The best movie villains are those who are impossible to forget. They’re either the respective heroes’ dark reflections or they’re remorseless monsters who deserve defeat. However, in some truly special cases, the antagonist is so emotionally powerful or deeply evil that they don’t just overshadow the heroes, they steal the spotlight, too.


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Whether their movies are good or bad, these villains were undeniably the best parts of their respective motion pictures. Without them, these films would lack worthwhile antagonists and would be much less enjoyable. Some of these villains became their movie’s selling points, while others became icons in their own right.

Updated on November 24, 2022: There are simply too many amazing villains who defined or stole their respective movies to enumerate in one list. Many villains were dropped from the original list for practicality’s sake. This updated version includes more iconic villains who weren’t just initially left out, but are oftentimes overlooked as well.

15/15 The Harkonnens Were Gloriously Evil

Dune (1984)

Dune’s first movie was flawed, but the Harkonnens were one of the few things it got right. While House Atreides and the Fremen were too caught up in their destinies and Arrakis’ fate, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Kenneth McMillan) and his nephews, Glossu Rabban (Paul L. Smith) and Feyd-Rautha (Sting), relished in being evil.

The Harkonnens were instantly memorable and owned every scene they appeared in. Though these hammy Harkonnens starred in one of the intricately written Dune’s lesser adaptations, it’s a testament to their conceptualization and the actors’ skills that they’re more fondly remembered than their 2021 counterparts.

14/15 The Octopus And Silken Floss Redeemed Their Movie

The Spirit

The Octopus and Silken Floss explain their scheme in The Spirit

For a while, The Spirit was declared one of the all-time worst comic book movies. The Spirit’s shameless artifice split viewers. Some dismissed The Spirit as a cartoonish Sin City knock-off, while others loved it for this exact reason. The one thing critics and fans agreed on was that The Octopus and Silken Floss stole the movie.

As campy as The Spirit was, Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson were the only actors who knew what kind of movie they were in. Jackson hammed it up as The Octopus, and Johansson coldly brought him back to his senses as Silken Floss. Their dynamic was great, and The Spirit felt lifeless whenever they weren’t onscreen.

13/15 M. Bison Became A Campy Legend

Street Fighter

M. Bison leads his forces in Street Fighter

Street Fighter is almost always cited as one of the best video game movies, but this praise is mostly backhanded. Street Fighter owes its ironic legacy as a guilty pleasure to M. Bison, Shadaloo’s tyrant and self-fashioned dictator. Besides being hilariously evil, M. Bison is best remembered as Raul Julia’s legendary final performance.

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Everyone in Street Fighter hammed it up, but Julia took things to the next level. Helping matters was how seriously Julia took an otherwise goofy bad guy. Julia effectively delivered dialogue that would sound corny if anyone else said it. Street Fighter may be something of a laughingstock, but M. Bison wasn’t a punchline.

12/15 Freddy Krueger And Jason Voorhees Got The Swan Song They Deserved

Freddy Vs. Jason

Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees fight in Freddy Vs Jason.

Despite being the de facto “heroes” of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, Freddy and Jason took a backseat to their victims’ stories. Freddy and Jason inspired dedicated fanbases, but their screen time was always limited. This changed in Freddy vs. Jason where they were the undisputed stars.

Freddy vs. Jason was both a highly-anticipated crossover and the grand finale for the slasher movies’ golden age. The unexpectedly cameo-friendly Freddy (Robert Englund) and Jason (Ken Kirzinger) got more scenes than usual and enjoyed their bloodiest kills yet. Fans cared more about Freddy and Jason than their victims.

11/15 Pennywise The Dancing Clown Became A Childhood Nightmare

IT (1990)

Pennywise taunts Ben in IT (1990)

One of the biggest hurdles the new IT adaptation encountered was Pennywise, as most viewers associated the evil clown with Tim Curry’s interpretation from the first IT movie. Curry’s performance was so great that he became one of the most iconic horror villains of all time and saved his lackluster movie as well.

IT always came alive whenever Pennywise tormented the Losers’ Club. Curry’s mix of clownish silliness and underlying terror made up for the movie’s dragged-out runtime. Pennywise dominated the two-part remake too, but Pennywise’s original interpretation is still iconic.

10/15 May Day Was An Unforgettable Force Of Nature

A View To A Kill

May Day aboard Max Zorin's zeppelin in A View to a Kill

A View to a Kill was one of James Bond’s weaker movies, and it was only saved by its villains. Although Max Zorin was a well-acted, stereotypical Bond villain, his bodyguard and partner May Day (Grace Jones) was instantly iconic. May Day wasn’t just another Bond Girl for 007 to seduce; she was his equal in both charisma and physicality.

Bond has often been criticized for being a male power fantasy. Whether A View to a Kill’s creators intended it or not, May Day was the empowering foil and rebuke of Bond’s chauvinism. May Day only had one movie, but she was immortalized as one of Bond’s fiercest foes and one of the franchise’s best villains.

9/15 Davy Jones Was Hauntingly Tragic

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Davy Jones plays his organ in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

For better and worse, Pirates of the Caribbean expanded into a trilogy after The Curse of the Black Pearl’s great success. As divisive as this was, both fans and naysayers agreed that Davy Jones was the trilogy’s dark horse. This was thanks to his impossibly lifelike visual effects and Bill Nighy’s interpretation of Jones as a tragic monster.

Beneath Jones’ supernatural might was a man cursed with immortality. As monstrous as Jones was, he was really a prisoner of fate who desperately wanted to die on his own terms. Jones’ tragedy was a subplot in the trilogy, but it was more compelling than the actual heroes’ journeys.

