A movie without a villain can often be like a song without a singer: redundant! Oh how we love to hate these demented and fiercely ferocious fiends as they rampage around the place like an unshackled bull on steroids, and weave their wicked webs likes spiders plump with poison.
For every saint there’s a charismatic scoundrel waiting just around the corner, and heroes wouldn’t have their day in the sun if it wasn’t for a bad guy to battle against or foe to vanquish. When done right, a movie villain is larger than life and dominates the big screen with a terrible and elusive charisma, and all the fizz and bang of an all walking, talking and singing apocalypse. Of course, for the most part, movie villains are your garden variety type that can be filed safely away in a big old box labelled “stereotypes.” But occasionally, lightning is bottled and the fates conspire to create a movie villain who’s so big, so powerful, and so darn villainous, that they live long in the memory after the final credits have rolled.
So roll up, roll up, and without further ado let’s lift the velvet curtain and take a peek at this motley crue of some of the meanest misfits with super powers ever to grace the silver screen, in Screen Rant’s list of the 10 Most Powerful Movie Villains.
10 Darth Vader - The Star Wars Series
Darth Vader is a classic case of a good apple gone bad. Whereas a lot of movie villains have no back story other than being born somewhat wrong, the man behind the most famous helmet in the universe was once a little blonde angel called Anakin Skywalker.
Unfortunately, anger and hate, sprinkled liberally with a dose of abandonment and a side order of borderline personality disorder, get the better of young Anakin, thus triggering six Star Wars films in the process, with a seventh on its way.
Make no mistake, the story of Star Wars is the story of Vader. It’s no coincidence that the high point of the prequels is Anakin’s painful and harrowing transformation into Darth in Revenge of the Sith.
Vader is so powerful as a villain because, though he may initially come across as some sort of psychopathic cyborg, audience soon realize the core of his high evil has a human heart and a human face. It’s left to an earnest young Luke Skywalker to become a mirror to that evil, and eventually the Jedi’s old dad sees the big picture, recognizes himself in his only son and seeks redemption in a tragedy of Oedipal-sized proportions.
Vader is unique among all the other villains on this list in that not only is he corrupted by evil he is also eventually redeemed by good, and so his tale ends. But what a ride, eh?
9 Sauron - The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Ideally, a good villain should answer to nothing but Armageddon and be more than capable of overshadowing an entire world with their evil ways. In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron ticks all of those boxes and so much more.
If there’s one name which will strike horror into the heart of a hobbit, drive despair into the dreams of a dwarf, and curdle the blood of an elf, it’s Sauron. When the bull daddy of Middle Earth rants on about "One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them,” he’s talking about bending a world and everything in it to his dark diabolical will.
Sauron’s only weakness is his weakness for designer bling, which eventually becomes his undoing, but before he is cast into the fire as punishment for his avarice and materialistic ways, Sauron, whose very name sounds like some sort of viral disease, terrorizes the little folk with big feet in a big way.
Like a perpetual plague, Sauron’s presence is all-pervasive in Lord of the Rings and this superhuman, shape-shifting fiery eye is rendered all the more powerful for not having a truly identifiable physical appearance. He’s quite simply the darkness in everybody’s souls.
8 Freddy Krueger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street series
If the Sandman was a raging alcoholic with a massive drug problem and enough sadistic tendencies to shame Satan, his name would be Freddy Krueger. In a former life, Freddy was (maybe) a serial child killer who ended up being burned to death by a mob of angry parents. In A Nightmare On Elm Street he is somewhere between a vicious ghost and a severely disfigured and psychopathic figment of his victim’s imagination. And if there’s one thing Freddy enjoys, it’s victims, particularly teenagers.
Kruger’s trademark fedora hat, sweater stripes, and bladed glove are the nuances of nightmares, but the dream master’s real power lies in the fact that he manipulates his victim’s imagination and uses it against them. How can you defeat a monster who can kill you in your dreams and in the waking world too? It’s a good question and fear, or the lack of it, holds the key.
Krueger’s power is obvious and easily recognizable by anyone who has ever woken in a cold sweat with some nameless dread tightening its icy grip on their heart.
