15. Frank – Once Upon a Time in The West (1968)
The legendary filmmaker Sergio Leone wanted to shock the audience by giving Henry Fonda, one of the America’s favorite good guys, the role of the ruthless, sadistic killer working for a railroad baron who has his eyes on the piece of land owned by a beautiful and stubborn woman.
From the first frame which he is in, Henry Fonda mesmerizes the audience, delivering a truly captivating performance. He enters the movie by cruelly executing a child who heard his name, and finishes with the famous “keep your loving brother happy“ sequence. Both of those scenes and everything in between is showered with his unique talent to produce fear wherever he appears.
Like any other practical man, he will do absolutely anything to achieve his goals. He is certainly evil and cynical, but not mindless – he isn’t particularly ambitious, yet he doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone who crosses his path. Fonda’s iconic icy cold stare and glorious screen presence made Frank one of the most memorable villains of all time. In Henry’s own words, Frank was his favorite character he had ever played.
14. Hans Landa – Inglourious Basterds (2009)
The Best Supporting Actor Oscar is a proof that Quentin Tarantino was right to search for a German-speaking actor instead of Leonardo DiCaprio to play “The Jew Hunter“, Hans Landa. Christoph Waltz was magnificent from the first scene in which he interrogates a French farmer who hides a Jewish family, and he stays in the viewer’s mind till the very end. He is an extremely intelligent, persistent and cruel character, but when necessary, he can also be a charming sweet-talker.
The mixture of his fluency in many languages, methodical approach in locating Jews, and a sarcastic sense of humor, makes him really interesting to watch, and you can’t wait to see what he will be up to next. Waltz expressed Landa’s sociopathic nature with great sincerity and showed him as an apolitical opportunist who is a member of Nazi party strictly out of interest, chasing a better career and more power for himself.
At the end, there is a beautiful transformation when Landa is finally captured and loses all his previous arrogance in a second. In QT’s own words, Waltz’s performance is what made this movie possible.
13. Harry Powell – The Night of The Hunter (1955)
Robert Mitchum had already had a history of playing shady characters, but never before Reverend Harry Powell did he personify pure evil. It became his favorite role ever, and he felt very comfortable in the skin of a misogynistic preacher, thief and serial killer who marries wealthy widows and then kills them for their money.
Powell exudes viciousness throughout the movie and he is genuinely scary while he is delivering his famous sermon about the eternal fight between good and evil pointing to his tattooed knuckles. Driven by fanatical hatred towards women and sex, he believes to be doing a God’s work, for “there’s a lot of killin’s in the book“. This is one of Mitchum’s most acclaimed roles, and Harry remained one of the most influential villains of all time even today, after nearly six decades.
12. Nurse Ratched – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
The fact that Louise Fletcher had virtually no acting experience before filming this movie seems quite incredible if we know what she did with this role. She causes an irresistible urge in a viewer to see her suffering in agony, and she does so using only her voice, which she almost never raises. She is mostly calm, frigid, and artificially polite to her patients.
Fletcher gave a truly mesmerizing portrayal of a person reduced to the function she performs, to a mere instrument of the system. She is even more dangerous because she truly thinks she helps her patients by treating them like that. Her face expressions are also magnificent, she can express extreme anxiety when things don’t go her way or when some patient is disobedient.
A perfect minion of the system, a screw in the mechanism, created to destroy people’s freedom. Needless to say, Louise Fletcher earned an Academy Award for her fabulous job.
11. Angel Eyes – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)
Arguably the best western of all time needed to have an appropriate villain, and he was found in the character of Angel Eyes, a cruel and ruthless killer who always finishes the job he’s paid for. Interested only in finding out the location of the infamous loot, he beats, tortures and kills different people, having no regrets.
Lee van Cleef successfully switches from the good guy role in the previous movie from the trilogy, to the astonishingly evil character in this one – cold, calculated and unflinchingly sadistic murderer. He completes the trio as a man of few words and with no moral scruples. A truly fantastic role for the actor who had had the experience of playing villains already, but never was as cold and cunning, but at the same time, strangely charismatic, as here. He was simply born to play this role.
10. Frank Booth – Blue Velvet (1986)
Dennis Hopper begged David Lynch to let him play Frank “because he is Frank“, and he really played the role as if he was. He seems extremely relaxed as a man who is an extremely violent gangster, a pimp with a sadomasochistic urges, and a gas-inhaling bisexual with split personality. Frank is a strong antagonistic force of the movie, he makes the viewers hate him from the first scene, but since he is so uniquely bizarre, he is a very memorable character.
Hopper balances between sadness and rage in an instant – and he is completely believable while he is beating his victims, enjoying Roy Orbison’s music at the same time. He contributed greatly to a generally dark atmosphere of the movie. Not many actors would have succeeded to create such a grim and genuinely sick character.
9. Amon Goeth – Schindler’s List (1993)
Among many fantastic acting performances in this movie, one stands out – Ralph Fiennes was the best actor of the whole ensemble, his bone-chilling portrayal of Amon Goeth. He plays him as the epitome of evil, and the scenes where he takes down Jews with a sniper, and talks about making history, are truly harrowing.
His character is actually based on the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, and some viewers were genuinely frightened seeing him in the flesh, wearing a Nazi uniform, because he reminded them of the real Amon Goeth. His cruelty is also one of the reasons why the main character becomes a humanitarian, so he is, in a way, essential for the story itself.
Even though Amon Goeth doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, Fiennes manages to portray him as a multi-layered character, and make him the most famous real-life villain in the history of cinema.
8. Alex Delarge – A Clockwork Orange (1971)
This controversial role made Malcolm McDowell a household name back in the seventies. He is simply perfect as an ultraviolent veteran juvenile delinquent, who, although being the youngest member, leads a gang of droogs, which takes a perverse pleasure in robbing, beating and raping innocent people in near-future England. In the first part of the movie, he is evil personified, a Beethoven-loving, opiated-milk-drinking lunatic.
McDowell then painlessly moves on to portray Alex differently when he is reformed in jail, and has great difficulty to adapt to the society he had previously created. He is someone who we love to hate, someone who represents everything that’s worst in all of us, and Malcolm McDowell seemed to play him with relish.
Even though he is clearly meant to be detested, you cannot help being intrigued by his demented, psychotic mind. We can easily say that this is the role that inspired an entire generation, and it’s one of the most thought-provoking roles of all time.