In the history of movies and TV, never once have we fallen in love with a great protagonist without first going head-over-heels for his adversary. That is to say, no hero can be awesomely good without facing a villain who’s awesomely bad. Condensing all the ne’er-do-wells into a short list like this one may seem like a challenge, but once you meet this axis of evil, you’ll have a hard time finding anyone to top them. These are our picks for the 6 Best Movie and TV Villains.
Evil? Let’s see. He pulled a teenage girl’s teeth out while she was still alive only to bury her nude and cause her slow death by suffocation. He shot an 8-year-old in the face simply for being black, paid a man to beat him up so he could blame it on “Dirty” Harry, and then hijacked and proceeded to abuse a bus full of children on their way home from school while gleefully forcing them to sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
Ledger’s Joker is messy, maniacal, and a perfect throwback to the Clown Prince of Crime as he was originally presented. Up to the very end of the film, you never get a sense that Batman has this guy figured out. Perhaps scariest of all, are not the crimes and murders the Joker commits, but how such a seemingly crazy human being can look inside the best of men and bring out the worst.
As the horrifying villain in the Coen Brothers adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men, Bardem dealt out pardons and executions with the flip of a coin. He was basically a force of nature the rest of the characters had no answer for, and that made him all the scarier. In most movies, our protagonist has a way of finally getting the upper hand. No dice here. The only option for survival: run.
Dern’s Long Hair in the poignant western The Cowboys is the antithesis of all the ideals that we came to love about The Duke. John Wayne’s characters were uniquely American creations and set the benchmark by which society measured heroism for several decades.
Seeing him shot down by this hippy scum and left for dead shook us to our core. To quote the Duke’s Will Anderson in the film, “Summer’s over.” Those words had a heartbreaking effect on movie audiences too used to expecting John Wayne to triumph over evil at the end of his films.
Lithgow’s “Trinity Killer” was a showstopper for Showtime’s crime-drama Dexter. He terrorized his own family, killed someone very close to Dexter Morgan, and set the bar so high for the last four seasons that the show’s steep decline in quality following his departure was immediately apparent.
There was something noble and terrifying about Gus in the fourth season of Breaking Bad. If you were a binge watcher trying to catch up in time for the fifth season, then you knew watching those first few episodes that something had to happen to Gus by the end in order for the next run of shows to even be possible. But it was hard to imagine how or if Walt and Jesse would be able to escape against a man so devious, and always, seemingly, a dozen steps ahead of them. And that’s what makes the season four finale so sweet.
Who do you think is the best villain of film and TV?