Eric's Top 10 Villains You Love to Hate

by Eric Melin on September 11, 2007

in Top 10s

Sometimes the bad guys are way more interesting than the good guys are—just look at Russell Crowe’s performance in the recent “3:10 to Yuma.” These next ten characters are not your ordinary villains. A really good villain is more than just mean, they are the most compelling person in the shot every time they are onscreen. These next ten are so bad they’re great, with charisma so strong that you are attracted to them as much, if not more, than you are repelled. To set parameters to make it more interesting, this list excludes the AFI’s Top 3 villains of all time: Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates and Darth Vader. Be sure to check back next Tuesday for J.D.’s Top 10 Villains he loves to hate. For now, here’s mine:

Night-of-Hunter-Mitchum1. Rev. Harry Powell, The Night of the Hunter (1955), Robert Mitchum

This expressionistic masterpiece directed by Charles Laughton contains one of film’s most enduring images—the words LOVE and HATE tattooed on Mitchum’s psychotic preacher’s knuckles. What could be more frightening than a man of the cloth that weds and murders a widow and then stalks the dead couple’s children? Add to that the slow, deliberate drawl and menacing glare of a man who talks to God and twists Bible passages around for his own nefarious purposes, and you’ve got the kind of evil bogeyman who is a delicious pleasure to watch over and over again.

Ben Harper: What religion do you profess, preacher?
Rev. Harry Powell: The religion the Almighty and me worked out betwixt us.

henry rooker serial killer portrait2. Henry, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Michael Rooker

The pointlessness of murder has never been rendered so realistically as it was in John McNaughton’s harrowing no-budget wonder. Very loosely based on real-life killer Henry Lee Lucas, it isn’t a documentary, but it sometimes feels like one. The general disinterest and emptiness Rooker portrays is a chilling counterpoint to the suave elegance of someone like Hannibal Lecter. This is an absolutely soulless man who is so dulled to his own existence that he can only get off on murder, and that too is beginning to have no effect.

Henry: Yeah. I killed my mama one night. It was my 14th birthday. She was drunk, and we had an argument. She hit me with a whiskey bottle. I shot her. I shot her dead.
Becky: I thought you said you stabbed her.
Henry: Oh yeah, that’s right, I stabbed her.

schreck nosferatu3. Count Orlok, Nosferatu (1922), Max Schreck

In silent film director F.W. Murnau’s film version of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” the Count is no suave sexual predator in regal dress. He is a hunchbacked, pointy-eared monster with sunken eyes and long, knife-like fingernails. As Schreck’s Orlok emerges from the ever-present shadows, his hideous, emaciated frame comes into view and is forever etched into our collective nightmares. It helps that the movie was silent, for the vampire exists purely as a visual image, realized in no small part by Murnau’s surrealistic cinematography.

Count Orlok: (intertitles) Is this your wife? What a lovely throat.

aguirre kinski4. Don Lope de Aguirre, Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Klaus Kinski

Oh, the horror, indeed. Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now” ain’t got nothin’ on Klaus Kinski’s mad Spanish explorer, tortured by the cruel inevitability of nature on a voyage down the Amazon River. Kinski’s eyes blaze with insanity as his quest for glory leads him to destroy everything in his path, including his daughter and himself. Director Werner Herzog’s long and circling camera takes around Kinski underline how alone this power-hungry madman has become.

Don Lope de Aguirre: (in German) That man is a head taller than me. That may change.

cagney white heat cody jarrett5. Cody Jarrett, White Heat (1949), James Cagney

Cagney’s most memorable psychopathic killer had one weakness, and a bizarre one for a 1940s anti-hero—a severe Oedipus complex. After discovering his mother has been killed, Cody’s rage goes through the roof and he escapes from prison to avenge dear old Mom and bully everyone he sees. Cagney’s cold-blooded nonchalance was pretty daring stuff for its time, especially when he shoots a man through the trunk of a car while casually chewing on a chicken leg.

Cody Jarrett: Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

Roy Parker: It’s stuffy in here, I need some air.
Cody Jarrett: Oh, stuffy, huh? I’ll give ya a little air. [pulls a gun from his pants and shoots four times into the trunk]

kingsley sexy beast don logan6. Don Logan, Sexy Beast (2000), Ben Kingsley

This is about as far from “Gandhi” as you can get. Ben Kingsley received an Oscar nomination for playing this British mobster with the barely contained rage of a pit bull who tries to convince his old retired “pal” to get in on one last heist. Don alternates between childishly hilarious and downright terrifying, even practicing his glowering routine in the mirror. All the tension in the film comes from the fact that somebody will have to eventually give in. Don seems incapable. He is an immovable object who will recognize one answer only from his old buddy’s mouth.

