The 25 best villains from TV and movies
The best of the bad guys
From serial killers to a writer's No. 1 fan, here are the worst (which is to say, the best) of the baddies we love to hate.
Want more? EW has detailed the best in movies, TV, music, and books from 1990 to 2015 with the Must List, and, in celebration, The Must List: Ranking the Best in 25 Years of Pop Culture is out now. This gallery is an excerpt from the book. The Must List: Ranking the Best in 25 Years of Pop Culture is available for order online.
The Borg Queen, Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek's produced some memorable baddies over the years — "Khaaaaan!" — but Alice Krige's synthetic overlord is the antagonist for the franchise's whole utopian idea. Brutally indifferent, she's the human impulse to explore negated into pure nihilism.
Most evil line: "Resistance is futile."
Mr. Blonde, Reservoir Dogs
The killer other killers worry about. After a heist goes wrong, Vic Vega smells a rat. The whole Tarantino era begins when Michael Madsen dances to "Stuck in the Middle With You" — right before he cuts off a captured cop's ear.
Most evil line: "All you can do is pray for a quick death, which you ain't gonna get."
Dr. Evil, Austin Powers films
Step 1: Hijack some nuclear weapons. Step 2: Hold the world hostage. Step 3: Attach laser beams to the heads of killer sharks. Step 4: Make $1 million. [cue evil laugh]
Most evil move: From a managerial perceptive, it's probably not a good idea to incinerate so many minions.
Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
Poor little Patrick just wants to be cool. Yes, he kills people. Yes, he's got a chainsaw in his closet and a couple of heads in his refrigerator. Can you blame him? It's stressful, the banking life.
Most evil line: "I like to dissect girls. Did you know I'm utterly insane?"
John Doe, Seven
The movie builds gradually to his first appearance. First he's a shadow, then, a myth. Finally, Kevin Spacey walks into a police station: bald, gentle, and covered in blood. Seven's baddie is a uniquely meticulous madman — and Spacey's restraint makes him even more terrifying.
Most evil move: Three words: Gwyneth Paltrow's head.
Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men
An unstoppable force, an immovable object, and one hell of a bad haircut. Javier Bardem's supercriminal is a creature of myth, complete with an untraceable accent, beyond pain or petty notions of morality.
Most evil move: He finds a creative new use for a cattle gun.
Scar, The Lion King
Really, though, wasn't Mufasa such a bore? And wasn't Simba such a little goody-two-shoes? The villains always get the best lines — ask Shakespeare — and this is as close as Disney's ever come to Hamlet.
Most evil move: Killing his brother while his nephew watches in horror.
Edwin Epps, 12 Years a Slave
Can you feel sympathy for the devil? A plantation owner in the slavery-era South, Epps (Michael Fassbender) is a monstrosity of a man: despotic, violent, drunk, a rapist who treats people like property. He is also a lonely, impotent man.
Most evil quote: "I'll take the starch outta ya."
Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds
Colonel Landa will talk your ear off in any language. (He knows them all.) As played by Christoph Waltz, Hans Landa is a delightfully inquisitive portrait of Nazi horror. Some call him the Jew hunter, but he's really a detective: Columbo for fascists.
Most evil quote: "What's that American expression? 'If the shoe fits, you must wear it.'"
Sauron, The Lord of the Rings
Not just an evil person but Evil Itself, Sauron is less a tangible character than an omnipresent corruption threatening to turn anyone — even happy little hobbits — toward the darkness.
Most evil move: His sole hobby is conquering all that has ever been and ever will be.
Agent Smith, The Matrix
There's something simultaneously corporate and federal about the Matrix's digital antibody — as if the Wolf of Wall Street joined the Secret Service. Hugo Weaving is an unflappable bespoke-suited badass: a program who hates his machine overlords almost as much as the humans he chases.
Most evil move: Replicating himself across the entire digital world.
Whether he's played by strapping young Michael Fassbender or a cagey elder Sir Ian McKellen, the militant mutant is a prime example of how every villain is a hero in his own mind.