Every time John Lennon sings, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” Mr Krueger rubs his hands in glee.
7 King Xerxes - the 300 series
If powerful villains have a unifying trait that singles them out and identifies them as types you don’t particularly want to go drinking with. It’s their time-honored tendency of trying to rule the world at any cost.
Like a poet needs the pain and a desert needs the rain, any villain who wants membership at the exclusive club reserved solely for the severely deranged and vile needs to try their hand at global domination at least once. In 300, King Xerxes comes across as someone who tore up the book on megalomania and rewrote it with a massive byline. The Persian psychopath’s outlandish behavior is matched by his outlandish appearance. He’s built like a monster, and wears little else but gold jewellery and lots of make-up. The God King also has a habit of telling people the terrible things he’s going to do to them in the style of a hairdresser saying, “I think blonde highlights would suit you to perfection.”
Xerxes is a warning from the past of what too much civilisation and bathing in otherworldly liquid can do to a man. No matter how many times you watch 300, it’s always dispiriting to see the noble and heroic war machine that is Leonidas inflict so little damage upon the big beast.
6 Pennywise - It (1990)
It’s a simple fact of life that anyone who finds clowns funny in an endearing and charming sort of way is obviously some kind of unhinged monster themselves. Clowns are a deadly serious business, as Stephen King’s grease-painted and child-eating monster Pennywise proves all too well in It.
The genius of Pennywise the dancing clown is the fact he’s a clown in the first place. Behind the painted smile on every clown lies a demonic entity waiting to happen. Not for nothing has the fear of clowns been recognized in a medical sense. It’s called "coulrophobia" and both Johnny Depp and Daniel Radcliffe are rumored to suffer from it.
The white face, the bright orange hair, the big bulbous red nose, the yellow teeth, the manic glee and the hysterical laughter of the professional clown is nature’s way of warning you to AVOID!
Pennywise began his existence as a mysterious 80-million-year-old demonic entity who came to earth from a distant realm to feed. And what form did this ancient evil adopt as the best guise for its monstrous appetites? You guessed it, that of a clown who lures children to their graves with brightly coloured balloons. Like clowns in general, Pennywise has a habit of popping up when you least expect him, because as the loathsome creature tells The Loser’s Club, "You all taste so much better when you're afraid!"
5 Khan - Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
From a human perspective, and let’s be honest it’s the one we’re stuck with, there’s nothing more dangerous than an advanced being with a chip on his shoulder and a superiority complex the size of a small but not insignificant solar system.
In Star Trek Into Darkness, the villain of the piece, Khan, hates humans with a passion bordering on the religious. It probably has something to do with the fact that Khan was put into suspended animation for 300 years by us mere mortals and only reawakened by one of our number because we wanted him to develop advanced weapons to destroy an alien civilization with.
To be fair to the genetically engineered superhuman, it must be something of a shock to have woken up after 300 years just to realize that the Eugenics Wars are over, you no longer control more than a quarter of the earth, you’re the only person of your kind alive, and you’re the captive of a man in a bright yellow jumper, called Kirk. It’s a bit of a step down for anyone, let alone a super villain.
Needless to say, Kahn goes berserk and shows everyone how insanely intelligent and good at killing people he is by almost single-handedly destroying Starfleet, before being thwarted in his dastardly machinations by Spock, and returned safely to the comfort of his cryogenic pod.
Khan’s inhuman otherness and superior remoteness is captured to perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch in a performance devoid of all emotion except one - a cold and life denying rage!
Ricardo Montalban's version of Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan might be more beloved than the remake, but you can't argue that he's as powerful.
4 Agent Smith - The Matrix Series
The impersonal and indifferent nature of a bureaucratic and great evil reached something of a zenith with Agent Smith in the Matrix films. Could a computer program be insidiously evil and inherently corrupt? Agent Smith answered that question with all the cold efficiency of a microchip.
Smith starts off his existence as a program created to enforce order in the Matrix and ensure there's no hiccups which could have a detrimental effect on productivity and the machine collective. This entails Smith chasing down human simulacra such as Neo and terminating rogue programs. Smith’s awesome power lies in his ability to possess any simulated body of a human wired to the Matrix and bend the usual laws of the physical universe to his will. Dodging bullets, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, and punching through concrete is all in day’s work for Agent Smith.
