Hollywood's 25 Favorite Villains

6:45 AM 7/19/2018

by Andy Lewis and Ben Svetkey

The Hollywood Reporter's survey of nearly 1,000 working entertainment industry insiders reveals the most feared (and admired) nemeses, evil geniuses and cold-blooded killers (including seven Oscar winners) creating millions of nightmares and driving billions in box office.

Illustrations by Rami Niemi

  1. 25
    25

    Agent Smith

    Hugo Weaving, 'The Matrix' Trilogy

    Photofest

    Many have speculated that Weaving copied Carl Sagan’s flat tones to play the evil hunter program in the Matrix movies, but the Nigeria-born Australian actor says he was actually doing his rendition of a 1950s-style news reader.

  2. 24
    25

    Wile E. Coyote

    Mel Blanc, 'The Bugs Bunny Show'

    Photofest

    "Voiced" is being generous: the Looney Tunes character spoke on only a few occasions, and only to introduce himself as a "genius" (in, oddly, an upper-class British accent).

  3. 23
    25

    Scar

    Jeremy Irons, 'The Lion King'

    Photofest

    Irons was reluctant to take the voice part at first; after doing heavy drama as Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune, he didn’t feel comfortable voicing a cartoon lion. But the film went on to to become the highest-grossing movie of the year, earning $422 million domestically.

  4. 22
    25

    Tony Montana

    Al Pacino, 'Scarface'

    Photofest

    Pacino snorted a ton of powdered milk while shooting Brian De Palma’s epic gangster drama — contrary to rumors, it wasn’t real cocaine — and has suffered from nasal issues ever since. “For years after, I have had things up in there,” he said in 2015. “I don’t know what happened to my nose, but it’s changed.”

  5. 21
    25

    The Shark

    "Bruce," 'Jaws'

    Universal Pictures/Photofest

    There were actually three sharks — each named Bruce — in the film. They cost $250,000 apiece and none of them worked properly. The first sank to the bottom of the ocean and had to be retrieved by divers.

  6. 20
    25

    Terminator

    Arnold Schwarzenegger, 'The Terminator'

    Courtesy of Photofest

    When he said he’d be back, he wasn’t kidding. Schwarzenegger, 70, will be returning for a sixth time as the killing machine from the future in a still-untitled sequel that will reunite the big metal guy with his original co-star Linda Hamilton. 

  7. 19
    25

    Alex Delarge

    Malcolm McDowell, 'A Clockwork Orange'

    Photofest

    Aside from McDowell’s performance — which executives particularly liked, ranking it No. 8 — Kubrick’s futuristic nightmare features another actor who appears on this list: David Prowse, who later played the body of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars movies, has a small, don’t-blink role. 

  8. 18
    25

    Tommy DeVito

    Joe Pesci, 'Goodfellas'

    Warner Bros. Pictures/Photofest

    Pesci won a best supporting actor trophy for the part of the fast-talking gangster (“Funny how? Do I amuse you?”), but his acceptance speech was the second shortest in history (“It is my privilege, thank you.”). Male producers gave the character its highest ranking, at No. 10.

  9. 17
    25

    Michael Corleone

    Al Pacino, 'The Godfather' films

    Paramount Pictures/Photofest

    Producer Robert Evans wanted Robert Redford to play Don Corleone’s youngest son, but director Francis Ford Coppola thought he was too waspy. Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman were all offered the role but turned it down. Martin Sheen and Dean Stockwell auditioned but didn’t get it. Robert De Niro did get it, then backed out. So, in the end, over Evans’ initial objections, Pacino was cast, and ended up getting his first Oscar nomination.

  10. 16
    25

    Hal 9000

    Douglas Rain, '2001: A Space Odyssey'

    Photofest

    Your iPhone 8 probably has more bandwidth, but the character — the artificial intelligence that politely apologizes while murdering astronauts aboard the Discovery One space craft (“I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that”) — still has power over male directors, who ranked him No. 4. The song Hal sings while being disconnected, by the way, was the first ever sung by a computer, in 1961.

  11. 15
    25

    Lord Voldemort

    Ralph Fiennes, 'Harry Potter' franchise

    Photofest

    According to Fiennes, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was more misunderstood than pure, undiluted evil. “Young Voldemort was an orphan and denied any kind of parental affection or love, so he’s been an isolated figure from a very young age,” he told Newsweek in 2011. “But I always think there has to be the possibility of good.”

