A good villain can make the difference between an all-time classic film and one that is quickly forgotten. Though you may not always root for them, it is often the villain that drives the greatest movie plots. Still, regardless of how great a bad guy is, we know that, in the end, it is their job to take the final blow and allow good to reign supreme.
But that’s not always the case. On rare occasions, we are actually treated to a villain whose twisted works aren’t completely undone by the movie’s end. On even rarer occasions, we even see baddies who manage to achieve total and undisputed victory over their protagonistic counterparts. It’s not often that you see a villain win in such a manner, but a film that dares to go there is almost impossible to forget.
Obviously, SPOILERS lie ahead for our collection of the 15 Movie Villains Who Achieved Total Victory.
15. Mr. Glass – Unbreakable
For the majority of Unbreakable, Elijah Price is not the film’s villain. He’s a curious party who has an interest in our hero’s abilities, as he truly believes that he may just be a real-life superhero. As the audience, we sympathize with Price, as his views on the matter echo our own wishes. It’s why we feel so betrayed when we learn that Price also so happens to be the facilitator of a great number of horrific incidents when he reveals himself to be a real-world supervillain by the name of Mr. Glass.
Even though Price is locked up in a mental institution because of his actions by the film’s end, it’s impossible to not consider his victory to be total. Price wanted to prove that Bruce Willis was a real life superhero — and he did. Price wanted to prove that despite his physical shortcomings, he was, in fact, the perfect supervillain — and he did. Besides, how many times has the Joker been locked away only to terrorize again? Don’t count this guy out.
14. Leonard – Memento
Memento remains one of the most ambitious and complicated concepts ever put to film. This story of a short term memory loss-suffering former insurance investigator trying to piece together the events surrounding the murder of his girlfriend in order to find the killer is as infamous for its playful manipulation of chronological storytelling as it is for the final twist: that Leonard is actually his girlfriend’s killer.
With that information in hand, we as the audience must come to accept the conclusion that Leonard has won. Here is a man that killed his own girlfriend and has, by all accounts, turned himself into a sympathetic, even tragic, figure. In reality, however, he has concocted a lie so perfect that he not only is able to escape persecution for his crimes, but he also never needs to deal with the emotional guilt of his actions, as his twisted mind has convinced itself that he is on an eternal quest to find the true killer.
13. Aaron Stampler – Primal Fear
Throughout much of its runtime, Primal Fear presents itself not as a story about a villain attempting to achieve victory, but rather as one trying to seek a sort of redemption. We watch as high-profile defense attorney Martin Vale (a man who has made a career out of defending clearly guilty clients) take on a pro-bono case involving an altar boy named Aaron Stampler with multiple personality disorder, who allegedly killed his minister.
Vale takes this case because he believes that Stampler is truly innocent. As it turns out, Stampler is not only very much guilty of the crime, but has been successfully lying about his multiple personality disorder from the start in order to influence an insanity dismissal. Upon discovering this revelation, Vale is left with the realization that his morality is just as dirty as ever, his prosecutor ex-girlfriend may have just lost her career over the matter, and Stampler is the only one who walked away with what he wanted. Damn you, Edward Norton!
12. Louis Bloom – Nightcrawler
Louis Bloom is pretty much pure evil. Worse than that, he is the kind of pure evil that you might expect to find living right next door to you. Though ultimately just a man, Bloom has long abandoned any semblance of humanity in favor of pursuing any venture that will benefit him and him alone. This philosophy eventually attracts Bloom to the world of paparazzi-style news recording.
The worst part is that Nightcrawler leads us to believe that Bloom will ultimately get his in the end, but that doesn’t prove to be the case. At all. Instead, we come to find that Bloom will not only avoid prosecution for his various crimes, but that he’s found himself a very profitable place in the world of violent news reporting. Things could not have gone better for this madman.