Most evil move: Every time he betrays Professor X, a friend who never stops believing in Magneto's capacity for good — despite all appearances to the contrary.
King Joffrey, Game of Thrones
A child of incest spoiled rotten by inhuman ambition, Joffrey Baratheon never learned what was right and drew tremendous pleasure from doing wrong. An excellent argument against helicopter parenting.
Most evil move: Cutting off Ned Stark's head? That's bad. Right in front of his daughter? That's bad. And the daughter is your bride-to-be? Dude. Chill.
William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting, Gangs of New York
Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher — murderer, crime boss, friend to corrupt politicians, enemy to all immigrants — drapes himself in the American flag and remembers with special fondness the best man he ever killed.
Most evil quote: "I die a true American."
Bane, The Dark Knight Rises
A terrorist, an anarchist, a counterrevolutionary, a philosophical zealot: Batman's masked nemesis is a compilation of several generations' worth of national-security concerns. Pretty buff, too.
Most evil move: Cutting off Gotham from the mainland one bridge at a time.
Alonzo Harris, Training Day
From the moment Denzel Washington's corrupt cop force-feeds PCP to angelic Ethan Hawke, it's clear that Detective Harris crossed the line between good and evil a long time ago.
Most evil quote: "King Kong ain't got s--- on me."
Verbal Kint/Keyser Söze, The Usual Suspects
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist, and the great trick Kevin Spacey ever pulled was convincing the audience that he was playing a loser, not a criminal mastermind.
Most evil quote: "And like that, he's gone."
Cruella de Vil, 101 Dalmatians
How do you out-cartoon a cartoon? It helps if you're Glenn Close, who transforms her fur fanatic into a high-fashion snob willing to do anything — even kill fivescore puppies — for the right look. She's like a G-rated Tony Montana.
Most evil move: Did we mention how her big plan is to kill several dozen puppies and wear them as clothes?
Max Cady, Cape Fear
A lout in a Hawaiian shirt quoting Dante on a mission of dish-served-cold vengeance. He's a vision of psychopathy, but Robert De Niro also makes him dangerously compelling, cerebral, and sensually unleashed.
Most evil move: Flirting with his target's teenage daughter (Juliette Lewis, in her breakout role.)
T-1000, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Arnold Schwarzenegger's killing machine got sequelized into heroism, but Robert Patrick's protean assassin is his perfect match. A living-metal shape-changer with a policeman's badge, he's a horror-movie creature and an avatar for the age of paranoia.
Most evil move: Armblades.
Annie Wilkes, Misery
As Misery's cheery psychopath who imprisons and tortures her favorite novelist, Paul Sheldon, for killing off her favorite character, Kathy Bates is an unsettling mix of Squeaky Fromme and June Cleaver.
Most evil move: Breaking both of Paul's ankles with a sledgehammer, then calmly saying, "God, I love you." (In Stephen King's original book, she chops off his foot with an ax.)
Voldemort, Harry Potter
Cruel with no hope of redemption, Harry Potter's nemesis (Ralph Fiennes in the films) is an old-school unrepentant, power-hungry, control freak. But his loathing for anyone who doesn't meet his definition of "normal" is utterly of the moment.
Most evil move: Killing his own father.
Mr. Burns, The Simpsons
The Simpsons' 104-year-old billionaire, owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, boasts an insatiable appetite for wealth, power, and other people's unhappiness.
Most evil quote: "Release the hounds!"
The Joker, Batman movies
Batman's greatest adversary is ruthlessly, functionally insane. As portrayed by Cesar Romero on TV, he's a little-j joker; played by Jack Nicholson on film, he's a violent hambone; in the hands of Heath Ledger, he's hair-raisingly awesome.
Most evil quote: From The Dark Knight, "See, I'm not a monster — I'm just ahead of the curve."
Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs
He packs a lot of screams into only 25 minutes on screen. But that was long enough for Anthony Hopkins to nab an Oscar for his chillingly erudite cannibal in 1991's The Silence of the Lambs.
Most evil quote: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."