Don: Yes, yes, yes, yes!

Don: Talk to me, Gal. I’m here for you. I’m a good listener.
Gal: What can I say, Don? I’ve said it all. I’m retired.
Don: Shut up.

spacey john doe seven se7en7. John Doe, Se7en (1995), Kevin Spacey

The polar opposite of Kingsley’s hotheaded gangster, Kevin Spacey projects the coolest, calmest aura of any serial killer. He benefits from the Harry Lime treatment for sure (named after Orson Welles in “The Third Man,” where characters talk about you for over half the film before you ever show up, therefore building endless anticipation). But when John Doe is finally revealed, Spacey’s stillness is particularly disturbing. Spacey was not yet a household name, but his name was removed from the opening credits so nobody would know who played the killer until the end.

John Doe: Realize detective, the only reason that I’m here right now is that I wanted to be.
David Mills: No, no, we would have got you eventually.
John Doe: Oh really? So, what were you doing? Biding your time? Toying with me? Allowing five innocent people to die until you felt like springing your trap? Tell me, what was the indisputable evidence you were going to use on me right before I walked up to you and put my hands in the air?

bateman bale american psycho8. Patrick Bateman, American Psycho (2000), Christian Bale

This is one of those rarest of instances that a movie is light years better than the book (see also “3:10 to Yuma”). Reading page after tedious page of minutiae makes a strong impression in Bret Easton Ellis’ novel, but also a frustrating read. Christian Bale embodies obsessed psycho killer Patrick Bateman so perfectly that we get the pitch-black satire and the film’s criticism of rampant materialism without having to endure every single one of the book’s banalities.

Paul Allen: Is that a raincoat?
Patrick Bateman: Yes it is! In ’87, Huey [Lewis] released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is “Hip to be Square”, a song so catchy, most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself. Hey Paul! [bashes Allen in the head with the axe] Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you fucking stupid bastard! You fucking bastard!

general zod terence stamp superman II9. General Zod, Superman II (1980), Terence Stamp

Kryptonian criminal General Zod might not be the most menacing villain in the world now, but to this 9-year old he sure was. “Superman II” is still my favorite of the series partly because of Zod’s holier-than-thou routine. British actor Terence Stamp had the authority and the accent to appear unstoppable, and his delivery was perfectly deadpan It is the perfect blend of the terrifyingly unimaginable (sending U.S. astronauts careening off into space after ripping their space suits, making the President kneel before him) and the campy (see below).

Ursa: [watching an Army helicopter] Look. They need machines to fly.
General Zod: What bravery. Be nice to them, my dear. Blow them a kiss.

General Zod: This Superman is nothing of the kind. You see, I’ve discovered his weakness. He cares. He actually cares for these Earth people.
Ursa: Like pets?
General Zod: I suppose so.

travolta terl battlefield earth10. Terl, Battlefield Earth (2000), John Travolta

If you think about it, John Travolta does fit the criteria here. You certainly can’t take your eyes off him when he’s onscreen! I love to hate this performance not because it is such a transcendent portrait of villainy but because Travolta as Terl the Psychlo is so unbelievably bad that it almost makes Forest Whitaker’s performance as Ker bearable. Stuffed into his 7-foot tall space suit like a spoiled sausage, Travolta resembles a cross between Rob Zombie and Mr. Spock with a bad goatee. Add to that his high-pitched timbre and constant babbling about “the Academy,” and you have one of the most unintentionally funny villains ever.

Terl: Crap-lousy ceiling! I thought I told to get some man-animals in here and fix it.

Terl: Attention. This is Terl, your chief of security. Exterminate all man-animals at will, and happy hunting!

Terl: While you were still learning how to spell your name, I was being trained to conquer galaxies!

Terl: You wouldn’t last one day at the Academy

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 awas1980 September 11, 2007 at 11:21 am

Great list, Kingsley was amazing in Sexy Beast. A few personal favorites…

Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) – Blue Velvet, Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!

Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) (aka the Henny Youngman of Horror), Welcome to primetime bitch!

Bill (David Carradine) – Kill Bill, I’m a killer. A murdering bastard, you know that. And there are consequences to breaking the heart of a murdering bastard.

Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) – Goodfellas, Oh I like this one… One dog goes one way, the other dog goes the other way, and this guy’s sayin’, “Whadda ya want from me?”


2 Eric Melin September 11, 2007 at 2:36 pm

Yep, I’m glad you mentioned those! Booth and (Kill) Bill almost made my list, although the Henny Youngman of horror never did much for me beyond the first movie. The girl in the bodybag dragging blood down the school hallway was cre-e-e-e-py, though.


