Some villains are more recognizable than others. There's—of course—the apparent villains, which are usually the ones found in blockbuster movies or classic comics: The Green Goblin, Thanos, and Darth Vader, to name a few. But then there's also the sleeper villains, ones who come off lighthearted in an effort to disguise their villainous ways, like Tom Nook, Annie Wilkes, and Megan Parker. In no particular order, the next 40 characters are some of the greatest of all time, with the more obvious, classic ones as well as the underrated, quieter villains.
From Movies and TV to Video Games, These Are The 40 Best Villains of All Time
1. The Green Goblin ("Spider-Man")
Willem Dafoe's perfectly-unhinged performance of Norman Osborn (The Green Goblin) in the very first installment of Spider-Man set a high bar for Marvel villains in the years that would follow its release. His absolute lack of emotional guilt paired with his clever tactics and sinister personality gives him a perfect blend fit for a villain. Oh, and his suit and glider are pretty cool, too.
2. Smaug ("The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug")
Having become one with his mountain of gold, Smaug sleeps both on top of and within the coins, jewels, and other precious items stolen from dwarves years before. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, Smaug is clever and charming with an overarching umbrella of evil within him, stopping not for a moment to torch an entire town of people to the ground.
3. Annie Wilkes ("Misery")
A crazed fan of author Paul Sheldon (James Caan), Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) becomes truly lucky when she helps the author after he crashes his car in the snow. A seemingly kind (yet slightly odd) person at first, Wilkes quickly shows her true colors as she locks Sheldon in a bedroom in her house and forces him to finish his next 'Misery' novel. With broken legs and a dislocated shoulder as a result of the car accident, Sheldon is practically helpless—until he decides to sneak out of his room while Wilkes is gone.
4. Bowser ("Super Mario")
Easily the most iconic villain within the Nintendo world, Bowser will make anyone his enemy, as long as it's not Peach or Bowser Jr. Bowser is almost always the automatic pick for boss stages, but even though he's a formidable enemy, playing as Bowser is usually no picnic. He's slow and heavy-footed, and while he packs a punch, the punch doesn't always hit.
5. General Grievous ("Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith")
An insanely cool villain from Star Wars who wasn’t used enough, General Grievous is part-robot, part-human given that he has a beating heart (and a nasty cough). Without his heart, Grievous would be impossible to take down with his four arms wielding stolen lightsabers on top of his expert training from Count Dooku. The leader of the Confederacy, Grievous is out to get Obi-Wan Kenobi and put an end to the Republic.
6. Meredith Blake ("The Parent Trap")
The soon-to-be-wife of Nick Parker (Dennis Quaid), Meredith Blake could be easily hated judging by that statement alone, but Elaine Hendrix goes above and beyond in portraying her obnoxious and problematic character in The Parent Trap. Her subtly manipulative ways are not so subtle, especially to Annie, which prompts her to call Hallie and jumpstarts the whole Nick-Parker-Elizabeth-James meet-up.
7. Michael Myers ("Halloween" Franchise)
The iconic protagonist of Halloween and its following iterations, Michael Myers spends his life tormenting Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), among countless others. Although Myers doesn't need his iconic white mask to be one of the most well-known villains of all time, it certainly adds to the menacing vibe he's putting out into the world.
8. Megan Parker ("Drake and Josh")
Although she's their younger sister, Megan Parker has quite the hold on Drake and Josh, tormenting them at any moment she gets. A couple of her better pranks include dying Drake's hands and feet green to make him believe that he has a disease and sabotaging Josh's teaching program.
9. Venom ("Venom")
While the movie itself wasn't perfect, the character of Venom is still extremely compelling, with his insane abilities to take over any living being and slide through the smallest of crevices. While extremely similar to Carnage, Venom is much more well-known given that he's one of Spider-Man's main nemeses.
10. Tom Nook ("Animal Crossing")
Although Tom Nook’s villainous ways are masked by his adorable exterior, make no mistake: Nook is a villain. Requesting exorbitant amounts of money from his residents just to expand their houses and overall being a bit of a shady character, Nook does not hold back when it comes to demanding his money.
11. Pennywise ("It")
With one look at Pennywise, it's obvious that he's a formidable villain given both his size and overall presence in the 2017 film, It, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. In this specific movie, Pennywise attacks and torments a group of kids who have to flee from the house they're trapped in with him.
