My 10 Favorite Cinematic Villains

List by Derrick Carter

There are tons and tons of great villains in film. In fact, this year alone I can already think of ten off the top of my head that stood out. What makes an awesome bad guy? Is it something that plays to our personal preferences, like many different qualities in cinema? Are there always universal themes in each great bad guy that are just so damned believable and (sometimes) relatable that we almost fall in love with watching their evil deeds? When is it okay to root for the villain, be terrified of them or a little of both? I decided since All Hallows Eve is only a few hours away, I would ponder over my 10 personal favorite baddies.

Now, I must get this out-of-the-way. This is ALL OPINION. I’m not claiming these are the best bad guys out there, far from it. You probably already know fantastic antagonists that range from Heath Ledger’s Joker to Hopkins’ Hannibal to the well-known classics. I’m just counting down my favorite bad guys and listing the reasons why I love to hate them so much or just plain enjoy watching them. Without further ado…

10. Ratigan

10. RATIGAN (from THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE)

Nothing kicks off a villains list better than an animated rat from Disney. GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE is a take on Sherlock Holmes with mice, rats, and other talking animals filling in as characters. It’s actually a really solid movie and one I plan on reviewing in the future. However, the best part of the film is the nefarious Ratigan! Voiced by the always-great Vincent Price, Ratigan is a sort of Moriarty figure with a tail. He tries to act civilized and uses his pet cat (how’s that for a unique weapon?) to cover his vicious side, which does come out in the film’s intense finale. Want another justification of why he’s on this list? Did I mention he sings too? Good luck trying to get his two ultra-catchy tunes out of your head.

9. Drexl Spivey

9. DREXL SPIVEY (from TRUE ROMANCE)

Gary Oldman can do bad so good! Leave it to this chameleon to turn a laughable stereotype into something out of a nightmare. Drexl Spivey is a pimp and also a “wigger.” Whereas this sounds funny and possibly comedic, it’s not at all. Drexl is the best part of TRUE ROMANCE and he’s only in for a short time of the film. After he’s gone, the story goes down a couple of notches. The stand-out scene is in an intense conversation with Christian Slater. Having already seen Drexl go friggin’ crazy on two people and brutally murder them up to this point, it makes the tension that much scarier. Also this isn’t the last time you’ll be seeing Oldman on this list.

8. Aaron The Moor

8. AARON THE MOOR (from TITUS)

Shakespeare writes fantastic villains who delight in their evil ways. It was a tough choice between Aaron The Moor and Ian McKellen’s Richard III. Seeing as Richard isn’t exactly as chilling as Aaron is, this choice was decided on that factor. Aaron (played by Harry Lennix in this version) is purely and simply bad-to-the-bone. He absolutely loves corrupting those around him and has no real friends to speak of. Even his so-called accomplices vicariously become his victims by the play/film’s end. Adding a slightly comical tone to the role too is how Aaron will occasionally turn to the camera and directly address the viewer, thus letting them in on how much fun he’s having committing horrible sins. It should say enough that his only dying regret is that he didn’t do more evil.

7. Dino Velvet

7. DINO VELVET, EDDIE POOLE, & MACHINE (from 8MM)

Another underrated flick has a three-way-tie between some of the nastiest deviants you’ll come across on-screen. 8MM is a thriller about a detective (played by an unusually good Nicolas Cage) trying to prove a supposed snuff film is authentic. We’d have a pretty boring and underwhelming movie if said snuff film was a fake, so Cage does indeed come across the creators (and a surviving star) of the small reel of murder footage. Eddie Poole (a scummy James Gandolfini) proves to get the most satisfying comeuppance of the trio. Dino Velvet (an awesome Peter Stormare) is the flamboyant “director” who has chilling pieces of dialogue. It’s the bondage-masked Machine who delivers one of the bleakest explanations of why there are evil people in the world in a haunting scene near the end. 8MM contains a three-for-one delivery of memorable baddies.

