As much as we love a good hero in our movies, we have to admit that a hero can only rise to the level of their adversary, so when you think of the best movie heroes throughout the years, you will find that they were opposed by some of the most brilliant and dark minds imaginable. When you start talking about movie history, the list of villains is almost unending, and there are definitely some good ones. We decided to compile a list of the top 20 criminal minds in movie history.
At the time we came up with the idea, we didn’t have a clue of how much of a challenge this would be. First, you have to identify as many memorable bad guys as you possibly can, and then you have to come up with some type of matrix or standard through which you will measure and judge them to determine if they should make the top twenty. What we decided is that we would keep it light. So, these are the top 20 simply based on cinematic impact, memorable moments, at least one quotable line that never gets old, and just gut instincts.
Here are the top 20 villains of all time in no order because that’s impossible.
The one thing that has distinguished nearly all of the subsequent films in the Die Hard franchise from the first one was that the original Die Hard made it clear who John McClane’s primary adversary was. The plot introduced Huns Gruber into the set and his brilliant mind and calm demeanor made if more than a worthy adversary. From the complex nature of the plot to his psychopathic approach to using humans as ponds, Hans sent chills down the spine of viewers. When the movie was released in 1988, it was virtually impossible to find one person in the entire theater that was not rooting for Bruce Willis to do something with Hans.from the first one was that the original Die Hard made it clear who John McClane’s primary adversary was. The plot introduced Huns Gruber into the set and his brilliant mind and calm demeanor made if more than a worthy adversary. From the complex nature of the plot to his psychopathic approach to using humans as ponds, Hans sent chills down the spine of viewers. When the movie was released in 1988, it was virtually impossible to find one person in the entire theater that was not rooting for Bruce Willis to do something with Hans.
The Penguin in Batman (1992)
While this may sound somewhat cruel, there could not have been a better role made specifically for Danny DeVito build, but the character that DeVito produced in the movie is nothing short of Brilliant. The fact that this version of the Batman story was told by Tim Burton, there is a strong influence of “lonerism,” which in this case, stems from major traumatic events that occurred during infancy. Discarded by his parents in sewer, the infant is raised by penguins with virtually no human contact or engagement, so you can imagine what happens with the two worlds finally collide. Come on, this guy raises up a penguin army to take over Gotham.sewer, the infant is raised by penguins with virtually no human contact or engagement, so you can imagine what happens with the two worlds finally collide. Come on, this guy raises up a penguin army to take over Gotham.
The Joker in Batman (1989)
To be honest, Jack Nichols as a villain in and of itself, almost qualifies on its own merit. Whether it has been in The Shining, Werewolf or A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson delivers, and he definitely did not fail to deliver in the 1989 Batman movie. This movie is where comic book characters grew up and became immensely dark and somewhat psychotic. While I will have to admit that Heath Ledger’s interpretation of Joker in The Dark Knight, to this point, is likely the greatest, we cannot forget the masterful performance surrendered by Jack Nicholson in Batman. Although the Nicholson interpretation was somewhat cartoonish, no one will ever forget the Joker jamming to Prince while defacing an art museum.Joker in The Dark Knight, to this point, is likely the greatest, we cannot forget the masterful performance surrendered by Jack Nicholson in Batman. Although the Nicholson interpretation was somewhat cartoonish, no one will ever forget the Joker jamming to Prince while defacing an art museum.
Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood 2007)
If you have never seen this movie, you have missed a classic. Daniel Day-Lewis delivers one of the most masterful performances in the history of villainism. There are times in which he has you rooting for him, and then there aretime in which you are going what in hell is going on in this guys mind. Paul Thomas Anderson has a reputation for being a fearless filmmaker and he definitely did not disappoint in There Will Be Blood. Daniel Plainview operates with only one thing in his view — the almighty dollar, and he is ruthless and immensely creative in how he goes about getting it. One thing that I can assure you when you watch this movie — “there will be blood.”
