7. John Doe – Seven (1995)
The iconic appearance of Kevin Spacey in this movie lasts for only about 20 minutes, yet after the ending credits roll, it is forever carved into the minds of the viewers. He didn’t want to be credited at the beginning in order for the audience to be shocked and appalled when he appears.
“Seven“ is considered to be one of the best thrillers in the last thirty years, and one of the contributing factors is certainly having a genuinely terrifying villain, who doesn’t flinch when talking about gruesome crimes he committed, in order to draw the world’s attention to our sinful society.
Very well-educated, very intelligent, and very rich, John Doe is a kind of bad guy you secretly admire because he never misses anything, and he is extremely clever. The arguments he offers make viewers look deep down into the dark corners of their own psyche. A harrowing finale in which he wipes a sarcastic grin off the main character’s face will stay with you forever and a day. The character of John Doe is a vital factor for the quality of this movie, which is every bit as good as “The Silence of the Lambs“.
6. Norman Bates – Psycho (1960)
So much has already been written about everyone involved in making this movie, but when we talk about the best villains, one must surely remember Norman Bates.
Anthony Perkins gave a performance of his career, but he is so understated here, that his brilliance almost passes you by. He is quiet and unassuming (if not a bit weird), but you can see how he loses it when he speaks against putting people in mental institutions. His brilliantly nuanced portrayal reflects the tormented soul that has suffered for years, and he manages to be creepy and unsettling, yet strangely charismatic and magnetizing, in almost every scene he is in.
It is a joy to behold how he fights with himself and his own distorted mind whether to come on to Marion (whom he is obviously attracted to) or not.
This is probably the horror movie with the strongest central character to date, and beautiful, subtle character transformations that Anthony Perkins performs, are simply among the best ever to grace the big screen.
5. Jack Torrance – The Shining (1980)
This brilliant movie about a writer’s descent into madness wouldn’t have been half as effective if it weren’t for Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson. The latter’s masterful performance still stands out as probably the scariest role in a horror movie, and no one else would have done it better than him.
He starts out as a happy, grinning writer who came to be the caretaker at a hotel during winter and work on his new novel in peace, and winds up as a complete madman, haunted by the pictures from the past and the present, drawn into the otherworldly environment of the hotel.
The portrayal is surely over the top, but that’s why it is so brilliant. Nicholson played the part with great ease, his facial expressions, ironic voice, and creepy conversations with everyone around him, are truly hypnotic. And the sequences after he falls under the spell of the hotel and sets out to “correct“ his family are going to stay with you for a long time. And don’t forget – all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
4. Anton Chigurh – No Country for Old Men (2007)
The character played by Javier Bardem has already made it to many lists of the best villains, even though the film is only 7 years old. Bardem didn’t think he was fit to play Anton at first, for he hated violence, drove badly and spoke below average English. However, the Coens followed their vision, thus creating an extremely memorable murderer, who feels no compassion or remorse towards his victims (he often decides about their destiny by simply flipping a coin), and yet, has a twisted moral code of his own.
In some aspects, he bears a strange resemblance to the Terminator, since he is capable of enduring great pain, and he is almost unstoppable when he wants to kill his victims. Actually, he kills most of the characters he meets or talks to, showing no mercy or sympathy whatsoever. He may look funny with his unconventional hairstyle, but he is the kind of guy you don’t want to mess with. Ever.
3. Hannibal Lecter – The Silence of The Lambs (1991)
If we know that Anthony Hopkins has only 17 minutes of screen time in this movie, we cannot help admiring his fascinating skill and talent. From the first shot we see Hannibal, our eyes remain glued to the screen – he is the driving force of the movie, and we cannot wait for the next scene with him to come.
Everything about him is mesmerising – from the paralyzing, quiet voice (Anthony Hopkins describes it as the mixture between Truman Capote and Katharine Hepburn), to the capability of penetrating the deepest ends of Starling’s mind. His brilliance is so compelling that we almost forget that he is a killer and a cannibal.
The way he stares at Clarice, never blinking, his fascinating vocabulary with intelligent sarcasm and frankness, and his cool, creepy demeanor, are always fresh and intriguing. Decision about giving him an Oscar was truly a piece of cake, with all due respect to Robert de Niro and the rest.
2. Darth Vader – Star Wars Franchise (1977-1983)
One of the most intriguing characters in Star Wars universe, a former Jedi, seduced by the dark side, is still a pop culture icon, although more than three and a half decades have passed since his first appearance.
The most fascinating thing about this character has to be his most unusual destiny, which is entirely different from the one that was projected for him, he brought war instead of peace, hell instead of heaven. Still, he manages to overcome this twist of fate, when fatherly love brings him back to the light side, thus making him one of the most complex characters in movie history.
Of course, it is certain that his status wouldn’t be so legendary if it wasn’t for his legendary voice, provided by none other than the great James Earl Jones. Darth Vader went on to become one of the most referenced characters in popular culture, and one of the most popular villains in cinema history.
1. The Joker – The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath Ledger completely redefined the Joker’s character in comparison to Jack Nicholson’s devilishly funny and cheerful lunatic. Instead, he managed to create a much more sociopathic, yet strangely likeable character, a weird psychopath who almost never laughs, and was conceived completely differently from his precursor.
He did so by living in a complete isolation for several weeks, and writing the Joker’s diary, trying to understand his character as much as possible. He did an incredible job, the viewers simultaneously admire him because he is smart and witty, and are afraid of him because of his sinister urges.
Ledger’s extensive preparation paid off handsomely, for he picked up every single award he had been nominated for. Some people would say that his premature death helped him to get all the awards, but he really did a fantastic job in the role of the laughing maniac in a purple suit, you have to be blind not to see that.
Author Bio: Dusan is an English language and literature teacher and a movie aficionado with a special interest in classic cinema. Watching many movies has greatly enriched him as a person. He’s also an amateur blogger and a book, music and sports lover.