The 10 Actors Who Make the Best Villains


The entertainment news cycle brings no shortage of casting announcements, but only rarely do we actually get excited about the news that a certain actor has been matched with a certain role. For instance, we were thrilled to hear, earlier this week, that Chloë Sevigny is slated to play Lizzie Borden in an HBO miniseries — and that she has, in fact, been staying at the bed and breakfast in Fall River, MA where Borden may or may not have killed her father and stepmother. Who better to take on such a morally ambiguous role than the woman who is just finishing her run as a delightfully selfish, short-fused (but ultimately well-meaning) character on Big Love?

Sevigny, we concluded, was born to play dark, fascinating roles. And that got us thinking about other actors who are at their best when portraying villains. Our top ten is after the jump.

Christoph Waltz

Although the Austrian-born actor has had three decade-long career in Germany, it took 2009’s Inglourious Basterds to make Christoph Waltz a big name in the US. He even won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of cruel, fictional Nazi leader Col. Hans Landa — a part director Quentin Tarantino feared was “un-playable.” “Landa is a linguistic genius,” Tarantino told Variety, “and the actor who played him needed the same facility with language or he would never be what he was on the page.” Waltz has already gone on to co-star in the disappointing Green Hornet, where he was faultless as insecure gangster boss Bloodnofsky. We’re excited to see him take on the deliciously evil role of the twisted Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers, slated to come out later this year.

Glenn Close

At roughly the same age and almost the same level of renown, Glenn Close is like Meryl Streep’s evil twin. She’s played some of the big screen’s most vicious bad girls, from Dangerous Liaisons ‘ devious Marquise de Merteuil to psycho-stalker Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction . (Sexual manipulation does seem to be a theme.) Hell, she was even perfect as Cruella de Vil in not one but two live-action movies based on the animated classic 101 Dalmations . Too bad Close was just about the only interesting part of those movies.

Dennis Hopper

The dearly departed Hopper began his career as a human encapsulation of the ’60s counterculture spirit. And while his Easy Rider character certainly wasn’t Pollyanna, it wasn’t until almost 20 years later when Hopper emerged from a few decades of drug abuse to become the go-to actor for scary-middle-aged-guy roles. It was his utterly terrifying turn as Frank Booth in David Lynch’s 1986 masterpiece Blue Velvet that clinched it. (Even scarier? Hopper scored the part by insisting to Lynch, “I have to play Frank Booth; I am Frank Booth.”) After that, his villain roles were all over the map, from King Koopa in the awful 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie to tyrannical urban overlord Paul Kaufman in George Romero’s fantastic zombie thriller Land of the Dead .

Barbara Stanwyck

Noir films were loaded with crazy, beautiful blondes, but the one who best embodied the femme fatale was Barbara Stanwyck. In The Lady Eve , she was a gorgeous con who gives up the game when she falls in love with her mark, Henry Fonda’s Charles Pike. But she’ll forever be known for playing one of the baddest bitches in film history: Double Indemnity ‘s Phyllis Dietrichson, who flirts her way into Walter Neff’s (Fred MacMurray) heart and convinces him to help kill her husband. They plan to live in luxury on the life insurance money, but once the deed is done, Phyllis doesn’t seem so love-struck anymore.

Anthony Hopkins

What, you thought we’d leave out Hannibal Lecter? No effin’ way. Has anyone managed to bestow more nightmares in only the 16 minutes of screen time allotted Sir Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs ? And if Hannibal isn’t evil enough for you, on top of appearing in two sequels to that movie, Hopkins also earned a Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of real-life villain Richard Nixon in Oliver Stone’s 1995 biopic.

Faye Dunaway

Faye Dunaway is a wonderful actress who’s excelled in all sorts of roles. But there are two that will forever stick out in our mind: glamourous, gunslinging bank robber Bonnie Parker in 1967’s industry-shaking Bonnie and Clyde and real-life crazy lady Joan Crawford (who made a great villain herself, especially in The Women ) in camp classic Mommie Dearest . “No wire hangers, ever!”

Malcolm McDowell

Can you imagine A Clockwork Orange without Malcolm McDowell’s devilish leer? And only one man could have played the titular wicked, debauched Roman emperor in the Gore Vidal-scripted, Penthouse-financed 1979 bacchanal that was Caligula. Since then, he’s been the mad scientist who killed Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk, a demented, water-hogging mogul in Tank Girl, and will portray the biggest bad guy of all –Satan — in the forthcoming Suing the Devil.

Daryl Hannah

Any way you slice it, Daryl Hannah is a total badass. She first raised eyebrows as Blade Runner ‘s Pris, a punk-rock “pleasure model” replicant who’s skilled at sweet-talking men and engaging in gymnastics-style combat. (Need proof Hannah’s tough? She did her own stunts for the movie.) Over two decades later, she was sexy and scary as ever in both installments of Kill Bill , as Elle Driver, the one-eyed nurse who tries to kill Uma Thurman’s comatose Bride in the first volume and gets her just desserts in the second. She may even get to reprise the role, should Quentin Tarantino’s plans for a third and fourth Kill Bill actually come to pass.

Robert Mitchum

It doesn’t include any lurid torture porn, and no one’s torn apart by a goop-oozing monster, but few films are scarier than Charles Laughton’s incredibly odd 1955 film, Night of the Hunter. The center of this slow-burning psychological twister is Robert Mitchum, a smooth-talking, self-styled priest who worms his way into a family in order to get his hands on the widow’s hidden money. But he isn’t just a twisted fanatic with “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed on his fingers; he’s also a mass murderer. Less than a decade later, Mitchum cemented his place as one of cinema’s all-time greatest portrayers of evil as deranged stalker-rapist Max Cady in Cape Fear.

Jack Nicholson

Cinema history is filled with bad-guy catch phrases. King among them is “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” a proverb uttered by a character named Jack Torrance, played by an actor named Jack Nicholson, with an increasingly menacing glint in his eye. In our book, his performance in The Shining is legendary enough to earn Nicholson a place on this list. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t also point out his delightfully unhinged Joker in Batman and that sicko mobster, Frank Costello, in The Departed.