There are certain villains in movies that become iconic because they are just as fleshed out as the heroes that oppose them. Darth Vader, Jack Torrance and Magneto all have something in common: we understand their motivations and their goals. When they blow up a building or lay waste to an entire city, it's not for the act of random violence, but for something they believe is for the greater good - we might even have some sympathy for the devils.
Then there are villains who want to rule the world because they have nothing better to do. The following bad guys on this list are one-dimensional in the most primal sense of the word: they lack depth and motivation, becoming completely superficial in the process. They’re the kind of supervillains that like to sit behind their fancy desk, stroking their white cats, hijacking nuclear warheads, conquering opposing territories, and decimating entire planets because of their one-tracked quest for absolute power, and not much else going on in between.
The criteria we’re using for this list is that the bad guys can’t be henchmen (the list would be far too crowded with hair-brained goons), and that they display no other trait other than a desire for mindless carnage, purely for the sake of mindless carnage.
Here are the 15 Most One-Dimensional Movie Villains.
16 Malekith (Thor 2)
Kicking off our list is the intergalactic overlord from Thor: The Dark World, who is about as smart as the lame brain henchmen audiences were so accustomed to in the 1960’s. And that’s where Malekith really belongs, in the past, as not an inch of screenplay goes into developing his character or making him interesting to watch. Once he gets his hands on an Infinity Stone, his diabolical scheme consists of completing obliterating the galaxy so darkness may rule once more. As if audiences hadn’t already seen that a million times before.
Malekith’s even more of a disappointment when you consider that Loki, one of the most fleshed out villains in the MCU, was the main antagonist of the first Thor film. In that film, we understood Loki’s motivations, such as his jealousy of his brother, and it doesn’t hurt that Tom Hiddleson has a great energy and charisma about him. Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith absolutely pales in comparison, who would honestly be more at home in a campy Flash Gordon serial than in a Marvel movie.
15 Xerxes (300)
When it comes to dictators, rulers, kings, whatever you wish to call the grand poobah in charge, one thing is for certain: they have power on the mind and nothing else. Xerxes, who is so full of himself in 300 that he thinks himself a God, is a single-minded megalomaniac of epic proportions. He has no problem starting beef with the Spartans, and even less of a hard time sending legions of his own men to face their doom, simply because he wants to conquer and have the entire world bow to his feet.
Xerxes is the perfect example of a guy on an egotistical power trip that refuses to quit. You have to be thick to think you can take on the entire Spartan nation, who are known for their legendary combat skills. The Persian King of Kings is only concerned with dominating all of Greece, and he’ll stop at nothing to achieve that goal. While his backstory is a bit widened in the lackluster 300: Rise of an Empire, he still comes off as a tyrant with nothing better to do than to conquer lands, with not much else to motivate him other than his love for the finer things in life.
14 Stonebanks (The Expendables 3)
All things considered, The Expendables franchise isn’t really known for their well-developed villains. The movies are mostly a vehicle to showcase today and yesterday’s biggest action heroes like Sly Stallone and Jet Li as they blow stuff up, and rack up body counts so high that most viewers can’t keep count. With the third installment however, it finally seemed we would have a bad guy worthy enough to go along with the mayhem when it was announced that none other than Mel Gibson would be playing the part of evil-doer Stonebanks.
Sadly, this wasn’t the case, and Gibson’s Stonebanks comes across just as one-note as ever. With a backstory explaining that he was once a member of the Expendables before being kicked out, Stonebanks’ story could have been very personal, much more so than the last two installments’ villains at least. The mercenary’s motivations are left on the backburner however as he becomes just another baddie who runs, guns, and blows things up for the fun of it. His final showdown with Stallone is about as impersonal as it can get, with the villain ultimately ending up as just wasted potential.
13 Bennett (Commando)
Most one-dimensional villains have been known to hold a grudge, but no one holds on to the past more than ex-U.S. commando Bennett. He betrays his country and friends for, essentially, being kicked out of a club, which is as immature as it gets if you think about it. After being discharged from his super elite killing team for enjoying killing a little bit more than he should, Bennett swore revenge on his commanding officer. That CO turned out to be John Matrix, who, like Bennett, is a nonstop war machine.
With his vengeance slowly eating away at him, Bennett decides to fake his own death and link up with a deranged Southern American dictator. The two kidnap Matrix’s daughter and force him to kill a South American politician. Things go wrong when John skips his flight, and instead takes on an army of Bennett’s henchmen to rescue his daughter. The two commandos finally go at it one on one, with the delusional Bennett using a surprisingly sloppy fighting technique for such a well-trained killer. Eventually the evil-doer is bested when he’s impaled by a pipe from Matrix, but at least the psycho got to let off some steam before his demise.