Norman Bates (Psycho, 1960)
There cannot be a list of villains in which no villain that flowed from the mind of Alfred Hitchcock is visible, and who better to represent Hitchcock’s twisted mind than Norman Bates in the movie Psycho. When you normally think about a slasher movie, there is really no depth or dynamic, just a lot of slicing and dicing, but Psycho presented the slasher with a significantly deeper level of psychological complexity that left the viewer attempting to understand him as much as they wanted to hate him. Norman is a man than killed his mother for spending too much time with her new lover instead of him. He then attempts to suffocate the guilt by dressing up in her clothes before repeating the crime over and over again, in an attempt to keep her alive.
Agent Smith (The Matrix Trilogy, 1999-2003)
The Matrix was nothing short of a masterpiece of complex algorithms and convert messages that made an entire world stop and think. It made many of us ask ourselves some very disturbing questions. Enter Neo, the savior of the human race, and he fights to destroy the Matrix and return liberation to humanity, but the leader of the human phantom security team designed to guard the Matric, Agent Smith, would not make it easy for him. Smith was the antithesis of Neo, and he represented something that we all have in us at varying degrees. He represented what happens when you lose control of your own ability to think for yourself, and the difficulty associated with reclaiming your life once your lose control of it.
Annie Wilkes (Misery, 1990)
While the movie misery seems to be more about primal instinct and pure viciousness, there is a brilliance to the movie itself, and there is definitely depth and darkness associated with the main character Annie. Can you imagine what type of mental psychosis she had to be struggling with in order to devise a plan to kidnap a man and then completely debilitate him in order to keep him with her. She had to be disconnected enough to administer unfathomable pain, and caring enough to administer aid at a level that would ensure that her captive did not die from his wounds. Bates nailed this character so well that she was rewarded with an Oscar.
Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men, 2007)
There is no shortage of hitmen in movies, but you have to admit that there is something immensely unique about Anton Chigurh and the manner in which he goes about doing his job. Even the manner in which he kills is psychotic — a pressurized piston to the forehead — not to mention the super-gun with the super-silencer. Once Chigurh set his sights on a target, there was nothing that was going to stop him, and no matter how much you rooted for the protagonist in this movie, it was not going to save him. He should have left that money where he found it.
Harry Powell (The Night of the Hunter, 1955)
Some of you younger heads that dare not troll back through the annals movie history will probably not be aware of this one, but it is definitely worth examining. Harry Power is an imprisoned serial killer who finds fortune when he learns that his cell mate, who is about to hang for a robbery gone bad, had hidden his fortune before he was apprehended. Upon his release, he seduces the widow of his former cell mate and begins playing daddy to his children. Because he is actually not the marrying of nurturing type, he eventually slits the widows throat with a coolness that is scary.
Colonel Hans Landa (Inglorious Bastards, 2009)
Okay, Hans is now an official name for movie antagonist, and who plays a better bad buy that Christoph Waltz? Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to completely warp history to create a masterpiece. In this movie, all of the Nazis are deplorable; however, Colonel Hans Landa is, by far, the worst of them all. Landa is known as the “Jew Hunter.” The darkness and complexity of this character that is presented in the most simply and primal manner is brilliant. While he is identified as a cold-blooded killer, his real drive is simply advancing in life at all cost. The killing was simply a means to an end.
Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects, 1995)
Now the character and story of Keyser Soze is brilliantly unwrapped in this remarkably well-written crime thriller. According to Kint (Kevin Spacey) Keyser Soze is either the devil incarnate, or some type of spook story that criminals tell their own kids about. There are legends that Keyser Soze is a Turkish drug dealer, but lo and behold, after all of the twists and turns of this movie, it appears that Kint is Keyser Soze putting on an act and feeding the authority a deep bucket full of crap. It had to be frustrating for those cops to have had the biggest criminal in history sitting in your custody and to let him go because he convinced you that he was not him.
Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975)
Here is another classic that some of the younger generation will probably not be aware of, but it won an Oscar. Mildred Ratched is a nurse, and she holds the title of nurse, but she is extremely sadistic in the fact that she literally gets an emotional charge out of terrorizing psychiatric patients in a ward that she is responsible for overseeing. In this movie, there is a scene in which she induces terror into Billy, and patient who has mommy issues — telling him that she is going to tell his mother what he did. Billy ends up committing suicide, and Nurse Ratchet consumes the news as if it were food.
