This is it, the Top 10 Greatest Villains of All Time! After counting down from number 40, I’ve arrived at my absolute favorite villainous characters in all of media.
These characters run the gamut from being funny to terrifying. But in any instance, they are simply great characters who steal the spotlight whenever they are on the page or screen. If you don’t agree, or think I missed out on someone, let me know!
10. Yzma and Kronk – The Emperor’s New Groove
One is a shriveled-up old woman trying to usurp the throne. The other is her incompetent man-mountain servant who doesn’t really want to hurt anyone. Together, they’re Disney’s funniest and weirdest villains, perfect for one of the company’s silliest comedies ever, The Emperor’s New Groove. Each have absolutely hysterical moments in the film, like Kronk making his own spy music when he’s sneaking around or Yzma’s mad dash down the side of Pacha’s mountain.
They’re also the perfect duo to complement the film’s two stars. While Kuzko and Pacha start off at odds with one another, they eventually come to a mutual understanding. On the opposite end, Yzma just uses Kronk as her dumb lackey. And yes, he’s very dumb, up until he finally rebels. Of course, together they supply constant laughs up until the very end. “Squeak-squeaker-squeak-squeaken!”
9. Boyd Crowder – Justified
One of the most charismatic and slippery characters in all of television. Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder is absolutely magnetic. You simply can’t take your eyes off him, no matter who else is on screen at the time on Justified. While Boyd starts off fully bad (racist, violent, vengeful), his story arc in the first season transforms him into a much more dynamic character. After nearly dying, Boyd decides to become a preacher. Thanks to amazing writing and Goggins’ performance, the audience can never quite trust Boyd.
From there on out, it’s a roller coaster ride with Boyd. While other bad guys comes and go in Justified, Boyd is both a consistent antagonist to the law abiders and the star of his own story. His chemistry with star Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens is the cherry on top of this lightning bolt of a character. Even when working together, you can never be sure if they’re about to try and kill each other.
8. The Shark – Jaws
This is fiction’s greatest example of nature being out to kill you. Possibly no other movie has had such an impact on the public consciousness as Jaws, and it’s all due to the shark. The mystery, the music, the violence, the terror – they all add up to one ferocious villain. Unlike the other villains on this list, the shark has no motivation and no characterization. It’s simply an eating machine that doesn’t discriminate between victims.
It also helps that Jaws is a fantastically structured movie, split between the mystery behind the attacks on Amity Island and Brody, Quint, and Hooper out on the ocean on the hunt. In either instance, the shark is a terrifying presence that could attack at any moment. Yes, the animatronic shark is really dated, but it’s the presence of the monster that makes it so intimidating. The classic score, the first person view, the fleeting glimpses, they all make this 25-footer into the most terrifying force of nature to grace the screen.
7. Loki – Marvel Comics
Loki has been one of Marvel Comics’ finest villains for decades, consistently providing a counterpoint to the brawny and brash Thor. But it’s Tom Hiddleston’s on-screen performances that have made him a mainstream icon of villainy. On both screen and comic page, Loki moves back and forth between complicated victim and outright villainous trickster. This unpredictability helps keep him fresh and strengthens the stories he is in.
Loki has taken many forms over the years, both spiritually and physically. His plans have taken action both in the short term and long term. But in any case, his greatest weapon is his mind, using magic only to further his devious plots. Comic book stories like Walt Simonson’s epic run on Thor and the company-wide event known as Dark Reign have both shown Loki to be a mastermind that’s more than a match for heroes. While Hiddleston’s performance in Thor, The Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World show him to be both a devious and magnetic character, no matter who he is up against.
6. Roy Batty – Blade Runner
Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty is a mysterious mixture of violence, desperation, and soulful beauty impossibly intertwined with one another. For most of Blade Runner, Batty and the rest of the replicants are seen as violent and dangerous, if not completely evil. After all, they are simply trying to survive and find out how they can extend their artificial four-year lifespan. Batty is seen in glimpses, sharing brief moments with his friends as he moves behind the scenes. But it is not until the end where we see his true humanity.
Pursuing Rick Deckard throughout the halls of the disheveled Bradbury Building, Roy hunts the man who has killed his friends like a wolf. He’s frightening and powerful, coming directly at Deckard and shrugging off everything he throws at him. But just as Batty has Deckard at his mercy, about to fall to his death off the top of the building, he saves him. Why? Maybe to show him the beauty of life and stop the cycle of death that has been happening throughout his existence. Moments before dying, Batty gives Deckard a glimpse at his beautiful soul, through the “Tears in Rain” speech, and passes away. In moments, Roy Batty has change from menacing mystery to beautiful enigma, becoming far more than a villain.
5. Hans Gruber – Die Hard
The cream of the crop when it comes to action movie villains, Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is one of the many reasons why Die Hard is one of the greatest action movies of all time. Gruber is cunning, resourceful, and deadly. But he’s also prideful, conceited, and sociopathic. Whereas the hero, John McClane, is a rough and tumble hero who’s beaten and bloodied by the end, Gruber likes to orchestrate his henchmen to do his bidding. But while his brain is his most commonly used weapon, he’s not above executing victims himself without flinching.
