Top 22 Best Movie Villains of Each Year (2000 - 2021)

Top 22 Best Movie Villains of Each Year (2000 - 2021)

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Cassondra Feltus
These villains have defined cinema since the turn of the century. For this list, we'll be looking at the best cinematic baddies from every year, beginning with 2000. Our countdown includes Saruman, Thanos, The Joker, Hans Landa, Kylo Ren, and more!

Top 22 Movie Villains of Each Year 2000-2021

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 22 Movie Villains of Each Year 2000-2021.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the best cinematic baddies from every year, beginning with 2000. We will not be including animated villains on this list, as they could warrant their own list. Since we’ll be covering major plot points, a spoiler warning is now in effect.

Do you have a favorite villain? Let us know in the comments.

2000: Commodus


When the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius decides to step back, he appoints General Maximus Decimus Meridius as his successor, bypassing his own son. Needless to say, Commodus is both hurt and furious that he won’t be the next ruler of Rome. He tearfully embraces his father only to murder him in cold blood, and later orders the death of Maximus after the latter refuses to give fealty. In his short reign as Emperor, Commodus proves to be nothing short of a power-hungry tyrant. He sees himself as a god among men. And when his rule is threatened by the return of Maximus, his unrelenting jealousy leads to his own demise. Joaquin Phoenix does an excellent job as a vulnerable yet unredeemable villain.

2001: Saruman

“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”

The story of Saruman the White and Gandalf the Grey is one of ultimate betrayal. Saruman sides with Sauron, seeking more power. He asks his old friend to join him, but Gandalf refuses. An angered Saruman traps him at Isengard. Later, he raises an army of Uruk-hai for the War of the Ring intent on killing the Fellowship. Christopher Lee has played quite a few villains in his career, including Count Dracula, Lord Summerisle, and Count Dooku. He expertly brought Saruman from page to screen, furthering his reputation as one of the greatest actors of the century.

2002: William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting

“Gangs of New York”

We already knew that Daniel Day-Lewis is a phenomenal actor. But his performance as Bill the Butcher left us shuddering. Based on the notorious gangster William Poole, Bill the Butcher has an extreme brand of patriotism. He strongly believes that immigrants coming to New York (and America, in general) are unwelcome. As the leader of the infamous Natives, Bill accepts Amsterdam into the gang. Not knowing his true identity as his deceased rival’s son, he mentors him, becoming something of a father figure. He’s ruthless and violent, but this relationship shows he has a softer side. When Amsterdam attempts an assassination, however, Bill tortures him in front of a crowd. His tremendous knife skills and general badassery make him a more than memorable villain.

2003: Sauron

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

Despite Agent Smith’s villainy in two films this year — both “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” — we had to give it to the biggest baddie of Middle-earth. The Dark Lord Sauron is the creator of the One Ring to Rule Them All. He’s the one who turns Saruman against Gandalf, and is just an all-around malevolent being. Sauron used the One Ring to conquer much of Middle-earth, killing a slew of Elves and men in his wake. Like most villains, Sauron wants to rule over, well, everything. He enjoys psychologically tormenting others, as seen when anyone wears the One Ring.

2004: John Kramer (aka Jigsaw)


Australian filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell got their big break with this low-budget horror flick. Little did they know this was the beginning of a franchise with one of the deadliest villains in cinematic history. Terminally ill cancer patient, John Kramer, seeks to “inspire” the same appreciation for life he now has as a dying man. He’s dubbed the “Jigsaw Killer” by the media given his signature of removing a puzzle piece-shaped part of flesh from his victims. He plays “games” with his victims, using traps to test their will to live. The traps get more elaborate throughout the franchise, and Jigsaw’s story continues to unravel. But it’s this first “Saw” that cemented him as a legendary villain.

2005: Dr. Jonathan Crane (aka Scarecrow)

“Batman Begins”

Though not featured as prominently as other villains in the “Dark Knight” trilogy, Dr. Jonathan Crane still manages to knock Batman down a few pegs. Dr. Crane is the Chief Administrator at the infamous Arkham Asylum. He uses his position to conduct experiments on the patients using a fear toxin and a burlap mask. With these “tools,” Dr. Crane becomes Scarecrow. He works with Ra’s al Ghul to weaponize the hallucinogen and expose the entire city of Gotham. While he has less overall screen time, Crane is the only villain to appear in all three of Christopher Nolan’s films. So, he clearly leaves an impression.

2006: Captain Vidal

“Pan’s Labyrinth”

Guillermo Del Toro’s dark fantasy tells the story of Ofelia, a young girl who loves fairytales. When she and her mother arrive at their new home, they’re greeted by Ofelia’s stepfather, Captain Vidal. As a fascist leader in the Spanish army, Vidal is a coldblooded killer, never hesitant to take a life in the brutalest of ways. One of his most intimidating aspects is his polished and almost gentlemanly exterior. The various creatures in the film may look scary, but Vidal is the true villain. He takes the wicked step parent trope to a whole other level.

