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The 18 Best Villains of the 21st Century

February 20, 2018

I have a weird taste in villains. They aren’t always the evilest or most celebrated and many of the jerks featured here won’t come anywhere near a normal list that supposedly features iconic bad people. The following 18 villains range from full-on evil to slightly maniacal and they encompass everything that villainy is. What I love about these characters is that there is so much more to them than an evil laugh or black hat. If you are looking for a mustache-twirling jerk you won’t find any on this list. What will you find? A cornucopia of three-dimensional people who harass innocent people for believable reasons.

Scarecrow is my favorite villain in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Mason – Snowpiercer 

Tilda Swinton was awesome in Snowpiercer. Her performance was wildly over-the-top but it created a memorable character who felt relatable and very unlikable. Mason was a shoe loving maniac who did the dirty work on a dirty train and you kinda understood her. I’ve always been a fan of bureaucratic villains who are doing their job because they have a boss who is much crazier than they are. She kept the train on its tracks and it couldn’t have been easy appeasing everyone on board. Mason made the list because she represents the middle-manager of villains who somehow makes a mastermind’s vision work.

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Violet / Colin – Cheap Thrills

Violet and Colin make for fantastic villains because they are smarter than they seem and expertly bring the pain to unexpected schmoes. Who are they? Are they really together? The mystery behind their characters is handled perfectly because I never cared about their end game and wasn’t worried about their backstories. It’s obvious they had participated in the sick game before and everything they do leads to a heartbreaking conclusion. Thus, they are straight up psychopaths who have become good at manipulation over the course of manipulating many other people. Koechner and Paxton’s performances are spot-on and it was a fantastic surprise watching Koechner channel something relatable and very scary.

Sidenote: Technically Colin and Violet are two people which makes it 19 villains on the list. However, look at them as one team.

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Kyung-chul –  I Saw the Devil

I can’t recommend I Saw the Devil because it is way too insane for mass consumption. It is a draining experience that is anchored by an incredible performance by Min-sik Choi. His performance embodies evil and the character is so layered it’s terrifying because people this cinematically evil shouldn’t have layers. Choi is one of my favorite actors and I don’t think anybody else could pull off this performance because he is one of the few people who can blend sanity, insanity, melancholy and intelligence believably. If you are looking for something that will hurt your soul (in a good way) I totally recommend I Saw the Devil.

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Artemisia – 300: Rise of an Empire

Eva Green owned every second of 300: Rise of an Empire. She straight up went for it and seemed to be having a blast playing Artemesia. I love when actors own their roles and dive into absurdity with zero self-consciousness. Green gave us a fantastic villain who is way more textured than she had any right to be. Artemisia had something to fight for and earned her right to lead a massive army. While watching 300: Rise of an Empire I wanted her to win and eventually turn on Xerxes and conquer the world. Also, Eva Green is the best and her presence in a movie like this automatically lifts its quality and makes it much more enjoyable.

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Joe Cooper – Killer Joe

Before McC was winning Oscars he was staring in this batsh*t crazy film. Directed by William Friedkin (French Connection, Sorcerer, Exorcist) the movie allows McC to unleash his good looks and charm on the dumbest family alive. He oozes menace and should have won the Oscar for this instead of Dallas Buyers Club. I’d put Joe right next to Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) because they both manage to trick the world into thinking they are somewhat normal while being crazy beyond belief. If you are up for the insanity I guarantee the final shot will punch you in the gut and will renew your faith in the McConaissance.

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Amy Dunne – Gone Girl

Shea Serrano of The Ringer is one of my favorite writers, and I loved an article he wrote about Rosamund Pike crushing it in Gone Girl. Here is my favorite excerpt:

Pike, a British actress who is becoming an indispensable modern talent, was in 2014’s Gone Girl with Affleck, and she absolutely obliterated him (and everyone else) in it. She was a true force; she put together this very charged, very unnerving, expertly paced character that nobody had ever seen before. (It’s her eyes that pull the trick off. She made them look a million miles deep and also totally and entirely empty, which had an oddly unsettling effect. More on this in a moment.) It was, no arguing, one of the finest acting performances of the year, and it rightly earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. (The award went to Julianne Moore for her role in Still Alice. Moore is an unmistakable master, always, and even when she’s being silly she’s still remarkable, and I’m of course talking about her turn as a villain in the Kingsman universe. But Pike’s performance was an all-timer. That trophy belongs on her mantle.)