In the end, his goal is simple, stealing millions of dollars from Nakatomi Plaza – he is an exceptional thief after all. But eventually, killing McClane becomes just as important to him because of all the trouble the hero has caused. Through it all, Rickman gives a vicious, sneering performance, like a coiled snake ready to spring at any moment. He’s a terrifying and consistent threat, especially with McClane’s wife only feet away from him at all times. Countless villains have been copied from Gruber, but none come close.
4. Darth Vader – Star Wars
First things first, forget the prequel trilogy. That automatically makes Darth Vader a far better villain. Just look at his story arc. From A New Hope through Return of the Jedi, he changes from one dimensional, though cool looking, villain to a deeply flawed and tragic fallen hero whose redemption is oh so sweet. Vader is sociopathic, prone to fits of violence, and clearly enjoys killing. But underneath it all is a father with physical and emotional scars that are far too deep to ever heal.
Practically everything about Vader in the original trilogy is iconic – the costume, the breathing, the voice, the theme music, the lightsaber, the dialogue – it’s no wonder he was already a huge icon by the end of the first film. But it’s The Empire Strikes Back that solidifies him as a great character. Revealing him as Luke’s father and giving him probably the greatest fight of all the Star Wars films (the one in the carbonite chamber) adds much more to the character. Destroy the prequels and leave him out of the future sequels, this is a character who has been fully formed and given a completely satisfying story arc.
3. Xenomorph – Alien
These alien creatures are pure terror, all slimy fangs, sharp claws, and jet-black skin. Most of all, these creatures represent the fear of the unknown, both inside and out. Inside, the chest-bursting birth of the Xenomorph plays on fears of pregnancy and violation. Outside, the fear of the dark and the horrible things that may be lurking in it are brought to life in these creatures. In either case, these creatures bring about a horrible death. Like other monsters, their mysterious origins and natures make them even more intriguing, since audiences simultaneously recoil in fear and are attracted by wanting to find out more.
Xenomorphs work both as single enemies (like the one hunting down defenseless crewmembers in Alien) and as overwhelming hordes (like the dozens that swarm cocky Space Marines in Aliens). In either case, they adapt and overcome those who do not understand what they are up against. Add in the giant queen Xenomorph and these beasts become far more than most heroes can defeat. They are the ultimate in monsters, body horror, science fiction creations, and the living personification of why outer space can seem so terrifying.
2. Lex Luthor – DC Comics
Lex Luthor is the hero of his own story – the man who saved the world from an alien invader. Of course, his nepotism blinds him from his true role in the world. If Lex wasn’t so obsessed wih proving his superiority over not only Superman, but every other man, he could use his genius to benefit everyone in the world. While Superman will always triumph over Luthor eventually, it is a testament to the genius and power of this villain that he can overcome an alien hero who is able to kill him at a moment’s notice.
While Luthor started out as a mad scientist character in the 1930s, his change into a powerful businessman in later years works far better. Lex is the embodiment of capitalism’s dark side and how the indominatable human spirit can actually be twisted into a force for evil. No matter how the odds are stacked up against him or how powerful his opponents may be, Lex believes he can win. Through a combination of intelligence, resources, skill, and money, he may actually be able to pull off his schemes. Lex has had many great stories over the years, check out Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman for one of his best.
Lex has also had several great non-comic incarnations over the years. Gene Hackman in Superman is one of the most widely known. While that version is more of an amoral businessman, it’s still a strong version. But it’s Clancy Brown’s version in Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited that gets the character best. His long-term story arc makes this animated version a shining example of why Lex Luthor has stood the test of time for nearly three-quarters of a century.
1. The Joker – DC Comics
Could there really be anyone else at the top? There’s no single version of The Joker that makes him the greatest villain of all time in my opinion. Rather, it is the character himself that is the reason why there have been so many great versions.
The Joker is the ultimate in psychotic villainy. He kills, steals, torments, and destroys for the simple pleasure of it. Whether he is enacting random anarchy or acting out a meticulously detailed plan, his end goal is simply chaos and destruction. He’s also the perfect villain for Batman. While The Dark Knight is devoted to order and justice, The Joker believes that life has no meaning at all and is set on proving that to his mortal enemy. He’s also given the perfect non-origin story, as well. It’s quite possible that he fell into a vat of acid while fighting Batman, but who he was and what he did before this will never be known. A character as chaotic and schizophrenic should never be pinned down to a definitive origin.
He’s also been redefined over the years, moving from violent criminal to goofy prankster to ghoulish psychopath. In fact, these changes have happened so often that writer Grant Morrison explained them as being the result of Joker’s psychosis, causing him to consistently redefine himself.
No other villain has made such an impact in so many different mediums. Besides the comics, The Joker has had multiple amazing interpretations in television and film as well. Mark Hamill in Batman: The Animated Series, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Jack Nicholson in Batman, Jeff Bennett in Batman: The Brave and The Bold, Cesar Romero in Batman The TV Series, the list goes on and on. Each of these has their strengths, ranging from deliriously funny to terrifyingly violent. It goes to show that, just like Batman, The Joker is such a strong character that he can be used in many different ways but still remain true to who he is.<
He’s also been blessed by countless amazing stories over the years. The Joker has been a strong character from the start, making writers interested in him for decades, and their work has only continued to improve the character. Like any great villain, The Joker should only be used when the moment is right in order to preserve the integrity of the character and the impact that he can have on both story and reader.
Whether in film, television, or literature, nobody tops The Joker when it comes to villainy.