2007: Anton Chigurh

“No Country for Old Men”

Not only is this movie villain the best of 2007, he’s one of the greatest of the 21st century. Anton Chigurh is a methodical and emotionless hitman sent to retrieve a case full of money, killing several people along the way. Chigurh will bluntly tell his targets that they’re going to die or won’t say anything at all. Either way he’s a man of few words. One of his most memorable scenes doesn’t involve any bloodshed but rather a simple coin toss. Well, maybe not so simple; the man’s life literally depends on the outcome. Javier Bardem’s award-worthy, chilling portrayal of Chigurh makes the hitman all the more terrifying.

2008: The Joker

“The Dark Knight”

Heath Ledger’s Joker set a very high standard for future versions of the character and movie villains in general. Previously, Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero gave iconic performances as the Joker. But Ledger and Nolan crafted an iteration of the Clown Prince of Crime that’s a standout among the rest. In Nolan’s grounded, realistic take on Gotham City, the Joker is decidedly less cartoonish. He crudely applies his own makeup in contrast to the cleaner versions that preceded him. It’s the realism of this take that makes him all the more terrifying. Joker’s a psychopathic agent of chaos, the scariest type of bad guy. As Alfred says, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

2009: Hans Landa

“Inglourious Basterds”

It’s not hard to make a Nazi a despicable villain. But SS Colonel Hans Landa doesn’t see himself as someone who subscribes to the Nazi ideology. He’s simply an opportunist, and quick to take whatever side that offers him the most glory. Landa can be polite, even gentlemanly. But his presence is always intimidating, with every scene between him and Shosanna being unbelievably tense. Much like the previous two entries, Christoph Waltz was so good at being bad he took home the prestigious golden statue. Hans Landa is easily Quentin Tarantino’s most captivating villain, to say nothing of the greatest villains in film history.

2010: Mal Cobb


Okay, so technically this isn’t the real version of Mal Cobb so much as the projection of her within her widower Dom’s subconscious, but she makes for an intimidating presence all the same. After spending too much time in dream reality, Mal becomes convinced she’s still asleep, and takes her own life thinking it’ll wake her up. From there, Mal makes sporadic appearances throughout the heist crew’s various dreamscapes, sure to cause disruption every time. Of course, this all stems from Dom’s guilt over the whole incident, making this villainous turn all the more emotional and intellectual.

2011: Lord Voldemort

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2”

One of the baddest baddies ever put to screen, Lord Voldemort is the dark shadow that casts over the entirety of the “Harry Potter” saga. Though Ralph Fiennes’s version gets plenty of memorable moments in the films prior, we were all waiting for the climactic showdown in the final film, which did not disappoint. Even though it comes back to bite him, Voldemort does in fact do what he said he always would by killing Harry Potter, something that would’ve previously been considered inconceivable. Of course, Harry comes back through plot mechanics, giving us the final duel befitting of a great hero and an absolutely captivating villain.

2012: Bane

“The Dark Knight Rises”

In 2012, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained” gave one of the best performances of the year. And if we’re talking superhero movies, Loki in “The Avengers” was also fun. But it’s tough to follow up Tom Hardy’s exceptional portrayal of Bane. Hardy gets a lot of flak for the voice, but it was carefully crafted by several influences. The highly intelligent revolutionary sets up an underground operation in Gotham. When they come face-to-face in the sewer, it’s immediately clear that Bane’s incredible strength and fighting expertise overpower any of the Bat’s tricks. You don’t want to mess with a man who’s so accustomed to pain. Nolan recreated the moment in the comics when Bane breaks Batman’s back across his knee. And it’s brutal.

2013: Smaug

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

What’s more villainous than an enormous dragon? When Bilbo journeys to the Lonely Mountain to retrieve Arkenstone, he accidentally wakes Smaug, the powerful dragon guarding its treasures. Thorin and the dwarves try to take down Smaug by covering him in an avalanche of liquid gold. However, this merely irritates the dragon. Instead of conquering him, they inadvertently lead him to descend upon the nearby village. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a chilling performance as both the voice and motion capture for Smaug. But he’s also the voice of the Necromancer, who turns out to be the Dark Lord Sauron.

2014: Terence Fletcher


Now here’s a villain that can be found in everyday life. A jazz instructor who’s doggedly determined to wring greatness out of his young performers, Terence Fletcher is the definition of draconian. He’s not above manipulating and even harming his students to get them to push themselves past their physical and emotional limits. In lies the thematic nuance of “Whiplash,” as his grand philosophy gets the viewer to ask themselves what is the true cost of perfection. J. K. Simmons’s performance as Fletcher was universally praised, making him another actor on this list to win an Oscar for being oh-so brutal.

