been much debate on whether or not the events of the film actually take place or if they are just the delusions of an insanity but the writer and the director both maintain that the majority of the evil Bateman commits throughout the film actually happened. I’m assuming that includes the scene with the ATM demanding payment in the form of a kitty’s sacrifice. Or maybe ATMs in the 80’s were actually evil. It was a different time.
Fun Fact: Bale later admitted that he based his performance of Patrick Bateman on Tom Cruise. Food for thought.
24. Bellatrix Lestrange
Played By: Helena Bonham Carter
Film: Harry Potter [Series] (2007-2011)
If you were to take a pole of the most beloved Harry Potter character, Sirius Black and Dobby would be at the top of the list. One is the father figure Harry was denied and the other is an adorable house elf that’s so adored by fans, that there was a shit ton of backlash leveled against the studio on account of his minuscule amount of screen time across the series. Fans wanted more of these characters but they would be permanently denied their wish.
Because they would both be murdered by the most loyal of Voldemort’s followers: Bellatrix Lestrange. Violently insane and unquestionably loyal, Lestrange will do anything to serve her master. Voldemort may have the ambition but Bellatrix has the body count. And honestly, there’s not a person alive that didn’t cheer after the lines “Not my daughter, you bitch.”
23. Agent Smith
Played: Hugo Weaving
Film: The Matrix [Series] (1999-2003)
Up until the release of the Matrix, computer AI was always depicted as cold and emotionless. They were little more than automatons that usually spoke in nothing but computer jargon. “We must reboot the dot matrix.” The Matrix created an AI that’s unlike the ones seen in Tron or 2001:A Space Odyssey. Agent Smith starts the film as an emotionless construct designed for a specific purpose but other the course of three films, he breaks away from his design and grows to hate humanity.
He turns himself into a virus to infect the entirety of the Matrix, to destroy it from the inside out. So that means that if Neo is essentially an allegory for Jesus, that means Jesus is an AntiVirus program. But the reason question is: Is he Norton or McAfee?
22. Annie Wilkes
Played By: Kathy Bates
Film: Misery (1990)
In a career spanning over 40 years, Stephen King as created a number of horrific monsters. There’s even an intricate chart a fan made that connects all the evil within his novels. Child eating aliens to eldritch monstrosities that exist outside of our universe to all powerful wizards that could destroy the world 10× over, through Easter eggs and references, he’s connected all of these supernatural beings. The world within King’s novels is terrifying beyond belief but this is the real world and within the real world, sometimes true horror could come disguised as your best friend. Or in the case of Misery, your number 1 fan.
Annie Wilkes is a nurse that saves the life of her favorite author and does everything in her power to tend to his wounds. She’s a bit quirky but nothing off putting, until she realizes her favorite author intends to kill off his most famous literary creation. Then the facade fades away and we see that true evil doesn’t come from other dimensions or supernatural entities, it’s hidden in plain sight. Beyond a smile and a warm personality.
21. Tommy DeVito
Played By: Joe Pesci
Film: Goodfellas (1990)
When gangster Henry Hill was asked by an interviewer how accurate the film Goodfellas was to his life, he was quoted as saying “the film was 99% accurate…the only real difference being that the real Tommy was larger.” It’s pretty astonishing that Pesci could accurately portray a man that Hill said would kill someone just because he wanted to try out a new firearm and didn’t feel like going to the range and had a penchant for violent outbursts but that’s a testament to his abilities as an actor.
Goodfellas is a film made up entirely of gangsters who rob, murder and torture for fun and yet there’s never a question who the most dangerous person in any room is. If Tommy DeVito enters the frame, it’s only a matter of time before someone ends up bloody, broken or dead.