Villains are a hot commodity these days. From being the driving force of a plot, to objects of terror or adoration, pretty much everyone has an opinion on them. It’s also safe to say that they’re experiencing a bit of a renaissance.
There’s so many amazing villains that if you asked us to pick our favorites it would be difficult to whittle that list down. But if we were going to do so, we’d have to say that a villain is at their best when they’re character driven.
So without further delay, here’s a non-exhaustive list of some of the most amazing antagonists from the past couple decades.
1. Thanos (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
I was initially skeptical of Thanos, as being big, purple, and powerful isn’t enough to catch my interest. By the time of Avengers: Infinity War, my opinion on him had changed.
A super-villain who first appeared in the Marvel comics, Thanos grew fascinated with nihilism at an early age and took it upon himself to wipe out half of the galaxy. By the time we get to Avengers: Infinity War, his portrayal by Josh Brolin makes him a riveting example of a goal-driven antagonist.
Thanos is a fully fleshed-out villain, in every sense of the word. He’s unrepentant, dangerous, and a believer in his ideals. He also shows little to no emotion when he commits atrocity after atrocity.
2. “The Operative” (Serenity)
Not everyone has seen 2005’s Serenity—the tie-in film to the short-lived Firefly. It’s a neat little film, however, and if you haven’t gotten around to it yet we recommend a watch.
As a sci-fi western like its predecessor, Serenity follows the crew of the Firefly as they unravel a mystery surrounding a depopulated planet. The Alliance Government does everything in their power to stop them from discovering the truth, and in their desperation they send in the “Operative”: a special military commander played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
The Operative is just as ruthless as Thanos, although far more cunning and subtle in his methods. He’s intelligent, cultured, and a true believer in his government’s ideology; in the idea that he’s a good person and on the right side of history. The Operative’s conviction in these goals makes him all the more lethal and unwilling to back down.
3. Loki (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
Loki is a fan favorite when it comes to recent movie villains, and I must admit in my heart-of-hearts that he’s one of my personal favorites, too.
Originally appearing in the comics before becoming a regular antagonist in the Cinematic Universe, Loki is a trickster god and little brother to Thor. He’s also a self-interested, charming shapeshifter who is mercurial and deadly when you anger him. Between his good looks and well-mannered speeches, he’s become a fandom heartthrob.
4. Palpatine (Star Wars)
Who’s the best villain in the entire galaxy? Palpatine, of course. No, his status as the best is not up for debate.
Palpatine first appeared in the original Star Wars trilogy. Since then, he’s also featured heavily in the Prequel Trilogy. With his inclusion in the Star Wars: Episode IX trailer, it’s assumed that he will return to the Sequel Trilogy as well.
A powerful Sith Lord who moonlighted as a senator, Palpatine rose to power through the Galactic Senate before he was voted in as Supreme Chancellor. During this time he kept his identity as a Sith Lord a secret, and his true identity was not revealed until Episode III when the Jedi Council tried to oust him from power.
When this ouster failed, Palpatine destroyed the Order and went on to become the Emperor. He’s one of the most amazing movie villains you can find because, well, he loves what he does. Have you heard that laugh? That enthusiasm for his job?
Palpatine’s totally evil and definitely digging it, and he’s one heck of a long-term planner. You have to admire that sort of dedication.
5. Shinzon (Star Trek: Nemesis)
Star Trek: Nemesis would have been just another film in a long list of Star Trek films if it hadn’t been for the inclusion of Shinzon as Captain Picard’s foil. Played by a young Tom Hardy, Shinzon is the terminally ill clone who was created by the Romulans with the sole purpose of replacing Captain Picard. He has since rebelled, and is angry at his predicament. To express his displeasure, Shinzon uses a warship under his direct control, usually with devastating consequences.
Shinzon is a great example of what happens when a villain becomes a villain out of circumstance. After all, he’s a clone of Picard, who is a good person. If Shinzon hadn’t been manipulated and abandoned as a child, there’s a good chance he would have turned out relatively well-adjusted.
6. Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter)
Lord Voldemort is one of the most iconic villains to come out of the media landscape in the past two decades. An evil wizard from the Harry Potter franchise who made his movie debut in 2001, Voldemort is obsessed with blood purity. He wants to rid the wizarding world of people who were born from non-magical parents.
Voldemort is the perfect sort of villain for a children’s story, which is why he’s so memorable. He’s repulsive, but not so repulsive he’ll give the kids nightmares, and he has a clear-cut motive that allows the audience to distinguish between himself and the protagonist.
7. Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs)
There’s so many villains that it’s difficult to pick the last one for this list, but when push comes to shove we need to hand the crown to Hannibal Lecter: a consummate, fine-dining cannibal who has been scaring people ever since his first on-screen appearance in Silence of the Lambs.
Hannibal is a truly fascinating individual, and one of the most complex villains to ever grace the silver screen. A well-known psychiatrist with a penchant for fancy dinner parties, he was highly respected until his identity as a serial killer was discovered.
Hannibal’s modus operandi is to prey on people he considers an affront to society. Even when he’s behind bars he turns out to be incredibly dangerous, and he’s prone to escaping.