The 50 Best Television and Movie Villains
Television and movie villains tend to get a lot of flack for their behavior toward more pious on-screen characters when in fact, it’s often their drive, outsider’s perspective, or plain old-fashioned desire for revenge that fuels their misdeeds or fosters their reputation as a villain.
While some characters are just plain rotten, others, like Darth Vader or Severus Snape, tend to be misguided or hurt from past experiences. Others, like Miranda Priestly or Sharpay Evans, are just on a mission to live a life above average.
Whether misunderstood or power-hungry, here are the 50 best television and movie villains we love to root for—from Disney’s "The Lion King" to the "Saw" franchise (and everything in between).
Movie: Harry Potter
Actor: Alan Rickman
Professor Snape may have spent the majority of the Harry Potter series being the meanest, most seemingly evil Hogwarts professor in the castle—but the misunderstood character was looking out for Harry and his friends all along… in a strange, seemingly backwards way.
Movie: The Lion King
Actor: Jeremy John Irons
Disney’s "The Lion King" is packed with villains and bad guys hoping to lead Simba down the wrong path but his uncle Scar is without a doubt the leader of the pack. The brother of Mufasa and second in line to rule the Pride Lands, the jealous, entitled lion does what he feels is necessary to get what he thinks he deserves… at all costs.
Movie: Django Unchained
Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio
Calvin Candie is a despicable character on all fronts—but let’s be honest, it’s hard to see any Leonardo DiCaprio-portrayed character in a bad light after softer films such as "Titanic" and "The Great Gatsby."
Actor: Halle Berry
One of the major supervillainess within the DC comics landscape, Catwoman is both seductive and sneaky, making her a boss in her own right and, well, a hardened burglar. The jewelry thief is well-loved for her style, finesse, and moral high ground (although it’s not always obvious at surface level).
Ra's al Ghul
Movie: The Dark Knight Rises
Actor: Liam Neeson
If you’ve seen "Taken" or "Love Actually" as many times as we have, you’ll likely agree that it’s pretty much impossible to see any Liam Neeson character as anything other than a kind soul with a huge heart. The DC Comics supervillain and enemy of Batman is not really any different if you think about it—despite his dystopian views he really just wants to prevent climate change!
Movie: The Devil Wears Prada
Actor: Meryl Streep
The iconic Miranda Priestly is one of the main reasons that "The Devil Wears Prada" remains to be one of the most beloved movies of the 00s. The ‘ice queen’ character, portrayed by Meryl Streep, is allegedly based on Vogue magazine’s Anna Wintour, and as such gives viewers a look into what it means to be a revered editor and gatekeeper of high fashion—and all of the pressure that surrounds such a role.
Movie: The Lord of the Rings
Actor: Andy Serkis
While "The Lord of the Rings’" Gollum may not be a textbook villain, the sneaky antagonist is both well-loved and, well, properly disliked for his consistent habit of doing the wrong thing at precisely the wrong time. That said, he did give us one of the most frequently spoken movie quotes and for that reason, he’ll always be my precious.
Movie: The Dark Knight
Actor: Heath Ledger
While "The Joker" is known for making Batman’s life a living nightmare, it’s hard not to root for the DC Comics villain, who suffers from a complex mix of untreated mental illnesses.
Movie: The Dark Knight
Actor: Aaron Eckhart
After getting acid thrown on his face by Boss Sal Maroni, it’s no wonder Two-Face spends the rest of his life obsessed with duality and opposites; while also struggling with his apparent dissociative identity disorder.
Movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Actor: Adam Driver
Despite some of his questionable decisions, Kylo Ren is certainly not portrayed as evil for the sake of being evil. In fact, considering his tumultuous upbringing it comes as no real surprise that he’s really just a young man left without a real father figure or mentor to lean on.
Movie: Harry Potter
Actor: Ralph Fiennes
While, no, we definitely do not condone what he-who-must-not-be-named did to the Wizarding World in the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort had a truly terrible childhood, virtually no decent mentors or support, and wound up growing up with a massive chip on his shoulder that only dark magic could queule.
Movie: The Little Mermaid
Actor: Pat Carroll
Sure, Ursula may have tried to steal Ariel’s voice, but she really only did it because she understood everything else Ariel had to lose living under King Triton’s controlling thumb. At worst, Ursula was a realist who was only helping Ariel have a chance at an independent life on the land.
Movie: Sleeping Beauty / Maleficent
Actor: Eleanor Audley / Angelina Jolie
While Maleficent may be responsible for, well, casting curses on children, her general confidence and style won the hearts of viewers in spite of it all. Whether as Angelina Jolie in "Maleficent" or the late Eleanor Audley in "Sleeping Beauty," this is one villain nobody should mess with.
Movie: Mean Girls
Actor: Rachel McAdams
Regina George is the definition of a baddie—she’s confident, knows what she wants, and won’t let anything… or anyone… get in her way. While her approach may be a bit more caddy than most, her brutal honesty and tenacity made her the mean girl we love to hate.