12 Whiplash (Iron Man 2)
With the exception of Loki, the MCU’s track record of notable villains is pretty bare. Zemo left audiences split in Captain America: Civil War of whether he was an effective villain or not, with the general consensus being that Marvel still has far more forgettable bad guys than there are good ones. Although there have been many lukewarm interpretations throughout Marvel’s reign, Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash still remains one of the most unremarkable and unmemorable of them all.
The main big bad from Iron Man 2, Whiplash is, like most villains on this list, motivated only by a sense of revenge against the Stark family. He uses his powers to jam things up for Tony, and we never get a sense for who Anton Vanko really is as a character. He’s basically a catalyst to give Tony some sort of opposition in the movie. Of course a bulk of scenes that could have broadened the villain were scrapped form the final cut, leaving a permanent scar on Rourke and director Jon Favreau’s relationship, and an even bigger one on the mediocre Iron Man 2.
11 John Geiger (Speed 2)
The first Speed was a rousing action adventure with a cop looking to save a bus from blowing up at the hands of an evil madman. That madman was elevated from a random villain to a memorable one by a superb performance by Dennis Hopper. By the time the inevitable sequel rolled around, the casting for the villain eventually landed on Willem Dafoe, who is no stranger to playing diabolical bad guys. Unfortunately, even a seasoned actor like Dafoe couldn’t stop Speed 2: Cruise Control from sinking dead in the water.
The movie is a cheap imitation of the original thriller, with this outing taking place on the high seas rather than the asphalt of L.A. Dafoe’s John Geiger doesn’t help the production, either. The villain is comical in all the wrong ways, with motivations that are paper-thin at best. A computer man who was fired from designing a cruise’s guidance system, he reacts in the appropriate manner by taking over the cruise himself. Apparently the company didn’t have the nicest severance package, as Geiger becomes a comical madman hell-bent on a cockamamie revenge scheme that just doesn’t feel warranted. In the end, Dafoe’s role became far more famous for the ridiculous internet memes it spawned rather than its genuine threatening presence.
10 Drago (Rocky IV)
Often thought of as a movie with guilty pleasure qualities, Rocky IV is considered one of the most outlandish in the franchise. It features Dolph Lundgren in his first big Hollywood role as the hulking behemoth Ivan ‘Iron Man’ Drago. He’s a man of few words, as he’d rather let his punches in the boxing ring do the talking for him. After killing series favorite Apollo Creed in a series of bloody blows, Rocky swears revenge, and travels to Russia to settle the score with the boxing giant.
Drago is mostly mute during the runtime of the movie, with sparse dialog sprinkled in the occasional scene like, “You will lose,” or “If he dies, he dies.” He certainly isn’t the smartest villain we’ve seen on the silver screen, or the most compelling. He is simply physically dominating, representing a mental and physical wall for Rocky to overcome. He does it well, landing punches that look like they would crush your skull, but at the end of the day he’s just another mindless hulk looking for things to smash, effective though as he might be at it.
9 Ronan (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Ronan is the type of conqueror who represents the ultimate evil. There is no rhyme or reason as to why he’s so garsh darn malicious, he just is. His ultimate wish is to overthrow the intergalactic hierarchy, especially the good and noble people of Xandar. After Ronan gets his hands on an Infinity Stone (a McGuffin that keeps popping up in these Marvel movies) his power reaches unbelievable heights, and so does his ego. He eventually musters up the audacity to challenge Thanos, the biggest threat to the galaxy, going on a power trip that would make Dr. Evil look tame.
The Guardians of the Galaxy villain meticulously ticks off every box in the cliché villain’s handbook. He wears a black hooded cloak, so the audience can easily tell he’s up to no good, and his weapon of choice is a giant hammer, the kind of subtle instrument you would expect this big bad to sport. All of his dialog consists of one, painfully slow, methodical speech after another as he details his evil plan to his goons and lackeys, and taunts the members of the Guardians. In the end, he’s bested by a simple distraction, a fitting end for a villain so mundane.