12. Regina George ("Mean Girls")
The Queen Bee and leader of the Plastics at North Shore High School, Regina George (Rachel McAdams) runs everything. A classic frenemy with a side of manipulation, George is well-versed in controlling other people and always needs to be the one in charge. When Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) comes to town and shakes things up, George both welcomes her and sets her up for failure at the same time.
13. Master Hand ("Super Smash Bros.")
The ominous and aggressive white-gloved hand from the boss stages of Super Smash Bros., Master Hand utilizes a number of different and extremely annoying ways to stop his final challengers from completing the game. Some of these include smacking, shooting lasers, and pushing his challengers right off of the level. And if that isn't bad enough for you, just wait until you hear his obnoxious laugh.
14. Darth Maul ("Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace")
Although he also wasn’t used nearly enough as he should’ve been in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul still holds his own as one of the best villains in Star Wars. His double lightsaber was quite the game-changer at the time on top of his menacing vibes stemming from his makeup and overall look.
15. Plankton ("SpongeBob SquarePants")
Although Plankton isn’t the best at his job of being a villain given that he’s been trying to steal the recipe for Krabby patties for 20 years and still hasn’t retrieved it, SpongeBob SquarePants wouldn’t be the same without his cycloptic presence.
16. Taylor Doose ("Gilmore Girls")
The gray cardigan-wearing, town selectman of Stars Hollow, Taylor Doose manages to get under everyone’s skin with his control over the inner workings of town and his loyalty to following the rules. Constantly judgmental of everyone, Doose believes that everything he's doing is beneficial to the town, but in reality, he's just starting conflicts with most of the residents.
17. Vicky ("The Fairly OddParents")
Timmy's babysitter, Vicky, tortures him on a daily basis, which leads him to use Cosmo and Wanda to get revenge on her or to mitigate the things she's done to him. It would be physically impossible to list out everything, but this song by Chip Skylark about her sort of makes up for it.
18. Owen Davian ("Mission: Impossible 3")
Portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Owen Davian is a sketchy-yet-high-class individual—that is, until he reveals his truly sinister side. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Davian cross paths in pursuit of the "rabbit's foot," a top-secret piece of intelligence. Davian is not above crossing the "no-family" line, especially when he kidnaps Hunt's wife, Julia, from her job at the hospital.
19. Team Rocket ("Pokémon")
Alongside Meowth and occasionally Wobbuffet, Jessie and James comprise Team Rocket, a crafty group of agents who face off against Ash Ketchum and his crew. Not the best at their jobs, they end up getting themselves into more trouble than they do vice-versa, which makes them more of a lighthearted (yet still-iconic) group of villains.
20. Syndrome ("The Incredibles")
The cape-wearing villain of The Incredibles, Syndrome sports annoyingly tall hair and a tiny black mask as he chases the Incredibles around, wreaking havoc on Metroville and beyond. A former fan of Mr. Incredible, Syndrome directs all of his anger towards him and his family, taking revenge for not choosing him as his sidekick.
21. Darth Vader ("Star Wars")
The absolute gold standard when it comes to not just villains in Star Wars, but cinematic villains in general, Darth Vader was the epitome of evil. However, as the series went along and the infamous "No, I am your father" line was uttered, you began to understand that for as evil as he was, he was not beyond redemption.
The prequel trilogy, as flawed as it was, painted a picture of a fallen Jedi Knight in perpetual agony, both physical and emotional, that led to Anakin Skywalker down that dark path.
No other evildoer, including Vader's master, can stand toe to toe with him when it comes to iconic cinematic villainy.
22. Palpatine ("Star Wars")
Speaking of Darth Vader's boss, Emperor Palpatine, the one pulling all the strings in the Star Wars films is another embodiment of evil, except without the potential for redemption.
From start to finish, Palpatine cares little for anyone besides himself and schemes to do one thing: rule over the galaxy. He is the leader of the Galactic Empire, a Sith Lord, and is one of the most powerful users of The Force to ever exist.