3 Dana September 11, 2007 at 5:21 pm

It took me 3 vacations to get through the “American Psycho” book because Ellis is SO detailed. Props to you for including Patrick Bateman on your list, because as you said the movie is much better than the book!

PS I have to agree with “awas1980″ about Freddy Krueger. If you don’t like the series, do you at least love the Dokken video for “Dream Warriors”? It’s pretty scary! haha


4 Matthew Brown September 12, 2007 at 6:35 am

William Zabka…it’s too early in the morning…more later…


5 Eric Melin September 12, 2007 at 7:56 am

Oh, yes. He was pretty villainous in “The Karate Kid.” For a guy with 2 KK movies and only 3 more of note, he’s got a pretty big cult following. He must have made a big impression as Johnny.
Back to School (1986) …. Chas
National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985) …. Jack
Just One of the Guys (1985) …. Greg Tolan


6 Eric Melin September 12, 2007 at 7:59 am


We almost named our World Series of Pop Culture team the Dream Warriors instead of Westerburg High. VH1 like WH better. I guess they like obscure Replacements references better than obscure Dokken references. I hope Dokken opens for Van Halen in October.


7 DS September 12, 2007 at 4:08 pm

What about Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), Die Hard (Alan Rickman), Edward Norton in American History X, or even Psycho (Anthony Perkins).

Just some evil that comes to mind that have helped shape my love of villans.


8 DS September 12, 2007 at 4:16 pm

BTW – The Replacements suck. Paul W is a hack, a product of the times. Pop Culture team the Dream Warriors would have made you #1


We almost named our World Series of Pop Culture team the Dream Warriors instead of Westerburg High. VH1 like WH better. I guess they like obscure Replacements references better than obscure Dokken references. I hope Dokken opens for Van Halen in October.


9 Matthew Brown September 12, 2007 at 6:22 pm

William Zabka is indeed a badass. But here is my real list of favs (not in order):

Blofeld (Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice)
Judge Doom (Roger Rabbit)
Hans Grueber (Die Hard)
Nurse Ratchet (Cuckoo’s Nest)
Jack Torrence (The Shining)
Beetlejuice (Beetlejuice)
Chip Douglas (Cable Guy)
Shark (Jaws)
Col. Kurtz (Apocaplyse Now)

I’m not sure if these all meet your definition of villains…but I like them…so back off!


10 Dana September 12, 2007 at 7:03 pm

Dokken would be a perfect fit since there’s only 2 original members left! (I saw them open for Poison one year and they did NOT play Dream Warriors). Although I am against Van Halen touring without Michael Anthony, I am trying to get free tickets through some friends at the radio station. Do you know who is really being rumored to tour with them?

Also “Dream Warriors” holds a special place in my heart because my friend’s band “Mach Rocket 3000″ played the beginning of that song at one of their last shows and made me finish the lyrics in order to get a Freddy Krueger action figure. (I apologize, I know this is in no way related to Villains You Love to Hate).


11 Alan Rapp September 12, 2007 at 10:47 pm

Where’s Ming? C’mon man! How you gonna punk Max von Sydow like that?


12 Eric Melin September 13, 2007 at 7:43 am


No idea who’s touring with the Halen. If not Dokken, how about Bang Tango?


If Von Sydow would have been on the list, it would have been for Brewmeister Smith in “Strange Brew,” not “Flush Gordon.”


Bates and Lecter are not on the list per the opening paragraph. Disqualified. Too obvious. I didn’t want to make a Top 13, so I left them and Vader off. Alan Rickman was great in “Die Hard,” but he made the AFI list ('s_100_Years…_100_Heroes_and_Villains)that I was trying hard not to replicate too much of, so…maybe JD will vindicate you next Tuesday. As for your Westerburg comment, you are so high. A product of the times? Like Eddy Grant or Toni Basil? A hack? Ugh.


Chip Douglas? Yes. THAT’S a good one. And, man, I hated Nurse Ratched something fierce. Nice.


13 Jon Sholly September 18, 2007 at 2:06 pm

Oh dear, “Flush Gordon”? Eric, please reconsider. That movie is so incredibly retarded, it makes Battlefield Earth look decent. I’m sorry, Battlefield Earth looks decent compared to no other movie. But still, between the soundtrack, the effects and the dialogue (I’m assuming it is intentional) Flash Gordon totally delivers. I paraphrase:

AURA- Look, water is leaking from her eyes!

MING- They’re called “tears.” It’s a sign of their weakness.


14 Eric Melin September 18, 2007 at 2:27 pm

Even with all that going for it, I tried to watch it recently (within the last 5 years) & it was a b(ch)ore. The two lines you have just quoted are almost enough to make me want to try for a third time to like this movie– even as a piece of trash a la the “‘Field.”
Flash Gordon, quarterback, NY Jets!