Movie: Gone Girl
Actor: Rosamund Pike
Gillian Flynn’s "Gone Girl" single-handedly sparked a whole new genre of psychological thrillers—with antagonist Amy Dunne at the forefront. The next level character is just so conniving and, well, vengeful that we can’t help but root for her husband’s demise.
Movie: The Departed
Actor: Jack Nicholson
While The Departed may have been a fictionalized story, Frank Costello was anything but a fictional character. Depicted by Jack Nicholson, the mob boss may have done more harm than good but he did it with style and finesse.
Movie: Star Wars
Actor: Dave Prowse / James Earl Jones
Darth Vader may have actively tried to destroy the universe and murdered thousands of innocent people—including his own subordinates at certain points—the imposing villain was so larger-than-life that it’s hard not to be taken by his downright evil on-screen presence.
Movie: Monsters, Inc.
Actor: Steve Buscemi
Randall Boggs tries to make Sulley and Mike’s lives as difficult as possible in both "Monsters, Inc." and its sequel, "Monsters University," but despite his menacing approach to scaring, it’s hard not to find any creature voiced by Steve Buscemi anything less than cheeky and charming.
The Queen Of Hearts
Movie: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Actor: Helena Bonham Carter
Helena Bonham Carter has a real knack for making bad guys seem much more kitsch and quirky than they have the right to be—and "The Queen Of Hearts" is no exception. Sure, the menacing queen was overly angry, but did anyone ever think to ask her what was wrong?!
Movie: Peter Pan
Actor: Jason Isaacs
This one should be pretty obvious—yes, Captain Hook has a vengeance against Peter Pan… but the forever-young boy did chop his hand off and feed it to crocodiles so can you really blame him for being a bit angry?
Movie: The Silence of the Lambs
Actor: Anthony Hopkins
Formerly a respected forensic scientist, Hannibal Lecter took a turn for the worse and ended up as a serial killer who ate his victims. While he’s considered a sociopath by psychologists in the film, he’s also known as the ‘Robin Hood of killers’ due to the fact that his victims are strictly rude or ‘bad’ people.
Movie: The Avengers
Actor: Tom Hiddleston
Loki may have the most pious personality traits, but we’re still firm believers that he’s largely misunderstood. After learning about his true parentage, Frost Giants, his entire belief system and heritage was pulled out from underneath him.
Movie: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Actor: Louise Fletcher
Nurse Ratched is blamed for a lot of anarchy in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," but if you really examine her reality, she’s only following orders and trying to maintain authority—and she thinks that what she’s doing really is for the greater good.
Movie: Friday the 13th
Actor: Kane Hodder
We have Jason Voorhees to thank for creepy Halloween costumes everywhere—but the movie villain was completely misunderstood. Not only did he suffer from untreated mental and emotional turmoil, he learned his serial killer ways from his mother and likely thought it was normal behavior.
The Wicked Witch of the West
Movie: The Wizard of Oz
Actor: Margaret Hamilton
The wicked witch of the west is probably one of the first villains most of us has ever been exposed to—and as such, she either represents pure evil or serious ambition. The main villain within "The Wizard of Oz" stopped at nothing to get what she wanted and despite her misguided approach, we appreciate her drive.
Movie: Beauty and the Beast
Actor: Richard White
When it comes to movie villains, Gaston ranks pretty low in terms of true mal-intent; in his mind was just looking out for Belle, even if he did have quite selfish and questionable motives in the process.
Harry and Marv
Movie: Home Alone
Actors: Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern
Harry and Marv were no match for Kevin McAllister—which was both empowering to see on-screen as kids, and well, made the “Wet Bandits” look sort of pathetic. While we always rooted for Kevin, we couldn’t help but feel kind of bad for Harry and Marv’s completely tactless burglary career.
Movie: Harry Potter
Actor: Helena Bonham Carter
We’re not here to defend Bellatrix Lestrange behavior or motives—that was one evil witch—but her style and finesse would definitely earn her one of the top spots on the best-dressed villains list.
Movie: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Actor: Robert Englund
Born as the “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs” only to then be adopted by an abusive alcoholic, Freddy Krueger’s upbringing and childhood was anything but easy—and while that doesn’t excuse his serial killer and predatory tendencies, it does make us wonder what he might have been having he been given a fair shot in life (and maybe an understanding psychologist).
Movie: Les Misérables
Actor: Sacha Baron Cohen
Monsieur Thénardier might not be the obvious villain in "Les Misérables" but he definitely makes a pretty strong impression as the terrible landlord everybody loves to loathe. While his motives are admittedly questionable, his unforgettable solo in both the original Les Mis and the 2012 rendition with Sacha Baron Cohen will be stuck in your head for days.
Actor: Tobin Bell
Jigsaw, or John Kramer, may have been a brutal serial killer—but in a weird way his it was gratitude that drove him to torture his victims. His life may have been impacted by his incurable disease but he selected his victims to, in a weird way, give them a chance to appreciate everything they have in life… if they made it out alive, anyways.