After being defeated by a redeemed Anakin Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, Palpatine revealed himself to be, once again, the puppet master in the sequel trilogy, secretly controlling the First Order from behind the scenes. He meets his true, final end at the hands of Rey and Ben Solo in the finale of The Rise of Skywalker.
23. Thanos ("The Marvel Cinematic Universe")
Throughout the first three phases of the MCU, all the films and shows had been leading to one final showdown with the Mad Titan himself, Thanos.
On a quest to collect all of the Infinity Stones in order to cull half the universe's population, he eventually succeeds in doing just that. After he does so, it's up to the Avengers to collect the stones again and bring everyone back.
24. The Joker ("The Dark Knight/DC Comics")
One of, if not the best comic book villains of all time, The Joker is Batman's arch-nemesis and the one that is in perpetual conflict with the superhero.
You might immediately run to think of Heath Ledger's legendary performance, and as good as his adaption was, The Joker would have been on this list even if The Dark Knight was never made.
He has a mysterious past that has never truly been confirmed, as he alludes to in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, saying to Batman:
"I mean, what is it with you? What made you what you are? Girlfriend killed by the mob, maybe? Brother carved up by some mugger? Something like that, I bet... something like that. Something like that... happened to me, you know. I'm — not exactly sure what it was. If I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!"
Perhaps that is the most terrifying aspect of The Joker; that all it takes for someone to go mad is to have...one bad day.
25. Hans Gruber ("Die Hard")
Every good action hero needs a villain, and John McLane has Hans Gruber. Since Die Hard premiered, Bruce Willis' McLane character has entered the pantheon of action hero legends and it all started with his mission to stop Gruber's takeover of Nakatomi Tower.
What made Alan Rickman's portrayal of Gruber so iconic was that he was in many ways a chameleon. He was a thief disguising himself as a terrorist, planning to escape with millions of dollars all while himself off as someone with a completely different agenda.
Also, he just looked so cool doing it too.
26. Hans Landa ("Inglorious Basterds")
It's almost cheating to put a Nazi on this list, given how they are, well, Nazis but Christoph Waltz's Hans Landa was just on another level entirely when it comes to cinematic evil.
He was a man that was cold, calculating, and thought of himself as above everyone else. Perhaps worst of all is that he had no sympathy for anyone (he was a Nazi after all) and only looked out for himself, as evidenced by the fact that once the war was ending, he immediately tried to switch sides.
Thankfully, Lieutenant Aldo Raine was having none of that.
27. Hannibal Lecter ("The Silence of the Lambs")
Although onscreen for less than 20 minutes in The Silence of the Lambs, it can be argued that Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Hannibal Lecter is the most iconic villain in film history.
Not much needs to be said about him except that he is an intelligent, sadistic serial killer, who also loves to eat people.
"I ate his liver with some fava beans, and a nice chianti" Lecter famously says, and it's a quote that makes your skin crawl just thinking about it.
28. Norman Bates ("Psycho")
Norman Bates needs little to no introduction.
Bates is the proprietor of the Bates Motel, and who we think shares responsibility for it with his mother. After a shadowy figure murders Marion Crane, the lead character, it is slowly revealed who Bates actually is, a cold-blooded killer.
Not only that but his "mother" is actually just the mummified corpse of his mother who Norman had killed over a decade prior.
29. Biff Tannen ("Back to the Future")
Switching gears from a cannibalistic serial killer to one of the worst bullies in movie history, Biff Tannen reminds us all of that one guy that just loved to pick on kids in high school.
He is a dumb jock that lives to torture George McFly and later his son Marty when he travels back in time. Not only is he a straight-up bully, but he also attempts to sexually assault Marty's mother until George intervenes and saves the day.
Overall, just not a good guy.
30. Alonzo Harris ("Training Day")
"It's not what you know. It's what you can prove."
Denzel Washington was iconic as Alonzo Harris in Training Day, showing just how deep corruption can go in a police department. He might wear a badge and claim to be a detective but he is no cop, and while he tries to say that "this is how things get done" he is truly only out for the money and himself.
31. Walter White ("Breaking Bad")
Beginning the series as someone that is attempting to earn money for his family after he passes away from cancer, Walter White is a high-school teacher turned meth dealer.
Gradually over the course of the series, it becomes more apparent that it's never been about his family, this was all for Walt. He is not above doing a variety of different monstrous things in order to protect himself, whether that be massacring numerous people in prison or poisoning a child, Walter White is one of TV's greatest villains.