8 Koopa (Super Mario Bros.)
Before his untimely death, Dennis Hopper had played some of the most iconic villains in movie history. From the sadist Frank Booth in Blue Velvet to the disgruntled ex-policeman in Speed, if you had a movie in Hollywood that needed a great antagonist, then Hopper was the actor to call. Sometimes though, even the greatest of actors can’t save a terribly underwritten villain, and that’s exactly what Koopa was in 1993’s Super Mario Bros. The video game adaptation attempted and failed to bring the popular Nintendo franchise to life, botching characters like Mario, Luigi, Toad and especially King Koopa aka Bowser in the process.
Overacted and noticeably forced, Hopper’s tyrannical Koopa was just a rotten cherry on top of a garbage of a sundae. The head of a secret organization of evil underground dinosaurs (we don’t know why this script was ever green lighted) Koopa’s only goal is to journey to the surface to overthrow humans, who he views as slightly more intelligent monkeys. The ruthless stereotyped character does nothing but rant and rave during the runtime of the movie. When he’s eventually turned into goo during the final showdown, the audience cheers not because the lame-brain antagonist is defeated, but that it signals the end of the abomination that is Super Mario Bros.
7 Richie (Out for Justice)
Anybody seen Richie?
During the late 80’s and early 90’s, Steven Segal made a string of predictable, but more or less entertaining shoot em’ up romps that follow the same formulaic storyline. A sinister thug or mobster would be introduced on a path of destruction, and it was up to Segal to put their reign of terror to an end. In 1991’s Out for Justice, that thug is William Forsythe’s Richie Madano, a peon mobster that does inexplicably evil shenanigans during drug induced stupors. He kicks off the movie with a bang, literally, shooting an unsuspecting policeman in broad daylight because, hey, why not? Hearing of the disastrous news, super cop Gino, played by Segal, travels far and wide looking for Richie, going to every one of the criminal’s known hangouts and beating people for information.
Richie, a drug dealer who gets high on his own supply, clearly doesn’t care if he lives or dies, and neither does the audience. He does such outlandish acts of violence the viewer is left stunned and confused, but not in a good way like The Dark Knight’s Joker or Silence of the Lamb’s Hannibal. No explanation is given or even hinted at as to why Richie is so mind-bendingly corrupt and evil, besides the fact that he likes drugs of course, which is almost as much as he likes violence.
6 The Rhino (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
At this point in the list, we’ll be diving into some of the most cartoonish villains that have meandered their way into movie history. Our #5 spot is one of the most over-the-top and campy performances of recent memory: Paul Giamatti’s Rhino from The Amazing Spiderman 2. The words bombastic and cheesy don’t even begin to describe the power hungry Russian mobster and his random acts of unprovoked mayhem. Sporting a black tracksuit and a laughably bad barbed wire tattoo across his forehead, the Rhino goes on frequent shooting sprees while sputtering off nonsensical dialog almost as fast as his bullets.
If you though that comic book movies had evolved past the campy performances of yesterday, think again. The Rhino is here to change your mind and prove that villains can still be cartoon caricatures, which isn’t really a good thing. The performance here by Giamatti is so laughably bad that in the grand scheme of things, it just piles on to the disastrous decisions made by The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
5 Shang Tsung (Mortal Combat)
We’re hoping that next year’s adaptation of Assassin’s Creed really comes through as a great video game based movie, because as of right now, not one has yet to have been made. There have been many attempts of course, with most of them blatantly failing like the aforementioned Super Mario Bros. One of the more passable ones is 1995’s Mortal Kombat, a campy yet entertaining version of the classic fighting game. It’s not without its many flaws however, one of the more noticeable ones being the cliché supervillain Shang Tsung who falls under the regrettable “take over the world” type of bad guy.
By comparison, even the lower budget Bruce Lee movies had better fleshed out antagonists than Shang Tsung. The crowned martial arts tournament host is just as hokey as he is powerful. Most of the time these diabolical villains are simply the personification of pure evil, by Tsung takes it to whole new levels by literally harvesting his victims’ souls and having them fight against his current opponents. Lacking any sense of real motivation, his antics are simply a catalyst needed to showcase some sweet fighting maneuvers, and some slightly more interesting protagonists.
4 Ivan Ooze (Might Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie)
Home to some of the most half-baked designs for villains you’ve ever seen, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers are no strangers when it comes to stacking up power hungry megalomaniacs against Earth’s teenage warriors. While the television program had countless giant evil-doers turn steam role cities in their haphazard quest for power, they saved the worst for last with the big screen adaptation of the bright purple supervillain Ivan Ooze.
