Generally, being worse at something means being poorer in performance, but that's not always the case. When it comes to Voldemort and Grindelwald, it actually means being better... at being evil. These two wizards are the only ones we know from the Harry Potter universe to be bona fide warlords, and their reputations for being such are immense.
With the second Fantastic Beasts film adding more flesh to the bone that was Grindelwald’s characterization, this new information that’s come to light is worth comparing to Voldemort. So, if you were wondering which wizard was worse for the wizarding world during their period of power, here’s an in-depth look at who takes the title.
10 Reign of Power: Grindelwald
Voldemort’s reign at the top of the wizarding world really only lasted a year or so. He was making his move on the world before baby Harry thwarted him, but he was really on top --for a time-- during Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Grindelwald, meanwhile, not only took over the wizarding world, but did it for about two decades. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald showed the antagonist was already well on his way to beginning his conquest, and it only went up from there until 1945. Voldemort’s time is dwarfed by Grindelwald's; the heir of Slytherin really didn't last very long in comparison.
9 Academic Level: Voldemort
Don’t think we’re counting being an academic as something that’s evil here. What we mean is that Voldemort made full use of his studies in his evil actions. If you haven’t noticed Voldemort’s style of combat, then go back and watch the magic he uses.
Voldemort used Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, Care of Magical Creatures and even History of Magic to further his quest for power. His excellence as a student meant he exploited everything he learned from books as part of his arsenal. Grindelwald wasn’t even close to this level, as he was expelled before he could even complete his education. Voldemort, on the other hand, used his academics to make himself stronger and plan his moves.
8 Lives Taken: Grindelwald
Whenever we saw Voldemort in the present-day timeline of Harry Potter, the guy would be throwing around the Avada Kedavra curse like it was going out of fashion. He loved to take lives, but Voldemort still lags behind Grindelwald in the body count.
Grindelwald was seemingly active across the globe, not just in the United Kingdom. As a result, his victims were so wide-ranging that Viktor Krum’s grandfather in Bulgaria met his end at the hands of Grindelwald. There were many other families who experienced the same loss as Krum, but Grindelwald was acknowledged as always avoiding Britain. On the other hand, Voldemort never really took his operations outside of Britain, so his casualty count couldn’t tally more than Grindelwald.
7 Knowledge Of The Dark Arts: Voldemort
There shouldn’t be a long discussion over this. The argument should be, “Horcuxes. Nuff said”. However, we’ll still elaborate by pointing out that nobody took learning the Dark Arts further than Voldemort.
The guy opened up the Chamber of Secrets when he was just sixteen, for crying out loud. He went as far as making seven horcruxes. The cave’s cursed goblet and Inferi were a magic even Dumbledore didn't really know how to best, and the cursed ring was what led to his demise. Grindelwald has never shown any particular proficiency in Dark Arts knowledge, other than the experimentations with them which led to his expulsion. Other than that, we don’t know if he knew much more.
6 Leadership: Grindelwald
This should go without saying if you’ve watched Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Voldemort was devious, cunning, and an opportunist, but he could never be a proven leader. Several of his Death Eaters were Grade-A cowards, who only joined out of fear and never truly followed him.
Grindelwald’s leadership was such that every follower he had genuinely believed in his mission. He could have them jumping into the enchanted fire – as seen at the end of the previous movie – with nary a care for their lives. His “Greater Good” message was such that remnants of it still remained by Harry’s time. Grindelwald’s leadership was a combination of smarts and charm, and he had the ability to command.
5 Skill Level: Voldemort
Although Voldemort always avoided fighting Dumbledore, there’s no denying he more than held his own during their duel. While Grindelwald lost to Dumbledore despite owning the Elder Wand, Voldemort almost beat Dumbledore multiple times during their own duel (while the headmaster was the owner of the Elder Wand).
In combat, Voldemort used transfiguration and charms to such levels that it was impossible to understand how he conjured them. Dumbledore himself admitted that Voldemort had the ability to beat him, while modestly telling Harry that he, Dumbledore, was more skilled than Grindelwald.
Grindelwald also wasn’t as resourceful as Voldemort, in and of himself.
4 Followers: Grindelwald
Of course, Grindelwald might not have been so well off on his own because he had so many followers. We’ve mentioned his leadership skills, but this point focuses on the number of people he had clinging to his word.
By all accounts, it appears Grindelwald’s follower level was enormous; he had people holding to his beliefs all over the world. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald showed he had people stationed in several locations, and the people following him at the end of the film were only a sliver of the number he was in charge of. Voldemort just can’t claim to boast such a number. Let's not forget his Death Eaters' unfortunate tendency to run away when the time came for them to fight, either.
3 Magical Power Level: Voldemort
Voldemort is the first – and only, until he taught Snape – wizard or witch to show the ability to fly. The two men were also among the only ones shown to have the ability to actually control fiendfyre (or something close to it at the very least), unleashing a vast, fiery serpent at opponents during duels. With an Elder Wand that was denying him, Voldemort blew apart the entire protection over Hogwarts, formidable protective spells cast by established wizards like McGonagall and Slughorn.
Yes, the movies take certain liberties with spells that may or may not be fiendfyre (Bellatrix Lestrange's destruction of the Burrow being another example), so that one's a little shaky, but let's not forget: Voldemort beat McGonagall, Slughorn and Flitwick all at the same time without any problems.
Grindelwald also had very potent magical powers of his own (the opening and closing scenes of Crimes of Grindelwald can attest to that), but they clearly weren't on the enormous scale that Voldemort achieved.
2 Feared Legacy: Voldemort
Voldemort didn’t really take his operations outside of Britain, and yet people worldwide still were terrified of uttering his name. That's quite a legacy of fear: people were afraid to merely say the name of a person who had been gone for over a decade.
Grindelwald’s legacy consisted of being the person Dumbledore defeated in a legendary duel, but hardly anyone knew he was still alive or where he was imprisoned. By the 1990s, few even knew about Grindelwald’s “Greater Good” philosophy, while children who hadn’t even been born when Voldemort had been in power cowered in fright at the mention of his name. When Krum and the rest of the overseas students came to Hogwarts, they were all aware of Harry and his role in vanquishing the feared Dark Lord.
1 Winner: Voldemort
Since Voldemort wins most of these points, he takes home the title of being the worse warlord of the wizarding world. He was more cunning, naturally talented, feared, and above all powerful, compared to Grindelwald.
Grindelwald’s reign of terror did see worldwide recognition, but as it wasn’t scary enough to be remembered years down the line, he just can’t be considered on the level of Voldemort. There’s also the matter of Grindelwald owning the Elder Wand and still losing, while if Voldemort had true possession of it, he would’ve beaten even Dumbledore and most certainly Harry (the latter required dumb luck on every occasion to best Voldemort).
All in all, if you’re going to be stuck tangling with either of these two dark wizards, the better option would be Grindelwald: Voldemort will spell your doom.