15 Eric Melin September 18, 2007 at 2:31 pm
16 Paul Mazzoni September 20, 2007 at 12:35 am

You probably know what I am going to say….Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker. “Bitches, leave” indeed.


17 Travis September 20, 2007 at 1:30 pm

I’m just going to say Gary Oldman…he’s inherently evil, and incredibly awesome at it!

This doesn’t fit the definition but i had to add it.


18 Eric Melin September 20, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Paul- Yes! Kurtwood Smith is evil AND hilarious in “Robocop.” Touche. (That word looks faintly disgusting without the accent aigu.)

Travis- I was going to say look at JD’s list, but it looks like you already have!


19 Chris Knudsen September 22, 2007 at 5:11 am

I read some Mr. DS thinks the Replacements sucks and I am in shock. Then I realized he was talking about the band and not the uplifting Keaneu Reeves rag tag football comedy vehicle. They don’t make movies like they used to.


20 Charles September 24, 2007 at 7:14 pm

How ’bout Bill the Butcher in “Gangs of New York”? Ahhhhh…he was a fine one. Best ever, though, has gotta be crazy unidentified-gas-huffin’ Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet”. I’m scared of him, he lives down the street from me.


21 Eric Melin September 24, 2007 at 11:49 pm

yeah, Bill the Butcher would have been a good one too. It was so weird how he was a lock on the Oscar (him or Nicholson for “About Schmidt”), and they lost to Adrien Brody for “The Piano” (which was amazing!). But I partially blame Cameron Diaz for that loss, not Day-Lewis.


22 Chris Andersen September 27, 2007 at 7:49 am

I don’t want to disrespect anyone for their personal preferences but I fail to understand how a film person could, in good conscience, leave Rutger Hauer off any list of the most memorable movie villains of all time. Beginning with the role of Roy Batty in Bladerunner, followed by his unforgettable portrayal of John Ryder in The Hitcher (I never again hitchhiked anywhere after seeing this movie!), and in numerous roles since, Rutger Hauer has painted a series of indelible and wholly nightmarish images of stone-cold, soulless evil personified. He gets my vote for scariest movie villain of all time (Laurence Olivier’s Dr. Christian Szell notwithstanding).


23 Eric Melin September 27, 2007 at 1:14 pm

I’ll tell you exactly how that happens: There’s only room for ten. While I don’t think much of “The Hitcher,” I love Roy Batty in Blade Runner. Hauer also manages to make him very sympathetic as well, which is a nice touch. Here’s how much I love “Blade Runner”:


24 jim stuart September 27, 2007 at 1:50 pm

My fave: Denzel Washington as the character in “Training Day”. Absolutely terrifying.


25 jamie October 24, 2007 at 12:02 pm

all these people saying there is no question that ‘american psycho’ (the movie) is WAY BETTER then the book version?

did i miss something? i have never heard that. the book is fantastic (BEE is a brilliant writer) and the movie, as good as i think it is, pails in compairison ( i think it could use at lest 45 more minutes of characterization). complaining about his attention to detail misses the whole point of vanity, materialization, and greed in a souless society (or group) determined by these things.


26 James October 24, 2007 at 8:35 pm

Lee Marvin in:
Seven men from now
The man who shot liberty valance
The Big Heat
The Killers

and Gig Young in Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia


27 Jay Smith December 25, 2007 at 7:16 am

The American Psycho statement was incomprehensable, the book was loads better, and the first 125 pages prior to “the good stuff” was what set up the whole novel. The dropping of a sick line here and there until you were immersed in blood and guts was truly genius. Also, have either of you people seen Rob Roy? Tim Roth should be on the top of these lists as he delivered a jaw-droppingly evil performance, and nothing made me happier than watching him die. The movie was better than the book….in the immortal words of Matt Damon in beautiful girls, “You been eatin retard sandwiches again”.


28 Eric Melin December 25, 2007 at 2:48 pm

sorry, Jay, “Psycho” the movie was clever and sly, the book was a drawn-out slog of obviousness. Roth WAS good in “Rob Roy,” but that’s not a great movie or one that I’ve seen more than once, so his performance didn’t make it on my list. I also remember it as being pretty hammy; not like Pacino in “Devil’s Advocate,” but pretty hammy.


29 film dude January 19, 2008 at 2:53 pm

christian bale was genius in american phsycho, did an awesome job of being a sincere villian


30 Natassia Malthe April 7, 2008 at 9:49 am

Hi…Thanks for the nice read, keep up the interesting posts about klaus kinski..what a nice Sunday .


31 Me June 7, 2010 at 9:56 am

Tommy De Vito from Goodfellas has got to be the best villain ever and also Begbie from Trainspotting.


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