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.
80. Medusa | Clash of the Titans (1981)
The last of the Harryhausen classics, Clash of the Titans is the culmination of over thirty years of stop motion expertise. The effects may look dated now but at the time, there was nothing else that looked as badass as the Kraken or as freaky as Calybos. Or as scary as the Medusa.
Stop motion has produced some of the greatest characters in cinema. King Kong, Jack Skelington, Coraline, the skeleton army in Jason and the Argonaughts (to name but a few) but still, after 35 years, no one has come close to matching the fear inspiring menace that is the Medussa. From her unnatural movements to her stone inducing gaze, the Medusa is an all time classic movie monster and her scene is among the best sequences in film history.
79. Cody Jarret (James Cagney) | White Heat (1949)
James Cagney had already proven himself a seasoned vet within the gangster genre by the time White Heat was released in ’49 but everything that came before was merely the prep. Those two decades worth of devilish rogues were all a lead up to what would become his most villainous role: Cody Jarret.
A thief, a gangster, a cold blooded killer, Jarrett is everything Cagney did before, rolled up into a ball and then cranked to 11. He’s an unpredictable maniac that will kill everyone in the room without the slightest provocation. Plus his relationship with his mother is weird.
78. Sgt. Robert Barnes (Tom Berenger) | Platoon (1986)
If war is Hell, Sgt. Barnes is the devil. Scarred both physically and mentally, he is the polar opposite of Willem Dafoe’s Sgt. Elias. Where Elias is compassionate and morally idealistic, Barnes is a sadistic monster that doesn’t blink twice when it comes to committing war atrocities. Since fighting for Uncle Sam automatically means your a hero, he sees nothing wrong with treating any foreigner he encounters with malice or disgust simply because they’re on the wrong side of the fight. Regardless of whether or not they’re soldiers or innocent civilians.
Everyone involved in the war (which means anyone unlucky enough to have been born in the country while he was there) is expendable in his eyes. He’s truly detestable and is the perfect example of how easy it is for war to corrupt.
77. Mrs. Eleanor Iselin (Angela Lansbury) | The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Long before she would go onto play the sweeter than sugar Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast and the impossibly delightful Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, Angela Lansbury was known for playing one of the coldest screen villains in history. Released a year before the assassination of JFK, The Manchurian Candidate is an eerily prescient film about the cold war, brain washing and unwilling assassins and at the center of it all is Mrs. Iselin.
She’s the female equivalent to Emperor Palpatine but is debatably worse because as bad as Palpatine was in the Star Wars films, he never used his own son as a tool for political assassinations. That’s the definition of cold blooded.
76. Clarence J. Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) | Robocop (1987)
Playing what is essentially a wild dog on a very loose leash, Clarence Boddicker may not be the main villain of the film but he is unquestionably the most dangerous. Dick Jones (Ronnie Cox) might be the puppet master pulling the strings but Boddicker is the one getting his hands dirty. Leader of a gang that delights in terrorizing Detroit, they’re the ones responsible for turning Murphy into a Robocop in the first place.
They pumped him with so many bullets, it’s amazing they had anything left to turn into a robot. Boddicker deals in only extremes. He’s not just going to kill you, he’s going to turn your body into a Jackson Pollock painting. He’s a deranged madman of the highest order.
75. Noah Cross (John Huston) | Chinatown (1974)
What makes Noah Cross such an effective villain is the fact that he’s not a schemer hiding in the shadows. It’s an evil living in plain sight. We as an audience know almost immediately that he’s up to no good but the extant of his terribleness isn’t revealed until more than half way through the film. By that point, it’s just another god awful cherry on top of an already evil sundae.
He’s such a colossal figure that his shadow hangs over the entire film like a bad omen. He’s not in the film much but you never feel like you’re not getting enough of him. Everything in this film is directly tied to his evil scheme involving controlling California’s water supply. It’s not the most glamorous of villain plots but in a world where this actually happened (plus the other thing that’s way worse), he’s a monster that becomes more and more relevant as the years go by.
74. Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) | Apocalypse Now (1979)
It’s a testament to Brando’s skills as an actor that you even remember Col. Kurtz is in this film at all. In a film filled unforgettable moments and characters (coupled with the fact that Brando doesn’t even show up until the last 3rd), it’s difficult for any one element to stick out but even with the infamous napalm speech being quoted ad nauseam, it is impossible to forget Col. Kurtz. Looming over the film like a video games final boss, Kurtz exudes power and mystique even as he remains hidden in the shadows for most of the film.
By the time the film finally let’s us see Kurtz, he stopped being a man a long time ago. Embracing the horrors of war, he has reverted back to a primitive state where he is a God and the natives worship through sacrifice. He’s a deeply philosophical merchant of death that became fully consumed by the war around film and eventually learned that the only way to accept the horror, is to become the horror.
73. Syndrome (Jason Lee) | The Incredibles (2004)
Comic book super villains are a dime a dozen. Most are either bland CGI monsters that want to destroy the world by punching it to death or are glorified terrorists that have overly complicated plots that usually involve a laser shooting a giant hole in the sky. We’re living through the golden age of super hero films but as big as the budgets get and as fun as the heroes are, the villains almost always get the shaft.
The Incredibles is one of the few exceptions. Syndrome may appear on the surface to be nothing more than another byproduct of the James Bond cliche machine with his elaborate lair and impressive gadgets but it’s his motivations that set him apart from every other Bond or super hero villain. He’s not in it for world domination or a twisted sense of purpose, he’s doing it to be a hero. Every superhero he kills is just another stepping stone on his path to fame and adulation. He’s the dark side of fandom personified.
72. Chucky (Brad Dourif) | Child’s Play (franchise) (1988-2017)
There’s an argument to be made that every horror film made throughout the 80’s was a direct result of the success of Halloween. Every studio wanted their own franchise but as most imitators would find out, success is 90% the villain. While the majority focused on the masked silent type, Child’s Play creators Tom Holland and Don Mancini decided to roll the dice on a new type of killer. Instead of playing it safe and producing another formulaic slasher film, the duo decided to shake things up by putting the soul of a stereotypical serial killer into the body of a doll.
On paper, it sounds absolutely absurd but thanks to some pretty decent puppetry and a Jack Nicholson-on-cocaine sounding Dourif, it works. There’s something inexplicably terrifying about something unnaturally small trying to kill you. Chalk it up to the uncanny valley effect or a phobia of things that remind me of Cabbage Patch kids but Chucky scares the shit out of me. Or maybe I just have a phobia of an insane Jack Nicholson trying to kill me. Who knows.
71. Kevin Khatchadourian (Ezra Miller) | We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Kevin would’ve made the list independent of the tragedy that’s at the center of the film, simply because he might be the most singularly evil person ever depicted on screen. Since the film is told out of chronological order, we’re constantly bouncing between pre massacre Kevin and post massacre Kevin. The latter is a man reveling in the new found stardom that unfortunately comes to every high school shooter or serial killer and the former is everything that lead up to it, which is to say: a demented child who delights in tormenting his mother.
From about the age of four up until the day of the incident, Kevin is a complete and total monster. He’s not a charming psychopath, he’s not sympathetic boy with mental problems, he’s absolute evil. It’s like he’s playing an insidious game with his mother but she doesn’t know the rules and every time she loses, she gets punished. She loses at least twenty times a day, everyday for sixteen years, with the ultimate irony being that even after he’s out of her life, the true torment begins.
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!