Updated: Jan 28
With every well-written protagonist, there must be an even greater conflict.
Here are our top 10 movie villains in crime entertainment...
This conflict may be represented by an object that is nonhuman (ie environmental or societal), but here at MobCity, we believe that the best conflicts come from the hearts and souls of the living. To truly see the horror in human nature is to view the antagonist as both evil and sensible. To create a beloved villain is to establish a love within the audience.
“The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.” -Alfred Hitchcock
To have written a film without putting the same care between the protagonist and the antagonist is to fail at the hands of bias. That is why today we are looking at some of the best villains to have ever been written and displayed on screen.
10. Norma Desmond - Sunset Boulevard (1950)
To start we must first look at those well-written, but not necessarily feared en masse.
Like Norma Desmond, played by the lovely Gloria Swanson, who may not seem like the type to strike fear into the hearts of the viewer. But as a used up silent film actress, Norma just wants to find her fame once more. She is able to instill sympathy and pity which she uses to hide her envy of the progressing world around her. Through this deception of pity, she entraps Joe Gillis’s character and leads him to his death. Even at the end of her declining fame, she still believes that she is the biggest star.
9. Billy Lee - Bad Times at the El Royale
Sometimes the most terrifying part of a villain is their cool demeanor. Take, for example, Ted Bundy, Edmund Kemper, and Jeffrey Dahmer (to name a few).
For a villain to truly believe their actions are justified is to harness the power of persuasion. With this persuasion, they are able to manipulate those around them and control the reality of those that follow them.
Chris Hemsworth’s character, Billy Lee, in Bad Times at the El Royale shows just how deadly the idolization of manipulative people can be. In order to gain information, Billy Lee shows his suave charismatic persona, but after failing to gain the initial response he wished for he turns merciless and cruel. Ultimately, giving the patrons of the El Royale a truly dreadful night to remember.
8. Mr. Blonde - Reservoir Dogs
A good villain must be unpredictable at times and does what some would claim as “immoral” for fun.
This perfectly summarizes Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) from Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Mr. Blonde is the type of criminal that feels no remorse for those that he has harmed. Even after a heist that turned deadly due to his actions, he is still able to take time and pick up a beverage before meeting at the designated rendezvous point. To add to his alarming apathy, he is even willing to cut a police officer’s ear off before dousing him in gasoline all while listening to Stealers Wheel’s up-beat song “Stuck in the Middle With You”.
Just because he wanted to have to. Mr. Blonde’s actions have no higher purpose other than entertainment for himself.
7. Tommy Devito - Goodfellas
It is no surprise that Joe Pesci landed himself on this list. From playing gangsters to foolish robbers, Joe Pesci has no limits to what he can portray. His role in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas as Tommy Devito won him an Oscar as best supporting role in 1991.
Tommy Devito is never willing to be mocked, questioned, or ridiculed without serious repercussions for hurting his pride. He is even willing to kill just to preserve his “top-dog” status. His uninhibited temperament may lead to impulsive actions, but that makes him all the less predictable and all the more deadly.
6. Daniel Plainview - There Will Be Blood
While Daniel Day-Lewis may not look like a stereotypical villain, his portrayal of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood begs to differ. From a hard-working man to a ruthless business owner, Daniel Plainview is anything but simple.
After scrounging his way through thick and thin, Plainview is able to gain a large portion of land that is rich with oil. He turns against the people that he once promised hope and bright futures for his own personal gain. His desire for wealth overshadowed his understanding of good and evil and coincided with his spiral into chaos. Even at the end of his life he still felt nothing but rapacity and frustration.
5. Frank Lucas - American Gangster
Based on a real-life mobster from the late 60s, Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Frank Lucas can not go without notice. ‘To do what needs to be done’ is a truth that American Gangster’s Frank Lucas lives by. Though some historians believe that the film’s representation of Frank Lucas is over-dramatized, this does not make the film’s version any less nefarious.
From killing in the middle of a crowded street to plaguing the streets with heroin, Frank Lucas is nobody to mess with and deserves a spot with the greatest villains.
4. Anton Chigurh - No Country for Old Men
If someone was to ask what Death would look like if it had physical form, we would immediately turn them to Javier Bardem’s performance as Anton Chigurh. The Coen Brother’s film won Bardem an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in 2008 and it is well deserved.
To declare that Anton Chigurh is ruthless is an immense understatement. Most villains can and will make mistakes, but not Chigurh. He thinks out every little detail to the point that he becomes a Terminator-like killing machine on a mission. Without expressing emotion, Chigurh does whatever he must in order to get his job done.
From causing a car to explode for nothing more than meds, to making a gas station owner flip a coin to keep his life, Anton Chigurh is one villain we would never want to even be within 100 miles of.
3. Li'l Zé - City of God
To kill over and over again for nothing more than petty amusement is what can truly make a human-being terrifying. Li'l Zé from Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s 2003 film City of God has a welcoming place near the top of this list.
To see a young character grow into a villain is a rather unique perspective that we do not get to see in many films. In City of God, we see Li'l Zé go from a malicious young boy to a hate-filled drug trafficker. His ruthlessness knows no bounds, even to the point of making a fresh-faced teen member of their gang choose between killing one of two younger kids. His establishment of power is brutal and callous.
From rape to indifferent murders, Li'l Zé will be branded on the back of every viewer’s mind for the rest of film history.
2. Hannibal Lecter - The Silence of the Lambs
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”
Nobody can forget their first time watching a Hannibal Lecter film and having to go to sleep that same night. The chills of being watched by those emotionless eyes. His eyes alone make you feel as though you are being hunted by a lion and you are but a mere rabbit. Ready to be eaten with a side of fava beans.
To try and dive into the madness of Hannibal Lecter is to swim in an infinite void. Even with his infamous mask and restraints, the viewer is still brought to their knees by his psychologically damaged persona. To have Hannibal Lecter after you is to wish you were already dead and cremated.
1. Don Vito Corleone - The Godfather
While a lot of other villains on this list may kill with their own hands, Marlon Brando’s character Don Vito Corleone has others do it for him. To have an entire family at your will is to operate with the hand of a god. Moreover, not only does Don Vito Corleone have control over his clan, he is one of the most powerful men in New York City.
The reason Don Vito gains the first spot on this list is because he is so complex in character. He is willing to do whatever for his family, so his actions are justified to him. But, at the same time, he is unwilling to have his family stray from the path of unarguable power. He may show mercy, yet, he is always ready to eventually swat the flies that get in his way.