A lot of the best "villains" are pretty much just particularly deranged anti-heroes, like Lecter, D-Fens, Travis Bickle, Betelgeuse, etc. I don't really count them for this. I also won't count villainous forces without individual definition like the aliens from Signs
or War of the Worlds
, even though they're some of the best. The ones I'm thinking of for here are characters who are actually evil and you hope to see lose, but are still extremely cool and exciting and tempting to emulate along the way. The ones you really love to hate, in contrast to the ones who you just despise and want to go away, like Nurse Ratchet. I think my three favourite cinema villains overall would be Jack Nicholson Joker, Captain Hook in Hook
, and Magneto. But I'd also like to rule out ones that started as literary characters, so here're my picks:
Scar from The Lion King
. He's got all the best stuff about classic Shakespearian and Bond villains, and while wanting to take over a country or kingdom or the world or whatever is really common, Scar is one of the few villains that actually makes that want extremely believable, appealing and personal. He also has the best villain song
of pretty much anyone.
Palpatine is spot-on as a villain, but he's even better as a concept. The secret festering thing at the center of all the other villainy, something ancient and far gone and on a different level from everything you've seen so far. See also the Xenomorph Queen.
Despite being one of the most common motives, Syndrome from The Incredibles
is the definitive revenge-based villain to me. We actually get to see him in a few moments of triumph, and they're perfect. His dialogue gets all the right intentions and emotions across and his methods and gadgets are as cool as 'why' he became a villain.
I still think Scream
is the best slasher flick ever and the Ghostface Killer a total icon, the face of random, chaotic fear in the '90s. All the meta-motives involved(including in the very capable sequels) are brilliant.
The villain in The Usual Suspects
. Great to begin with for a lot of the same reasons as Palpatine, but trying to really imagine what goes on in his head is what makes him shockingly unique and disturbing.