32. Gus Fring ("Breaking Bad")
It's a testament to how good Breaking Bad is that it has not just one, but two villains on this list. The owner of Los Pollos Hermanos and secretly a meth kingpin, Gus Fring originally is Walter White's boss and partner but soon becomes his enemy.
He is unbelievably ruthless, and as he says he is more than willing to murder Walt's entire family in order to get what he wants. Giancarlo Esposito's portrayal is the stuff of legends and it's pretty clear that he is one of the best villains we've ever seen.
33. Tony Soprano ("The Sopranos")
Tony Soprano might be the protagonist of The Sopranos but he is, by no means, a hero. The fictional mob boss is someone who embodies ruthlessness, brutality, rage, and cruelty.
There are moments throughout the series that make you think that there is some semblance of humanity underneath it all but by the end, it's pretty clear that there isn't.
34. Marlo Stanfield ("The Wire")
The Wire, much like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, is generally regarded as one of the greatest TV shows of all time, thanks in no small part to its characters.
Marlo Stanfield, the primary villain of the final two seasons, is one of the drug kingpins holding court over the city of Baltimore. Unlike his contemporaries that (for the most part) tried to keep the peace by organizing and cooperating together, Marlo had no time for that, he wanted it all.
As the bodies kept piling up and Marlo gained more power, his ambition only continued to grow as well. After he was brought down, his greatest fear comes to pass: His name no longer means anything on the streets of Baltimore.
35. Joffrey Baratheon ("Game of Thrones")
While the ending of Game of Thrones certainly left a bad taste in fans' mouths, one thing we can all agree on and it's that Joffrey was the worst.
A spoiled boy that gets put on the throne and does not choose to rule but simply relishes in the power he has done nothing to earn, Joffrey is cruel and sadistic. He tortures people for the fun of it, does not know the first thing about ruling over a kingdom, and is, above all else, a coward.
36. Newman ("Seinfeld")
When it comes to villains, a character from a comedy show might not be the first person you think of, but as Jerry says, Newman is pure evil.
Sure, he's not evil in the cruel and violent sense but when it comes to the embodiment of the annoying, nosy neighbor there is no one worse than Newman.
37. Calvin Candie ("Django Unchained")
Similar to another villain from a Quentin Tarantino film on this list (Hans Landa), Calvin Candie from Django Unchained is a maniacal slave owner and is in possession of the protagonist's, Django, wife. What makes Candie so terrifying is how wholeheartedly his belief in the slave system is, how much he considers African Americans to be beneath him, and how far he is willing to go to keep the status quo.
38. Anton Chigurh ("No Country for Old Men")
What makes Javier Bardem's portrayal of Anton Chigurh so terrifying is that he is so cold and emotionless, as he makes his way through Texas murdering people all along the way.
He is almost robotic in nature, one with not an ounce of humanity left within him, and has no qualms about murdering anyone.
39. Amy Dunne ("Gone Girl")
As far as psychopaths go, there are perhaps no characters worse than Amy Dunne.
Gone Girl at first makes it seem that Amy is the victim, and to a degree she is, but you would have no idea how evil she actually is. While we are led to believe that her husband Nick is responsible for her disappearance, it gradually becomes clearer that, in a quest for revenge, she was setting up the men in her life that had spurned her.
It's hard to fully digest the depths she was willing to go, but thanks in no small part to Rosamund Pike's performance, we get a better sense of how evil Amy is.
40. Andrew Ryan ("Bioshock")
What would happen if someone who was already an ardent capitalist took the philosophies of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead as gospel? Meet Andrew Ryan from Bioshock.
His values are no better represented than in his opening speech of the game, saying:
“Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? 'No!' says the man in Washington, 'It belongs to the poor.' 'No!' says the man in the Vatican, 'It belongs to God.' 'No!' says the man in Moscow, 'It belongs to everyone.' I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose... Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, Where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.”
In his mind, there is no time or place for the weak, the helpless, or the downtrodden. Hence, as wild as it seems, he built a city on the bottom of the ocean in order to adhere to the strictest tenets of capitalist philosophies, no matter how cruel they actually are.