I agree that Pike’s performances is an all-timer and she did Amy Dunne proud.

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Rayna Boyanov – Spy

Rayna might be the biggest jerk on the planet. She is profane, deadly and has so much hair that it protects her when she falls to the ground. Rose Byrne is hilarious and I loved her caustic reactions and constant bickering with the equally funny Melissa McCarthy. I love how a woman who is planning on selling a nuclear bomb can come across as likable and redeemable while still being unlikeable. If you haven’t watched Spy do it now. You will love this loud kissing bad guy who dresses like a slutty dolphin trainer.

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Phantom – You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

John Turturo is amazing in You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. The reason The Phantom made the list is that of the sheer insanity of the performance. Turturo is one of my favorite actors and he dove into his performance of a Palestinian hitman with absolute aplomb. His performance is so good that whenever I think about the movie I smile and wonder why he didn’t win an Oscar for his reaction to punching a live cow during a training montage. You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is 100% bonkers, but it is original, funny and not self-conscious about its antics. Watch the clip below and tell me he isn’t the most likable “bad guy” ever.

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The Entity – It Follows

The reason the It Follows creature made the list is because it is absolutely terrifying. It never stops and has a one-track mind to kill and hunt. It will keep following you until you are dead and even if you pass along the curse it will always be coming for you. The thing is always walking and changing its rules which I like because it leaves room to explore and analyze what the heck it could be. The fact that it has the right amount of mystery surrounding it makes it more intriguing because you never know what it is doing or thinking. I just know that you never want this thing following you because it will travel very far distances (make sure to read my post about its travels).

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Goro Inagaki – 13 Assassins

I’m going to quote the great Roger Ebert when breaking down the Inagaki character:

13 Assassins has what many action pictures need, a villain who transcends evil and ascends to a realm of barbaric madness.

I agree with Ebert. The dude is the definition of a badass evil monster and I don’t think I’ve ever wanted the film’s hero to defeat a bad guy more. Inagaki represents evil unchecked and he is the perfect villain for an action film because you want to see him stopped. He is a guy who has been able to flourish and murder for years because his brother is the Shogun of Japan. He is nothing special and uses his protection to murder, rape and destroy people who can’t do anything about it. He is an evil creature that can only be stopped by people who will die in the process. This means the heroes must accept their fate and do what they have to do to stop an evil man. 13 Assassins is a great action film because you buy into the mission of the heroes.

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Anton Chigurh – No Country for Old Men

How dangerous is Anton Chigurh? That is really hard to quantify because he is the epitome of unstoppable and his brand of evil can only be compared to the bubonic plague. Whenever Chigurh is onscreen you are on-edge of your seat and when people call him “the ultimate badass” you don’t disagree. I love how Javier Bardem didn’t play Chigurh too broad and instead focused on exuding a quiet menace that you believed. When was the last time you looked at a bad guy and immediately knew they were legit? I love No Country for Old Men and a big reason for that is because it has an all-time badass bad guy.

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Dr. Jonathan Crane (AKA The Scarecrow) – The Dark Knight Trilogy

Cillian Murphy and his creepy intelligence provide a backbone to the series and a perfect representation of the Gotham villain. He is a survivor that will always be a thorn in the side of Batman and when you think he is done-and-dusted he comes back with more power. I love this type of villain because he is not all-powerful or consumed with revenge or anarchy. He is simply good enough to stay alive and prosper in the craziest city in the world without the usage of fighting skills, superpowers or face paint. Also, Cillian Murphy is awesome and seeing him reappear in each film was a big surprise and delight.

