Without antagonists, there would be no protagonists. Without sinister evil doers, there would be no heroes. Without dark there is no light… you get the idea. History, whether in reality or on the big screen, shows us that a decent, believable bad guy (or gal) makes our tough-guy (or gal) lead that much more desirable. Who would Beowulf have proven himself with had there not been a Grendel? Here are ten of cinema’s most ghastly villains.
10. The Wicked Witch of the West
From Dorothy’s initial arrival in Munchkin City, and the very fact that she’d landed smack on top of the Wicked Witch of the East, good old Margaret Hamilton as the W.W. of the West nips at her heels and tries to stop her every move toward home. Tossing insults as skillfully as she tosses fire balls, the Witch proves herself a worthy foe indeed as she commands her band of flying monkeys and seemingly loyal soldiers.
9. Lex Luthor
Be it Gene Hackman or, to a lesser extent, Kevin Spacey, the portrayal of Lex Luthor as the ultimate nemesis to America’s hero, Superman, is a daunting task. One has to be of particular evil genius to not only out wit, but also out muscle The Man of Steel. Somehow always within reach of a chunk of Kryptonite, Lex Luthor manages to get the upper hand for what seems like a breathless eternity. But Superman will always triumph in the end.
8. Jason Voorhees
What more could you want in an unstoppable juggernaut than a presumably walking corpse in a goalie mask? Few villains have had the staying power as the Camp Crystal Lake killer, Jason. Born from the very lake, in which he was drowned, Jason has racked up the revenge victims for years only to ‘die’ once more at the end of what could potentially be his final killing spree. But, like a good villain, death never keeps him down for long.
7. Freddy Krueger
Like Jason before him, Freddy only truly exists because we fear him so deeply. Lodged firmly in a town’s subconscious. Freddy appears most frequently on Elm Street where he collects his victims while they sleep. Not bound by real-world laws or even physics, Freddy uses anything and everything he can ‘dream up’ to antagonize his prey before finally skewering them on his razor-fingered glove. But, much like every other evil killer, someone manages to banish him for just long enough to take a breath. But he always comes back.
6. Michael Myers
Halloween always brings out thoughts of monsters and evil masked men, and who better to fit that description than a massive silent murderer wearing a discount, plastic William Shatner face? Michael Myers had the good old-fashioned troubled childhood and wound up in a mental ward only to find release on Halloween and also find his sister. But, like any good slasher, Meyers continued his endless rampage focusing on anyone who got in his way.
5. Max Cady
Originally portrayed by Robert Mitchum, Max Cady in Cape Fear was a brutal, relentless beast who would stop at nothing to torture a desperate family. Later, Robert DeNiro took the reigns, but something about the first performance stuck with everyone and made his name a classic in the annals of movie bad guys.
Evil without ever coming into personal contact with his victims is pure genius. Jigsaw lets his diabolical torture devises do all the work for him as he watches hapless victims struggle for their very lives attempting to undo, by equally torturous methods, the predicament they’ve found themselves in. Surviving three movies, and appearing in flashbacks in a fourth with a fifth doubtless in the works, Jigsaw has become a master of his craft.
3. The Joker
Tormenting Batman for a half century, The Joker has been one of the most prominent figures in bad-guy lore. Having killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, then systematically murdering everyone Wayne tried to get close to, and eventually Robin himself, the Joker is a sadistic lunatic bent on nothing more than vindictive malice. Sure, Batman jails him as often as not, but the Joker always finds a way to get back to work.
2. The Emperor / Darth Vader
Though bent on locating his son and stopping at nothing to do so, Darth Vader was not, unfortunately, the brains behind his evil. No that job falls straight on the shoulders of Emperor Palpatine: his very creator. Yes, Vader helped extinguish thousands of Jedi throughout several years, and Vader used his Force powers to firmly place him atop the upper echelon of Dark Lords, it was always The Emperor pulling the strings. Until, that is, monster turned on master.
1. Hannibal Lecter
Dr. Lecter ATE people. That’s all you need to know. Oh, and he ATE a lot of them. That is enough for me to top the list.