8/15 Dolores Umbridge Was Hogwarts’ Most Loathsome Professor

Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix

Dolores Umbridge greets the students in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Although the franchise is beloved by many, The Order of the Phoenix is regarded as one of the weaker Harry Potter installments. As unremarkable as the movie was, it’s impossible to forget Dolores Umbridge. In just one movie, Imelda Staunton turned Umbridge into one of the most hated characters in history.

Umbridge wasn’t even a Death Eater; she was just a villain with a teaching post. Umbridge imposed Draconian laws on Hogwarts’ students and turned them against each other. Umbridge showed how the worst characters in Harry Potter can be the rank-and-file employees who just need some power and a job title to become evil.

7/15 Detective Alonzo Harris Perfectly Embodied Police Corruption

Training Day

Detective Alonzo Harris gets surprised by Hoyt in Training Day

Corrupt cops in seedy crime movies aren’t anything new, but few are as iconic and loathed as Alonzo. Training Day hinted that Alonzo started as an honest cop before devolving into the monster he is. This implied backstory only made his current amoral behavior all the more reprehensible.

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Alonzo didn’t just give up his morals when confronted by great institutional evils; he sold his soul to join it. Alonzo’s abuses of power are some of the worst ever committed by a movie cop. Denzel Washington’s performance cemented him as Training Day’s best character and one of the crime genre’s best villains as well.

6/15 Colonel Hans Landa Was Too Charismatic And Evil To Ignore

Inglourious Basterds

Colonel Hans Landa makes an offer in Inglourious Basterds

One of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds’ best parts was its ensemble cast. As talented as they were, none of the actors could match Christoph Waltz’s performance as Col. Landa. Col. Landa was a feared SS officer who lived up to his moniker with frightening cruelty and efficiency.

Col. Landa was as evil and bureaucratic as Nazi villains tend to be. However, he perfected this decades-old formula so well that he’s now the archetype’s standard. Inglourious Basterds is an anthology of intersecting lives and stories in World War II, but Col. Landa’s disciplined monstrosity was the main reason to watch it.

5/15 Hannibal Lecter Created An Entire Archetype

The Silence Of The Lambs

Hannibal Lecter is brought out of prison in The Silence of the Lambs

The thing about Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins) was that he wasn’t even The Silence of the Lambs’ main villain. “Hannibal the Cannibal” was the FBI’s consultant who gave insight into the actual villain’s (Buffalo Bill) mind. Hopkins wasn’t the movie’s central antagonist or star, but he stole it with a legendarily evil performance.

Hannibal’s monstrosity was so iconic that he became the star of an entire trilogy. Hopkins’ performance was also so morbidly captivating that he became a trendsetter. Many movie serial killers and villains copied Hannibal’s polite demeanor and intellect that he used to hide his true evil, but no one could surpass him.

4/15 Mr. Benedict Pushed The Action Movie Villain To A Terrifying Extreme

Last Action Hero

Mr. Benedict gives orders in Last Action Hero

Last Action Hero is a loving parody of cheesy action movies, but it had some serious deconstructive moments. These came courtesy of Mr. Benedict (Charles Dance), the main henchman of the in-universe Jack Slater movies. Mr. Benedict was a clever, clich├ęd assassin, but he became an existential threat when he escaped his movie.

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After realizing that reality wasn’t governed by tropes, Mr. Benedict relished in the evil possibilities available to him. Mr. Benedict was an otherwise lighthearted spoof’s darkest and most well-thought-out aspect. He was also one of the few fourth-wall-breaking characters whose meta knowledge was more horrifying than fun.

3/15 Alex Forrest Modernized The Classic Femme Fatale

Fatal Attraction

Alex Forrest smiles at Dan in Fatal Attraction

Femme fatales existed for as long as movies have, but Fatal Attraction’s Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) rejuvenated the archetype. Unlike previous femme fatales, Alex wasn’t faking her love for Dan Gallagher. Alex is effectively terrifying, which is what makes Fatal Attraction one of the worst depictions of mental health conditions.

Fatal Attraction was credited for reviving erotic thrillers in the late ’80s, but Close’s performance was the real reason to watch it. Although Alex’s more sympathetic ending was scrapped and her example was improved upon by succeeding femme fatales, Close’s incredible performance can’t be denied.

2/15 Candyman Was The Most Human And Sympathetic Slasher Killer

Candyman (1992)

Candyman meets Helen in Candyman (1992)

Slasher killers were often human before they became undead villains, but Candyman was different. Candyman (Tony Todd) was a living urban legend who killed to maintain his myth. More importantly, Candyman was the vengeful spirit of Daniel Robitaille and the manifestation of Black people’s generational pain.

Candyman was one of the most unique and tragic killers in the horror genre. Todd’s perfect performance as the villainous Candyman was the original movie’s foreboding yet melancholic heart. The first two sequels almost ruined Candyman’s legacy, but his 2021 revival thankfully restored his mythic status and terror.

1/15 Erik Killmonger Redefined What Supervillains Can Be

Black Panther

Killmonger is brought into the throne room in Black Panther

For the longest time, Spider-Man’s Green Goblin and The Dark Knight’s Joker were the pinnacles of cinematic supervillainy. This changed when Black Panther hit theaters. Killmonger wasn’t just T’Challa’s worthy adversary or the MCU’s best villain, but he was also one of the superhero genre’s most complex and relevant villains yet.

Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) was an extremist. He was motivated by the anger and trauma born from systematic racism and prejudice. The scary thing was how Killmonger was justified to an extent, and even the heroes knew it. It will be a long time before another supervillain comes close to achieving what Killmonger did in Black Panther.

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