Smith’s power increases as he becomes a renegade program, and a self-replicating computer virus, capable of creating an army of one and inserting himself in the real world. Smith’s great evil is its indecipherable nature and soul-destroying nihilism. As he tells Neo in their final fight before his uncertain demise, “It was your life that taught me the purpose of life. The purpose of life is to end.”
3 Jadis the White Witch - the chronicles of narnia: the lion, the witch and the wardrobe (2005)
Even for those not well versed in folklore and ancient magic, you’d think anyone who goes by the moniker of the White Witch would be a force for good right? Well you’d be wrong, as anyone who has watched The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe knows all too well.
Jadis may be called the White Witch, but anyone who wears that much animal fur has got to be an unsavory character. Like a true force of nature, Jadis is both destructive and indifferent. This is one lady who really is as cold as ice and willing to sacrifice. Leading an army of dwarves, wolves, wraiths and hags, Her Imperial Majesty Jadis has cast Narnia into an endless winter, and also, horror of horrors, has banned Christmas. This cold-hearted monarch could even teach Madonna a thing or two about naked ambition, and turns anyone who gets into her way into stone. When she turns on the charm and ensnares Edmund at the start of the film, in the stranger danger sequence, with some Turkish Delight and a cup of something hot, it’s a masterclass in psychopathic charm.
Thankfully, the White Witch finally gets her just rewards when Aslan, who she ritually slaughters on a stone table, comes back from the dead and teaches her a thing or two about the deeper magic by effortlessly destroying her.
2 The Kurgan - Highlander (1986)
As all good (or should we say evil?) movie villains know, it’s important not to lose your head in the heat of the moment, especially when you’re trying to decapitate somebody else.
Highlander is a movie about a gang of sword wielding immortals who are born at various points in history and are destined to live forever until someone cuts off their head. Now this happens more frequently than you might think, because these long-lived chaps routinely hunt one another down for duels to the death. As such when they gather for a remaining showdown called the “Gathering” in an attempt to win a mysterious bounty called “The Prize”, there’s only a handful of these semi-eternal souls left. One of them happens to be a nasty piece of work called the Kurgan.
In the words of Freddie Mercury, whose band Queen wrote the soundtrack to Highlander, the Kurgan is a true prince of universe, he just happens to be a complete psychopath as well. After failing to kill the film’s hero Connor MacLeod in the 16th century, he catches up with him again in 1985, where things end badly for the Kurgan, but not before he’s given us all a truly villainous and immortal performance to remember.
1 Lord Voldemort - The harry potter series
It’s rare to stumble across a character who exudes such an air of unspeakable evil that even speaking their name is considered an ill omen. Of course Lord Voldemort is bad, but he’s really not that bad, it’s just that wizards are a superstitious and rather theatrical lot who insist on referring to their arch nemesis in the Harry Potter films as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” “You Know Who,” and the “Dark Lord.”
If a hard-boiled egg could look evil, it would probably be called Lord Voldemort. Although he’s a great wizard and can even fly without a broom, his true evil is of a very human nature, and it’s called prejudice.
Voldemort may look like he’s just fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, but you shouldn’t judge a spell book by its cover, because Voldemort’s even uglier on the inside. The leader of Death Eaters is obsessed with achieving pure-blooded dominance in the wonderful world of wizardry. The fact that he’s half-blood himself speaks volumes about Voldemort’s particular brand of villainy.
Voldemort’s strutting arrogance and hatred of everything eventually leads to his ignominious downfall at the hands of a bespectacled teenager, but his overpowering presence in the Harry Potter series will always be regarded by many as a badly needed sprinkling of spice on top of all the sickly sweet sugar.
Not unlike lists, the evil that men and otherworldly villains do goes on and on. So if you can think of any famous fiends who aren’t human, aren’t comic book super villains, but are supremely powerful, that didn’t make this list, such as General WoundWort from Watership Down, who was probably the meanest rabbit ever to chomp on a carrot, then sound off in the comments below!
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