Let's begin our list of the most vile cinematic villains with a few honorable mentions.
Halloween is slowly drawing closer, the time of year where everyone lets themselves be a little bit bad, enjoy the horrors of the world, and look forward to getting scary straight through ghosts, monsters, and any other creature your mind can conjure up. It's been a tradition here on the site that every Halloween, I put out a list listing my favorite horror related pieces of media, with last year dedicated to my favorite horror movies and games, to the year before that listing my Top 20 favorite video game villains. This year, I felt like I should return to that well I dug two years ago with a list about the top 20 movie villains of all time.
In case it hasn't been made abundantly clear by now, I love villains. I think that a great villain can elevate a piece of fiction much more than a great hero. While heroes almost always derive from Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces, I haven't truly found a text that can relate all villains into a singular mind frame. Villains can stretch a much wider range of emotions and motivations than heroes and there are even times where we'll root for the bad guy even though we shouldn't. Let's face it, sometimes it's good to be bad.
Movie villains are interesting in that their actions are condensed into a 90 minute - two hour runtime, making easier for audiences to get a complete picture of a villain and their motivations. With a video game, some villains stories can run for well over 40 hours, but movies need to keep everything short and sweet. What you see in the brief little snippet of their lives is what you'll get and most likely ever will get, so damn it if they aren't going to be memorable. Plus as an audience, we have the ability to see villains directly as humans; not just voices on 3D character models or through text, but legitimate humans emoting and giving life to these performances. Yes there are great animated villains as well that I wouldn't dare ignore, but those villains once again benefit from limited exposure and genuine human emotion breathing life into their words and actions.
If you're familiar with how I structured my list last time, then this will definitely seem familiar to you, but for those unaware, I judge my villains by a rating scale that includes 5 categories where each villain can receive up to 10 points. The categories are Style, how interesting are they visually, Power, how strong they are, Intelligence, how smart they are, Fear, how scared would you be if you saw them one on one, and Feats, what have they accomplished to justify their villainy. In order to qualify for this list, a villain had to get over 35 points total, which was easier said than done. Out of 48 possible villains, I had to narrow it down to 20, and even then I had leave a few on the cutting room floor for technicalities. Not only that, but I decided against throwing in direct historical figures unless there's a damned good reason for it. So no, Hitler won't show up here, but if a werewolf Hitler did, he would be judged by what werewolf Hitler did, not actual Hitler. So to honor those cut, here are my five honorable mentions before we dive into the rankings next week.
|The Lasser Glass from Oculus (2014)|
The movie is extremely ambiguous as to whether or not the glass was responsible for all of the killings, but it's heavily implied that something isn't right about this mirror. It can't be broken, people sit and stare at it for hours on end, and every owner of the glass has died under mysterious circumstances. All of those facts make the glass a fairly compelling villain, under you realize that it's an inanimate object. Does it have any agency? Does it want to kill people? Hell, would you even be able to say with a straight face that you were scared of a mirror? The Lasser Glass is a very cool concept for a paranormal movie, but it's just too stoic for it to be anything other than a spooky looking glass.
|Professor Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective (1986)|
As for my second reason, Professor Ratigan was the first villain I actively remember from any movie. I remember his song vividly where his henchmen sing about how evil he is. I remember him always containing his rage before calming down into his aristocratic demeanor. I remember when he just lost it and became a savage monster in the clock tower scene which was the first time I was ever scared at a movie. The Vincent Price rat was my first childhood fear, but thankfully it was one I quickly grew out of. For both of those reasons, I can't not include Professor Ratigan on this list.
|Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street series|
I'd love to honor him more, and when Freddy is good, he's damned good, but I couldn't justify putting him on a list when he's had so many bad moments to his name. Sad, but if you want to watch some great Freddy Krueger moments, stick with the first and third movies. Hell, give Wes Craven's New Nightmare a try for something a bit more experimental.
|Space from any sci-fi movie ever|
Yes. Yes it is. And it is terrifying.
Space has always had an air of mystery and adventure to it, what with Star Trek calling it "The Final Frontier", but if you were to watch any realistic sci-fi movie made in the past decade or so, then space is an absolutely horrifying concept. Suffocation, pure isolation, time displacement, being hurled through the infinite blackness only to reach nothing, and do you see why space is so scary yet??? It isn't a direct villain and this is more along the lines of the environment being an enemy to the protagonist, but still, screw space. If you want to see why space is so horrifying, go watch Gravity. That'll have you peeing your pants if you're afraid of any of the things I just listed above.
|The T-1000 from T2: Judgment Day (1991)|
While everything seems strong on paper, what holds it back from true villainy is the fact that the Terminators are massed produced. The T-1000 may be the newest model of Terminator, but they're still just mass produced machinery that can be defeated fairly easily if you know what to do. Plus there's nothing that really makes the T-1000 stand out from any other villain on this list. Most villains in the Top 20 have an extremely strong personality and are frightening solely because they have morals and ethics, just ones that can't be understood or comprehended. That lack of understanding makes them true villains, especially when we can relate to them. The T-1000 is unrelatable, which is fine, but it doesn't have anything else that makes him distinctive besides being a force of nature. It's not too different from Nemesis from Resident Evil 3; both are indestructible monsters, but that lack of individuality will always make them less appealing than other villains that are also forces of nature. The Joker is a force of nature and has a personality, the T-1000 is a force of nature with no personality. It's still a fantastic villain, don't get me wrong, so consider the T-1000 the #21 of my list.
So with all of that said, tune in next Monday for the first half of the list! I can assure you it won't be disappointing...