The Top 5 Greatest Film Villains of All Time

Posted: April 25, 2013 in Thoughts and Reflections

Ask anyone who the most influential character in a film is and nine times out of ten you’ll get, “the hero.” Superhero films demonstrate this the most, usually revolving around one central character (or six, in the case of The Avengers).

But the other essential component of the story—-the opposite of the hero—-would be the villain, the bad guy. Greatly overlooked by many, the villain is undoubtedly one of the most pivotal roles of the entire film. The villain presents the conflict in the story, the obstacle the hero must face, and ultimately is what makes the good guys good in the first place.

#5 Professor James Moriarty —- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Professor Moriarty_SH2

In the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle short stories, Professor Moriarty is a character who hides in the shadows, waiting for the opportune moment to present himself. Many of the mysteries that Holmes solves are conducted by the elusive character and tainted by his shadow. When he finally is revealed, the omnipotent character proves to be Holmes’ equal and his most daunting adversary of all time.

While only subtly introduced in the first Sherlock Holmes—-laying in wait in the shadows—-A Game of Shadows thoroughly establishes the character as the supreme challenger against the clever wit of the great Sherlock Holmes. What makes this character so compelling as a villain is that his appearance all but suggests “bad guy.” His dignified college-professor status staves off any uncertainty of his villainous nature, and his sophisticated manner defies every Hollywood rule of how a bad guy should act.

But this aspect is what makes him such a compelling enemy. He’s conniving. Nothing slips past him unknown. All angles are properly thought through. And he plays a mean game of chess.

#4 Saruman the White —- The Lord of the Rings

Saruman the White_LOTR

Any film buff knows actor Sir Christopher Lee. Besides being fluent in five languages and semi-fluent in three more, Lee is without question one of the most distinguished actors to ever grace the movie screen. And I don’t say that lightly. What he brought to the role of Saruman is sheer genius: evil in its purest form (if you can call evil pure).

The way in which he forms his words with his chilling voice and the amount of venom behind them is one of the many things he adds to the character. Saruman is the head wizard, and this is readily apparent. His poise and calm terror is pure formulaic villainy without becoming stereotypical.

Even though Saruman is in actuality a puppet of Sauron’s, merely a tool in the grand scheme, you never truly sense that he is second fiddle. While Sauron is simply a foreboding doom perched on his tower far off, Saruman is the life blood of his willful death and destruction. Often you tend to forget about Sauron altogether, and Saruman becomes the main villain of the film.

One great thing about Saruman is the fact that he is not overused. While a natural tendency in a film like Harry Potter would be to overuse the villain, pushing him towards excessiveness, Saruman in The Lord of the Rings is perfectly utilized: an evil genius who knows more than the good guys and does his dirty work from afar. For sure, a chilling villain.

#3 Darth Vader —- Star Wars

"I am your father..."

“I am your father…”

No list would be complete without mentioning the great Lord Vader. A classic film villain, his ominous presence and his menacing nature is the very epitome of villainy, and these traits add great intensity to the more somber tone of the Star Wars trilogy.

Notorious for his dark, intimidating breathing, the classic baddie strikes fear into the hearts of all who oppose him. Even the highest of Imperial officers quiver when they see the dark lord, and his tall stature and sinister voice creates a sense of dread in all.

But perhaps the greatest aspect of Darth Vader is the mystery surrounding his persona, the question of who really is behind the mask. He is evil, sure, but the fact that he seems more monster than man, though still human-like, creates more depth to the character. He is relentless in everything he does, but not to the point of obsessive insanity. His unnerving calm, while still appearing sinister, is what makes him the great villain he is.

#2 The Joker —- The Dark Knight

The Joker_TDK

“Why so serious?” are the menacing words of one of the greatest villains ever to appear on screen. Chris Nolan’s iconic character set the bar for not only comic book villains, but villains of any sort. Everything about the character—-his look, his characteristics, his ethics, his philosophy, and his maniacal laugh, are all perfectly comprehensible and completely inconceivable. Without a doubt, one of the most thought-out villains in movie history.

While for certain one of the darkest of villains, the Joker is not to be trifled with, no matter how comical his mannerisms may seem. What I enjoy the most about the character is the way in which his motives are completely unconventional. He can’t be bought or bribed. Money doesn’t attract him. He merely wants to upset the established order and create chaos. He questions the morals of the virtuous and forces the hero to break his one rule; to supplant his principles and sense of morality. A villain such as this creates so much anticipation, because you never really know what he’s going to do next or why.

But neither is he a complete lunatic, spouting off as much nonsense as he can think. As utterly misplaced as his ideals may be, some of his points in the film actually make sense. When something expected occurs, he says—-even if it’s horrifying—-no one panics because it’s all according to plan. But as soon as the unexpected occurs, everything is chaos. Is this not evident in the real world? When we hear that an American soldier is killed in action, it’s sad but not shocking because thousands of soldiers die in action. But as soon as Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston dies, the world mourns for such an incredible loss.

Ultimately the Joker aspires to establish himself as a completely different type of criminal. His incentive is not money or power, just a lust for disorder. He is psychotic, sure, but he is not your typical two-dimensional villain. He breaks past the common villain and creates that much more of challenge for the hero to overcome.

#1 Bane —- The Dark Knight Rises


Choosing between the top two villains is like choosing your favorite parent. You love them both, but one usually seems to make more of an impression on you than the other. But first place ultimately goes to Chris Nolan’s masked terrorist Bane. Very similar to the Joker, Bane is not your standard villain. He cannot be reasoned with and is for sure one of the most unsettling villains ever created, leaving a lasting impression on the viewer.

But unlike the Joker, whose actions more represent a mad dog, Bane’s plan is more calculated and better designed. He doesn’t just do things for the sake of doing them. Not only does he want to bring down the morale of GothamCity and establish a reign of terror, but his plan also includes physically and psychologically breaking Batman far past the point of recovery. His brute strength is unlike anything the dark knight has ever encountered.

One reason Bane is such a menacing character, however, is due in part to his mask; very much the same affect it has on Darth Vader. You always wonder who really is behind the mask and what his name is. Though completely malicious, there’s a human aspect. You can’t quite figure him out. He is an enigma, a mystery that is never truly comprehended.

His voice is daunting enough—-an intimidating, ominous voice that sends chills down your spine. But even in its eeriness there is pain and tragedy behind it; a soul that you can tell has been molded and tormented by the lowest depravity of mankind.


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