Dun, dun, dun, dun, dun dun, dun, dun dun! A metal door slides open and Darth Vader strides towards you with a host of stormtroopers in tow. He stops abruptly, breathing heavily through his ventilator and raises his hand as you feel an icy grip around your throat.
“Am I not the most terrifying face you have ever seen? Do you not fear me?”
You reply, “Not really, you’re basically a Dalek who can go upstairs. There are at least 10 baddies scarier than you.”
“Name them,” he says. “Name villains more dangerous, more maniacal, and more malevolent than me and you shall live.”
Well, you’ve gone and done it now. Time to think of some names, quick!
John Kreese (Karate Kid)
Let’s kick off this list with the only coach to tell his students to intentionally hurt an injured child. Let that sink in. The Cobra Kai Sensei with his quaffed hair and macho appearance is so obsessed with winning he commands Bobby Brown to injure Daniel LaRusso. When Daniel continues despite his injury John loses what shred of dignity he has left with the famous line, ‘Sweep the leg!’.
Oh yeah, and the kicker? The reason Daniel wants to win the tournament is so the Cobra Kai bullies will stop beating him up! Nice one John.
Scar (Lion King)
The Lion King is famously based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Scar taking the role of the evil Claudius. As Simba’s uncle, he commits some truly despicable and maniacal acts including killing Mufasa and forcefully taking over Pride Rock. Bitter, cynical, and ambitious, Scar scares children and adults alike. Don’t be fooled by his cartoonish appearance, Scar is one of cinema’s most famous villains. Even with his amazing singing voice.
Luckily, Scar pays for his hubris. After losing to Simba in a fight, he is broken and weak. His allies turn on him and Scar is eaten by his own beasts of burden.
HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey)
HAL 9000 is the main antagonist in Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey. HAL is the computer aboard the Discovery One spacecraft tasked with protecting the crew. Initially, HAL seems like an asset to the team. His calm, conversational manner and simple red light with speaker design makes him seem like an advanced form of a digital assistant. HAL is certainly no Alexa though as he begins to malfunction and worry the crew. The crew agree to disconnect HAL but little do they know he has gained a sense of consciousness and attempts to kill them instead.
What follows is a tense hunter/hunted scenario as we watch man and machine battle for dominance with wits and guile. HAL shows what awaits a society that relies on technology too much. The potential threat of our digital friends in today’s world can seem especially frightening.
HAL’s story is a cautionary tale. One that questions our reliance on technology and one that will only grow as our lives become ever more intertwined with the digital world.
Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men)
Anton Chigurh is a hitman and the main antagonist in the 2005 film No Country for Old Men. Played by Javier Bardem his demure appearance belies the true evil within. He is a killer who sees himself as an instrument of fate, killing with abandon. He even turns murder into a game of chance with a coin toss often deciding who lives and who dies.
Remorseless and lacking any emotion this psychopathic killer sends shivers down the spine as he decides on people’s fates without them even knowing. Perhaps more terrifying than the murders he commits in the movie are the murders he doesn’t. Receptionists, grieving widows, the elderly, all come so close to death without realising it and perhaps this is what makes him truly evil. The fact that he could turn at any time and wreak havoc.
Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds)
Christoph Waltz portrays the terrifying Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds. This ambitious SS officer is ruthless with an uncanny ability to locate Jews. Based on the real-life architect of the Holocaust, Reinhard Heydrich, Landa is arrogant, ruthless, relentless and intelligent. However, what makes this character deeply unsettling is how he can also come across as polite and charming. The man and the monster meld into one and the viewer is left unsettled.
The opening scene, in particular, is one of the best committed to film as Landa interrogates a farmer before finding a family of Jews hiding under the floorboards. Waltz described how he came up with the characters stating ‘[Landa] is realistic to the point of being inhuman’. Even though he wears a uniform he bears no allegiance to anything but himself. This human face of inhumanity is truly terrifying and wins him a deserved place on this list.
Regina George (Mean Girls)
Regina George is a villain like no other. Where some don capes, armour or weapons, Regina wears skirts, makeup and fake smiles. The quintessential image of the mean girl, this teen scares everyone who has ever come face to face with their own school bully.
From classic negging techniques to gaslighting her own friends, this high school puppet master manipulates, threatens and connives her way to the top of the food chain. Luckily the viewer gets to experience some sense of comeuppance as karma hits Regina with a literal bus.
Regina eventually learns from her actions and comes back to school a better person and fuels her emotions into sport thus completing her journey from baddie to badass.
Norman Bates (Psycho)
Norman Bates is one of the most famous villains in movie history. Directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock, Norman Bates rose from the pages of Psycho to terrify viewers for generations. The quiet demeanour of this polite motel owner belies the sick and twisted monster within. The antagonist suffers from dissociative identity disorder and this volatile mix of characters makes him truly terrifying. Norman Bates shows just how fragile the human mind is as his feelings for Marion enrage his ‘mother’ and unleashes one of the most terrifying scenes ever committed to film.
Rico Dynamite (Napoleon Dynamite)
Rico Dynamite AKA Uncle Rico is the smarmy, pencil-tached villain of the cult hit Napoleon Dynamite. Tasked with looking after Napoleon and Kip while their grandmother recovers from a coccyx injury, Uncle Rico comes into the frame, starched collar, flared trousers and a grin that sends chills down your spine. Uncle Rico sets to work trying to scam everyone in town by selling plastic bowls and a bogus breast enhancement product. All under Napoleon’s name. This makes the shy Napoleon a social pariah. As if this weren’t enough Uncle Rico tries to persuade Deb (Napoleon’s crush) to buy his products by convincing her Napoleon wants her to buy the breast enhancement product.
Luckily, Napoleon wins everyone over with some stellar dance moves and the truth. Uncle Rico, however, is still pitifully driving around the country in an orange Winnebago throwing footballs at a camera. This villain is terrifying not just because of his facial hair choice or underhanded behaviour. His truly terrifying trait is his fragility as he never gets over his lost dream of becoming a professional football.
Annie Wilkes (Misery)
Annie Wilkes is the creation of the famous horror novelist, Stephen King. Based loosely on Genene Jones she is a nurse with an angel of death complex. She is responsible for almost 70 murders, many of them infants in her care. While this news obviously marks her out as a monster, she hides it well from Paul Sheldon, an author who crashes his car near her home. At first, she tends to him and helps him recover but her bedside manner soon takes a turn for the worst when Sheldon becomes a prisoner in her home. She breaks his ankles with a sledgehammer to keep him from leaving her and forces him to rewrite his novels to her exacting demands.
Eventually, Sheldon makes a break for it and a fight ensues. He manages to escape, killing Annie in the process but not without leaving her mark on him. At the end of the film, we see a fan approach Sheldon and for a brief second, her face turns into Annie’s. Sheldon may have a skill at killing off characters in his books but Annie is one that stays with him for the rest of his days.
Vader stands for a second, breath shallow through his respirator. He drops his hand and you fall the floor, face a light shade of purple. “Those are some truly terrifying villains. You are free to go but before you do, you left one character out.
“Who is that?” you inquire.
Vader sighs, a visible shiver goes down his spine, ‘Why Jar Jar Binks of course!’