*Just, like…. so many Spoilers*
I was always one of those kids who found the villains more interesting than the heroes. There was something fascinating about them, the cool costumes, the attitude, the power and the willingness to use them. Sure, we root for the heroes because it feels right, because there’s satisfaction in seeing them succeed, but the villains, the bad guys, the antagonists, get to be more interesting, get to feel like reality precisely because they aren’t a goody-two-shoes. There’s no law of empathy that makes them abide by moral codes or ethical motivation. Anti-heroes are an increasingly popular character-type precisely because of this; they get to have all the fun of being a bad-guy, while still doing the “right thing”, to this I say “Pah!”, and “Not Good Enough!”. If you’re gonna be bad, be bad, this “wishy-washy-misguided-but-still-does-the-morally-upstanding-thing-and-ooooh-look-at-me-I’m-such-a-martyr” act is something I’m tired of. If you’re going to be a villain, I want to positively, unequivocally, hate you. Or just, ya know, be intrigued by your depth and specific brand of villainy. So today I’m gonna run down the best of the best when it comes to being bad, because the public wants to know. Damnit, they NEED to know.
10. Darth Vader, The Star Wars Franchise.
Look I have to admit something here, I was a Star Wars late bloomer. I didn’t see the originally trilogy until I was 22. Because of this, a fair bit of the nostalgia that makes everything about the moves so immaculate to its fan base is lost on me (I have the same problem with A Nightmare Before Christmas). Don’t get me wrong, I saw the movies, I love’em, but they don’t have the same all-encompassing hold on me they do over other people of a similar level of nerdiness.
This being said, it is hard to overlook a character as iconic as Lord Vader. He has everything, the look, the powers, the voice, the redemption arc, and a plethora of backstory if you reach back into the enormous backlog of Star Wars books, games, and comics. George Lucas really hit on something here, the costume’s combination of Nazi-style uniform and Edo-period Samurai armor, infused with a sleek space age aesthetic makes him instantly recognizable as the baddest dude on the scene. James Earl Jones’ modulated and gasping vocals even make his approach ominous. Throw in his ability to throttle people from across the god damn room, and you’re cooking with some serious villainy.
However I have to say, if we’re judging him purely by the movies, and not all of the content that didn’t make it to a screen, there are parts I find lacking. The Anakin story is pretty weak, and I find it brings down the whole Vader arc, often times feeling like it was trying to excuse his later actions rather than explain them. Additionally I find his visuals vastly out-evil his actions, and while it is hard to find anyone as truly iconic as this Sith, there are more brutal and well-fleshed out baddies. So he takes the number 10 slot. Fight me nerds.
9. Hugo Goulding, “O”.
This guy may have be the least well-known on my list, so if your unfamiliar I would say go give “O” a watch. Its the story of Othello, the classic Shakespearean play featuring all the classic Shakespearean elements; love, tragedy, subterfuge, and jealousy, told the through the lens of a high school basketball team. The setting is remarkably well-suited for retelling the story of intrigue in the Venetian army, and Josh Hartnett is on form as playing a modernized version of the devious Iago. To vastly over-simplify the movie: Hugo is number two to a dude he’s been buddies with, and doesn’t care how much shady shit it takes to ruin number one’s life(provided he can avoid doing shady shit with his own hands, cuz, ya know, that would be messy).
Shakespeare aside, what makes Hugo so brutal in this film is that none of his actions truly require suspension of disbelief. Each step he takes feel like something that someone possessed of too much jealousy and not enough self-esteem might do if they got ballsy enough to take the plunge into visceral manipulation. There is a calculation to his character that coupled with his indignation at being overlooked and constantly playing second fiddle to the title character, Odin James, makes him wild in a cold way. He plays off as young(being a high school senior), so while he does some despicable things that lead to *spoilers* lots of murder, you can tell he’s struggling with finding ways to explain away the guilt, whilst still feeling conflicted over balancing how he’s in a way getting what he wanted, and the intense the remorse over lives cut short / ruined irreversibly. Making him the film’s narrator forces the audience to empathize with him, and somehow makes all the tragedy that befalls his victims all the more heartbreaking(though that could also just be how fucking good Mekhi Phifer is in this flick). The movie also does a decent job of touching on racial tensions(a key component of the original play), which is something that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially in a year like 2017.
