“It’s simple. To achieve perfection, abandon morality. I’ve been doing it for decades.” – Archmyr Degiliac, Pale Knight of Thillria
It’s no secret. I love, love, love the bad guys. I love to read about them, write them, watch them, and (gasp) root for them. I’m the kid who got pissed off every time Skeletor lost to He-Man, the teenager who pulled for the Alien to wipe out everyone (except the cat), and the guy who wept a little bit inside when Sarah Conner flattened the Terminator. I find a strange sort of beauty in antagonists’ raw emotion, be it their mania, their arrogance, their self-loathing, or their cold, cold dedication to being evil. Better still are the rare little moments when the sunlight cuts through the shadows and the bad guy glimpses himself as a better man…and then plummets straight back into darkness.
I’ve looked forward to this for a while. And so, without further delay, I present to you my top ten villains (in film, literature, and video games) of ALL time:
#10: The Shrike – Hyperion
Memorable Quote: None. The Shrike has no voice
Bio: It time travels…backwards. It slows time for itself, but not for its victims. It moves at will through the universe, vanishing on one planet only to reappear an instant later on the other side of the galaxy. It’s nine feet of shining, stabby chrome, and it’s nigh invulnerable to conventional weaponry. Among all the villains on the list, the Shrike is probably the most powerful. It enjoys the luxury of emotionless power, which most other baddies should be jealous of.
#9: James Moriarty – Sherlock Holmes short stories (and one novel)
Memorable Quote: “You stand in the way not merely of an individual, but of a mighty organisation, the full extent of which you, with all your cleverness, have been unable to realise.” – Speaking to Sherlock Holmes
Bio: The evil genius of all evil geniuses. The puppetmaster prime. Even though the Professor appears in limited capacity, he defines his antagonist role flawlessly. What he lacks in raw evil power, he makes up for with his wicked wit. I envy his genius, if not so much his obviously tortured soul.
#8: John Doe – Seven
Memorable Quote: “What sick ridiculous puppets we are, and what gross little stages we dance on. What fun we have dancing and fucking, not a care in the world, not knowing that we are nothing. We are not what was intended.”
Bio: John Doe is a sick, sick man. He’s not the sort of villain even I could root for. That said, he’s marvelously effective at what he does. Grimmer so, he believes in what he does. And his speech about the innocent (a bit too long to post here) still gives me chills. What’s in the box, John? What’s in the box?!
#7: Baron Vladimir Harkonnen – Dune
Memorable Quote: “Alone and vunerable at the edge of the universe, Duke Leto Atreides will finally come face to face with fear. When I’m done with him, he won’t know who to trust, not even that Bene Gesserit whore he sleeps with. They’ll all be turning on another like rats in a flood. By the time the traitor is fully revealed, the fate of Atreides will already be sealed.”
Bio: The universe’s hugest hedonist. The Jabba the Hutt of the Dune milieu. He’s rich, he’s hideous, and he’s chock full of good (bad) ideas. He sprinkles sleeper agents around like candy. He delights in imprisoning his relatives. He corrupts his enemies and makes them his allies. Hell, even after he’s gone and his imperial army crushed, he’s guaranteed to live on in his enemies’ bloodline. We need more baddies like the Baron. He’s just so…damn…thorough about his work.
Memorable Quote: “My country lay within a vast desert. When the sun rose into the sky, a burning wind punished my lands, searing the world. And when the moon climbed into the dark of night, a frigid gale pierced our homes. No matter when it came, the wind carried the same thing… Death.”
Bio: Zelda’s antagonist takes many forms: a pig-faced mutant, a blue-skinned desert nomad, a godlike warrior. He’s the only video game villain to crack my top ten. Ganon is not particularly mysterious. He just wants the Triforce (and who can blame him?) Link whips him again and again, but he doesn’t care. Another entry in the Zelda series due out soon, and he’s up for it.
#5: Dracula – Bram Stoker’s
Memorable Quote: “Listen to them—the children of the night. What music they make!”
Bio: Dracula is the best kind of villain, leastways to me. He’s ancient. He’s terrifying. His desire is not to do evil simply for evil’s sake, but for vengeance against God, for the preservation of his immortality, and for love. He’s much more romantic in the movie than in the book, but both versions have villainous value. Bram Stoker wrote him indelibly. Gary Oldman played him perfectly. Forget Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Nosferatu, etc. Vlad Dracul is where you want to be. And better still, some of his most brutal acts are based on real events. Chilling, just the way I like it.