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The Joker – The Dark Knight

The reason The Joker made this list is that of one scene that features him throwing punches and kicks at Batman. I know he had a master plan and was able to rally an army of thugs who put Gotham in a headlock. However, none of that mattered to me and actually proved to be his demise because of the sheer insanity and scale of the plan. What matters most is how he got his hands dirty and lead by example via throwing punches (and using his henchmen as shields). I appreciate any human villain who tries to fistfight a superhero because it proves they aren’t scared to lead their troops.

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Baron Zemo – Captain America: Civil War

I knew I couldn’t kill them, more powerful people have tried. But, if I could get them to kill each other….

It was heartbreaking watching Zemo listen to voicemails that his deceased wife left him while superheroes tried to kill each other (which he caused) in the background during Captain America: Civil War. I love that one dude was able to create a civil war via intelligence, hate, and brutality. What Zemo did was terrible, but when he listens to those voicemails you begin to understand him and appreciate that Black Panther takes mercy upon him. I will never say what villains do is justifiable, however, I understand why Zemo went on his rampage and I’m impressed that he was able to accomplish carnage in a world full of superheroes.

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Danica Talos – Blade: Trinity

Parker Posey is transcendent (hair included) in Blade Trinity. She owns the role of a yuppy vampire who awakens a male model Dracula to battle Blade. Roger Ebert summed up her performance perfectly:

“Parker Posey is an actress I have always had affection for, and now it is mixed with increased admiration, for the way she soldiers through an impossible role, sneering like the good sport she is.”

Lake trout loving Posey soldiers on through a soul-crushing script and copious amounts of slow-motion walking. Without her, we never would have seen this kick (10-second mark) or heard the insult “c*ck juggling thunder c**t.” While watching I felt she was on another level of performance. She realized the production had its troubles (read this article) and she went full vamp. Her committed performance is one of the reasons Blade: Trinity has become a watchable bad movie staple

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Doc Ock – Spider-Man 2

Spider-Man 2 is one of my top three favorite superhero films (Unbreakable, X2) because of Alfred Molina’s performance. There is something very human about Doc Ock and that is why I was always engaged during his battles with Spider-Man. When Doc Ock met his inevitable fate it hurt my soul because he is a guy who suffered a terrible tragedy and continuously tries to do good despite the insane arms attached to him. A great hero needs a great villain and that is why Spider-Man 2 is one of the best comic adaptations ever made.

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Hans Landa – Inglorious Basterds

Christoph Waltz is one of the best actors on the planet and his portrayal of Hans Landa was perfect. He deserved to win the Academy Award and I guarantee you won’t find a better-acted villain this decade. I love how he is simultaneously smart, conniving, kind, brutal and ultimately weak. He is a man who has been given a lot of power and his downfall occurs because he never considered that other people might be smarter than him. His downfall is what makes him three-dimensional and so much more than his insanely large smoking pipe and interrogation methods. Christoph Waltz is the best.

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Stephen – Django Unchained

Stephen is a bad guy you need to watch because he is so much more than what he pretends to be. At first glance, you’d think he is the loyal right-hand man to Leonardo Dicaprio’s Calvin Candie character. However, as the movie progresses you begin to realize he is the one pulling the strings and might or might not be as fragile as he acts. My favorite moment of Django Unchained features Stephen calmly standing up without his cane and it proves he is a diabolical snake in the grass. The dude doesn’t need that cane and his entire act is a ruse to make people think he is a fragile man who is content playing second-fiddle to a powerful southern gentleman like Candie. Also, between Jumper, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kong: Skull Island as has a fantastic 21st-century villain resume.

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Honorable Mention

Red Lipstick Demon – Insidious

Insidious is a tour de force of beautiful low budget horror. The red lipstick demon is a massive jerk and the moment when he appears behind Patrick Wilson you are scarred for life. I love the Insidious trilogy and no other film series has stressed me out more. The Red Lipstick Demon represents true horror and evil because all it wants is to hunt and hurt people. When you look at the best horror films ever made they all have something in common. The best horror films feature memorable villains who pose a real threat and scare the shit out of you. Director James Wan created a villain that sticks with you and makes you think twice about the shadows in your home.

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Who are your favorite villains? We’d love to know.

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