James’ Top Ten(ish) Movie Villains

| July 26, 2011

10. THE DALEKS and THE BORG (Dr. Who and Star Trek)


Yeah, I’m starting by cheating and making the list 11, but the truth is there are Millions of each of these so the list is cosmetic anyway.

Both of these villains are actually very similar; they are each the great evil looming somewhere in deep space and arguably the most dangerous villains in their respective universes. They are the mechanized, inhuman foot soldiers of doom without emotion. The Borg are particularly scary because of their ability to turn you into one of them, but the Daleks have a personal relationship with The Doctor, having wiped out the rest of the Time Lords, leaving him alone in the universe.

09. CHISTOPHER WALKEN (True Romance, The Rundown, Catch Me if You Can)


This doesn’t happen enough, but when it does it’s magic. He’s really on this list because of True Romance, and specifically because of the scene below, but any time that he pumps that dark, brooding evil underneath his natural quirk I think it berths cinema gold and puts our heroes in more danger than we could have expected. As Frank Abagnale he may not be as foreboding of a villain—may not be a villain at all—but the subtlety that he provides to the lies and illusions that he presents to his son sells every actions that Frank Abagnale Jr. takes after that.

08. HANS LANDA (Inglourious Basterds)


It won’t be the last time I say this hear, but it’s easy to make a villain out of a Nazi but it’s much harder to make a villain so much worse that it somewhat redeems the other Nazis in the movie. Sure, Landa is the ‘Jew Hunter’ but when it comes to the end of the movie and he agrees to end the war in exchange for the chance to live the rest of his life in America, we realize that Landa is not really a Nazi, not really a believer in all the lies and hate that fueled them, or a German nationalist, but instead was simply looking out for himself. His role in the movie is frightening and made more frightening each time he makes us laugh.

07. Joker (The Dark Knight)


It’s hard not to love the Joker. He takes the chaotic nature of villains like Chigurh or The Shark and layers this disturbing, fun, comic-book insanity over the top of it. This is a rare kind of villain who can be both chilling and lovably fun to watch.

06. ANTON CHIGURH (No Country for Old Men)


Chigurh is the human embodiment of the shark in Jaws; he’s a silent, skilled killer that cannot be controlled, predicted, or understood. He’s scary visually and his work is so disturbing that by the end of the film we don’t even need to see him kill anyone for us to be disturbed. The question that is Chigurh changes over the course of the film so that what was, “Who is this guy,” becomes, “What is the nature of evil?” I believe that many people misinturpret this movie as nihilistic when in fact what Sheriff Bell comes to realize by the end of the film is that the modern evil is no more dangerous than it was in the past, as he posits in the opening scene, but instead that it exists within our lives like a tornado that neither builds nor dies, but only spins, and we are to do our best to avoid it.

05. The Ring (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy)


The One Ring is a devil of a mcguffin; it looms over everything in the movies and while we’re trained as audiences to know our heroes will win in the end, as the end comes closer we don’t know for sure that our characters will really come out of this adventure undamaged, and sure enough they don’t. What’s dangerous about the ring is how much we can relate to it. It is a symbol of the worst things within us that if we cannot overcome may halt our journeys mid-step. It preys on Frodo’s fear, self-consciousness, and his love for everything he was leaving behind to stop him. For an inanimate object to feel so much like a presence in the movie is a rare achievement.

04. DARTH VADER (Star Wars)


One of the greatest introductions of a villain in movie history as this dark figure emerges of the smoke of the blasted open Blockade Runner door and steps over the dead bodies of the ships crew and his Stormtroopers alike. What can I say? He’s all black, part robot, he had magic skills and uses them on his own men, and he’s our heroes father.

03. THE SHARK (Jaws)


This classic villain is the archetype for the uncontrollable villains, so many of whom are on this list and borrow almost directly from The Shark. We can’t understand the shark, relate with it, we don’t know where it is or when it’s going to hit because we can’t see it, and most of all it’s scary because it’s real. Unlike the Xenomorph, which might keep us up at night but is never going to turn up in the real world, The Shark is going to scare you in the middle of a warm day as you stand calf deep in murky water. What makes The Shark even better is the perfectly crafted Indianapolis Monologue which is not only true but reminds us how many more sharks are out there than just this one.

02. XENOMORPH (Alien)


This creature has become so iconic now that I think it’s lost a little of it’s edge unfortunately, but if you put in Alien and turn off the lights, it’s still just as scary as it is smart. The Xenomorph plays on every aspect of our inbred xenophobia: it hatches from a fleshy egg into a spider thing, then grows in your chest and busts out, it has almost no recognizable human features except for generalities like fingers and feet, which are only similar enough to be creepy. It’s a well-designed monster in a claustrophobic horror film made by a master of filmmaking who’s always ahead of his time. Dissertations have been written about the meaning of the creatures phallic imagery and what it is about the scene at the end with Ripley nearly naked and the monster lurking around every corner that disturbs us so much. It’s the things that nightmares are made of and I hope to see it treated properly again one day, perhaps for the first time since its inception. Yes, it’s very much like the Shark in Jaws but I like it more and I think that it stands up to time a little better.

01. RENE BELLOQ (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark)


This is the character that taught me what it took to write a great villain when I was ten. In the scene after Marion’s supposed death, when Belloq and Indiana sit down at a table together, in an effort to swing Indy over to his side, he unwittingly explains why he is such wonderful villain. “You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our Methods have not differed as much as you might pretend. I am a but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light… You know it’s true.”


Belloq is the perfect foil for our hero. With so many things about them the same, he amplifies the parts of Indiana Jones that make us love him. In a way he is not only a good villain for the sake of having a good villain, he’s a good villain for the sake of making our hero a better hero. And he is a good villain. Certainly the Nazis are more threatening—even Belloq is afraid of them—but Marion and Indy might not have had to ‘watch’ the Ark be opened if not for Belloq’s intimate knowledge of Indy’s thoughts. His greatest move comes—right after he eats a fly—when Indiana thinks he’s gotten the drop on the Nazis with a rocket launcher and Belloq turns the whole situation around on him with nothing but his words, he even stands up to the Nazis in that scene. Belloq is so close to his goal, and nothing will keep him from it.

This isn’t a list of the ‘scariest’ villains, just the best ones, and while I think that Rene Belloq is one of the most well crafted villains in cinema history, there is nothing scary about him. Part of what makes this character work is his humanity, his realism, displayed most prominently in his scene with Marion in their tent. Belloq is treated like the timid kid from a teen comedy in this scene, completely unable to hit on a woman or see the trap that she’s setting for him—a trap that would have succeeded if not for the Nazis. In a movie with Nazis in it, it’s easy to create a villain like Hans Landa, a pure evil, pitiless psychopath with no real allegiances, but Belloq isn’t a Nazi, he’s a human and an archeaologist.


Runners Up

ABIN COOPER (Red State) – Disqualified for being too new

AGENT SMITH (The Matrix)

AL CAPONE (The Untouchables)

About the Author:

Every week Ryan, James, and Brad of Denver based Reel Nerds Podcast attend a new movie and then we podcast our experience to the world. We also share news, opinions and reviews of movies, comics, video games and pop culture! Turn off your cell phones and save the chatter for after the credits!
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