  12. 14
    25

    Alex Forrest

    Glenn Close, 'Fatal Attraction'

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Actresses and female executives were the biggest fans of the bunny-boiling mistress who “will not be ignored,” but male writers ranked her in the top ten, as well. Sharon Stone, Sally Field, Gilda Radner and Kirstie Alley were considered for the role, while Christopher Reeve turned down Michael Douglas’ part as the cheating husband.

  13. 13
    25

    Jack Torrance

    Jack Nicholson, 'The Shining'

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    One industry insider who wouldn’t rank Nicholson’s version of the character very high is Stephen King, who was never a fan of Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel about a hotel-bound writer who goes crazy. “It’s like a great big beautiful Cadillac with no motor inside,” was how King described the film in a 1986 interview.

  14. 12
    25

    Baby Jane Hudson

    Bette Davis, 'What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?'

    Photofest

    Davis’ iconic “psycho biddy” — who tortures her paraplegic sister, played by real-life rival Joan Crawford — was ranked No. 3 by female producers and agents, while actresses put the character at No. 4. Guys, however, were less in love with Baby Jane; male directors ranked her highest, at No. 8.

  15. 11
    25

    Hans Gruber

    Alan Rickman, 'Die Hard'

    Photofest

    Not surprisingly, male agents ranked this slick, coolly intelligent killer in the $5,000 Tom Phillips suit (“I could talk about industrialization and men’s fashion all day but I’m afraid work must intrude”) way up high. They put him at No. 4, just behind Hannibal Lecter.

  16. 10
    25

    Anton Chigurh

    Javier Bardem, 'No Country for Old Men'

    Illustrations by Rami Niemi

    Bardem, playing a remorseless hit man with a creepy pageboy haircut, is the sixth of these top 10 villains to have picked up an Oscar for his evil-doing (the first Spanish thespian to win best supporting actor). But he paid for the privilege: "I saw myself in the mirror and thought, 'Well, it looks great, but you have ruined my life for the next three months,'" Bardem once said of his character's 'do. "I had to walk around the set with a hairnet. That was the most humiliating thing. Every time I came on set, everybody was laughing at me."

  17. 9
    25

    Colonel Hans Landa

    Christoph Waltz, 'Inglourious Basterds'

    Illustrations by Rami Niemi

    No less an authority than Sir Michael Caine once called Waltz's turn as the "Jew Hunter" in Quentin Tarantino's World War II revenge fantasy "the best performance of a villain I've seen in years." Oscar voters agreed, giving Waltz a best supporting actor statue. Big shocker: Male talent agents in particular love the smarmy, sadistic killer; they ranked him at No. 2.

  18. 8
    25

    Annie Wilkes

    Kathy Bates, 'Misery'

    Illustrations by Rami Niemi

    Bates' Oscar-winning turn as an out-of-control fan who rescues her favorite novelist (James Caan) from a car wreck, then breaks his ankles and holds him prisoner, is among Stephen King's favorites: He liked Bates so much he wrote two more parts for her (Dolores Claiborne and The Stand's Rae Flowers). THR's poll shows that the character is equally popular among actors and actresses, but the ones who ranked her highest were, for some reason, female attorneys, who placed Annie Wilkes at No. 2.

  19. 7
    25

    Norman Bates

    Anthony Perkins, 'Psycho'

    Illustrations by Rami Niemi

    "What makes Norman such a great villain is that he's sympathetic," muses Carlton Cuse, who produced the 2013-17 TV series Bates Motel (with Freddie Highmore playing the high-strung mama's boy). "That was the genius of Perkins — you couldn't help but root for him. When the detective comes in, you're hoping Norman gets away with it. That was our starting point for the TV show, to make Norman as sympathetic as possible, even though he's doing terrible things."

  20. 6
    25

    Miranda Priestly

    Meryl Streep, 'The Devil Wears Prada'

    Illustrations by Rami Niemi

    Streep's imperious, assistant-torturing fashion magazine editor isn't a brain-eating cannibal or shower-stabbing maniac — her signature evil move is tossing her coat at Anne Hathaway as she grandly enters her office — but she still ranks as the No. 1 villain among women taking this poll. "The story of a young girl out of college with her first job and a terrible boss — it's universal," says Lauren Weisberger, author of the 2003 best-seller that became the film. "I kept hearing the same story from women all over the country. Everyone's had that experience."

