We know it’s a stretch for some of you, but think back to your childhood. What gave you most satisfaction? Being good? Or being naughty?
Exactly. Now, thankfully, most people leave their disobedient and ribald streak in childhood. This is recommended. On TV, however, we can indulge villains and their senseless ways.
When it comes to the Idiot Box, villainy rules. And who better to learn from, but the 25 greatest TV villains? Be careful, people, this way mischievous wickedness lies…
(Images: Rex Features, All Star)
Marlo Stanfield (The Wire)
Played by: Jamie Hector
Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell made pretty compelling cases for inclusion from The Wire, but it was Marlo Stanfield that was evil incarnate. His lust for power was not driven by financial gain – though that no doubt helped – but power in and of itself. His reputation was everything and he ruled with an iron fist. Anyone that got in his way was to be disposed. His ironic comeuppance did nothing to dilute his wickedness.
The Master (Doctor Who)
Played by: Various
For good to be thoroughly good, there has to be a diametric opposite – think of it as the yin and yang idea. Although he didn’t appear in the series for some time, The Master is revealed as Doctor Who’s archenemy, originally conceived in much the same manner as Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes. The Master was once a Time Lord in training but when an initiation ceremony goes wrong, he is sent on a path of world domination. Upon such twists of fate are evil sociopaths born…
Joffrey Baratheon (Game of Thrones)
Played by: Jack Gleeson
As anyone who has been to school (so, pretty much everyone then) will readily attest, kids can be right little shits. Step forward from the dark, therefore, Joffrey Baratheon. A vicious child with no sense of morality his self-entitlement knows no bounds and being heir to the Iron Throne is left unchecked. Like some classic evil Prince in Shakespeare, Joffrey will stop at nothing to ensure reality is bent to his will.
Gus Fring (Breaking Bad)
Played by: Giancarlo Esposito
Whoever coined the phrase still waters run deep (let’s Google it – oh, it’s a Latin proverb) evidently had Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring in mind. To all intents and purposes the calm owner of a chain of fast-food chicken restaurants, Fring is actually the head of an all-encompassing drug empire. And you know what, these people are generally not that nice. Not that nice at all, as Fring demonstrates on a number of occasions.
J.R. Ewing (Dallas)
Played by: Larry Hagma
Who is the most iconic TV character of all time? Yep, J.R. – TV, that moving wallpaper in the corner of your living room, will never again dominate popular culture to the extent it did in the late Seventies and early Eighties. J.R. was at the centre of this boom – manipulative, ambitious and rotten to the core. Like Byron, he was mad, bad and dangerous to know. And TV audiences loved him for it. Who shot J.R.? was arguably TV’s greatest hour.
Den Watts (EastEnders)
Played by: Leslie Grantham
Ok, so compared to some of the characters on here, Den Watts, but better known by his, in retrospect cuddly, sobriquet Dirty Den, might appear a bit tame. But back in the Eighties (we’ll ignore his ill-advised return in the Noughties) Dirty Den was a right naarsty bugger – before the days of the knuckle headed Mitchell brothers, Den was top dog in Albert Square. Thievery, intimidation, gangland involvement, and all topped off with some seriously dedicated adultery, Dirty Den had his fingers in a lot of pies. Jellied eels pies presumably.
Sideshow Bob (The Simpsons)
Voiced by: Kelsey Grammer
What? No Montgomery Burns? Of course Mr Burns is an irascible villain, but picking Burns is too easy. Elsewhere in Springfield there is a real, twisted master of villainy: Bart’s nemesis Sideshow Bob. A man of refined sensibility his anger at the world seems to stem from its wholehearted embracement of such base tastes. The Simpson family seem to represent the nadir of this vulgarity. Unfortunately, Bart – with the assistance of his family – has the measure of Bob and his ridiculous hair every time.
Ben Linus (Lost)
Played by: Michael Emerson
Ben Linus is a master of deception. Coldblooded; manipulative and vindictive he is only interested in self-preservation. His moral compass can sometimes appear ambiguous but as the mysteries of Lost became ever more labyrinthian it’s clear Linus is a villain of the highest order.
Al Swearengen (Deadwood)
Played by: Ian McShane
Although the writers of the majestic Deadwood played fast and loose with some details, the unforgettable Al Swearengen – pimp, crook, murderer and a proto entertainment mogul – was based upon the actual Al Swearengen who thrived in the notorious frontier town in the Wild West. His mouth – never have you heard profanities uttered with such lascivious relish – was scary enough. His actions just reaffirmed such a belief.
Vic Mackey (The Shield)
Played by: Michael Chiklis
Like many here Vic Mackey is thoroughly absorbed in his own self-delusion. Part Machiavelli, part psychopath, his mantra would seem to be the end justifies the means. Which, in his case as a bent cop, involves corruption, murder, and adultery. Yes, Mackey’s means get results but the depraved path it takes him on only deepens his sadistic core.
Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)
Played by: James Gandolfini
Some villains come to be loved by viewers. Not in the sense of J.R. who we love to hate, but a purer admiration. As if we love them despite their sins. Tony Soprano is one such villain. On the surface he has no redeeming qualities – he’s a callous mafia killer and thug. But he’s human, with very real human concerns when it comes to his family. Such was the genius of The Sopranos creator David Chase. Without doubt, Tony Soprano (thrillingly brought to life by the much-missed James Gandolfini) is the most popular TV villain of all time.