#4: Lucifer – Paradise Lost
Memorable Quote: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
Bio: I have to tread lightly here due to Tessera Guild policy regarding religion. That said, I believe Lucifer is history’s most easily sympathized-with villain. I plunged into Paradise Lost some dozen times during my high school years. It’s no easy read, but more’s the better. Poor Satan. He’s tormented by his position of servitude. In the beginning he desires freedom, but by the end…hmmmm. His journey through the abyss might be considered a noble quest were it not for the religious aspects of his rebellion. By no means is John Milton’s work canon as far as Christianity is concerned, but I urge everyone, religious or otherwise, to try it out. Shove aside what you think you know. No evil is absolute.
# 3: Vader
Memorable Quote: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
Bio: Forgive me this, my most obvious of entries. For a long while, Vader was the standard by which I held all other villains. He has everything. He’s a warlock. He’s a swordsman. He’s physically intimidating. He casts a huge shadow (literally and figuratively) across every room he’s in. What better story (I’m looking at you, Empire Strikes Back) than one in which the bad guys win? And what villain has ever entered a room with such Force (pun intended) than Vader?
# 2: Darkness
Memorable Quote: “Every wolf suffers fleas. ‘Tis easy enough to scratch!”
Bio: Now we’re getting somewhere. If Darkness is so high on my list, it’s because he’s the purest embodiment of an antagonist. He’s not a man corrupted by tragedy or an angel cast down by his creator. He always was, always will be. And yet…even so…I find him worthy of sympathy. He hungers, as we do, to be loved. He suffers just like mankind. Like so many of us wish we could, he is passion, fire, and he wears it all on his sleeve. No matter that he wants to cover the world in eternal night. Never mind that his fits of rage shake the foundations of the earth. He is who he is, and he never regrets it. It doesn’t hurt that his voice (Tim Curry) rattles the movie screen every time he laughs, nor that Darkness’s appearance (transcendant considering the era in which it was filmed) awes and terrifies. If they ever re-release Legend in theaters, somebody call me. I’m there. I don’t care about Tom Cruise or Mia Sara. I want Darkness.
Memorable Quote: None directly.
Bio: The watercolor illustration here was painted by JRR Tolkien. It’s not exactly what you probably expected (giant fiery eyeball). In literature, Sauron was man-like. He was the chief lieutenant to the very Lucifer-like Melkor, but every once in a while the second-in-command becomes more terrifying than the master. Thousands of years old, driven by the not-initially-so-awful desire to put everything to order, Sauron becomes more terrifying as time rolls along. He’s willing to sacrifice his physical form to create a relic of absurd power (the One Ring). He doesn’t hire his armies, but breeds them. He means to clear out all the imperfections (men, elves, and almost admirably, dwarves) and afterward sit godlike atop his tower…forever. If not for his hubris (and those damn snooping hobbits) he would’ve gotten away with it, too.
Anton Chigurh – No Country for Old Men
Pinky Demons – Doom (F those guys!)
Oh, and if you want bad guys galore, check out Down the Dark Path.
Who’s your favorite villain? Drop by in the comments and let me know!
Until next time,
I’d add Amon Goeth, the camp commandant in the movie Schindler’s List. I still get creeped out thinking about him.
Pretty much any Nazi qualifies as a villain, but lacking any sympathetic quality, falls far off my list.
I agree. There’s a difference between a villain and just plain evil.
Darkness from Legend was one of the first villains I recall falling in love with—he was sooo incredible! He was my favorite character in the movie too.
One of my favorites not on this list is Prince Nuada from Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.
Very true. Moriarty at least evoked a little empathy. Sorry, I misread this, I thought it was for any villain, but it looks like it was more for the ones that evoke a little empathy – Amon from Schindler’s List has none.
No need to apologize Annie! Fictional villains are a bit different than real life madmen and mass murderers.
I’ve never seen Legend but just put it on my Netflix list. Darkness sounds like my kind of guy. 😉
Ignore all the fluffy Tom Cruise and Mia Sara parts. Get down with Darkness, Blix the goblin, and Meg Mucklebones. Make sure you snag the director’s cut. It has a genuine musical score instead of the Tangerine Dream weirdness.