  21. 5
    25

    Nurse Ratched

    Louise Fletcher, 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'

    Illustrations by Rami Niemi

    Anne Bancroft, Angela Lansbury, Ellen Burstyn — nobody wanted to play the cold-blooded nurse who lobotomizes Jack Nicholson in Milos Forman's psych-ward drama. "But I didn't know how many turned it down," says Fletcher, 83, who won an Oscar for the role. The character has been surprisingly durable; Ryan Murphy is bringing her back in Ratched, a Netflix series with Sarah Paulson. "We've all met people like her," says Fletcher. "Phone operators, flight attendants — they have a little authority and abuse it."

  22. 4
    25

    Joker

    Heath Ledger, 'The Dark Knight'

    Illustrations by Rami Niemi

    "Seventy percent of this character is his look," says Glen Weldon, author of The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. "He is a clown. Clowns are scary. Especially clowns that dress up like riverboat gamblers for no readily discernible reason." But, he adds, the key to Ledger's performance, as the only comic book actor to win an Oscar (13 months after his death from a drug overdose), was to do the opposite of what other actors had done with the role. Says Weldon, "Cesar Romero, huge. Jack Nicholson, chewing up the scenery. Mark Hamill, theatrical. But Ledger goes small. He goes inward." The performance is particularly popular with youngsters: He's No. 1 for those in their 20s.

  23. 3
    25

    Wicked Witch of the West

    Margaret Hamilton, 'The Wizard of Oz'

    Illustrations by Rami Niemi

    Think The Wizard of Oz is just a sweet, Depression-era children's movie that helps kill a couple of hours over Thanksgiving? Think again. According to University of Kansas professor Megan Williams — who has taught a course on the film — it's actually an anti-feminist nightmare and very different from the book. For starters, she's the first green witch in popular culture. And she's scarier — so much so that producers had to trim about a dozen of her lines to tone it down for little kids. But the biggest change was to take a story that was praised as the first feminist kid's book and flip it on its head. Instead of going on more adventures (as she does in the book), all Dorothy wants to do is go back into the home at the end of the movie. The Wicked Witch is the opposite of that, symbolizing how scary women with power are, Williams notes — she's single, she doesn't want to stay at home, she runs her own kingdom and instead of waiting for men to give her pretty things (like the Ruby Slippers) she just takes them. Then again, what do academics know? The character — which Hamilton reprised only once, in a 1976 episode of Sesame Street, with Oscar the Grouch helping the Witch look for her lost broom — ranked No. 4 among women in the THR poll.

  24. 2
    25

    Hannibal Lecter

    Anthony Hopkins, 'The Silence of the Lambs,' 'Hannibal,' 'Red Dragon'

    Illustrations by Rami Niemi

    Hopkins' first performance as Lecter lasts only 16 minutes, the shortest turn ever to win best actor. But his chillingly civilized cannibal — Hopkins once described the voice as "a combination of Truman Capote and Katharine Hepburn" — filled up a lot of film cans since. He came back to eat Ray Liotta's brains in 2001's Hannibal, then sauteed a flute player's pancreas in 2002's Red Dragon. Writers ranked him No. 1 thanks to tasty bon mots like "I ate his liver with same fava beans and a nice Chianti." And women ranked him even higher than they did non-cannibal Darth Vader.

  25. 1
    25

    Darth Vader

    David Prowse and James Earl Jones, 'Star Wars' franchise

    Illustrations by Rami Niemi

    If things had gone a little differently, Darth Vader would have worn a black silk scarf on his head and sounded like Orson Welles. That's how George Lucas imagined the character in early sketches and notes. Fortunately for Star Wars fans — and that group includes a huge swath of the people taking this poll who ranked Vader at or near the top across all professions, genders and (most) age brackets — the character ended up with far more sinister headgear and an even deeper voice. "My first introduction to Darth Vader was as an action figure," recalls filmmaker Kevin Smith. "And he was beautiful — the mask, the chest plate, the black outfit. Then I saw the movies and heard that booming James Earl Jones voice. He's incredibly well-spoken. Most movie bad guys weren't." About the only demo that didn't rank Vader in the top five of this list was the youngest respondents; 20-somethings had him at No. 6, just behind Regina George from Mean Girls (who didn't come anywhere near the top 25).

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    A version of this story first appeared in the July 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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