There have been so many great villains to make it the big and small screens in the history of TV and movies. Some have come to us in form of horror antagonists, some in the form of complicated anti-heroes, and some have been simply really good at being really bad. This list includes non-horror movie villains. If I had included that genre, it would be a lot bigger.
15. David Lo Pan (Big Trouble in Little China - 1986)
Lo Pan gives a whole new meaning to the concept of yin and yang. Though both incarnations of him are straight up bad, one is a shriveled old man pining for a girl with green eyes, and the other is the 8-foot tall monster we see to the left. The latter is the version that's the most important to the overall movie, one that has tendencies for dark magic, shooting lighting bolts from his fingertips, and shooting surges of light from his eyes and mouth. This is certainly how he makes his presence known to all-American protagonist, Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) in a Chinatown alleyway.
Lo Pan is an ancient evil who's been cursed by an even more ancient Chinese deity. The only way to break said curse is to marry a girl with green eyes. He's lucky enough to find 2 - both of which happen to be Jack and his best pal's, love interests. Lo Pan is a wild character in both of his forms, and he's even good for a wisecrack every now and then (as most baddies were in the 80s). Big Trouble is a wacky movie with wacky characters, but it's a lot of fun. David Lo Pan, alongside his henchmen, the 3 Storms, made for memorable performances in this action-packed John Carpenter flick.
14. Joe Carroll (The Following - 2015)
Though ultimately short-lived, The Following was an excellent TV show on the Fox network. It was one of the goriest, most morbid things I'd even seen on TV, a show created by Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson. Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is a retired FBI agent sucked back into the Bureau when his arch-nemesis, Joe Carroll, escapes from prison. Carroll was a college literature professor who fell a little too hard for the works of Edgar Allan Poe, finding a beauty in carnage and chaos. He's handsome, smooth-talking, and he owns a certain charisma that inspires a cult following. Joe is part Ted Bundy, part Richard Ramirez, charming his would-be victims, all female college students, into the throws of terror.
Even while locked up in prison for murder, Joe inspires a following a copycat killers who will do anything for him, their devotion cult-like and terrifying in itself. Joe also has a fascination with Ryan Hardy, the man who ultimately saw to his capture. He views Ryan as the light to balance out his dark side, an essential piece to his own existence. Their dynamic is fascinating to watch, with Joe claiming that they're not so different after all, encouraging Ryan's burgeoning frustration and rage in trying to catch the killers.
13. Catwoman (Batman Returns - 1992)
She's smart, sleek, sexy, and bad. Catwoman was the best thing about Tim Burton's Gothic Batman sequel, her origin interesting and her pursuits demented and stealthy. The Penguin is the numero uno antagonist in the film, but Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman provides the most colorful, complicated Batman nemesis. She's driven by revenge toward the crooked boss that ended her, and she's given another shot at life, or nine more shots at life, by a herd of stray alley cats.
Selina soon falls for Bruce Wayne, which means Catwoman falls for Batman. She wants to do the right thing, but something deep within her, something menacing, something feline, just won't let her. Selina puts her best black leather and sewing skills to the test, fashioning her own costume, complete with steel claws for the occasional mauling. Michelle Pfeiffer provides a memorable character here with a cool costume and unique, particularly feline style.
12. O-Ren Ishii (Kill Bill Vol. 1 - 2003)
There are a few attributes associated with O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) - world class assassin codenamed Cottonmouth, and half Chinese/half Japanese-American Queen of the Yakuza. Part of the Deadly Viper Squad, a troupe of world class assassins with reptilian codenames, O-Ren receives full treatment in Kill Bill, as it shows us how she became who she is.
She was military brat whose father became caught in the crosshairs of the Japanese mafia. Her parents are murdered in front of her while she hides for her life, though she indirectly declares revenge on the underworld deviants. Posing as an under-aged prostitute for the boss, she murders him with a sword in his own bed, and then blasts his underlings to death with a pistol. This origin story is told to the audience in anime style, proving director Quentin Tarantino both innovative and creative in his storytelling prowess. We then see O-Ren excel as an assassin, taking out a fun-loving military general in the backseat of a limo. She soon gets a date with the woman she double-crossed in Beatrix Kiddo, aka The Bride, aka Black Mamba (Uma Thurman), who is one of the greatest movie protagonists ever created.
11. Drexl Spivey (True Romance - 1993)
Actor Gary Oldman makes this list twice. He was at one time my favorite actor, and he was the biggest inspiration for my current favorite actor, Tom Hardy. Both of them are method actors, forming good, bad, and complicated characters for us to marvel at. Drexl Spivey, a small-time pimp/hood in 1993's True Romance, was only a bit character, taking up only a limited amount of screen time. But in every segment he's in, he steals the scene with his scars, his bad eye, and his explosive temper. The Kango-wearing, dreadlocked baddie locks in mortal combat with the film's protagonist, Clarence, one in which only one walks away. Bad things happen to Drexl, but it's hard to feel bad for him as he's such an awful person. The man behind the performance is a genius, which makes Drexl Spivey such a memorable villain.