Frank Booth (Blue Velvet, 1986)
Spoiler Alert — two villains played by Dennis Hopper made the top 10 criminal minds in movie history. Stay tuned to see who the character is and where they rank. Frank plays a psychotic gangster who happens to be addicted to PGR, which is amyl nitrate being inhaled through a mask. Frank wreaks havoc in a number of ways, but primarily through violence and sex. This guy had some real issues, but the character had a way of making the audience relate to him — something Hopper was very good at.
The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008)
While Jack Nicholas brought the character of the joker to life in the 1988 version of Batman, it was Heath Ledger that made this villain legendary on an entirely different level. He was completely unpredictable — even impenetrable. Usually, there is something about the villain that a normal human can relate to, but the Joker in The Dark Knight was complete disconnected from his humanity. He was even feared by other crime organizations. According to sources, Ledger spent a moth alone in a motel room practicing the mannerisms of the character. He even kept a diary of the villain’s thoughts.
John Doe (Seven, 1995)
Here is Kevin Spacey again in another chilling portrayal of a very dark and sinister character. Simple known as John Doe in the movie he takes two detectives, played by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt on one of the wildest rides ever. He always seems to be one step ahead, and he is so dark and disconnected that Freeman’s character, who spends a great deal of time attempting to profile John Doe, cannot even fathom the darkness that he is dealing for it. If you haven’t seen the movie, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but by the time these two officers come in contact with John Doe, their lives will be forever altered.
Baby Jane Hudson (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, 1962)
How many times have we seen a person or child experience success and achieve fame early in life, only to see that fame diminish with time. It never turns out well. You only have to look at the entire child cast of Different Stroke to catch a glimpse of this cautionary tale. Now take that frustration of fading fame and merge it with sibling rivalry in which the other sibling is thriving. Baby Jane wanted her fame back and she devolved into a very dark place in pursuit of that fame. All I can say about this character is that Betty Davis will literally haunt you in your dreams.
Asami Yamazaki (The Audition, 1999)
In this movie, the protagonist is holding fake auditions for a date, under the guise of wanting to avoid all of the frustrations associated with traditional dating. In a wild twist of fate, he ends up the phone with Asami, having a seemingly innocent conversation. Unfortunately, what he does not know is that she has literally been sitting by the phone desperately waiting for him to call her. To make matters worse, there is a huge bag in the middle of her living room, and it begins to move and makes a terrible sound. This is a brilliant presentation of the new girlfriend who is an absolutely psychopath.
Howard Payne (Speed, 1994)
We told you that Dennis Hopper would be back and the brilliance of a trained explosive expert with a chip on his shoulder, and the time and warped mind to pull off the unthinkable. In this movie, Howard Payne is more than a mad bomber. He is a mad bomber with a cause, and he has the brains and skills to make his presence felt. The twists and turns of what is supposed to be an action movie, quickly turns into a clashing of the minds. This movie climaxes with Payne turning a city bus into a moving bomb that will go off if the bus drops below a certain speed. The race is on.
Lex Luthor (Batman vs Superman)
While you could probably pull any depiction of Lex Luther and he would land in the top 20 criminal minds of all time. It take a depiction of a mind so diabolical that it could conceive a plan that would turn Batman and Superman into mortal enemies. Luther is literally consumed with idea of complete world dominance, and the two parties that consistently stay in his way are Batman and Superman. What better way to get rid of you to most formidable adversaries than to turn them against one another.
Hannibal Lecter (Choose One)
Come on, a world-leading psychiatrist who turns out to be a cannibalistic serial killer. It is not just the way that Anthony Hopkins brought life to this character in The Silence of the Lambs, but the manner in which he embodied it. The mind of Hannibal was brilliant that he would literally have viewers believing that he could make anything happen at any time. The manner in which Hannibal never seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere, but always seemed to be where he had to be was nothing short of extraordinary.