In The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy, open-mouthed, says “I’ve never heard of a beautiful witch before,” Glinda famously quips that only bad witches are ugly. But ’tis not so — or at least, there are plenty of very bad witches who are the opposite of ugly: beautiful, sexy, charming, devastatingly intelligent, or all of the above. So, in case you need a little respite after all the goody-goody cheer of the Christmas season, and a little bit in honor of J.K. Rowling’s outrage that we all love Draco so much, here’s fifty villains that we wouldn’t kick out of bed. A note: for the purposes of this list, the term “villain” shall encompass both true villains and the simply villainous: anti-heroes, big bads, antagonists, and a few plain old murderous jerks. With that in mind, read on for a collection of bad guys we all love to hate and also love to love just a little bit. Miss your favorite? Sing the praises of the dashing devil in the comments.
Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
If there’s one thing you can say about Patrick Bateman, it’s that the man sticks to his workout routine. Handsome and buff, a lover of material goods and ’80s music, desirous of murder and dismemberment. He’s the scariest kind of serial killer (whether actual or no), because he could be inside somebody you already know — and probably is.
Draco Malfoy, the Harry Potter series
Actually, the most handsome villain in the Harry Potter universe is probably Tom Riddle, the young Lord Voldemort, who is constantly described as being almost preternaturally handsome — something not unhelpful for getting his dastardly deeds done. But the baddie that everyone seems to get it up for is really Draco. He’s described in the books as being tall, slender, pale and blonde, with grey eyes, which doesn’t sound too shabby at all, but probably the culprit is Tom Felton. J.K. Rowling herself said, “Draco remains a person of dubious morality in the seven published books, and I have often had cause to remark on how unnerved I have been by the number of girls who fell for this particular fictional character… [He] has all the glamour of the anti-hero; girls are very apt to romanticise such people. All of this left me in the unenviable position of pouring cold common sense on ardent readers’ daydreams as I told them, rather severely, that Draco was not concealing a heart of gold under all that sneering and prejudice and that no, he and Harry were not destined to end up best friends.”
The White Witch, The Chronicles of Narnia
The main antagonist in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is also a vision of beauty: a seven foot tall goddess (er, half Djinn, half giant) dressed in furs, who seems “ten times more alive than most people in London,” with a face “white like snow or paper or icing sugar, except for her very red mouth. It was a beautiful face in other respects, but proud and cold and stern.” She can also kill you, and if you’re a man, read your thoughts. She may be evil, but she’s downright sexy (if you like strong women, that is).
Mrs. Coulter, The Golden Compass
Though it is perhaps too simple to call Marisa Coulter a villain in the series at large, she definitely turns out to be the main antagonist in the first novel, getting up to some very bad things. She’s also “beautiful and young,” with “sleek black hair framing her cheeks” and one of the most stylish and luxurious bad guys around. Just don’t get that monkey mad.
If you want the truth, the original Bram Stoker Dracula was never described as the least bit handsome — he’s a pale, “cruel looking” man, with a hooked nose, pointy ears and teeth, and a long white mustache, not to mention his hairy palms. Not a very appealing idea. But because of how closely vampirism is tied to sex, the Count has become a cultural figure of great (and dangerous) sexual appeal, and he and his spawn have only gotten more and more beautiful in our collective consciousness.
Speaking of vampires, here’s an original who was actually meant to be penetratingly beautiful, and who also sparked a legion of lesbian vampire stories: Sheridan le Fanu’s 1871 creation Carmilla (which, mind you, predates Count Dracula up there). “Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, ‘You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever.'” Oh, my.
Cersei Baratheon, A Song of Ice and Fire
In possession of those golden Lannister looks, that honeyed Lannister charm, that vicious (or at least purely self-interested) Lannister heart.
The Queen, Snow White
Only the second fairest in the land, and super mad about it.
Edmund, King Lear
One of the most villainous villains in all of Shakespeare is also a total ladies man. Though Shakespeare didn’t much go in for describing the features of his characters (Elizabethan typecasting perhaps not exactly a thing), Edmund seduces both Goneril and Regan — sisters! — so he must have a face to match that game. (Just think of Philip Winchester playing him in Ian McKellen’s Lear. Now you’ve got it.)
Cathy Ames, East of Eden
A beauty, to be sure: “the delicate blooming skin, the golden hair, the wide-set, modest, and yet promising eyes, the little mouth full of sweetness, caught attention and held it.” Also, a manipulative, terrifying creature who enjoys using her sexuality (or whatever else she can wield) to destroy people and watch them burn. Sometimes literally. Also described by Steinbeck himself in a letter to a friend as “a total representative of Satan.” So, there you go.
