The majority of villains in film are men. Let’s just get that out of the way. Google search famous big screen baddies and you will be inundated with male personas.
It’s obvious that Hollywood doesn’t consider the female image to be as menacing, nor does it assume actresses can personify abominable roles as well as the men. How else could this gender inequity be explained?
Women also don’t occupy as many super villain roles as men. This means there are less female antagonists with powers or cool gadgets in high-budget films.
And, unsurprisingly, there are even less opportunities for women of color to play such roles.
The case can be made that villainous roles for women have increased over the years, but, as mentioned, they are limited and have arrived at a lethargic pace. The more memorable fiends are almost entirely played by men.
Characters like the Wicked Witch of the West, Nurse Ratched, Annie Wilkes and Regan MacNeil are all staple villains forever imbedded in the annals of film history. However, because they’re so celebrated, they will be relegated to an honorable mentions list in order to make room for characters that are newer or often forgotten and may soon end up being as admired as the aforementioned few. Also, only live-action villains were considered for this list (many apologies Disney fans).
Among the characters that came close to making this list were Bonnie (of “and Clyde” fame), Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, the White Witch from the first entry in the “Chronicles of Narnia” series, and Dolores Umbridge, who was bumped to make room for another female in the Harry Potter universe.
Check out the list below and let us know what you think!
10. Winifred Sanderson
Played by Bette Midler
This is more of a comedic performance, but Midler’s turn as a deliciously nasty Salem witch in the popular Disney film has garnered her allegiance in all age brackets. The Broadway star’s iconic look in the film – the buck teeth, long nails, garishly red hair and sour lemon expression – adorn Winifred’s ghoulish ego. It’s a solid commitment to a character, even if it is just a children’s film from the ‘90s. Midler’s spell continues to be cast after nearly 25 years.
9. Miranda Priestly
“The Devil Wears Prada”
Played by Meryl Streep
Allegedly based on Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Streep nails the part of a fastidious fashion editor with an eye for high-end style and a gaze to penetrate deep into your fragile little soul. Miranda Priestly is every intern’s worse nightmare realized – an overbearing boss with ridiculously high standards who isn’t afraid to dress you down in her office (in more ways than one). All her moves may be subtle, but if there was a trophy for most passive-aggressive villain, it’d have Miranda Priestly’s name on it (gold-plated and designer, of course).
8. The Heathers
Played by Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk and Kim Walker
High school is cruel, but in director Michael Lemann’s 1988 cult-classic, he proves how evil popular girls can be. The Heathers comprise of three wealthy teens, all named Heather. Together, they are the most attractive and popular girls in their school but their reputations come at a price. As the Heather’s begin dying off, their true nature becomes transparent. As one Heather mentally stated during another Heather’s funeral, “I prayed for the death of Heather Chandler many times and I felt bad every time I did it, but I kept doing it anyway.”
7. Kathryn Merteuil
Played by Sarah Michelle Gellar
No one knows how to stake hearts better than Sarah Michelle Gellar. Mind games, sex trysts and costly bets are what her character Kathryn knows best. She has a wicked agenda and doesn’t care who she has to swindle or lie to, as long as she gets hers. Seducing her step-brother, ruining relationships and going after virgins are just some of the things she tries to get away with. She may look sweet but, just like her crucifix, there’s nothing but immorality on the inside.
6. Rose Armitage
Played by Allison Williams
Allison Williams is having an amazing year. She just capped off the final season of HBO’s “Girls” and recently starred in the satirical horror film that’s sure to get talked about for years to come. In the film, Williams plays Rose, an ostensibly sweet white girlfriend to an African American man. When he meets her family for the first time, all is not as it seems. Without giving too much away, what ensues is a strange string of events with peculiar characters and an unforgettable ending.
5. Bellatrix Lestrange
The Harry Potter series
Played by Helena Bonham Carter
Wizards are not afraid to speak her name, yet she is just as lethal as the Dark Lord she serves. Voldemort’s right-hand woman has killed off many of J.K. Rowling’s beloved characters: Sirius Black, Tonks and Dobby. She has been a big threat to Harry and his clan since her character was introduced in “Order of the Phoenix.” What makes Bellatrix enjoyable to watch, though, is Carter’s delightfully wicked interpretation of a deranged woman who takes pleasure in the dark arts. Any other actress would not have done Bellatrix justice.
4. Elle Driver
“Kill Bill Vol.1” and “Kill Bill Vol. 2”
Played by Daryl Hannah
Only the coolest villains get to wear an eye-patch. Such is the case with Elle Driver, code name California Mountain Snake, a trained assassin who makes up one quarter of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. She is just as deadly with her Hanzo katana as she is in hand-to-hand combat. Her other specialty involves toxins, such as when she poisoned her own master for reprimanding her.
3. Amy Dunne
Played by Rosamund Pike
Marriage is sacrifice. “Gone Girl,” however, takes the adage to a whole new level. In Rosamund Pike’s best performance to-date (earning her an Oscar nomination), she inhabits the mind of Amy Dunne, a married woman who goes to great lengths to get away from her husband and even greater lengths to get him back. Amy might be the most duplicitous, vicious spouse ever, putting even Chucky’s bride to shame.
2. Regina George
Played by Rachel McAdams
No movie villains list is complete without Regina George. She’s Queen of the Plastics and the most popular girl at North Shore High School. Her Burn Book contains everyone’s secrets and I hear she does car commercials in Japan. The Heathers fade in comparison to Regina’s solipsistic nature. She’s at her most vile when she’s in revenge-mode. Hell hath no fury like a teenage girl when she’s not invited to a party.
1. O-Ren Ishii
“Kill Bil: Vol. 1” and “Kill Bill: Vol. 2”
Played by Lucy Liu
Tarantino created not just one but several amazing female villains in his “Kill Bill” series. An honorable mention must go out to Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) as well as Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama), both of which could have easily stolen spots in this list. However, with Elle Driver already mentioned, it’s only suiting that O-Ren Ishii take the top spot. There’s no hyperbole in saying that O-Ren is a complete bad-ass. She’s quiet, calm and cordial, but when she’s triggered heads literally roll. Word of caution: don’t insult her heritage.