Top 10 Times Movie Villains Were The Best Character
VOICE OVER: Patrick Mealey
WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
There's nothing like a well-played bad guy! For this list, we'll be looking at the occasions when a film's villain outshone the hero and other characters. Keep in mind, there will be some spoilers. Our countdown includes characters from "Gladiator", "Black Panther", "Misery" and more!
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Times the Villain Stole the Show. For this list, we’ll be looking at the occasions when a film’s villain outshone the hero and other characters. Even if the films in question had other notable performances, it was these bad guys who were undoubtedly the most memorable part. Keep in mind, there will be some spoilers. If there’s a spotlight-stealing antagonist you wish had had more of a presence on our list, shine a light on your choice in the comments!
“Gladiator” has some excellent characters, epic setpieces and music, and fine performances. But Commodus towers over the rest of the movie. Commodus is the murderous usurper emperor of Rome, whose order of the deaths of Maximus’s family already makes him hateable. However, he also proves so needy, slimy, incestuous, cowardly, and all around despicable, that he’s one of the easiest villains to loathe in all of cinema. And yet, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is so compellingly revolting that we can’t tear our eyes away from every awful minute of Commodus’s actions. Seeing Commodus finally meet his end is only as satisfying as it is because Phoenix does such a great job at making us detest him.
#9: Terence Fletcher
J. K. Simmons often plays jerks, but they’re usually loveable in some way. Not so Terence Fletcher. The conductor of a prestigious conservatory’s studio band, Fletcher is a cruel, toxic teacher who uses a variety of abusive tactics with the apparent goal of bringing the best out of his charges. Fletcher’s domineering presence looms over the whole movie, both from a plot perspective as protagonist Andrew Neiman struggles against Fletcher’s mistreatment, and also from Simmons’s incredible performance drawing every eye to him. Fletcher’s everyday evil is frightening for how common it is, but also how perversely entertaining he can be.
#8: Roy Batty
“Blade Runner” (1982)
“Blade Runner” in general has a lot going for it, from its haunting soundtrack to its gorgeous cyberpunk visuals. But when it comes to characters, Roy Batty steals every scene he’s in. An android replicant, Roy is on a quest for meaning and to extend his predetermined short lifespan. Terrifyingly brutal yet also sympathetic, Roy’s philosophical nature and intimidating presence help make him a fantastic villain and an easy standout of this cult hit. While Roy may have seen things we wouldn’t believe, one of the things we can’t believe is how great a character he is.
#7: Erik “Killmonger” Stevens
“Black Panther” (2018)
Marvel has some spectacular villains, and Killmonger is one of their best. Erik Stevens, born to a Wakandan prince under the name N’Jadaka, returns to the advanced secret nation. Believing he owes it to the marginalized and enslaved African descendants worldwide to use Wakanda’s advanced technology to fight against their oppressors, Killmonger decides to take over. While his methods are unconscionable and violent, Killmonger is so charismatic and his goals are almost noble, that he’s a magnetic presence throughout the film. “Black Panther” has a fantastic ensemble, yet Killmonger still manages to be a standout among its stacked cast.
#6: Annie Wilkes
Fandom can be scary, but rarely this chilling. When author Paul Sheldon suffers an accident, he’s taken in by a nurse, his “number one fan,” Annie Wilkes. After Annie discovers that he’s killed off his main character in his latest book, she reveals herself to be incredibly controlling and dangerous, refusing to let him go until he “fixes his mistake.” With most of the focus on Paul and Annie, Annie dominates most of the movie, acting as a constant threat. Her strange mix of innocence and malice makes for a fascinating villain. We wouldn’t say we’re her biggest fans, but Annie still leaves quite the impression.
#5: Anton Chigurh
“No Country for Old Men” (2007)
When a drug deal goes bad, hitman Anton Chigurh is sent in pursuit. Coldly calculating yet possessing his own chaotic sense of justice, Chigurh is a captivating villain. Violence hangs over his every action, such that even seemingly mundane acts like drinking milk or tossing a coin have us on the edge of our seats. His relentless pursuit of Llewelyn Moss is like that of an inexorable force of nature… with a ridiculous haircut. And given who he is and what he does, Chigurh overshadowing everyone else in the film feels inevitable too. And speaking of inevitable…
“Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)
The mad Titan loomed large in the background of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but his true debut had him outshining even the heroes. The purple galactic conqueror may be trying to kill half the universe, but his motives are benevolent… in theory. In his quest for the Infinity Stones, we hang on every word from Thanos’s mouth as he tries in vain to convince the heroes he’s right. The fact that Thanos even succeeds in the face of their opposition only makes him that much more of an electrifying presence onscreen. If we could go back and watch him again for the first time, we’d do it with a snap of our… uh… too soon?
#3: Hannibal Lecter
“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
Dr. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter is one of the greatest movie villains ever, so it’s no surprise that this monstrous psychiatrist outdoes everyone else in this film. He aids Clarice Starling in her investigation, even as he uses it to leverage his own, bloody escape. Hannibal’s unblinking stare and brilliant, erudite manner belay the monster within, but it’s the contrast between these two aspects of his personality that makes him so entrancing. Dr. Lecter is barely on-screen compared to the film’s total runtime, but Anthony Hopkins dominates every second he gets to craft an unforgettable performance and a villain for the ages.
#2: Hans Landa
“Inglourious Basterds” (2009)
“Inglourious Basterds” is a phenomenal war movie by Quentin Tarantino with a who’s-who list of great actors playing great characters. But let’s be real - they all take a backseat to Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa. Landa is a cunning, shrewd S.S. officer whose deductive skills are only matched by how terrifying he is. He oozes charisma, speaks multiple languages, and can elicit terror and laughter in equal measure. Nearly every scene Landa appears in is fraught with tension, since the Nazi officer always feels one step ahead of everyone around him. Landa is nearly ahead of every other villain on our list. Still, even he can be bested.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Dr. Evil, “Austin Powers” franchise (1997-2002)
Practically Every Word That Comes Out of His Mouth Is Iconic
Magneto, “X-Men” franchise (2000-20)
No Matter Who’s Playing Him, Magneto Is… Magnetic
Loki, “Thor” (2011)
A Second Son Desperate to Prove Himself Is Just More Relatable Than Thor… at First
Calvin J. Candie, “Django Unchained” (2012)
Thousands of Memes Can’t Be Wrong
Owen Davian, “Mission: Impossible III” (2006)
Ethan Hunt Has Never Had a Better Foe
#1: The Joker
“The Dark Knight” (2008)
How’s this for a magic trick? In every scene with Heath Ledger’s Joker, he makes the other characters practically disappear. The Joker is positively enthralling throughout, with every word, every verbal or physical tic becoming iconic. Don’t get us wrong, “The Dark Knight” is a phenomenal superhero movie through and through. But any time the Joker appears, he has us in the palm of his hand, just like the rest of Gotham. As an agent of chaos, we’re never sure what he’ll do next, but it’s guaranteed to be entertaining. What can we say - he just puts a smile on our faces.