6. Dr Josef

6. DR. JOSEF MENGELE (from THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL)

Let’s face it. It’s really not that difficult to make anyone hate a Nazi. All you have to do is throw the swastika on their shoulder and you’ve got yourself instant bad guy. In this fantastic 1978 thriller, a group of war criminals are trying to clone a new Hitler (it’s not remotely as silly as it sounds). As if that wasn’t interesting enough already, the leader of the group is played by the one and only Gregory Peck (that’s right, Atticus Finch). Peck pretty much plays the Fuhrer without actually being called the Fuhrer. Adopting a flawless German accent, a vicious temper, and a nasty talent for deforming people with science, Peck gives what I’d argue is the most creative Nazi ever shown on-screen (I’m counting zombies, Fiennes, and Hans Landau). If you haven’t seen this flick, then strap yourself in and give it a watch. This is another one that’s definitely getting a review from me down the line.

5. Cesar

5. CESAR (from SLEEP TIGHT)

This is a fun entry. Unlike the majority of bad guys on this list, Cesar doesn’t have a body count to his name. This main character in the Jaume Balaguero’s Spanish thriller is a doorman who has made it his goal to cause misery to everyone around him. He cannot feel happiness, so why should anybody else? He mainly sets his sights on a young woman who isn’t cracking under his pressure. When the villain has keys to every apartment in the building and takes to poisoning your make-up, infesting your apartment with roaches, and escalating things from there, its safe to say that you might sleep with one eye open. Don’t worry, because that’s why Cesar keeps a bottle of chloroform handy. The dark sense of humor around this character is off the charts too. One of the best scenes is a conversation with an older apartment dweller who tries to be polite and gets owned in the most emotionally demolishing way possible. Cesar may not be a serial killer or a criminal mastermind, but he’s a dickhead. He also happens to be a dangerous dickhead with keys to your apartment and a whole lot of patience.

4. Leland Gaunt

4. LELAND GAUNT (from NEEDFUL THINGS)

There have been plenty of portrayals of Satan on the big screen, but Max Von Sydow’s performance in this Stephen King adaptation takes the cake. Armed with a slimy sense of humor (he claims he’s from Ohio), an upbeat attitude (offering people good things in return for small favors), and a kindly old grandfather demeanor, you’d never think this shop owner is actually the Devil incarnate. That’s exactly who he is though and he’s quite good at using people to destroy each other. How can you beat a Satan with the balls to say “You can’t win. I’ve got God on my side.” Enough said…

3. Dolores Umbridge

3. DOLORES UMBRIDGE (from the HARRY POTTER series)

Let me tell you why this bitch is on here instead of Voldemort. Not once during the entire HARRY POTTER saga did I ever want to jump through the screen and strangle Voldemort with my bare hands, no matter how many people he killed. The same cannot be said of this sickly sweet witch with a penchant for cats and truly nasty punishments. I think part of the reason I hate her so much is because I had a teacher in Junior High who was pretty much an exact doppelgänger of Umbridge. This educator emotionally battered the entire eighth grade class on a daily basis and acted like a sweet little lady at parent-teacher conference. We’ve all met people like Umbridge and we all hate them for obvious reasons. Props to J.K. Rowling for including such a despicable character in her series. Voldemort is a saint compared to her.

Leon poster

2. NORMAN STANSFIELD (from LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL)

This pill-popping, gun-totting, certifiable nutjob is my favorite Oldman performance….ever! Stansfield is the best corrupt cop to grace cinema! He’ll make you laugh one minute and piss your pants out of sheer fear in the next. He can switch at the drop of a hat and is evil to his core. At one point, this villain corners a little girl in the restroom and asks her if she appreciates her life. When she answers yes, he calmly responds “Good, because I could never take a life from someone who didn’t appreciate it.” That’s straight-up cold! It’s also highly ironic that the movie featuring a hitman and an assassin-in-training as likable protagonists manages to show someone who’s even more of a lunatic than hired killers. Props to Oldman. This is the role that I’ll remember him for!

1. Milton Dammers

1. MILTON DAMMERS (from THE FRIGHTENERS)

My favorite villain of all-time. Jeffrey Combs absolutely cracks me up through this entire film. In a movie riddled with many threats from different sides (ghosts and serial killers), this drastically misguided FBI agent manages to be the stand-out baddie of the bunch. Sporting a slicked Hitler haircut, nervous mannerisms, and a side of crazy that keeps escalating as the film goes on, Jeffrey Combs is amazing in this role! He also has my favorite villain demise of all-time. His dialogue is absolutely hilarious too! Dammers is a self-described asshole, but he’s such an entertaining one! That’s why Milton Dammers is my favorite villain of all-time!

Have any personal favorite villains of your own that don’t get enough recognition? Leave them in the comments below!

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