Drexl is a low-level associate for big-time criminals like Blue Lou Boyle and the Coccotta crime family, headed by the always magnificent Christopher Walken (whose Vincent Coccotta narrowly missed the list). You can tell that Gary Oldman had a field day with the character of Drexl, making him a play thing that comes to life in a package of street slang and violent tendencies. Drexl protect his territory, or at least tries to. That territory is a call-girl named Alabama, but it just so happens that Alabama's new beau, Clarence, has other plans.
10. Terminator (The Terminator - 1984)
Arnold is the thing that horror icons are made of in The Terminator. He's massive, indestructible, and has one mission that he cannot dissuaded from - the termination of Sarah Conner. In a time when Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, and Jason Voorhees just wouldn't stay dead, there was Terminator, stacking dead bodies not in a horror film, but in sci-fi fashion. Arny is programmed to travel back in time from a dystopian future to slay the mother of resistance leader, John Conner, preventing him from even being born. This proves a more difficult task than originally thought, as Kyle Reese, Conner's future lieutenant, is sent back in time to protect John's mother, Sarah.
The Terminator is a cyborg, half human and half machine, sent back to 1984 in his birthday suit, but blends in 80s LA in the contemporary rags he steals from a troupe of ruffians. As the movie progresses, he steals a .45 with a laser sighting, an uzi, a shotgun, and sub-machine gun to lay waste to Sarah Conner, Kyle Reese, and anyone else that crosses his path. The Terminator is scary guy and worthy of this list, judging from the picture to the right. Shot, stabbed, face mangled, eye gouged, body smashed - it doesn't matter. The Terminator keeps on coming, never deviating from his macabre mission of laying Sarah to waste.
9. Top Dollar (The Crow - 1994)
Actor Michael Wincott was born to play the bad guy role. His character in The Crow, Top Dollar, runs a decimated, Gothic version of Detroit, responsible for every fire and dastardly deed that goes down. He's flanked by henchman Grange, half-sister and soulmate Myca, and four deviant hoods named T-Bird, Tin-Tin, Funboy, and Skank. He soon has a major bone to pick with the newly-resurrected Eric Draven (Brandon Lee).
8. Jackie Flannery (State of Grace - 1990)
Gary Oldman's second appearance on the list comes in the form of Hell's Kitchen Irish-American mobster, Jackie Flannery. State of Grace is the best mob movie I have seen, with stellar performances from Sean Penn, Ed Harris, and John C. Reilly. Though Jackie is a subsidiary character in the grand scheme of the movie, he steals every scene he is in. Once again, the character actor Oldman BECAME Jackie Flannery during the filming of this movie, and it really shows onscreen.
Jackie is such a memorable character. He's sloppy, disheveled, constantly hungover, and is constantly on the verge of a violent outburst, much like his role as Drexl Spivey. Jackie has extreme loyalty toward pals Terry, Stevie, and his brother, Frankie, but keeps everyone else in his crosshairs, especially the Italian mafia underlings he guns down in midtown bar, and the innocent bystander who makes the mistake of talking to his girl, Irene. Jackie is dangerous guy to know, but an excellent asset to your team should you be rolling into a midday gunfight with a rival New York mob.
7. Alfie Solomons (Peaky Blinders - 2013)
Much like the characters of his idol, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy's Alfie Solomons steals every scene he's in. Tom Hardy is a phenomenal actor, and while his Alfie serves as only a bit character, the Jewish-English mobster from the Netflix show Peaky Blinders easily makes it into the top 10 of this list. Alfie is fast-talking, shifty, and all business in an East End London cockney accent that he wears tight as a glove.
Much like House of Pain's debut album, Alfie often makes too many references to his being Jewish, which comes off as a bit repetitive and more caricature than character. This was the same problem that Adrien Brody had when he joined season 3 as Brooklyn Italian-American mobster, Luca Changretta. But this is the only negative to Alfie Solomons. Much like Gary Oldman, Hardy makes his Alfie quick of wit and even quicker to unpredictable violence, which certainly makes for a fun watch. It's only a shame that he is not featured more on the show, and that he was eventually killed off.
6. Bodhi (Point Break - 1991)
This is Patrick Swayze's best role by far next to his Jed Eckert in 1984's World War III vehicle, Red Dawn. Patrick Swayze IS Bodhi, a role he was born to play and master. Bodhi comes off as amiable and righteous, a hippy surfer who lives for the ultimate ride. The problem is, his day job is a bank robber, the leader of the band of thieves, the Ex Presidents. In a suit and a Ronald Reagan mask, he hauls away fat stacks of cash to fund the group's exotic surfing and skydiving adventures around the world. FBI agent Johnny Utah has gone undercover and befriended Bodhi, but little does he know, it's Bodhi who is responsible for breaking the laws that Utah has been sworn to protect.
