First conceived by Joseph Campbell for his 1949 novel The Hero with a Thousand Faces, The Monomyth is a literary term that details the stages of the hero’s journey. He identified a pattern throughout mythology and literature and condensed it down to seventeen stages. Hollywood executive Christopher Vogler would later edit it down to twelve stages and his version would be the blueprint that every film would use from then on.
Just like how every script has a three act structure, every film that involves a hero on a quest can be broken down to these twelve elements. But that doesn’t mean that each step is important. The formula may be ironclad but there’s one step that’s far more crucial than the others and that’s step six: Tests, Allies, and Enemies.
The hero can be uninteresting and the quest uninspired but if your villain is lame, nobody will give a shit. The hero is only as memorable as the villain he’s fighting. James Bond is one of the most iconic characters ever but the only films anyone gives a shit about are the ones where the villain is amazing. From the mustachio twirling, train track tying ne’er-do-wells to mask wearing slashers to universe destroying uber baddies, cinema has had a long love affair with evildoers but which one is the most dastardly?
These are The 100 Greatest Villains Of All Time.
50. Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) | Fight Club (1999)
The dude bro messiah. Tyler Durden is the male equivalent to Holly Golightly. They’re both characters that have inspired generations of fans that don’t understand that they’re not role models. If you modeled your life after Durden’s philosophies or even legitimately tried to join/start a fight club, the meaning of the film completely went over your head. Tyler Durden would hate people who loved Fight Club.
Palahniuk created a cynical satire that took aim at damn near everything and in order to make sure he was hitting as many targets as possible, he came up with the perfect representation of chaos this side of the Joker. He literally exists to beat perfection out of everything and to bring cause as much mayhem as possible. All because Starbucks and Ikea exist. Or something.
49. Thanos (Josh Brolin) | Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame (2018-2019)
The MCU is notorious for having a villain problem in that they’re all either forgettable, lame or a combination of the two, with Loki being one of the very few exceptions. At the end credits scene of the first Avengers movie, they teased the appearance of Thanos, which diehard fans knew meant that the infinity war was coming but they didn’t know when. After a couple more cameos and a handful of sequels, the mad titan finally made his move in Avengers: Infinity War and it was definitely worth the wait. Within the first 10 minutes, Thanos beats the shit out of the Hulk and kills Loki, which immediately set the tone that this film wasn’t fucking around.
This wasn’t the quippy kind of villain found in previous Marvel movies. This was a power-hungry despot that would do anything to further his cause. He sacrifices his own daughter in order to get the soul stone so that he can save the universe but since he’s a villain, his plan to save it, involves eradicating half of it. His goal is crazy enough to earn him a spot on any list but the fact that he succeeds, easily puts him in the upper echelon.
48. Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
The easiest way to describe Nurse Ratched is to say that she’s less a human and more a robot with ice water flowing through her veins. Which is the overly complicated way of saying that she’s cold blooded. A passive aggressive monster that delights in torturing the mentally ill, Nurse Ratched rules her psychotic hospital with an iron fist and an indifference to her patients well being. The way she decides to punish Billy (Brad Dourif) for his misbehaving, is akin to a kid ripping off the wings of a butterfly and throwing the body in a pile of ants. It’s needlessly cruel.
47. Jason Vorhees (Various) | Friday the 13th [Series] (1980-2009)
The first film had his mother doing all the killings. The second one involved a Jason with a burlap sack over his head. It wouldn’t be until the third film in the series that we’d finally get the iconic look. A look that catapulted him into the upper echelon of horror icons. There’s something about that machete/Hockey mask combination that really struck a chord with audiences and has made him one of the most recognizable figures in pop culture. And that’s just his look. Based on his body count and the variety of kills, Jason might be one of the big screens most violent killers.
46. Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) | What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
As any stupid YouTuber with a popular channel can attest, fame can be an all consuming drug. It’s a drug that feeds off of fear of replacement and the desire to be noticed. Such is the case with poor “Baby Jane” Hudson. She started her life immediately famous thanks to her immense popularity as a child star but that star eventually dimmed but her sister’s didn’t. And she’s not too happy about it.
In the greatest stunt casting in Hollywood history, the Hudson sisters were played by Bette Davis and Joan Crawford who notoriously hated each other. That lifelong animosity seeps into every pour of this film to the point where you start to question whether or not Davis is actually acting or not. There’s a strong possibility that when “Baby Jane” is beating the shit out of her sister, she’s doing it for real.
45. Captain Vidal (Sergi López) | Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Real life villains such as nazis and fascists automatically get placed atop their own special pedestal of villainy. They immediately have a leg up on their competition but Captain Vidal doesn’t rest on his laurels; he goes out of his way to earn every ounce of hatred the audience can muster. Cold, brutal, unsympathetic and self righteous, Vidal truly believes every terrible atrocity he commits is right. In any other film, the Pale Man Ophelia has to contend with would be the major baddie but Vidal is so unrelenting vicious, he makes an actual child-eating monster seem less threatening by comparison.
44. Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) | M (1931)
“But I… I can’t help myself! I have no control over this, this evil thing inside of me, the fire, the voices, the torment!…I want to escape, to escape from myself! But it’s impossible. I can’t escape, I have to obey it. I have to run, run… endless streets. I want to escape, to get away! And I’m pursued by ghosts. Ghosts of mothers and of those children… they never leave me. They are always there…”
In the film M, Peter Lorre plays a monster so vile (he’s the ultimate double whammy of evil: a child molester and a murderer), that the criminal underground teams up with the police to catch him. His actions could easily land him a spot on this list but it’s the slight sympathy we feel for this devil that makes him unforgettable.
43. Pazuzu (Linda Blair/Mercedes McCambridge) | The Exorcist (1973)
Is there a character (besides Jesus), that’s been through as much as Regan in this film? The amount of shit this demon puts her through (and the amount of shit the director put her through during the making of the film) is insane. Between the effects, the make up and McCambridge’s gravely voice, you’ll believe in possession. The Catholic church declared the film a work of evil and the Pope himself said the devil lived within the celluloid. That’s a testament to the power of this film and the effectiveness of Pazuzu. While not the devil, this is the closest the cinema has come to convincing me that he could exist.
42. Pennywise (Tim Curry/Bill Skarsgård) | IT (1990), It/It: Chapter 2 (2017/2019)
Before I got around to watching the miniseries proper, my mother decided to give me an extremely detailed plot synopsis that involved a sewer dwelling clown that eats a child by popping up out of a shower drain. If you’ve seen the film, you know I got some of the details mixed up but to make a long story short, I flooded the bathroom by clogging the shower drain with towels.
Clowns were already on my “no fucking thank you” list thanks to Poltergeist and an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, so the prospect of a supernatural one that can shape shift was too much for me to handle. Stephen King has created many a masterpiece but I believe Pennywise the dancing clown will be his legacy.
41. Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid/Clive Revill) | Star Wars saga (1980-2005)
The almighty puppet master that orchestrates every act of villainy throughout the entire Star Wars saga, Emperor Palpatine is a a weasel that’s shockingly good at the long con. He uses everyone he meets as chess pieces in his quest to take over the galaxy.
The original trilogy gave him not much more than a title and some cool lightning powers but it wouldn’t be until the much maligned prequels till we’d get a backstory proper. Watching him manipulate every situation to his benefit almost makes the second trilogy worth it. Almost.
What do you think of the selection so far? Who are some of your favorite movie villains? Maybe they will show up further on the list!