Our yearly tradition that cites the “Greatest ___ of All-Time” begins once again with a look at the baddest guys and gals of the silver screen. Each writer will deliver their own set of ten, likely with all different interpretations of “the villain” and what they mean. If you miss one, click on the tag “10 Greatest Villains of All-Time.”
For every yin there is a yang, and so it goes that for every great film hero, there is usually an iconic villain whose evil plans are being thwarted.
Throughout the history of cinema, movie lovers have been obsessed with the battle between good and evil, often times siding with their favorite baddie. The Great Train Robbery (1904) – a short film centered around two masked robbers – is widely considered to be the film that launched movies from a parlor trick novelty into the massive entertainment industry that it is today. So you can see the impact villains have had on our favorite pastime was present from the very start.
By looking through the rankings of the rest of the Awards Circuit staff, you can see the interpretation for what qualifies for a list like this is wholly subjective. Some may base their list on performances, others by character, some by both; while others might be completely creative and just do their own thing (like Sam’s Disney Villains list).
Attached you will find a list of the villains who I believe have stood the test of time, and will remain iconic and immortal for generations long after ours.
Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi in Dracula – 1931); Max Cady (Robert Mitchum and Robert De Niro in Cape Fear – 1962 and 1991, respectively); Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – 1975); Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men – 2007); Gollum/Smeagol (Andy Serkis in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – 2001-2003); Regan MacNeil/The Demon (Linda Blair in The Exorcist – 1973); Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List – 1993); The Shark (Jaws – 1975); and Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus – 1984.)
Needless to say, spoilers lay ahead.
10. Harry Lime (Orson Welles in The Third Man – 1949)
The supposedly deceased Harry Lime doesn’t show up on screen until the film is about half over, but his intro makes for one of the greatest moments in film history. Lime is a ruthless black marketeer who makes his fortune diluting the penicillin that he steals from military hospitals. While his actions result in many deaths, Lime reveals that he believes his victims lives are insignificant in the famous cuckoo clock monologue, furthering his case to be on a list such as this. Best scene: The Cat in the Doorway.
9. Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate – 1962)
Mrs. Iselin is part of a prominent political family who has made a deal with Chinese and Soviet officials during the Korean War that she hopes will take her and her husband all the way to the White House. What makes the malevolent Mrs. Iselin as cold a character as her name alludes is the fact that she has allowed her own son, Sergeant Raymond Shaw, to be brainwashed by her Communist allies. They plan – at any cost – to use Raymond as a killing machine to assassinate anyone that will get in the way of the Iselin’s dreams of ruling the nation. Best scene: The Final Plan.
8. The Alien (The title creature in Alien/Aliens – 1979 and 1986, respectively)
H. R. Giger’s magnificent creation can best be summed up by Ash’s (Ian Holm) admiring analysis of the creature: “The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility…I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” Giger’s Alien is one of the most layered and horrific characters ever brought to screen. From the face-hugging parasite that leaps out of its egg on to its victim, to the way “Kane’s Son” is birthed, the rapid way in which in grows, acid for blood, the second mouth within its mouth – it’s terrifying design all makes for one of the greatest conceptions ever realized in film. Best scene: The Chest-burster.
7. HAL 9000 (Voiced by Douglas Rain in 2001: A Space Odyssey – 1968)
The HAL 9000 is a sentient computer who controls most of the operations on a ship that is headed to Jupiter. HAL is designed to be incapable of error, though he is able to display what comes off as genuine human emotions. When a possible blunder is made by the machine, the astronauts aboard must contemplate whether or not to disconnect HAL. The computer’s survival instinct kicks in, as he turns against his human counterparts in order to prevent them from what he feels is jeopardizing the mission. Best scene: Open the Pod Bay Doors, Hal.
6. Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange – 1971)
Alex is a young man full of charisma and charm, who has a thirst for milk plus, an enthusiasm for Ludwig Van, and a passion for the ultra-violence. He and his droogs take part in a horrific crime spree that involves thievery, assault, rape, and murder, before Alex is imprisoned and becomes part of a controversial rehabilitation program. Many appy polly loggies for those who disagree with me, your faithful narrator, but Alex deserves his spot on any list of best villains, if not for anything else, for the way that you’ll never be able to hear “Singin’ in the Rain” the same way after seeing A Clockwork Orange. Best scene: Rehab.
5. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins in Psycho – 1960)
Disturbed probably doesn’t begin to describe Norman Bates, the Bates Motel manager-owner who, besides being a peeping-tom and murderer, suffers from split-personality disorder. What always made Norman terrifying for me was watching how creepily innocent and harmful Norman seemed as himself, while knowing the demons that laid just underneath the surface when his jealous mother side sporadically emerged. Best scene: The Shower Scene.
4. The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz – 1939)
For most children, The Wicked Witch of the West is one of the first evil villains we are introduced to in live-action film. Over 75 years later, Margaret Hamilton’s portrayal of the green, sharp-nosed witch and her flying monkeys are still keeping kids awake at night. I mean, she didn’t just want to hurt Dorothy, but her little dog, too. Best scene: I’ll Get You, My Pretty.
3. Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando in The Godfather – 1972)
For those of you who defend Vito Corleone and his corrupt, murderous family as being the heroes and not the villains, you have a lesson to learn on the theme of “the lesser of two evils.” The loving, patriarchal figure of a close-knit family, Vito was also a ruthless mob lord who bribed political officials, extorted weaker parties, and murdered at will – just ask Jack Woltz how his prized stallion Khartoum is feeling. Best scene: Bonasera.
2. Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs – 1991)
Dr. Lecter is a former psychiatrist who has been incarcerated for eating his patients. Sounds worthy of a list like this, right? The brilliant cannibal is eerily charming, though, and that’s really what puts him at the penultimate spot on my list. His quid pro quo interactions with Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) are some of the most engaging scenes in film history, as we both yearn for Lecter’s clues to find serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), and relish in Lecter’s dissection of Starling’s psyche. Best scene: The Census Taker.
1. Darth Vader (Voiced by James Earl Jones in Star Wars Episodes III, IV, V, and VI – 2005, 1977, 1980, and 1983, respectively)
When we were first informed that we’d be ranking our top ten villains in film history, Darth Vader instantly jumped to my mind as the no-brainer number one. In my opinion, it’s not close – no one comes near what the dark father was able to bring to the screen. His callous use of the force, expertise with a lightsaber, and willingness to murder his own son, along with an incredible redemption storyline whose arc is as marvelous as we have ever seen in film, leave me no choice but to place him at the pinnacle of this list. For those of you who would leave him outside of your rankings, I would remind you to never underestimate the power of the dark side. Best scene: I Am Your Father.
There you have it. What do you agree/disagree with? Please leave your rankings and comments below.