The Greatest Cinema Villains

#1: Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), from “Psycho” (1960). Image copyright Paramount / Universal.

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, February 18, 2019

What makes a great movie villain? In compiling this top-30 list, I eschewed most of the typical movie “monsters”: those from the supernatural world (Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Mummy, Mr. Hyde, the Wolfman) and also many criminals from the cinema of realism (notably Michael Corleone from The Godfather films) and film noir (such as the charming Harry Lime from The Third Man). Instead, I’ve focused on those who 1) appear in a movie masterpiece, 2) are truly disturbing, 3) personify evil, 4) you loathe, 5) you root against and/or 6) are the antagonist.

Using these criteria, the classic Universal monsters are out, as most of them are sad, sympathetic beings, unfairly persecuted or misunderstood. And the aforementioned Corleone – and his ilk – don’t qualify because they are protagonists. (Using those rules, I almost ditched my #1 and #18 choices but decided to keep them, as they brutally murder the films’ other protagonists.) I also chose to not include characters or concepts that appear whose presence is merely alluded to. (Sorry, Richard Nixon in All the President’s Men, The Graduate’s “plastic generation” and Modern Times’ industrial capitalism.)

#2: Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), from “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975). Image copyright Fantasy Films / United Artists.

What I’m left with is an odd and eclectic assortment of villains from all walks of life and genres. Some you might have seen on other lists, such as this one from AFI. But a few are unique to mine. I hope you enjoy the following glimpse into evil:

  1. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), Psycho (1960)
  2. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  3. Frank (Henry Fonda), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968/1969)
  4. Basil Collins (himself), Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)
  5. The Shark (Bruce), Jaws (1975)
  6. Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  7. Regan MacNeil as possessed by the demon (Linda Blair/Mercedes McCambridge), The Exorcist (1973)
  8. The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  9. Hal (Douglas Rain), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
  10. Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones), several Star Wars films but specifically The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  11. The Evil Queen/Witch (Lucille La Verne), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

    #3: Frank (Henry Fonda), from “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968/1969). Image copyright Paramount Pictures.

  12. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), The Silence of the Lambs (1993)
  13. Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  14. Hugo, Dead of Night (1945)
  15. Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), On the Waterfront (1954)
  16. Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), Great Expectations (1946)
  17. The Truck, Duel (1971)
  18. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), The Shining (1980)
  19. Bob Ewell (James Anderson), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
  20. Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), The Sting (1973)
  21. Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
  22. Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), Harry Potter films
  23. The Emperor, or Palpatine, or Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid), Star Wars films (1980-2019)
  24. The Hunter, Bambi (1942)

    #4: Basil Collins from “Harlan County U.S.A.” (1976). Image copyright Cabin Creek.

  25. Mountain Man (Bill McKinney), Deliverance (1972)
  26. Bill Sikes (Robert Newton), Oliver Twist (1948)
  27. Chernabog, Fantasia (1940)
  28. Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse), Les Diaboliques FL (1955)
  29. Scar, The Lion King (1994)
  30. Cruella de Vil, 101 Dalmations (1961)

Ensemble award: Nazis. From Raiders of the Lost Ark, to Schindler’s List (specifically Amon Goeth, played by Ralph Fiennes), to Come and See, to Shoah, Nazis are the epitome of evil on the silver screen and in life.

Copyright 2019 © Cameron Meier