On the opposite end though, compared to some other villains who are genuinely made to be truly evil, he doesn’t always stack up, which makes sense; while he’s the antagonist and meant to do the morally wrong thing, he’s not designed to be somebody you can paint as wholly vile. So, while his status as a full-on-tried-and-true-black-and-white bad guy may be contentious and he isn’t a household name, he does make my guts twist in a way Vader never did, so I’m gonna chalk him up as number 9, though I’ll admit he could easily have a higher rank.
8. Dolores Umbridge, The Harry Potter Series.
Look, only one Harry Potter villain was going to make onto the list; Voldemort’s bad but in a way that’s so grandiose we can’t fathom it, same for Bellatrix(albeit with a more…cackly vibe), and the Malfoys are really just a bunch of platinum-haired pricks. We all know Umbridge is where the real meat and potatoes of villainy is in these books, because anyone who’s spent anytime in a school, has met a Umbridge.
That the true genius of this character; not every villain is going to be Scar from The Lion King, where you see’em and just know they’re fixin’ on doing some bad. Dolores shows up in her lovely pink outfit, with her sweet little voice, her high twinkly laugh, and while we immediately know we aren’t going to like her, we don’t assume she has machinations on great and unfathomable darkness. Yes, she does get her fingers in Voldemort’s pie later down the line, but the reason we hate her is because of what she does while working at Hogwarts, because of how she conducts herself in the role of an educator.
I’m the son of a teacher, I grew up living as a faculty kid at a boarding school, and spent my life in a classroom until I graduated college with a four year degree, so I like to think I have fairly good taste when it comes to teachers, but it doesn’t take being entwined in education to know she sucks. Its all the little things; her sickly-pleasant quirks that invite hatred, being an over zealous disciplinarian, and the way she invalidates criticism with just a touch too much condescension. We’ve all had someone like that in our lives, a boss, a teacher, a manager, a person in a position of power who uses their authority in an obviously unfair way that leaves us powerless to do anything about. Its more personal than the pro-genocide mentality of Voldemort; not everyone has a He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in their life, but odds are you’ve had Dolores, and you did not like her. Umbridge is certainly a specific evil, but she is the perfect embodiment of it.
7. Gary Oak, Pokemon.
Riding the train of “characters we hate because they’re familiar” I bring you, Gary Oak, in all of his iterations. There’s a reason we all punched in names for him like, “Shithead”, “Poop”, and “Stupid” when prompted to name our rival, even though Gary is literally the first option we were presented with. And for a little kid, it took a solid extra five minutes just to type in your chosen name on the gameboy, much less think of whatever insult you were gonna go with, because this was a choice you were gonna live with.
Gary Oak was that kid we all dealt with in our neighborhood; he had annoying-ass-nasal-as-fuck voice, he somehow always rocked cooler stuff than you(probably cuz of rich parents or some shit), AND everyone seemed to love him, despite how he was obviously an asshole. On the show he rolled up in his red fucking sportscar(what 10-year-old is whipping in one of those anyways?), with an entourage of cheerleaders, show off how he was, like, seven thousand badges ahead of Ash, and then throw out some dope-ass pokemon like a Nidoking. He wasn’t much better in the video games, he’d swoop in right while you in the middle of doing some heroic shit(Silph Co. Anyone?), just to fuck with your rhythm, or even worse, you go and beat the Elite Four only to discover HE ALREADY HAD; so suddenly, you’re fighting the Elite Five, which just doesn’t have the same ring to it. He has always teetered on the line of just being a douchebag and flat-out bullying which is something I simply cannot abide.
6. Joffrey Baratheon, Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire Series.
Anyone who knows me knows I could gush about George R.R. Martin’s Magnum Opus until literally the end of time. That being said the show and books both have so many well-written villains to chose from that is can be hard to single out just one; Tywin Lannister is deliciously crafty, Ramsey Bolton is twisted in a gut-wrenching way, and the White Walkers manage to loom heavily even in the lightest of circumstance. There’s something about Joffrey though that makes you… how do I say this… wanna punch him squarely in his pasty little face.