Hannibal Lecter, Red Dragon
Yes, yes, he’s a horrifying, psychotic cannibal. But he’s also brilliant and erudite, and hey, smart is sexy. And killing people for their bad manners? We’ve all wanted to do that from time to time.
The Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood
Who’s sexier than the big bad wolf? All fur and virility and titillating danger? Luring succulent young maidens off the path and getting them to strip for him? No other animals I know.
Cruella de Vil, The Hundred and One Dalmatians
The Cruelle de Vil of Dodie Smith’s novel isn’t as conventionally attractive as some of the others on this list — she’s described as “a tall woman… wearing a tight-fitting emerald satin dress, several ropes of rubies, and an absolutely simple white mink cloak, which reached to the high heels of her ruby-red shoes. She had dark skin, black eyes with a tinge of red in them, and a very pointed nose. her hair was parted severely down the middle and one half of it was black and the other white — rather unusual.” But hey, there’s definitely something sexy about an eccentric glamourpuss with her own bizarre style, incomprehensible to the average man. She was also once expelled from school for drinking ink, which kind of does it for me somehow.
George Wickham, Pride and Prejudice
Charming and handsome, and even appealing to the keen-eyed Lizzy Bennet, who tends not to suffer fools or fakers. But yet, alas, he reveals himself to be liar, a cad and a ruiner of ladies, all the more insidious for how well he fooled us all.
Captain Hook, Peter and Wendy
He may be “cadaverous and blackavised” but also (as Barrie told it in “Captain Hook at Eton”) “in a word, the handsomest man I have ever seen, though, at the same time, perhaps slightly disgusting.” Now that’s sex appeal for you.
Becky Sharp, Vanity Fair
A bilingual beauty of an anti-heroine with every parlor charm imaginable — a lovely singing voice, skill at instruments, excellent party banter — who also will lie, cheat, steal and manipulate to work herself just a little higher up that social ladder. As Lady Jane calls it, she is “a wicked woman — a heartless mother, a false wife … She never came into a family but she strove to bring misery with her and to weaken the most sacred affections with her wicked flattery and falsehoods … her soul is black with vanity, worldliness, and all sorts of crime. I tremble when I touch her. I keep my children out of her sight.” I love to shudder at her remorseless trickery, but I’m sure I’d be just as easily taken in.
Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park
So handsome and fashionable and charming that even sisters fight over him, but revealed to be a rakish devil! Flirty men in Austen novels are never to be trusted.
Helen Grayle, Farewell, My Lovely
Chandler’s Helen Grayle is a knockout. Or more precisely, “a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window,” as Marlowe would put it. She’s also a murderous trickster, and pretty good at it too — for a while there.
Alex the Large, A Clockwork Orange
A sociopath to be sure — but there’s something kind of bizarrely sexy about a guy who drinks milk and listens primarily to “Ludwig Van.” It’s all that Nadsat swagger.
Tom Buchanan, The Great Gatsby
The villain of The Great Gatsby (besides, you know, society) is the secret dream of sorority girls everywhere: a husky-voiced ex-football star millionaire. Too bad he’s also morally bankrupt, and a sneak, and a jealous moron. His wife, though not technically the true villain of the book, is also beautiful and roundly reprehensible, so let’s consider her part of the package too.
Marquise de Merteuil, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Beautiful and cruel and bored is a truly bad combination. In this classic epistolary novel, the Marquise and her ex-lover the Vicomte de Valmont manipulate, seduce, and trick the world around them into shambles. In the end, the Marquise is punished with disfigurement, perhaps her very worst fear.
Tom Ripley, The Talented Mr. Ripley
What happens when you’re clever, handsome, and “bored, goddamn bloody bored, bored, bored”? Well, you look for every chance to take your con artistry to the next level. Ripley’s a funny case: he’s the protagonist but a completely amoral one, a villain by any standard except that you kind of root for him all along, against your better judgement. Now that’s charm (and good writing).
Achren, The Chronicles of Prydain
An enchantress queen famous for being, as one character puts it, “beautiful, yet very deadly” — not to mention a vengeful tyrant who always appears to be much, much younger than her advanced years.
Irene Adler, The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
One of the only people to have ever bested Sherlock Holmes, and (if you can believe him, at least) the only woman to match him. In modern adaptations, Adler is often portrayed as a love interest for Holmes, but in the books, she’s always working against him — sexily.