Actor: Boris Karloff
Everything about Mary Shelley’s storied monster is misunderstood, from his actual name (it’s Frankenstein’s Monster, not Frankenstein!), to his temperament. Created in a laboratory by scientist Victor Frankenstein, this villain is nothing more than an 8-foot-tall marvel of science who just happens to be very emotional.
The Phantom of the Opera
Movie: The Phantom of the Opera
Actor: Gerard Butler
The phantom of the opera, otherwise known as Erik, is highly sensitive about his facial deformity that earned him the title of 'Devil's Child' when he was a child and as a result spends his life hiding within the Paris Catacombs. As such, Erik isn’t exactly the movie villain we love to hate, but rather the troubled antagonist that evokes serious sympathy—even from the story’s protagonist, Christine Daaé.
Movie: High School Musical
Actor: Ashley Tisdale
When it comes to characters we love to hate, Sharpay Evans ranks pretty darn high. While she’s not necessarily a villain, she’s certainly considered an antagonist due to her self-centered attitude all-or-nothing approach to stardom. That said, at her core she’s really just an ambitious high school student with big dreams and for that reason we’ll always root for her—snarky attitude or not.
Actor: Sissy Spacek
Secretly emotionally and physically abused on a daily basis, should it come as any surprise that Carrie Whtie acted as she did? The teenager was an outcast at school, had a horrible home life, and eventually couldn’t take it anymore—she wasn’t so much a villain, but a victim.
Actor: Joe Pesci
Between Joe Pesci’s portrayal and the collective fondness for mafia associates, it’s hard not to root for Tommy DeVito—especially given the way the films depicts his come up from innocent shoe-shine boy to full blown mobster.
Movie: The Terminator
Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
A Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Terminator makes for a pretty petrifying villain, but Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic character did give us the very meme-friendly catchphrase “I’ll be back,” and for that, we applaud him.
Movie: The Shining
Actor: Jack Nicholson
The main character of Stephen King's horror novel "The Shining" and the film of the same name, Jack Torrance is as creepy and menacing as they come—but it’s only because of the evil spirit at the Overlook Hotel that drove him to insanity, so is it really fair to call him a real bad guy?
Actor: Al Pacino
Tony Montana has become a cultural icon and one of the most well-loved characters of all time—despite killing countless people. His “say hello to my little friend” catchphrase has become part of modern-day vernacular which places him pretty high on the well-loved villain list.
Movie: Black Panther
Actor: Michael B. Jordan
Is Erik Killmonger really a villain? When you take a step back and really look at the misunderstood Marvel character, you’ll probably think twice about labeling him as the bad guy. In reality, he was only trying to stop the world’s suffering—even if he did use excessive violence.
Actor: Bolaji Badejo
You know that feeling when something makes you so uncomfortable and anxious but you just can’t bear to look away? That’s exactly what Bolaji Badejo of the Alien did to just about everyone who had the displeasure of watching the sci-fi series—and while we didn’t necessarily root for the Alien we were certainly intrigued by its antics.
Movie: Austin Powers
Actor: Mike Myers
While "Austin Powers’" Dr. Evil may believe himself to be the villain, the internationally known criminal genius struggles to adjust to his present-day reality, leaving us cheering him on and laughing with him (or maybe at him).
Movie: Suicide Squad
Actor: Margot Robbie
Margot Robbie’s portrayal of antagonist Harley Quinn may have resulted in the most homogenous Halloween costume of all time—but it’s only because of her seriously kitschy style which ranks her high on the coolest, best-dressed villain list.
Movie: The Conjuring
Actor: Natalia Safran
First appearing in "Annabelle Comes Home," the bride is a ghostly figure who takes control of wedding dresses and convinces brides to kill their future husbands. Sure, it might not be the noblest of actions but it makes for an interesting murder mystery.
Movie: American Psycho
Actor: Christian Bale
"American Psycho"’s Patrick Bateman was one of the most cerebral and disturbing movie characters to ever grace our screens—but his style and charm were still captivating in an oddly creepy way.
Movie: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Actor: Tilda Swinton
The white witch from "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" doesn’t exactly have any redeeming qualities—she’s self-absorbed, arrogant, and downright cruel. But the seven-foot-tall witch executes her plans with such grace and finesse it’s hard not to be captivated by her.
Movie: Batman & Robin
Actor: Uma Thurman
Poison Ivy’s motives are pretty noble when you think about it—all she’s after is a remedy to protect the world's plants from “the thoughtless ravages of man” and who doesn’t want to root for an eco-warrior these days?
Movie: Toy Story
Actor: Erik von Detten
The main antagonist of the Toy Story franchise, Sid Phillips treated his toys terribly and was just generally a bratty and ungrateful kid—but once he learned the truth about toys, he vowed to change his ways… and we’re big into second chances.
Actor: Jemaine Clement
Tamatoa may have been selfish and rather loathsome as a character, but his real motive was just to increase his social status and increase his collection of “shiny” things, which, when you think about it, sounds a lot like our everyday society.
Actor: Stockard Channing
Betty Rizzo might be on the rude side and quite rough around the edges—but in general, her laissez-faire and stoic attitude is quite impressive given that she’s only just an 18-year-old high school student.