There’s allot to hate here, his entitlement, his position of power, how cruelly he treats those below him, the string of disturbing sexual assault, and how he doesn’t understand whats wrong with his actions. That last one is what always got to me, especially in conjunction with everything else; Joffrey had no problem massacring Sansa Stark’s life in a highly public and deeply personal way, but if it ever came back around, he was flabbergasted that anyone could dare assume he would deserve such harsh treatment. He positively oozed a vibe of self-imposed infallibility muddled with a Napoleon complex brought on people questioning his parentage, and the, lets be honest, awful parenting the father that raised him provided. In allot of ways he combines the things that we hate most about the last two on this list, he’s the spoiled brat in your 6th grade English class making your life hell and the teacher who favors him over the other hard-working students.
To emphasize how awful he is, the actor who portrayed him, Jack Gleeson, quit acting after finishing his stint on the show. Sure, he sighted “artistic” reasons, but I can’t imagine getting in front of a camera again after seeing how much the entire world cheered for my death(and OH, did we cheer). I mean kudos to your for your acting ability, getting us to believe your that despicable, but that role has got to be pretty defining for you in terms your acting career; you’d end up as an evil Daniel Radcliffe. The character is representative of quite a bit, including the abuse of power, something anyone who’s ever been beneath someone else’s thumb can attest to the atrocity of.
5. Agat, Ronin by Frank Miller.
So this one is kinda two-fer. While the Ronin graphic novel is one of Frank Miller’s lesser known works, the tv show it inspired, Samurai Jack, is a cult classic. Both stories feature a Samurai, wielding a magic sword, flung into a dystopian future by a mythologically bad-news-bears demon with a funny shaped head. For this purpose I’m gonna count Agat, the baddie from Ronin and Aku from Samurai Jack, as a single entity, since the only real differentiating factor is how old the target audience is(Ronin is built for a slightly more mature demographic).
I’ve done my best to refrain from throwing in villains who are the cliche “embodiment of all that is bad”, but these guys just do it so well. They are the epitome of 90’s cartoon evil, they sit back in an impenetrable fortress, from where they throw out continuous waves of less powerful goons, only appearing every now and again when the hero is starting to finally get a foothold in their seemingly never-ending fight. They’re in the same vein as Devimon from Digimon, Hades in Disney’s Hercules, or any of the antagonists from Power Rangers. They’re big, they’re bad, and they stay just involved enough for you to remember who’s really running the show.
What sets Agat and Aku apart is that they aren’t just one entity. The entire apocalyptic future that they mastermind is an extension of their form, a world remade and branded in their own image. They are the world that keeps throwing up obstacles for our hero, as well as the violent cultures and brutality of the primitive societies they rule over. These demons aren’t just scary because they’re at the top of the pyramid, its because, as Aku says in his opening monologue; “My evil is Law!”.
4. Zaheer, Avatar: The Legend of Korra.
Lets get this out of the way, I am an absolute sucker for Nickelodeon’s Avatar universe, so its possible I’m ranking my favorite villain from a favorite series higher than he deserves. Possibly. Regardless, the show’s creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino made a lush world full of well crafted and endearing characters, creatively dynamic action, and a vivid history. Many of us are familiar with The Last Airbender series, and while Korra was popular, it floundered, and never quite got as big as its predecessor. Its a shame too, the show began dealing with some much more adult themes, which paired especially well with it’s showrunner’s more polished skill at crafting its visuals.
Zaheer doesn’t show up until the third season, and when he does, its big. He’s a member of a new generation of Airbenders, something we haven’t seen for almost 180 years(in the show’s universe’s time). More importantly, the ability to move air and wind around at your will, is something that for us fanboys, we only associate with our heroes; so far only the two Avatars(the good guys) Aang and Korra have exhibited this ability, and even then found ways to use it reasonably; Zaheer literally pulls the air out of someone’s lungs. Its a trait that marks a hero within the bounds of the show, so when this guys pops up on the scene it’s not just possessing this skill, but frankly being better at than anyone else has, that makes it rattling.
Not only that, he announces that, in case it wasn’t clear before, the show is now officially in some more adult territory. He attacks people’s families; including their children, he employs political assassination to accomplish his goals, and worst of all, he’s convinced he’s in the right. It’s easy to make villains who are just villains, machines meant to convey nothing but evil; but when we see Zaheer go about enacting his plans, you can tell he is doing it because he knows its the right thing to do. He instills a sense of utter helplessness in our heroine and does it thinking “Yep, totally doing the right thing here”. Now whether this is the brilliant writing, including scenes where Zaheer is forced to watch his beloved get killed in a downright grisly fashion; ultimately for his own physical gain but emotional loss, or the on-point voice acting by Henry Rollins, I couldn’t say, but the effect makes him probably the most complex and exciting villain to ever be on a show targeted for children and young adults.