11. Azazel – Fallen
Fallen’s premise revolves around a detective who begins to suspect that a serial killer he arrested years ago is somehow back on the streets — despite the fact that he was executed on death row. As it turns out, the murders are being committed by a vengeful demon named Azazel who has the ability to move between bodies. Pretty neat, huh?
It is. What’s even neater is the ending, which sees the detective poison himself in a remote location shortly before he is possessed by Azazel in order to kill him. Although that ending would have been depressing enough, it turns out that the demon managed to possess a cat hiding beneath the cabin before succumbing to the poison, and is alive and well. We’re pretty sure that’s what they call an “anti-Hollywood” ending.
10. The Creeper – Jeepers Creepers
Although horror movie villains have a history of getting their wins in the end, there are few that can claim total victory quite as easily as the Creeper can. From the moment we first see him in 2001’s Jeepers Creepers, the Creeper proves to be a force of nature that just may be one of the world’s inevitable evils that will just always be around. It’s a suspicion that’s sadly confirmed when the film ends with the Creeper taking the eyes from one of the main heroes and making them his own.
What’s particularly memorable about the Creeper’s victory compared to other horror movie characters is how unphased he was throughout much of the film. Though slightly wounded at one point, he essentially spent the entire movie toying with the protagonists as he pleases, until he finally decides to end the game and claim his prize.
9. The Terrorists – Arlington Road
Outside of the end of a Counter-Strike game, the two words you never want to be used to summarize a piece of entertainment are “Terrorists Win.” Although the list of taboos in entertainment has dwindled down significantly over the last several decades, it’s generally still agreed that terrorists coming out on top is not cool at all.
Perhaps someone should have told the director of Arlington Road this simple rule, because it is most definitely a movie where the terrorists win. In fact, not only do a group of suburban terrorists successfully carry out their plan to blow up an FBI headquarters, but they manage to frame the film’s main character (who was the only individual suspicious of their actions) for the crime. Just in case you have any hope left at that point, the film ends by informing the audience that they’ve actually gotten away with this several times and plan to do so again.
8. The Cultists – The Wicker Man
For the sake of avoiding any unnecessary Nicholas Cage memes, this discussion will focus on the 1973 Wicker Man movie (aka “the good one”). In this film, the incredibly innocent Sergeant Howie take his pure soul to the island of Summerisle to investigate the case of a missing girl. There, he runs into a group of cultists that have adopted a very intense form of the pagan religion in order to ensure a good harvest.
Before you start judging these locals for their beliefs, though, it’s worth noting that it turns out they might actually be onto something, as they’ve had a pretty good track record with human sacrifices producing bountiful harvests, and that only continues with burning Sergeant Howie alive at the film’s end. This is the kind of villain victory that just makes you feel empty inside.
7. Peter and Paul – Funny Games
Whereas most films where the bad guys win at least do you the courtesy of presenting the material in an interesting or surprising manner that allows you to maintain the illusion that good has a chance, Funny Games is more interested in experimenting with the concept of allowing pure evil to prevail throughout the entirety of the film without really offering you a moment of hope that decency will win the day.
Peter and Paul’s twisted exercise in personal amusement sees them torture an innocent family physically and psychologically until they decide to end the entire affair and simply start their game over. If you’re looking for redemption or purpose in their actions, you won’t find it. This is simply a complete victory for the forces of evil.
6. John Doe – Seven
There’s an old saying that goes: “Evil prevails when good men do nothing,” but as the film Lord of War mused, perhaps the saying is better off reading “Evil prevails.” That’s certainly the argument that Seven is trying to make as it presents us the twisted works of a serial killer, codenamed John Doe, who is attempting to bring humanity’s deadliest sins to light.
As you may very well know, the last piece of the killer’s twisted puzzle was to force young Detective David Mills to execute him as an act of wrath in response to Doe’s murder of Mills’ pregnant wife (which itself was an act of envy). Though there is certainly a kind of pleasure in watching Mills gun down John Doe over this crime — which was simply the icing on the terrible, terrible cake of other despicable acts that he’d committed — that moment of vigilante justice ultimately only serves to complete the “murder masterpiece” that Doe had arranged from the start.