2015: Kylo Ren

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”

Darth Vader may be the ultimate baddie in the “Star Wars” universe, but Kylo Ren proved to be a formidable foe in “The Force Awakens” and throughout the sequel trilogy. Born as Ben Solo, Ren’s villainy isn’t absolute. His inner conflict with the light and dark sides makes him unstable. He’s a strong Force user, and those intense emotions lead to his recklessness. To say he’s hot-headed is an understatement. The intriguing complexity of Kylo Ren is owed in part to Adam Driver’s brilliant performance. He brings emotion and vulnerability to the character in a way that makes him sympathetic. And for a character who kills the beloved Han Solo, that’s quite the accomplishment.

2016: Helmut Zemo

“Captain America: Civil War”

Before he was hitting the dance floor in Madripoor, Helmut Zemo was busy dismantling Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The Battle of Sokovia in “Age of Ultron” claimed the lives of his entire family. Consumed by vengeance, Zemo patiently and carefully plans the ultimate setup. He frames the Winter Soldier for an attack on the UN, which subsequently kills Wakandan King T’Chaka. As a former Sokovian military leader, Zemo has a myriad of tactical and technological skills, making him smarter than everyone in the room. He’s able to hack into encrypted HYDRA files, assemble a bomb, learn Russian on the fly, and wipe out the Winter Soldier program. Zemo skillfully sets up a reveal so devastating that it divides Cap and Iron Man, effectively breaking up the Avengers.

2017: Pennywise


Jordan Peele’s groundbreaking “Get Out” introduced us to the deeply racist Armitage family, who are scarily realistic. But in 2017, audiences were terrified by the cosmic entity that is Pennywise. Bill Skarsgård makes the character completely his own with his scary transformation into the monstrous clown. His portrayal is animalistic, drooling and unhinging its jaws to eat children. Pennywise bites off six-year-old Georgie’s arm, and that’s just the first scene. Skarsgård’s bizarre ability to move his left eye in a different direction gives the sense that something is definitely off. Well, other than being a clown in a sewer. While It’s primary form is Pennywise, the shapeshifter is unpredictable. Whether It’s morphing into a person or a thing, all are equally nightmarish.

2018: Thanos

“Avengers: Infinity War”

Although “Black Panther’s” Erik “Killmonger” Stevens is an epic villain, there’s no denying that 2018 was the year of Thanos. Okay, we know he’s technically CGI, but we had to make an exception for this one. The intergalactic warlord kicks off “Infinity War” by proving Hulk is no match for him. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then kills Heimdall and Loki. Unlike some villains on this list, Thanos isn’t charismatic and is hardly sympathetic. Other than wiping out half the universe, Thanos also tortured one adopted daughter (Nebula) and sacrificed the other (Gamora). Yeah, it’s safe to say the Mad Titan is the worst in the best way possible.

2019: Rose the Hat

“Doctor Sleep”

From horror icon Stephen King comes a fear-eating monster just as evil as Pennywise, but much better looking. Writer-director Mike Flanagan brought the terrifying Rose the Hat to screen with his adaptation of King’s “Doctor Sleep.” Rose is the leader of the True Knot, a group of nomadic “shine vampires” feeding on the steam of children with the same shine as Dan Torrance. Rose and her crew live by the adage, “Eat well. Stay young. Live long.” She’s stunning and alluring, making it easy for her to gain the trust of unsuspecting victims. Rebecca Ferguson is entrancing in the role, embodying the natural, sensual and maternal aspects of Rose the Hat. But behind that beautiful smile is a ravenous predator.

2020: Roman Sionis [aka Black Mask]

“Birds of Prey”

This Harley-centric film brought us the wealthy, sociopathic Roman Sionis. Cut off from the Sionis fortune, Roman now operates as a ruthless crime lord in Gotham City. Like Harley, Roman is unhinged and unpredictable. He doesn’t don the Black Mask until the end. But he still loves to be theatrical in his villainy, like peeling people’s faces off. His loyal henchman, Victor Zsasz (played by Chris Messina), is a deranged killer in awe of his boss, and they’re quite the pair. Roman is possessive, to say the least. His narcissism makes him quick tempered and prone to tantrums, which are just as hilarious as they are terrifying. Ewan McGregor’s inherent charm and nuance make Roman the perfect villain we love to hate.

2021: The Baroness von Hellman


“Spider-Man: No Way Home” gave us a plethora of returning villains, including a more complex Green Goblin. But no single 2021 villain has a stranglehold on their movie quite like the Baroness. Sure, this movie is all about setting up the origin of the villainous title character we all know and hate, but she is technically outdone in terms of outright villainy in this outing. The Baroness is callous, vain, and at times, violent. Given the big twist that comes in the third act, it makes sense why the two wicked women are so alike. Though it’s fully possible that this version of Cruella goes on to supersede the Baroness’s wickedness, this was the movie villain of 2021.
I've got an Idea about making Top 22 best Animated movie villains of each year (2000 - 2021):