3. Cottonmouth, Marvel’s Luke Cage.
Luke Cage is still pretty new, and he wasn’t exactly Marvel‘s meal ticket before the cinematic universe and Netflix-made shows launched. I know that while I was familiar with Luke Cage before the show went live, I couldn’t have named one of his nemeses until I binged the show and I’m pretty nerdy. I can’t imagine those of us with a less intense love of comics were knowledgeable on his various antagonists, but Cornell Stokes A.K.A. Cottonmouth, changed that in a hurry.
If I’m being totally honest I would probably put all of the villains from Netflix’s various Marvel shows on here; Daredevil’s Kingpin or Punisher, and Jessica Jones’ Killgrave were excellently written, and terrifying in a myriad of ways(I might very well right an entire piece just on the things Killgrave made me feel). If I have to pick one, Cottonmouth easily rises above the rest. His story, from his induction into crime, right down to the moment of his death, filled me with a sense of empathy and hatred that is difficult to put into words, but I’m gonna try. Also, Luke Cage is, hands down, one of the best shows of maybe the decade, featuring stunning camerawork, and an excellent commentary on racism, and race-based social structure in America.
Through flashback’s we learn how this man came to be; an orphaned son left with the head of a crime family, things were never going to be easy for him. He’s established early on as an exceptionally talented musician, and we’re told over and over and over again how he could’ve “been somebody” if he had been allowed to pursue that goal. Instead, he is forced to, at age 14, kill his Uncle Pete, the only man to ever really try to help his dreams of music, whilst also the man who sexually assaulted his cousin. So there’s conflict there.
Fast forward awhile, and these actions have compiled on themselves, turning him into a merciless crime boss. The frightened young musician we feel for is now only a whisper in the mind of a man who we watch beat multiple people to death. We see Cornell Stokes do some unforgivable stuff, including accuse his cousin of “Wanting it,” in reference to their Uncle Pete’s molestation. He becomes a deplorable criminal, while at the same time making it very clear that no one is to call him Cottonmouth, his “crime name”(at least to his face). He is defined by the conflict within himself, how he has consciously chosen a side on this internal battle that he maybe doesn’t agree with. Ultimately he’s an impeccably well written character and unfathomably well-acted by Mahershala Ali, and its more than enough to secure his top spot on my list.
2. The Witch-King of Angmar, The Lord of the Rings.
This is a BAD DUDE. While the Witch-King doesn’t have the same moral complications and varied backstory of other characters on this list(look, he might, I just don’t have the time to read all the backlog of accompanying texts Tolkein put out), he is unequivocally one of the most villainous. Tolkein’s brand of antagonist defines a genre known for it’s bad guys. I guess in this way it becomes hard to make any kind of list like this, be it for villains, heroes, or even comic relief, without placing a character from middle earth on there; modern fantasy simply would not be what it is if they hadn’t paved the way. I’m not even that big of a Lord of the Rings fan, and I will fight you on this; people have been stealing flowers from Tolkein’s backyard since he planted them.
The Witch-King really drives home the class Middle-Earth villain, he’s got the robes, the helmet, the ghostly voice, a weird inbred-dragon mount, the whole package. Maybe he is a bit vanilla compared to some of the more pragmatic characters on this list but the fact is evil is this guy’s business, and when he’s on the clock, business is good. Hell, he’s even technically a zombie, as if he weren’t covering enough bases already.
Even his name screams “Don’t Fuck With Me”, its got all the components you need to be baaaaaaad; Witch: now we know he’s fucking with some dark shit, King: He’s in charge, of Angmar: A totally made-up word but it sounds intimidating AS FUCK. So much of this character can be seen in our modern media, I dare you to find one video game, movie, comic book, or TV show that could fall under the same genre as LotR that doesn’t feature some of this guy’s persona. He’s a vague physical manifestation of darkness and evil, but not so much as our number one slot which goes too…
1. Tomi Lahren, TheBlaze.
Like, nobody can actually be this way, so my money says she has to be fictional.
Anyways, comment with your own top ten lists! I’d love to see where we agree and disagree, anyone who should be here? Anyone who shouldn’t?