5. Noah Cross – Chinatown
The one thing that we are sure of as we try to unravel the twisted tale of intrigue that forms the basis of Chinatown’s plot is that Noah Cross is as guilty of numerous federal crimes as he is insanely rich. As it turns out, only the latter really matters.
Chinatown was one of the first films to really dive into the notion that the powerful and wealthy (a group we now refer to as the 1%) are, indeed, above the law. Even though we have just sat through a two-hour film dedicated almost entirely to revealing the full extent of Noah Cross’ guilt, in the end, it is only our heroes that must suffer the consequences of their actions. As for Noah, he remains rich, untouchable and the proud guardian of his granddaughter to boot.
4. Tyler Durden – Fight Club
Throughout much of Fight Club, the main question on the viewer’s mind is most likely “Who is Tyler Durden, exactly?” It’s a fair question that the film does eventually get around to addressing, albeit in a complex manner open to some interpretation. From there, the question turns into “Is Tyler Durden a villain?”
Though the Robin Hood-esque motivations of Durden make it tempting to sympathize with him, ultimately, he is a cult-like leader with terrorist intentions to destroy several buildings. Intentions that come to life at the film’s conclusion as Durden stands witness to the culmination of his revolution. He does get his brains blown out in the end, but not before his victory was complete.
3. The Antichrist – Rosemary’s Baby
It’s a bold move to feature the son of Satan as a story’s victor, but then, Rosemary’s Baby is a pretty bold movie. This story of a pregnant young woman who eventually learns that a group of dedicated worshipers believe that her baby is in fact the Antichrist broke many storytelling taboos in its day, and remains a troubling piece of entertainment in this one.
As is the case with most of our list’s entries, the most disturbing moment is reserved for the end of the film. Upon confirming that her newborn son is indeed the Antichrist, Rosemary intends to end the baby’s life. Ultimately, however, she cannot bring herself to kill her own child and instead intends to raise this baby into a full-grown destroyer of worlds. Hey, it’s always been said that a newborn’s cuteness is its greatest defense mechanism.
2. Bureaucratic Society – Brazil
Oddly enough, there is actually an alternative happy ending to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil known as the “Love Conquers All” ending. In this version, our hero not only successfully rebels against the cruel bureaucratic society that has led to the fall of individualism, but actually finds love and a little place to call his own. It’s the ending created by the studio who felt that the original conclusion was a wee bit dark for mass audiences.
In their defense, they’re not wrong. Brazil’s true ending also momentarily allows our protagonist Sam Lowry to experience a world in which his efforts were successful and good has won the day. But unlike the alternate ending, here it turns out that Sam’s vision of this world was merely a delusion caused by his own insanity. Ultimately, the only thing that changed from the start of the film is that the few good people left in the world are either dead or broken.
1. Keyser Soze – The Usual Suspects
Kevin Spacey really is just a winner, isn’t he?
Shortly before he played one of film’s most notorious victorious villains in Seven, Kevin Spacey took on the role of a crippled criminal by the name of Roger “Verbal” Kint. Roger has been detained by the police over the matter of a botched heist that ended up producing a great number of bodies. All the while, Kint insists that it was a mysterious criminal figure by the name of Keyser Soze that is behind it all. As it turns out, one of the greatest twist in cinematic history is afoot, as Kint is revealed to be the urban legend known as Keyser Soze.
The reason that this revelation seals Soze’s status as the ultimate winning villain is because he not only manages to fool the police, the dead criminals that crossed his path and garner immunity for the whole matter, but he also plays the audience the entire time. Nearly everything in this film is a pure lie orchestrated brilliantly by Soze. He got everything he wanted, including getting everyone who heard his lies to eat them up willingly.
Can you think of any other bad guys who won the day in the end? Let us know in the comments.