Humbert Humbert, Lolita
Here’s a book full of villains: Humbert Humbert, Quilty, even, in a certain light, Lolita herself. Though Quilty is the most black and white of the bunch, Humbert is the most insidious, perhaps because you grow to love him a little, but also perhaps because he’s a handsome, erudite, eloquent man, with only that one teensy overwhelming flaw. “I have all the characteristics which, according to writers on the sex interests of children, start the responses stirring in a little girl: clean-cut jaw, muscular hand, deep sonorous voice, broad shoulder,” Humbert Humbert informs us. “Moreover, I am said to resemble some crooner or actor chap on whom Lo has a crush.” I shudder.
Robert Cohn, The Sun Also Rises
Actually Cohn is pretty decent in this book, but he’s the hated antagonist to our narrator, and thus a villain of sorts. Well, that’s what happens when you’re a middleweight boxing champ with a flattened but “certainly improved” nose who gets in with the girl another guy can’t, er, quite make it with.
Amy, Gone Girl
The situation may be complicated, but I think it’s fair to say that Amy is fairly villainous. She’s more than fairly attractive, of course, and works hard to be so. For example, refer to the now-famous “Cool Girl” speech: “Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot.”
Dorian Gray, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Here’s another character perhaps imperfectly deemed a villain, but definitely villainous in almost every way. Also, of course, famously handsome, all his sins sticking to his other face. If only we all had such a (cursed) thing.
Lady Macbeth, Macbeth
A powerful, beautiful queen, willing to do whatever it takes. That kind of strength and conviction just can’t help but be sexy. Sure, she’s also murderous and mad, villainous if not exactly the villain of the play (it depends whom you ask), but somehow that doesn’t really take anything away from her appeal.
Henry Winter, The Secret History
A college student so charismatic that he can lead his merry band of classics majors straight into a murder and back out again, with (almost) no complaints. Tartt’s narrator Richard describes him thusly: “The larger of the two — and he was quite large, well over six feet — was dark-haired, with a square jaw and coarse, pale skin. He might have been handsome had his features been less set, or his eyes, behind the glasses, less expressionless and blank. He wore dark English suits and carried an umbrella (a bizarre sight in Hampden) and he walked stiffly through the throngs of hippies an beatniks and preppies and punks with the self-conscious formality of an old ballerina, surprising in one so large as he… Henry’s a perfectionist, I mean, really-really kind of inhuman — very brilliant, very erratic and enigmatic. He’s a stiff, cold person, Machiavellian, ascetic and he’s made himself what he is by sheer strength of will. His aspiration is to be this Platonic creature of pure rationality and that’s why he’s attracted to the Classics, and particularly to the Greeks — all those high, cold ideas of beauty and perfection. I think it’s what in the end that gets him into trouble.” Everyone’s dream of a dark college boyfriend, no?
Robert Lovelace, Clarissa
Lovelace is one of the most charming villains in all of literature — but also one of the vilest. Clarissa thinks he is her escape, a witty, dashing alternative to the rich boor her parents are trying to press on her, but he ends up tricking her over and over, and ultimately drugging and raping her. I guess the moral of the story is just don’t be born a girl.
Alec d’Urberville, Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Sigh — another libertine who becomes obsessed with a good-hearted heroine and rapes her and ruins her life. And yet, there’s just something about him. “He had an almost swarthy complexion, with full lips, badly moulded, though red and smooth, above which was a well-groomed black moustache with curled points, though his age could not be more than three-or four-and-twenty. Despite the touches of barbarism in his contours, there was a singular force in the gentleman’s face, and in his bold rolling eye.” He almost sounds like a cartoon villain, but that singular force is a force indeed.
Don Juan, The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest
The legend of Don Juan has been told and retold, and if you know anything, you know he is a notorious lover of women. But he’s also a relentless villain, tricking women into bed and out of money, and in the end gets his comeuppance. It’s only Byron who casts him as a hero, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
He’s dubbed the smartest man in the world and he pretty much looks like a Ken doll. So what if he’s trying to save humanity from itself by killing everyone?
Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights
Look, I know Heathcliff is supposed to be some great tragic romantic hero, but let’s get real. In the second half of the book he basically tries to trick, swindle and destroy everyone he knows, all in the supposed name of love. Even Charlotte Brontë famously said “Heathcliff, in deed, stands unredeemed.”
