All the best movies have a bad guy, and some are a hell of a lot worse than others. I originally posted this on my old blog (that was lost to oblivion when I changed hosting providers), so I thought it would be fun to revisit the list of 10 sinister movie villains.
Commodus (Gladiator, 2000)
Joaquin Phoenix’s effete, corrupt, cowardly and deadly foil to Russell Crowe’s put-upon gladiator is a monster from the moment he murders his own father to the final, climatic face-off in the Colosseum. That director Ridley Scott elevates the character beyond pantomime villain and into a metaphor for the corruption at the heart of every decadent empire is, frankly, breathtaking.
Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter, 2001 – 2011)
A figure of such pure evil that it’s considered bad luck to even speak his name, Voldemort’s presence infects every scene, even when the action doesn’t directly concern him. The fact that such a diabolic entity of almost limitless power should be focused on the destruction of a young boy makes him even worse.
The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008)
Many have portrayed Batman’s chuckling nemesis, and while I love Jack Nicholson’s joyously sinister performance, none have nailed him quite so terrifyingly as Heath Ledger. His performance as Gotham City’s criminal mastermind is so extreme, so ugly, so unhinged, that watching it is a genuinely disturbing experience.
Norman Bates (Psycho, 1960)
What makes the focus of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece so terrifying is just how normal he seems. The shy, stammering, well-dressed boy running the motel with his mother doesn’t appear to be any kind of threat at all – until the full horrifying extent of his madness becomes clear. And the final scene (“She wouldn’t even harm a fly”) remains one of the most chilling moments in cinema history.
Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs, 1991)
Oddly, the scariest thing about Anthony Hopkin’s forensic psychiatrist and part-time cannibal isn’t necessarily his habit of tucking into human flesh (with a nice Chianti), but his slow, seductive mental manipulation of FBI agent Clarice Starling. Hannibal not only wants to eat your body, he wants to destroy your mind, and when the violence does come, the intelligence and charm that precedes it only makes it all the more horrific.
Keyser Söze (The Usual Suspects, 1995)
Imagine being so evil nobody even really believes you exist. Supposedly a Turkish drug dealer who murdered his own wife and children, exacted horrific revenge on all his enemies, then disappeared forever, Söze’s rumoured presence seeps through the film. And then the shocking twist shows that everyone, viewers included, has been manipulated.
The Wicked Witch of the West (Wizard of Oz, 1939)
A genuinely terrifying antagonist to Dorothy’s ragtag band of travellers throughout Oz, The Wicked Witch of the West’s lurid green skin, army of flying monkeys and hell-bent mission to kill the little girl from Kansas make her the stuff of nightmares, no matter what your age.
Reverend Harry Powell (The Night of the Hunter, 1955)
Robert Mitchum has played some seriously menacing characters (see the original Cape Fear, for starters), but none more so than this preacher man turned serial killer. Everything about Powell exudes menace – from the LOVE and HATE tattoos on his knuckles to his slow, deliberate, remorseless stalking of two children through a nightmarish 1930s West Virginia.
Annie Wilkes (Misery, 1990)
Novelist Paul Sheldon’s self-declared “number one fan”, Nurse Annie possesses the insidious evil that makes her top of any King villain list. On the surface, she is a lonely spinster who lives for her novels by Paul, until he ends up in her care after a car wreck, just after he’s killed off Annie’s favorite character. What follows is a terrifying and harrowing journey through pain and control as sweet, matronly Annie, seemingly so naïve and out of touch, reveals her cunningly sadistic mind, her evil sudden and shocking. She takes glee in causing his suffering which makes her more than a deranged sick person, but a devil disguised as an angel of mercy, the evil lurking behind the eyes of even the most unassuming person.
Amon Göth (Shindler’s List, 1993)
As Göth, Ralph Fiennes’ performance embodied everything officious, heartless and terribly twisted about the Third Reich. He was cruel, frightening and chilling without even so much as a flinch. His entire performance was based on subtleties, which created an immensely complex character who killed his Jewish prisoners with casual efficiency, as if he was pulling laundry off the line. His complete lack of remorse for his actions and his declaration of devotion to Hitler at the moment of his death solidifies his place as a truly evil and unforgettably sinister creature.
There are so many others I could add, but this list would potentially be endless if I did! I could add Jack Torrance from The Shining, Pennywise the clown, Freddy Kruger, etc… the list is endless.
Who would you add to the list?