10 Best Movie Villains of All Time Ranked

Darth Vader, Agent Smith, and Annie Wilkes top the charts as some of the best movie villains of all time.

By Robert Scucci | Updated

There’s nothing quite like a healthy heaping of antagonism to drive a story along, and we’re here to talk about it! Because what is life without conflict? Sure, it’d be great if you could go about your day without any opposition, but more often than not, a worthy antagonist is what allows a franchise like Star Wars or The Matrix to become introspective and nuanced.

In other words, we kind of need villains — not only in real life but also in cinema. After all, you can’t have a hero without also having an enemy.

1. Darth Vader – Star Wars
best movie villains

Little Anakin Skywalker grew up fast, but according to the Jedi Order, he grew up the wrong way. Darth Vader is a prime example of what happens when you “let the hate flow through you” and succumb to the dark side. But even though he’s one of the most iconic movie villains ever, it’s so hard to hate him because he’s just so cool.

But without such darkness in the Star Wars franchise, we’d never be able to see the light. It’s no mystery by now that the Force is also strong in his son, Luke Skywalker, who is the protagonist and antithesis of Vader. It is this stark contrast between ideologies in the use of the Force that gives Darth Vader so much staying power.

2. Hannibal Lecter – The Silence of the Lambs
best movie villains

Though most movie villains are known to use brute force to squash the opposition, The Silence of the Lambs Hannibal Lecter has a different approach in the form of psychological manipulation. We see Hannibal Lecter dive deep into Clarice M. Sterling’s (Jodie Foster) psyche when he coerces her to offer personal information in exchange for information she needs to find serial killer Buffalo Bill.

Hannibal Lecter expertly mixes truth and lies to construct narrations that would get his former patients, as well as Sterling, to trust him, but he also brings out their dark side in the process.

3. The Joker – The Dark Knight
best movie villains

Some movie villains don’t have a clear motive but rather just want to watch the world burn. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is the iteration of the villain that transcends petty crimes and one-liners and shows us the true definition of evil. He’s a stone-cold sociopath who kills without remorse and plays psychological games with Batman for no clear reason but that he can.

It’s one thing to want to rob a bank for all the money, but most people would rather spend it on goods and services than light it on fire for the fun of it.

4. Nurse Ratched – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
best movie villains

It’s one thing to maintain order in a mental hospital, but Nurse Ratched is considered a movie villain because of how she exercises her power over her patients. Nurse Rached manipulates patients in a fragile state through the use of humiliation, revoking privileges, and even depriving them of basic necessities like food and medication. When people think about corruption in psychiatric treatment centers, it’s safe to say that Nurse Ratched is the character archetype that comes to mind.

5. Norman Bates – Psycho
best movie villains

Sometimes movie villains have questionable relationships with their mothers, and Norman Bates (based loosely on Ed Gein) from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one such villain. Afflicted with dissociative identity disorder, Bates channels his mother’s rage, and this rage manifests in the form of violence.

The most startling thing about Norman Bates, though, is his willingness to put up a front of normalcy when he’s brought in by the authorities. At this point, we already know what he’s capable of, but his willingness to act like he won’t even hurt a fly is truly unsettling, given what we already know.

6. Anton Chigurh – No Country for Old Men
best movie villains

The calm and calculating countenance of Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men makes him a terrifying movie villain. Arming himself with a captive bolt stunner, Chigurh isn’t only a violent psychopath, but he knows how to keep his cool.

What’s most unsettling about Chigurh is his ability to prepare for the worst. We see him meticulously perform surgery on himself after being shot in the leg. And it’s his ability to push forward and adapt to his handicaps, oftentimes without saying a single word, that makes his character so terrifying.

Throw in his signature coin toss that will decide your fate, and you definitely don’t want to cross him.

7. Hans Gruber – Die Hard
best movie villains

Unlike The Joker, Die Hard’s Hans Gruber is all about the money. And his efforts to steal $640 million in bearer bonds are precisely what make John McClane (Bruce Willis) have his “come to Jesus” moment and realize his role in the world.

And not unlike Hannibal Lecter, he’s sharp as a tack. He uses his wit and intelligence to overtake Nakatomi Plaza, and it’s one of the reasons why he’s such a perfect movie villain. He is a man of purpose, and his sophistication is only matched by his lack of remorse in his attempted murder of over 30 hostages.

8. Annie Wilkes – Misery
best movie villains

In Stephen King‘s Misery, the five most terrifying words that somebody could say is “I’m your number one fan.” And that somebody is Annie Wilkes. At first, she seems to have a good nature when she nurses Paul Sheldon back to health after his car wreck, but she becomes the movie villain that we all know when we find out that she’s holding Sheldon hostage.

And it’s not past Wilkes to get violent. When Sheldon tries to escape, she breaks both of his legs in an act called hobbling, which she seems to enjoy quite a bit, to make sure he’s fully incapacitated.

9. Freddy Krueger – A Nightmare on Elm Street
best movie villains

When a movie villain operates in the conscious world, it’s easy to figure out how to subdue them. But in the case of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger, you’re not even safe in your own dreams. Donning a glove full of knives, Freddy Krueger’s means of torture and execution are quite literally the stuff of nightmares.

Though Nancy Thompson finds out that he is vulnerable in the conscious world, it’s been proven difficult to grab him while in a dream state because he plays on his subject’s fears and often has the upper hand when he’s rattling through their subconscious.

10. Agent Smith – The Matrix
best movie villains

In a way, Agent Smith is the ultimate movie villain because he is an agent of the machines in The Matrix. Smith is the primary antagonist to Neo, and his powers are quite strong. He is highly skilled in martial arts and is a worthy adversary due to his strength and speed.

His ability to overwrite consciousness and take over bodies in the real world makes him a threat to humanity because he can make an entire army that’s controlled by his mind. But you’ve got to admit he looks sharp with his sunglasses and earpiece.