Evil geniuses, violent criminals, cunning killers… They have us booing at the screen and jumping in our seats, yet the best movie villains are usually the film’s most charismatic characters.
So who is the baddest of them all? We’ve scoured film history to present our Top 15 - we also deliberately didn't put in any movie monsters in here, so if you are looking for the likes of Freddy, Jason and Chucky that's for another list, another time.
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1. Darth Vader (Star Wars)
Booed by cinemagoers in 1977 before he’d even Force-choked his first Death Star officer, Vader, the ultimate intergalactic tyrant, made it his mission to wipe out Jedi Knights, quash the Rebel Alliance and rule the universe with an iron fist in a black leather glove. But like all of the best villains, he had a more sympathetic back story: Anakin Skywalker was a Jedi who turned to the Dark Side to become Emperor Palpatine’s ruthless enforcer, until he’s ultimately redeemed by his paternal feelings.
2. T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
A technological leap on from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original ‘800 Series’ Terminator, the T-1000 is made of “mimetic metal poly-alloy”, which means it can shape-shift, mimic anyone, flow through any opening and survive most mechanical damage. For extra menace, actor Robert Patrick based its swivelling, predatory head movements on the American bald eagle.
Most evil moment: The T-1000 calmly impersonates John Connor’s foster mum with the phone in one hand, while its other arm morphs into a long blade and impales her husband.
3. The Joker (Batman)
Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Batman’s arch-enemy in The Dark Knight was Oscar-winning, but Jack Nicholson’s clown prince of crime makes the cut. Gloriously over-the top, theatrically homicidal and also, it turned out, killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents.
Most evil moment: Just before imaginatively killing his prey, his habit of asking, “You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”
4. Hannibal Lector (The Silence Of The Lambs)
Ferociously intelligent forensic psychologist who gets inside your mind — then eats your body. Descended from European royalty, the doctor’s charisma and cultured tastes are so smooth, you sometimes forget he’s a cannibalistic serial-killer. Pass that nice chianti.
Most evil moment: When he bites off Sgt Pembry’s nose and wears his face to escape FBI captivity in an ambulance.
5. Hans Gruber (Die Hard)
Alan Rickman made his Hollywood debut as the German terrorist who seizes an LA office block on Christmas Eve with the aim of stealing the $640m in its vault. But Gruber doesn’t bet on off-duty, barefoot, sweaty-vested cop John McClane (Bruce Willis).
Most evil moment: Posing as a hostage to win McClane’s trust. He hands a gun to Gruber, who promptly tries to shoot him with it.
6. Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas)
You wouldn’t fancy a square-up with any of the crew in Martin Scorsese’s Mob classic, but Joe Pesci’s shoeshine boy turned shiny-suited armed robber was by far the most terrifying. Based on real-life psycho Tommy ‘Two Guns’ DeSimone, DeVito’s moods were unreadable, his temper on a hair-trigger.
Most evil moment: When a goaded Spider cracks and says, “Go fuck yourself,” DeVito pumps him full of lead.
7. Agent Smith (The Matrix Trilogy)
Black-suited, inscrutable behind sunglasses and with the sole purpose of suppressing rebellion, Smith (Hugo Weaving) starts off as a human-hating weapon in the Man vs Machines war. But he goes maverick and makes it personal with hero Neo (Keanu Reeves).
Most evil moment: “What good is a phone call if you are unable to speak?” Smith smirks as a panicking Neo’s mouth seals over and disappears.
8. Ivan Drago (Rocky IV)
In the Eighties, Dolph Lundgren’s boxer was the physical embodiment of Cold War Russia: a Red Army captain, huge at 6ft 5in, silent but deadly. Crazed on bloodlust and steroids, he utters only a few lines, such as, “You will lose,” “If he dies, he dies,” and “I must break you.”
Most evil moment: Hammering home the Cold War metaphor when he fights and kills patriotic veteran Apollo Creed.
9. Norman Bates (Psycho)
At first, the motel proprietor in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic seemed boringly normal: a shy, stammering, over-polite, preppy boy-next-door type into stuffed birds. Only in the film’s final act do you realise how insane his Oedipus complex has driven him.
Most evil moment: Killing the film’s female lead [Janet Leigh] with a kitchen knife while dressed as his dead mother. Obviously.
10. Begbie (Trainspotting)
A pub casual with a penchant for attacks with knives, pool cues or pint glasses, actor Robert Carlyle said that he played Begbie as a closeted homosexual.
Most evil moment: He downs his pint in a pub and tosses the glass over his shoulder, waits for the scream, then wades into the crowd bawling, “That lassie got glassed and no c*nt leaves here ’til we find out what c*nt did it.”
11. General Zod (Superman I & II, Man of Steel)
A megalomaniac who swears revenge on Superman’s father Jor-El when he imprisons him in ‘The Phantom Zone’, Terence Stamp portrays Zod as a black-clad pompous toff who’s almost bored with his powers and disappointed with how easy it is to take over Earth.
Most evil moment: The much-mimicked line from Superman II: “Kneel before Zod!”
12. Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver)
Robert De Niro’s ex-Marine starts Martin Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece as merely an antihero: lonely, lying and haunting porn theatres. But, increasingly paranoid, he descends into full-blown psycho mode: carrying guns, shaving himself a Mohawk, attempting an assassination and appointing himself the vigilante protector of child prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster).
Most evil moment: When Bickle practises using his homemade sliding holster in the mirror, while De Niro ad libs his “You talkin’ to me?” speech.
13. Don Logan (Sexy Beast)
It’s normally Ray Winstone who plays the hard cases, but in this instant Brit-crime classic, his retired safecracker Gary Dove was terrified by diminutive, sociopathic visitor Don, hellbent on enlisting ‘Gal’ for one last bank job. A wired, weasly, bullet-headed bundle of bile and swearing, Sir Ben Kingsley based his fierce, frenetic Oscar-nominated performance on his own grandmother, whom he called, “A vile and extremely unpleasant woman.”
Most evil moment: In the dead of night at Gal’s Costa Del Crime villa, Don gives himself a pep talk in the bathroom mirror while shaving, then throws down the razor and tramples into Gal’s bedroom to punch him as he sleeps.
14. Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange)
His true scariness lies in his utter immorality. For the Droog leader, brutal rape and ultra-violence are just some of life’s little pleasures.
Most evil moment: The gang rape scene, during which Alex croons Singin’ In The Rain. When Malcolm McDowell met Gene Kelly at a party years later, Kelly walked away in disgust at the way his signature tune had been tainted.
15. Frank Booth (Blue Velvet)
It’s hard to believe that the late Dennis Hopper’s career was once in the doldrums, but in the early Eighties he prioritised his cocaine habit over work. His role as obscenity-screaming, sado-masochistic underworld boss Booth in David Lynch’s surreal film noir revived his fortunes and made Hopper the go-to bad guy for a new generation. Other actors considered for the part of Booth felt that the character was too deranged and disturbed, but Hopper reportedly said: “I’ve got to play Frank, because I am Frank.”
Most evil moment: Beating up his captive girlfriend Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) while huffing on laughing gas and screaming, “Don’t you fucking look at me,” and “Mommy, baby wants to fuck.”