Bodhi is more of an antihero. What he does is villainous, but he's otherwise likable, doing well to keep his friends and innocent bystanders from the throws of violence. In typically Road House-Swayze fashion, Bodhi takes on a maniacal crew of surfers by himself in order to protect his new friend, Johnny Utah, and goes out of his way to include the FBI man to new night-surfing experiences that open up his world. The end is near perfect. The audience knows that Bodhi has to fall, but the way that he does is ultimately satisfying.
5. Negan (The Walking Dead - 2010)
There's no other way to describe Negan than as a bad, bad guy. Though he was eventually humanized by The Walking Dead, even this wasn't enough to redeem him from all the dastardly deeds he had done on the show. He walks loudly and carries an even louder stick, the barb-wire-covered baseball bat he calls Lucille (named after his deceased wife). No one is safe from her death strikes, including show regulars Abraham and fan favorite Glenn.
4. Anton Chigurh (No Country For Old Men - 2007)
Anton is one guy you do not want on your trail. Just ask Josh Brolin in No Country For Old Men. Anton is certainly Latin in ethnicity, but we never get whether he's Mexican, being that the movie takes place in Texas, or Spanish like the actor who plays him, Javier Bardem. Either way, he has a lot in common with the Terminator. He's sort of machine-like, robotic and stoic, and extremely talented at the art of killing.
His weapons of choice come in the form of a portable air pump because it's untraceable it is, and a silenced pump shotgun. Anton is scary and prone to random acts of bloody violence, much to the Chigurh chagrin of Llewelyn Moss. Anton causes all sorts of trouble for the modern cowboy in this modern western, a hitman for a drug cartel who wants their goods back. Anton is a scary guy, a memorable villain in a memorable movie based on the book of the same name.
3. Hans Landa (Inglorious Basterds - 2009)
Austrian actor Christophe Waltz blew me away with his portrayal of Colonel Hans Landa back when I first saw Inglorious Basterds. I had never seen the actor before, so he was a breath of fresh air in all his insane amounts of villainy. Hans has a quiet calm that is almost nurturing, right up until when he shows you where his ultimate loyalties lie - with the Third Reich. Landa is fluent in English, German, French, and Italian. Just when you think you've got the slip on him, he defies your expectations and calls you out either with his vast array of skills or his keen attention to detail. Scenes in which Landa are in are highly tense, capable at any second of flipping on its head. He is excellent at stringing his would-be victim along, lulling them into a false sense of security.
One thing that sticks out to me about Landa is that this movie was the first time I had ever seen the acting prowess of Christophe Waltz. Though he was likable in Django Unchained, his best attributes as an actor are suited for the villain role. Hans is bit goofy at times, but he highly sadistic, likening Jews to rats. He is quite a despicable human being, but he's so good at being bad that it's ridiculous. He gets his in the end, though his penance hardly fits the laundry list of crimes he commits as a colonel for the Nazi army.
2. Bill "The Butcher" Cutting (Gangs of New York - 2002)
Daniel Day-Lewis is yet another method actor, much like Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman. He wholly became Bill "The Butcher" during the filming of Gangs of New York, responding to every situation off-set just as The Butcher would on. His New York accent, his hipster mustache, and his squinty glare make him unique in a movie where Bill is known for his unpredictable outbursts of violence. A lot of the villains on this list are, I realize, but that certain aspect gives a character a certain scary, diabolical quality. Bill makes his kills with a wide array of knives, ones that uses by day to carve up his steaks, and by night to send into the back of unsuspecting political rival.
Bill takes a young Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) under his wing. But little does he know, Amsterdam is planning to kill him, as Bill shoved a knife into his father when he was a child. It's enough that he murdered the man, but he also celebrates the victory every year with a flaming glass of spirits, a tradition in which he consumes his former enemy's life force.
1. The Joker (The Dark Knight - 2008)
Much like several of the other actors on this list, Heath Ledger became The Joker during the filming of The Dark Knight. He locked himself in a dark room for hours upon hours to get into the head of the Gotham maniac, and for posterity's sake, it worked. Heath is brilliant as The Joker, the character less goofy and more straight maniacal. Heath kept a Joker journal as if it had been written by The Joker himself, just to stay in the demented mind of the Batman villain he was portraying.
Heath wanted a look for The Joker's face paint that The Joker might have applied himself. The white and red colors are sloppy and uneven, spread over a mouth featuring the scars of a Chelsea grin. This was one of the most interesting aspects of the character, with The Joker subconsciously dabbing his tongue at the scars every so often - just another subtle nod to Heath's acting prowess. Much like Brandon Lee in The Crow, The Joker was Heath Ledger's breakthrough role, one that would have seen his star rise in Hollywood. Soon after filming, Heath died when he accidentally mixed lethal doses of sleeping pills and anxiety medicine. His Joker is a thing of beauty, so good that he inadvertently becomes the star over Christian Bale's Batman.