Zenia, The Robber Bride
Margaret Atwood’s novel has roots in the Grimm fairy tale “The Robber Bridegroom,” in which a man lures women promised to him in marriage back to his house and then eats them. In Atwood’s version, it is the sexy maneater creature (just look at that blurb from Lorrie Moore) Zenia who has nearly destroyed the lives of three women, stealing their partners, meddling in their careers, causing chaos at every turn. But maybe there’s more to it than that…
Tarquin Winot, The Debt to Pleasure
Food is sexy. So is the deftness by which this unreliable narrator slowly, slowly reveals the true nature of things.
Morgan le Fay, Le Morte d’Arthur
Morgan le Fay is a beautiful, powerful sorceress who becomes an enemy of her half-brother Arthur and the Round Table at large when Guinevere catches her cheating on her husband and kind of slut-shames her. Well, you really shouldn’t do that to people, particularly when they know the magics.
Milady de Winter, The Three Musketeers
A spy, a seductress, a thief, and an all-around villain whom the Musketeers themselves describe as tall and fair, very beautiful, and possessed of “blue and clear eyes, of a strange brilliancy,” not to mention an uncommonly sexy voice. “A tigress, a panther!” cries d’Artagnan. Yes, dear.
Veda Pierce, Mildred Pierce
A bad daughter to rival any in literature. She is first introduced as a child (“Though she was only eleven she was something to look at twice.”) and later becomes a beautiful (if you can get past all the obvious evil) singer who seduces her mother’s husband. A warning against spoiling demonic children.
Lestat, Interview with the Vampire
Lestat is probably more of an anti-hero than a villain, and in later books becomes even friendlier, but has enough questionable deeds under his belt (turning a child into a vampire — no getting around that) that I’ll count him here. And though his villainy may be wishy-washy, his sex appeal is not: six feet tall with curly blonde hair and grey eyes, a snappy dresser who can play multiple instruments and loves to read. A Renaissance vampire if ever there was.
Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men
Possessed of the bluest eyes ever to appear in the face of a relentless psychopath. And I know it’s totally evil, but there’s something kind of attractive about his decisiveness — you die if you lose the call, that’s it. (Also: even that hair can’t stop Javier Bardem)
Randall Flagg, The Stand
I’ll just leave it to Sir King, who describes Flagg thus: “There was a dark hilarity in his face, and perhaps in his heart, too, you would think — and you would be right. It was the face of a hatefully happy man, a face that radiated a horrible handsome warmth, a face to make water glasses shatter in the hands of tired truck-stop waitresses, to make small children crash their trikes into board fences and then run wailing to their mommies with stake-shaped splinters sticking out of their knees. It was a face guaranteed to make barroom arguments over batting averages turn bloody.”
Ernest Ralph Gorse, The Gorse Trilogy
Another magnetic, soulless con man, both hero and villain, in a pessimistic, darkly comedic world.
Phyllis Nirdlinger, Double Indemnity
One of the best and most insidious femme fatales in all of noir fiction, actually based on real life murderess Ruth Snyder. In the novel, Phyllis muses, “There’s something in me that loves Death. I think of myself as Death, sometimes. In a scarlet shroud, floating through the night. I’m so beautiful, then. And sad. And hungry to make the whole world happy, by taking them out where I am, into the night, away from all trouble, all unhappiness…” It’s enough to give you chills.
Ivan, The Black Island
Most of the villains in Tintin’s adventures are clearly marked by their ugly or ridiculous appearances (Rastapopoulos, I’m looking at you), and there’s no mistaking anyone’s morality. But I always kind of had a thing for Ivan, the principal henchman of Dr. Müller — that mustache, that tipped hat, that cigarette holder, that ever-present mackintosh. He’s pretty handsome for a cartoon.
The lady, “La Belle Dame sans Merci”
Keats knew all about the destructive power of great beauty, and this ballad tracks the seduction and death of a lover who learns that lesson the hard way. “La Belle Dame sans Merci/ Hath thee in thrall!” No kidding.
Francisco Scaramanga, The Man With the Golden Gun
Forgive me, because I may be being swayed by Christopher Lee’s 1974 portrayal of the villainous sharp-shooter, but still: 6’3″, light blue eyes, with fine taste and honed skills. And he’s an animal lover. Take away the whole KGB angle and he sounds like the perfect man.
Satan, Paradise Lost
In Milton’s poem, Lucifer was the most beautiful of all the angels, plus an accomplished charmer. Some read him as a tragic hero, felled on account of his arrogance in leading an army against God. Then again, he’s Satan. So, you know.
The grump the literary world loves to hate — and handsome, too.