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.
60. Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) | Austin Powers (series) (1997-2002)
A fountain of quotes that some seemed intent on drowning everyone in (there was a time where it was literally impossible to avoid someone quoting this film. Case in point: my father did the zip it gag for at least a quarter of my life), Dr. Evil is nevertheless one of the most entertainingly dumb characters to ever grace the screen.
Between his inability to understand inflation, his impractical plan to attach laser beams to the heads of sharks, the disastrous attempt at cloning himself and his increasingly ridiculous plots to take over the world, Dr. Evil is a veritable cornucopia of hilarity.
59. Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) | 101 Dalmatians (1961)
Only Walt Disney was crazy enough to see the money in adapting a novel about a crazy woman who kidnaps over ninety puppies with the sole purpose of skinning them to make a fur coat. The film stops at the puppy murder (thank god) but the novel involves her drowning multiple litters of kitties for no real reason other than the fact they were deemed “unwanted.” Let me repeat that for the cheap seats: Cruella De Vil owns a cat who’s sole purpose to the novels narrative, is to explain to the audience, who are children, that she wants to escape because De Vil keeps drowning her babies.
And Disney read that and saw nothing but dollar bills falling from the heavens. Cruella De Vil is an actual devil but sweet baby Jesus could she have been worse. Drowning kittens and skinning puppies sounds like the alternate title of the Adventures of Milo and Otis.
58. Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) | The Mist (2007)
It speaks volumes to Harden’s abilities as an actress, that she created a character so detestable, that in a film filled with Lovecraftian horrors (some the size of skyscrapers), the main characters would rather choose the unseen horrors of the mist than spend one more second in a room with her.
Beginning the film as the local religious nut everyone knows and knows to avoid, after each subsequent attack on the supermarket, she becomes more and more righteous and gains more and more followers until she’s amassed a cult that has become so fanatically loyal, they have no problems killing for her. Even if she orders them to sacrifice a child.
She’s an obvious metaphor for the dangers of extreme religious devotion and how easy it is to manipulate people into doing the worst things imaginable out of fear and desperation. It’s a terrifyingly real scenario but what’s even scarier than the real world parallels, is the fact that she was right.
57. Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) | Watchmen (2009)
The Trolley Problem is a thought experiment that proposes a hypothetical scenario that involves a runaway train barreling towards a fork in the tracks. On the track the train is on, there are five people unable to move and on the other, just one. Do you pull the lever to kill the one or do nothing?
It’s an exercise in morality and ethics. Are you morally obligated to do something by virtue of witnessing the event or are you only complicit if you pull the lever? Now, what if we raise the number? Could you kill millions to save billions?
Ozymandias is that experiment on the largest scale possible. Whether you agree with his methods or not, he’s still responsible for one of the biggest death tolls of any villain.
56. Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) | Fatal Attraction (1987)
In world of hook up apps such as Tinder and Grindr, the scariest thing imaginable is a stage five clinger. A one night stand that doesn’t get the hint. I don’t know what the scale is to define the stages of clinginess but if constantly bombarding you with annoying texts and phone calls constitutes a stage five, Alex Forrest is a stage one hundred clinger.
To be fair, she was used by Michael Douglas’s philandering yuppie penis and she has every right to get angry at being discarded but the scene with the bunny kills any sort of sympathy you have for her. She started off as a tragic victim of lust and ends the film a monster consumed by obsession. Swipe left.
55. Gollum (Andy Serkis) | The Lord of the Rings (series) (2001-2003)
When you think of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is the obvious villain that pops into your head. His plan to rule Middle Earth with a magic ring (which after multiple rewatches, I still don’t understand) is the inciting incident that creates every conflict from the Hobbit to the Return of the King. He’s the big bad that every other big bad takes orders from but in all honesty, he’s nothing more than a glorified cycloptic radio tower. He might be the supreme evil but he doesn’t really do anything.
He orders other people to do his bidding because he’s physically incapable, which is obviously the point considering he’s based on an obvious real life dictator but power doesn’t equal pathos. There’s nothing inherently interesting about an eye that menacingly whispers occasionally.
Gollum on the other hand, is a fully realized character. He’s supremely tragic and at times deeply sympathetic. He’s a victim of the rings power but like the worst junkie looking for a fix, he’ll do anything to feed his addiction. Including feeding your ass to giant fucking spider.
54. Scar (Jeremy Irons) | The Lion King (1994)
Even though the film could easily be dismissed as a lazy retelling of Hamlet by way of Kimba the White Lion, The Lion King was undeniably ambitious. It was Disney’s attempt to animate Shakespeare and although there’s plenty for cynics to attack, even the detractors have to admit that casting Irons in the role of the villainous Scar was a stroke of brilliance. Every line he utters is dripping with sarcastic menace.
Even though his motivation may be standard ‘usurp the king’, his plan and it’s execution are burned into the retinas of every kid who grew up in the 90’s. He’s also one of the only villains that actually gets what he wants. He doesn’t ultimately win in the end but the film shows us what happens when the villain finally succeeds for once. And it’s bleak.
53. Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) | Ichi the Killer (2001)
There are multiple differences between western and eastern comics. From the layout of the pages (they read from right to left), to the subject matter (robots or high school dramas), to the content (we have nobody in the West that’s even remotely comparable to Junji Ito) but the biggest one would be our obsession with super heroes. The East has their share of crimefighters but even if you were to multiply all of their heroes by 20, it still wouldn’t be close to our output.
There’s multiple reasons why that is but if Ichi the Killer is Japan’s attempt at throwing their hat into the ring…let’s just say they won’t be getting their own MCU any time soon. Ichi the Killer is many things but the easiest way to explain it is: it’s an X rated Batman by way of Japan.
I don’t believe there’s a more gratuitous film in existence. It’s impossible to list the things that happen without getting flagged by the FBI. And the bulk of its depravites are committed by Kakihara, the films Joker. He’s a sadistic psychopath that would make the Marquis de Sade blush. And even when he’s at his most depraved, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him.
52. Tony Montana (Al Pacino) | Scarface (1983)
Depending on your age, this is either your older brothers favorite film, the film you were obsessed with in high school or the film you’re obsessed with now. There’s something about Tony Montana’s rise to power that has had a stranglehold on men of a certain age.
Maybe it’s the excessive drug use or the ultra violence or his moral code or snappy attire but something seems to resonate with a certain generation. Rappers have been cherry picking elements from this film for almost as long as it’s been out, which is ironic considering the message seems to be lost on all of them. Tony Montana doesn’t just rise to power in this film, he falls.
When you build your throne on the backs of corpses and bags of cocaine, it will eventually fall. You don’t have to be an engineer to know that that is an unstable foundation for any chair.
51. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) | The Shining (1980)
There’s an argument to be made that Jack is merely a pawn of the insidious Overlook Hotel and that he’s either being slowly possessed by the evil spirits within or is merely going crazy but as Mr. Grady explicitly states “…but you are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker.”
Kubrick made it crystal clear with the final shot that Jack isn’t crazy nor is he being possessed. This isn’t a case of ghosts vs cabin fever. He is the reincarnation of a spirit long dead and that spirit was crazy. Axe murderingly crazy and that’s scarier than a million ghosts.
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!