Up until that point in the franchise, the title for the most one-dimensional villain could have easily gone to either Rita Repulsa or Lord Zedd, two of the show’s main antagonists that were part of some awkward twisted love affair. But then came along Ivan Ooze who easily blew both of them away when it came to corny maniacal thugs. Ooze is the type of villain that wants to conquer Earth by any means necessary, which includes the antics of turning children against their parents and becoming part of his army (a plot which is also used by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Shredder, another villain that almost made it on this list).
Everything about Ooze’s design, from his twisted goatee to his smoking golden chalice, screams one-tracked villain who clearly didn’t have a whole lot of thought process behind him. Let’s hope that the franchise has learned from its mistakes, and that the upcoming Power Rangers reboot offers us some more exciting villains than some guy in a purple robe as his laughs frenziedly while stroking his beard.
3 Nuclear Man (Superman IV)
The MVP of our “worst of” villains lists, Nuclear Man continues to run game on why he is such a campy, cartoonish and confusing bad guy. Toping our Worst Superman Villains and coming in as runner up on our Worst DC Movie Villains lists, this half-baked version of Bizarro in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is not only one of the most one-dimensional villains in comic books movies, but in all of film history. Nuclear Man is just as hare-brained and thrown together as his name suggests, with super powers that consist of weird frenetic electricity, and the ability to scratch things with his elongated fingernails.
Perhaps the most head scratching of the evil-doer’s traits is he motivations, which are all but nonexistent. After being created by the Man of Steel’s hair and exploded nuclear war heads, because apparently the mixture of the two has the potential to create supervillains, the tyrant goes on a chaotic rampage in Metropolis for no other reason than to create some inciting incidents in an otherwise boring and tasteless movie. Nuclear Man’s only motivation on screen is his infatuation with the new Daily Planet reporter, and it’s paper-thin at best. After Lex Luthor and General Zod, and the comically bad Gus Gorman, Nuclear Man is the lowest of the low when it comes to the Man of Steel’s enemies, and hopefully will never crop up again in another Superman film ever.
2 Ernst Starvo Blofeld (James Bond Series)
Honestly, a number of James Bond villains could have easily made this list, from Live and Let Die’s campy Kananga to Thunderball’s eye-patched Emilio Largo. But honestly, the most one-dimensional of them all is the head of SPECTRE, a man who is constantly a thorn in 007’s side: Ernst Starvo Blofeld. He’s the absolute archetype when it comes to cliché supervillains that want to rule the world because, in the grand scheme of things, they have nothing better to do.
Hatching more plans to blow up the world that you can count on one hand, Blofeld is really the blueprint of every one-dimensional villain that followed suit after his full-fledged introduction in You Only Live Twice. Everything from his mysterious scar to his white Persian cat have become staples of pop culture, and in case you haven’t noticed, Mike Myers hilarious satirical Dr. Evil was directly inspired by the character. With methodical speeches flowing out of him like water from a tap, Blofeld is a bad guy that pits countries against each other, steals rocket ships from the skies, and threatens entire governments with nuclear annihilation. He’s a character that’s only interested in one thing: power. If it wasn’t for our top pick, Blofeld would have easily ranked to the position of #1, just like he did in his evil organization SPECTRE.
1 Terl (Battlefield Earth)
As we’ve seen from movies like Broken Arrow, Swordfish and Face/Off, John Travolta can play quite the wicked villain when he gets the opportunity. He’s sadistic, philosophical and downright evil, but unfortunately he didn’t carry any of those things over to his awful, universally panned rendition of alien tyrant Terl in the now legendary stinker, Battlefield Earth. A movie and performance so campy and one-note that it’s ranked in the halls of cinematic failures that should have never been produced.
There are villains on this list like Drago and Blofeld, who are single-minded villains, but who are at least in decent movies. Travolta’s Terl is a terrible character in a terrible movie. Every scene featuring the overlord has him doing a bombastic maniacal laugh, which catches on like wildfire with everyone in the room laughing along with him, even if they don’t get what’s so funny. Shot after shot of the tyrant is just another slanted Dutch angle, which has become so overused by the third act you would think the whole movie was shot like that. On top of his comical behavior,Terl’s motivations are completely nonexistent, at one moment providing the humans with superior knowledge, and then flip-flopping his mind to have them work as his slaves.
He’s as cliché as supervillains go, with dialog so campy you’ll think Ivan Ooze’s performance was Oscar worthy. Terl is the absolute epitome of a villain with a one-tracked mind, and more than earns his spot on this list as the most lackluster bad guy we’ve yet to come across.