The Star Wars saga’s Darth Vader and Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker from The Dark Knight top Empire magazine’s first-ever list of “The Greatest Movie Villains of All Time.” There have been countless numbers of great movie villains since the dawn of cinema, from the Golden Age of Hollywood all the way through the present day.
Sometimes, groups like the American Film Institute have taken on the agonizing task of naming “the greatest,” and in that case, in 2003, the prestigious group wittled its list down to 50 and named Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs as the greatest villain of all time. Naturally, lists of any kind always stir up intense debate among fans, who feel like, at least in the case of AFI’s vaunted lists, like their opinions don’t matter. That all changes, though, with the results of a new poll by one of the most respected film publications out there.
According to Empire, it was fans – not the publication’s journalists – who voted on the results on its new list naming “The Greatest Movie Villains of All Time.” Featured in the publication’s March issue, Empire’s list of the 20 greatest movie villains has a lot of familiar faces, but differs from the AFI when it comes to who topped the list. That distinct honor belongs to Darth Vader as he appeared in the Star Wars saga. The interesting thing is, Empire takes not only Darth Vader’s evil into account, but his goodness, saying, “A blend of tragic figure and evil presence, Vader’s story takes all the great twists and turns, even ending in redemption with the help of Mark Hamill’s Luke.” For those keeping score, AFI ranked Darth Vader as No. 3 on its 2003 list, behind Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho.
Of course, AFI’s list, since it came out 15 years ago this June feels somewhat dated today, considering that a legendary performance in director Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight had yet to materialize. And while the film turns 10 this July, Ledger’s performance wasn’t lost on Empire readers, who ranked the late actor at No. 2 on its all-time greatest villain list. Empire calls Ledger’s performance of “a thing of ugly beauty, a man who will do anything to achieve his aims and, to paraphrase the words of Michael Caine’s Alfred, just wants to watch the world burn.”
Another relative newcomer in the movie world’s hall of classic villainy, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), from the Thor films and The Avengers was ranked at No. 3 on Empire’s list, followed by the late Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber from Die Hard at No. 4 and Lecter at No. 5. Coming in sixth through 10th on the list, respectively, are Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) in Inglorious Basterds; Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi; Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) from No Country for Old Men; Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) from the Harry Potter series; and the Alien from the Alien series.
Given that more than half of the top 10 greatest villains on Empire’s list have emerged since 2000, the list definitely says a lot about the publication’s younger demographic.That’s not to say they’re bad choices; in fact, they’re encouraging ones because it shows Hollywood still has the wherewithal to create memorable characters. Of course, like the AFI list, the Empire selections are bound to stir debate, which ultimately is a good thing. With such debate, especially over the more contemporary entries, moviemakers will not only feel they’re doing something right, it will encourage them to raise the bar for those creating movie villainy in the future.
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