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Kathy Bates in Misery, Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men and 17 more of the best movie villains

From long-forgotten maniacs to ice-cold femme fatales, here are 19 of the most despicable, irredeemable film baddies of all time

Movie Villains


Zoolander (2001)

Will Ferrell’s Jacobim Mugatu is a monster. He not only fosters a venomously toxic workplace environment (including spitting scalding-hot coffee in the face of his assistant) but also brainwashes a beautiful and entirely innocent male model to assassinate the prime minister of Malaysia. Although he did invent the piano-key necktie, so he’s not all bad.

Sheriff of Nottingham

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

For a character in a kid’s film, the Sheriff of Nottingham is a real piece of work. He threatens to cut Robin Hood’s heart out with a spoon, sexually assaults Maid Marian in a church, and tries to hang a bunch of kids for some minor misdemeanour. That he still manages to be the most likable person in the film is a testament to Alan Rickman’s unrivalled sneering charm.

William Foster

Falling Down (1993)

Michael Douglas plays William Foster, a short-sleeved schlub having a violent mental breakdown on the streets of Los Angeles. Is he a villain or hero? Sure he goes on a murderous rampage, but maybe he’s a bespectacled vigilante of the people, railing against the dehumanising bureaucracy of our hypercapitalist society. Either way, the message is clear: without a decent breakfast your day is as good as ruined.

Annie Wilkes

Misery (1990)

You never forget your first hobbling. When the best-selling novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) crashes his car in a snowstorm, he’s rescued by obsessive fan Annie Wilkes. What makes her such an effective villain is the way Kathy Bates plays her with a childlike, stunted innocence. She even reacts the way a child might when they don’t get their way. If, that is, a child could effectively swing a 20-pound sledgehammer against the ankles of a bedbound prisoner.


Asami Yamazaki

Audition (1999)

Takashi Miike’s unforgettable horror starts out like a romantic comedy. When a widower stages a fake film audition as a way to search for a new wife, he thinks he has found the woman of his dreams. He has, in fact, found one of the most disturbing villains in movie history. You need a very strong stomach to make it through the last 20 minutes of this film.


Collateral (2004)

Tom Cruise should play more villains, because the man is terrifying. Whether he’s jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch or admonishing someone on the red carpet, there is something unsettling about his intense stare and strained smile. In Michael Mann’s underappreciated noir thriller he plays an ice-cold hitman who takes cab driver Jamie Foxx hostage while he attempts to kill five targets in one night.

Hans Landa

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

His films may not be your cup of tea, but you can’t deny Quentin Tarantino writes a mean villain. From Michael Madsen’s ear-slicing Mr Blonde, in Reservoir Dogs, to Leonardo DiCaprio’s sadistic slave-owner Calvin Candie, in Django Unchained, they are each uniquely cruel and memorable creations. But Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa towers above them all, a grotesque personification of the Nazi regime’s twisted logic and vile ideology.

Norman Bates

Psycho (1960)

Sometimes when you watch older films, changes in culture and technology mean you have to work pretty hard to understand how contemporary audiences might have felt at the time. Not so with Psycho. Anthony Perkins gives such a creepy, naturalistic performance it wouldn’t look out of place in a film made today. And that final scene where he breaks the fourth wall to stare right into your soul is as chilling now as it must have been 60 years ago.

Officer Joe Vickers

Psycho Cop (1989)

Before he was Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration, in the US Office, Robert R Shafer was Psycho Cop, a Satan-worshipping serial killer with a badge. This straight-to-video B-movie slasher has the two ingredients you need to enjoy such a film: a bunch of unlikable kids getting killed in ever more imaginative ways, and an over-the-top villain spouting ridiculous one-liners as the blood flies.

Regina George

Mean Girls (2004)

With a name like Mean Girls it’s fair to assume there will be some mean girls in this film. But, come on, how mean can they be? It’s a high-school comedy starring Lindsay Lohan. The answer is: so, so mean. Regina George (Rachel McAdams) is probably the meanest person on this list, and considering it’s a list filled with Nazis and serial killers, that’s saying a lot. At least you know where you stand with a bloody Nazi.

Caledon Hockley

Titanic (1997)

On April 15th, 1912, RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the ocean, but even that wasn’t sinking as low as Billy Zane’s character. Can you imagine stealing a young child just so you could wangle your way on to a lifeboat reserved for women and children? Although, to be fair, he did save that kid’s life, as well as his own, so . . . who knows? Maybe we’ve been a little harsh on Billy all these years.

Uncle Frank

Home Alone (1990)

You might think the villains of Home Alone are Harry and Marv, aka the Wet Bandits, but you’d be wrong. The real monster is Uncle Frank. This penny-pinching lowlife mooches off his brother, talks to kids as if they’re dirt under his shoe, and generally sows familial discord any time he’s on screen. Really, the whole mess is his fault.

Suzanne Stone

To Die For (1995)

When was the last time you heard someone mention To Die For? Gus Van Sant’s pitch-black satire of fame and ambition seems to have fallen through the cracks of our collective memory. Nicole Kidman gives one of her finest performances as a ruthlessly ambitious woman desperate to make it as a broadcast journalist who ropes poor Joaquin Phoenix in to killing her husband.

Castor Troy

Face/Off (1997)

Here we have two villains for the price of one. The central conceit of an FBI agent swapping faces with his nemesis means both Nicolas Cage and John Travolta get a crack at playing the cackling lunatic, and it’s hard to say who’s having more fun. Travolta gives it his all, but it’s hard to out-Cage Nic Cage when he goes full Cage-mode.


Toy Story 3 (2010)

When Woody, Buzz and friends find themselves trapped in Sunnyside Daycare, they are taken under the wise wing of benevolent Lost-O’-Huggin’ Bear. It doesn’t take long for the mask to slip. With a tragic backstory, this pink fuzzball is really a maelstrom of trauma and rage, and when he lets it all out it’s quite terrifying.

Anton Chigurh

No Country for Old Men (2007)

In 2013 the Journal of Forensic Sciences published a paper that examined characters from 400 films and found Anton Chigurh to be the most realistic depiction of a true psychopath in the history of cinema. Whether this amounts to a sensible use of academic funding is beside the point. It does, however, highlight what makes Javier Bardem’s portrayal so scary: no matter how much a character begs for their life he remains unmoved, because ultimately he feels nothing.

Mama Fratelli

The Goonies (1985)

If you watched The Goonies as a child, Mama Fratelli scared the bejaysus out of you. Even if you couldn’t understand a word coming out of her mouth, you knew enough. You knew she was a murderer and a thief. And you knew she chained her tortured and deformed son to a pipe in a dank restaurant basement. And why? Because 1980s kids films were absolutely insane.

Max Cady

Cape Fear (1962)

Some films live or die on the strength of their villains, and that’s absolutely the case with Cape Fear. Robert De Niro was good (in an over-the-top kind of way) in Martin Scorsese’s remake, but nothing can top Robert Mitchum’s sinister energy in the original. As a recently released convict out for revenge against the man who testified against him, Mitchum is a magnetic, malevolent presence who elevates the whole film every time he’s on screen.

Owen Davian

Mission: Impossible III (2006)

In a very dull film, Philip Seymour Hoffman created the most memorable character of the entire Mission: Impossible franchise. He could have just phoned it in and nobody would have batted an eyelid, but Big Phil didn’t roll that way. Here he gives the usual supervillain role such a nasty, violent edge it imbues every CGI-heavy action scene with an unexpected feeling of real jeopardy.