10. Don Logan (Sexy Beast)
It would be hard to believe that Ben Kingsley, best known for portraying historic peaceful figure Ghandi, could become such a sociopathic, cutthroat and obsessive character that is about as far away from his role as the political leader as possible.
But you witness Logan’s willingness to hurt anyone that dares to defy him, doing anything that is necessary to get what he wants and his principle of never taking no for an answer. Then you believe it, and you’re left awe struck by his villainy.
9. Calvin Candie (Django Unchained)
When we first meet Calvin Candie in Tarantino’s western homage, he is cheering on as two slaves fight to the death for his amusement. He is another example of a villain that reviles you for every second that he is on screen.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s plantation owner has no restorative qualities to him, his thoughts on race are simply sickening, his objectification of human beings is appalling and his sheer aggression is beyond fearsome. Candie is a borderline psychopath who acts in such a civilised manner, only to turn with the brutality of an animal fighting for survival, it is purely revolting.
8. Bill Cutting (Gangs of New York)
Leave it to Daniel Day Lewis to give us one of the most formidable yet sensitive antagonists in recent cinema history. Any crime figure with ‘The Buthcer’ as their nickname is naturally going to be unpleasant, but the intimidation of Day Lewis in this role creates an undeniable sense of fear every time he is on screen, fear of what his next ruthless move will be, and the extent of it.
The intelligence that comes through in the character only attributes to that fear as he tactically manoeuvres through the crime world and strikes out with ferocious acts of violence.
7. Sauron (The Lord of the Rings)
Though there are many henchmen and underlings at the dark lord’s disposal (including the equally impressive Saruman), his omnipresent stature and sheer power make him a force to be dreaded throughout the epic trilogy.
Sauron is notable simply for the pureness of his evil, the way that the symbol of his giant, all seeing eye unites our heroes and strikes terror into their hearts means that it resonates strongly with the audience as well. There’s a unique nature to the insidiousness of his influence as well in the form of a gradual, all-consuming corruption over years and decades.
6. Ze Pequeno (City of God)
There is a lot to be said for an antagonist that commits acts of unspeakable evil without remorse, without regret, without any hesitation whatsoever. Such a character can be found in the Brazilian crime epic City of God.
Though there are many reprehensible characters, Ze takes the cake as a loose cannon with no repentance for any of the many murders he commits during the film. Perhaps the most horrific is a flashback chronicling him massacring an entire hospital at age twelve, just for the fun of it. He is intense, merciless, unpredictable and utterly unscrupulous.
5. Aileen Wuornos (Monster)
Charlize Theron’s physical transformation to portray serial killer Aileen Wuornos is a feat of the aesthetic alteration actors make for movies. Her performance received universal critical praise as well as an Oscar for Best Actress, fully embodying the antisocial and mentally disturbed personality of a woman cruelly warped by life.
It’s not just the portrayal of her various personality disorders that make her a truly exceptional screen villain, it is the fact that she attempts to better herself but is intellectually unequipped to do so, inevitably she falls back to crime to accomplish this, only to commit another in order to cover it up.
4. Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds)
How many villains from all of cinema history, let alone just the 21st Century, bring forward such an air of terror and evil mixed with such charisma and, dare I say, likability?
The Nazi Colonel from Quentin Tarantino’s World War 2 epic somehow maintained a sense of dignity and malice at the same time, Landa took pride in his nickname of ‘The Jew Hunter’ yet was willing to double cross the Nazi party at the drop of a hat, he was charming enough to appear at a formal reception yet murder a woman in cold blood in the very next room to the fine dining.
It is almost unnerving the way that his allure and magnetism draw us in as well, even though his eventual fate was still immensely satisfying, we laughed along with Landa when we had the chance.
3. Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood)
Another Daniel Day Lewis performance makes the list, and what a performance it is. Plainview starts out as a man with raw ambition, a man strives to succeed unlike anyone else around him. This greed consumes him, robs him of his humanity and leaves a shell of a man behind, one that still has the will to carry on no matter what the cost and above all else, crush his opposition.
His empathy and compassion for anything other than his own fortune is lost, and morality is no longer a concern to him. Even when he tries to reach out in some human way, his own pride and motivation destroy them. It is a dark take on the American Dream and one that demonstrates the corrupting nature of power and resolve.
2. The Joker (The Dark Knight)
Is there even anything left to say about Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker? It feels like everything has been written already and with very good reason. This portrayal is quite simply the best example of a foil in cinema history, a perfect counterpart to the hero. Whereas Batman wants to uphold order, The Joker thrives on chaos and destruction. He even admits several times that his purpose comes from Batman, stating that he ‘completes’ him.
The fact that he knows it possibly makes it more disturbing as that is virtually accepting that ultimately he commits his crimes simply for someone to uphold them, which is virtually what all great villains are conceived to do.
1. Anton Chigurgh (No Country For Old Men)
There is nothing about Javier Bardem’s paradoxical hitman that cannot be described with the word unsettling. Everything from his appearance to his ‘normal’ mannerisms are all there to unnerve and worry the viewer.
Despite this sociopathic quality, the remorseless violence he commits are still shocking, mostly because of his relatively monotone style for the rest of the film, it’s only when he is in the act of killing that Chigurgh seems to display high emotion, and disturbingly that emotion seems to be pleasure.
The emptiness within him is beyond unnatural, his disregard for human life makes you question if he is at all human and the efficiency with which he carries out his crimes conveys a detached and otherworldly quality. He is an unstoppable machine that chews through bodies and leaves little mess behind and is undoubtedly the most terrifying human to come out of 21st century cinema.