Hollywood has provided us with an endless list of characters we love to hate. From film noir villains like James Cagney’s Tom Powers in The Public Enemy to arch-fiend geniuses and psychopaths with the blackest of hearts in modern thrillers, here’s our top 10 movie villains.
The mystical nemesis for a new generation, Tom Marvolo Riddle, the Dark Lord of the Harry Potter series, terrified children and adults alike. His hiding in the shadows, taking over other characters and his vile army of followers made him a focus of fear for young wizards, teachers and the audience even before he arrived in full form, as played by Ralph Fiennes, for the series’ climactic battles.
Hannibal first came to fame in the 1986 film Manhunter, although he was played by Brian Cox, not Sir Anthony Hopkins, who turned the character into one of the most reprehensible ever seen on the silver screen. The charming, intellectual killer and cannibal loves to stalk his FBI pursuers, as well as the intended victims, across several of Thomas Harris’ dark stories, making for some truly gripping Hollywood scenes.
One of the best transformations in movie history, the reveal at the end of The Usual Suspects saw audiences shocked to the core as Kevin Spacey finally shows his true character. Is the low-rent hood really the most evil arch criminal, or was it all a tall tale? Either way, Keyser Soze is still a byword for true, dark, villainy.
The Blair Witch
Does she even exist? The Blair Witch Project film triggered the whole “found footage” wave of shocker movies, which never have its leading protagonist in shot; the victims only hear or see signs of the crafty old forest-dwelling lunatic. That made for one of the most fearful viewing experiences, with early social media used to build the hype.
Depending on which movies you’ve seen, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic role has involved being both a hero and a foreboding steel nemesis. Going for the earlier version, the machine that “absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead” made for an implacable foe and a truly timeless movie villain. It hunted down its victims without remorse, following only computer code and leaving a trail of destruction and great one liners.
Most people agree that clowns are downright scary, but Tim Curry’s turn in the big boots and makeup created one of the scariest ever to grace the screen in Stephen King’s It. The fact ‘It’ could change shape into any form is pretty scary, but the red hair and nose is enough to send hardened horror fans running for cover.
Another iconic Arnie movie saw aliens finally done right on film. The crab-mandibled, dreadlocked, armed-to-the-shoulders Predator really, seriously, looked alive and very much the part of an ultimate killing machine from a race of hunters. It scared the pants out of cast and audience, and while the later films weren’t so effective, Predator remains king of the jungle.
Major Arnold Toht
Who, you may ask? Few remember the name, but just mention ‘melting Nazi’ and everyone suddenly remembers Ronald Lacey’s camp turn as the passive-aggressive, black-clad Gestapo bully in Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark. Who else could make a coat-hanger seem like an instrument of torture?
High Fidelity, a movie about music, romance and a record store, doesn’t sound like a move in need of a nemesis, but Tim Robbins’ yoga-master is the ying to John Cusack’s yang, stealing away his girlfriend. Unlike most arch villains, this one gets a good kicking, if only in a brilliant fantasy scene, which really helps make the movie.
Principal Ed Rooney
Ferris Bueller only wanted a day off, yet he was hunted down by his high school principal with a truly sociopathic relentlessness. In recent times, people have painted Jeffrey Jones’ character as the hero and Matthew Broderick as the villain, escaping his education, but we know who we were cheering for in the race across Chicago!
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