Richard Hillman (Coronation Street)
Played by: Brian Capron
Making the leap from a common fraudster to serial killer is one Richard ‘Killman’ Hillman made with gusto. When he arrived on Coronation Street it was clear he was a wrong ‘un – full of dodgy deals and scams – but as his elaborate plans began to unravel he traded up (or down) into full-blown murder. By the time of his demise he was responsible for three deaths (including the gorgeous Maxine Peacock, the rat) and he attempted to murder all his stepfamily. As Gail, his third wife, eloquently noted, he was: “Norman Bates with a briefcase.”
Francis Urquhart (House of Cards)
Played by: Ian Richardson
If one were to paint a picture of a fictional Tory politician in the late Eighties and early Nineties you would arrive at Francis Ewan Urquhart: cold, calculating, ruthless. In short, evil. Urquhart, in echoes of Shakespeare, is also ambitious. He wants the top prize – in this case, to be Prime Minister. He will cajole, blackmail and even murder to attain it. Though, doubtless, he would argue he couldn’t possibly comment.
Grotbags (Emu’s World)
Played by: Carol Lee Scott
A green, salad-dodging witch with unsightly facial features and a Kevin Keegan-like fuzzy perm is probably best suited to villainy and so it was with the lurid Grotbags. The nemesis of Rod Hull and his annoying Emu, Grotbags – her name alone conjures up less than wholesome activities – would cause all manner of mayhem in Hull’s Pink Windmill. The stuff of nightmares indeed.
Played by: Andrew Scott
Like two sides of the same coin, Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty are natural dualities. They feed off each other; propel each other to greater heights. Unlike Marlo Stanfield’s quest for power or J.R.’s financial motives, Moriarty’s purpose would appear to be boredom. Or preventing stasis from setting in. Describing himself as a ‘consulting criminal’, Moriarty advises criminals on how best to overcome his adversary.
Leland Palmer (Twin Peaks)
Played by: Ray Wise
Leland Palmer himself is not actually evil. As a child he was molested by a demonic entity named BOB, who would go on to possess him for the rest of his troubled life. It was BOB that ensured Leland would molest his own daughter, Laura, eventually killing her, thus sparking the colourfully odd tale of Twin Peaks.
Arthur Mitchell (Dexter)
Played by: John Lithgow
Villains come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the most ordinary of folk can carry a sackful of shameful secrets. Take Arthur Mitchell, outwardly the epitome of middle class, suburban respectability. And yet, Mitchell – or The Trinity Killer – is in fact a deranged serial killer. A vicious psychopath who murders people in a forlorn attempt at assuaging the horrific memories of the various murders of his family when he was a child.
Alice Morgan (Luther)
Played by: Ruth Wilson
Alice Morgan is a murdering sociopath who develops an unhealthy obsession with Luther. We initially meet Alice as a brilliant PhD student whose parents are brutally killed. It soon becomes apparent it’s wicked Alice that orchestrated their gruesome demise – Luther knows this but he can’t obtain the necessary evidence to convict her. She is, quite frankly, a bit too clever for him.
Don Draper (Mad Men)
Played by: Jon Hamm
Outwardly Don Draper, talented advertising guru, is the least evil of our villains. He doesn’t kill anyone, and his ambitious, driven personality is positively encouraged in his line of work. And yet… he’s a womanising cad; an unscrupulous vain and arrogant bully and only interested in his own self-preservation.
Skeletor (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe)
Voiced by: Alan Oppenheimer
A vengeful thirst for power propels many of the disreputable individuals on this list. But perhaps none more so than Skeletor, the muscular blue cartoon character with, fittingly, a skeleton face. The half-brother of King Randor (Prince Adam/He-Man’s father), he is unquestionably the black sheep of the family. He seeks to control Castle Grayskull so that he can unlock the secrets of Eternia and rule the Universe.
Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk Empire)
Played by: Steve Buscemi
Some would say being a corrupt politician is enough to warrant inclusion on this hall of shame. However, it’s Nucky Thompson’s other life – that of insensitive gangster that seals the deal. He runs Atlantic City in merciless fashion: while many adore him, he is in fact a violent and cold-blooded killer. An aspect of his character that seems to increase in correlation to his political power.
Benny Barrett (Our Friends in the North)
Played by: Malcolm McDowell
Corrupt politician Austin Donohue pushes underworld porn baron Benny Barrett close in the rogue stakes, but for his despicable treatment of Geordie (Daniel Craig) alone, Barrett gets the nod. Barrett initially appears to be a typical man about Soho town, but as we delve further into his seedy business activities it soon becomes clear Barrett is not a man to be messed with. He succeeds in sending Geordie to prison and setting him on a path of misery. Bad man.
Ari Gold (Entourage)
Played by: Jeremy Piven
If this list was being compiled a few months from now, Ari Gold’s position as the man who gets things done would be under threat from Ray Donovan. But let’s see how that one pans out. In the meantime, unorthodox showbiz agent Ari Gold gets the thick-skinned gig. Self-important dick he might be, but if you’ve got a problem in Hollywood, you want Gold on your side.
Philip Blake (The Walking Dead)
Played by: David Morrissey
To the citizens of Woodbury, Philip ‘The Governor’ Blake is a saviour following his successful attempt to rid the town of the Guardsmen that used to rule the roost, However, this is just a front for his duplicitous and murderous ways. He feeds his zombie daughter body parts, he kills for fun and creates a community of brainwashed people that do his evil bidding for him.
Mr Bronson (Grange Hill)
Played by: Michael Sheard
For men of a certain vintage Grange Hill’s Mr Bronson was the teacher who epitomised the idea of a threatening figure at school - he was emblematic of the type of teacher you prayed would never darken your classroom door. His bullying and uncaring demeanour saw off Ant Jones and, chillingly, Danny Kendall and his cry of ‘You boy’, still sends a shiver down the spine. Perhaps the root of his malevolence stems from his rather girly Christian name: Maurice.