The 15 Best Horror Movie Villains of All Time, Ranked

All of these villains from horror movies are awesome, but only one of them can sit at the top as the king of horror movie villains.
The 15 Best Horror Movie Villains of All Time, Ranked

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What really separates a good horror movie from a great one? Some might say it's the atmosphere, or the message, or the ending. For me, it's the villain. A great villain will terrify you, make you feel uncomfortable, and make you think more deeply about the movie itself.

So, who are the best horror movie villains? I've narrowed them down from across the decades, then ranked them. All of these villains are awesome, but only one can be crowned as the king.

15. Candyman in Candyman (1992)

Back in 1988, Tim Burton's Beetlejuice taught us that nothing good can come from summoning a malicious spirit. In 1992, Bernard Rose's Candyman put a different spin on a similiar idea.

Based on Clive Barker's short story "The Forbidden," Candyman revolves around the legend of Candyman, who was actually an African-American man named Daniel Robitaille. After pursuing an interracial love affair, his father sends a lynch mob after him.

With a hook for a hand and a swarm of bees following him, Candyman is a classic boogeyman and an urban legend that speaks volumes.

14. Chucky in Child's Play (1988)

Today's popular horror movie dolls—including Annabelle, M3GAN, and The Boy—owe a lot to the cult status of Chucky (who himself owes a lot to Talking Tina of The Twilight Zone).

We all know Chucky as the prototypical killer doll who relishes in blood and knife kills. After eight films and a Syfy show, Chucky remains a menace that no one should ever dare cross, and pop culture can't get enough of the iconic serial killer doll.

13. Ghostface in Scream (1996)

Ghostface is a unique horror movie villain since his identity can be taken on by anyone—any vengeful, bloodthirsty person can be Ghostface. Though, in the case of the Scream franchise, it's any person linked to final girl Sidney Prescott (or even the in-universe Stab franchise).

What separates Ghostface from others is his vulnerability. Since he's merely a disguise, his strengths and weaknesses come from the person behind the mask. But when he kills, he really kills with bloody glee.

12. Carrie White in Carrie (1976)

Carrie White was never meant to be a horror villain, but her unflattering looks, hidden telekinetic abilities, and friendless status paint her in an unfavorable light. And when she's pushed to the brink, she has no other choice but to be an unstoppable villain.

Of all Stephen King's villains, Carrie is certainly the most sympathetic one. Even though she went haywire with her powers, there's an ounce of humanity in her that makes her story a tragic one.

11. The Great White Shark in Jaws (1975)

Jaws featured one of the most effective movie villains of all time... and with just four minutes of screen time.

According to the movie's infamous but well-documented production issues, Steven Spielberg had to rely on practical tricks to depict the killer Great White Shark—like yellow barrels, dorsal fins, and the iconic musical motif by John Williams.

It proves that "less is more" is an important concept for horror movies. More than that, the fear of the unknown—like a stealthy shark lurking in the ocean—is still the scariest force of mind.

10. Jack Torrance in The Shining (1980)

"Heeeeere's Johnny!" Can you think of a more iconic line from a horror movie than that? The moment when Jack Torrance comes smashing through the door with an axe is one we'll always remember.

Jack Nicholson played the deranged character so perfectly that it's hard to imagine another actor in the role. While terrifying, there's a certain magnetism about the character that makes him one of the best.

9. Pinhead in Hellraiser (1987)

When it comes to sick and twisted characters, Pinhead might be one of the vilest. Pinhead and his band of Cenobites torture their victims while gleaming an unfathomable amount of pleasure from their pain.

When you include some of his clever lines and other interesting traits, you have a character who rivals any of the other horror greats. And while the 2022 remake of Hellraiser was fine, we recommend the iconic original.

8. John Doe in Se7en (1995)

Of all the serial killers in horror cinema, Kevin Spacey's John Doe receives the least screen time. However, his elaborate kills are featured prominently (and disgustingly) throughout Se7en.

The kills are modeled after the seven deadly sins (i.e. cardinal sins) that are taught in Catholicism, like an obese man who's forced to eat until his stomach ruptures (representing the sin of gluttony).

Once John Doe starts talking, we quickly realize that while his motives seem logical, he's easily one of the sickest individuals to grace the big screen and one of the more memorable horror villains in cinema.

7. Norman Bates in Psycho (1960)

Psycho is a movie that helped define the horror genre and pioneered the slasher subgenre. Norman Bates is the smooth psychopath who made moviegoers stand up and take notice all the way back in 1960.

Played by Anthony Perkins, Bates is charming, witty, and insane—the perfect combination for a horror movie villain. He's a strong example of our thesis: horror movies are only as good as their villains.

Alfred Hitchcock truly was a master of creating slow, suspenseful films, and this one still holds up today.

6. Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Leatherface is an absolute madman. While he doesn't have as much depth as some of the other characters on this list, there's a certain charm to a chainsaw-wielding serial killer who wears his victims' faces as masks.

Okay, maybe "charm" isn't the right word here. But if there's one thing you can say about Leatherface, it's that he's a memorable character who will haunt your nightmares, whether you watch the classic Texas Chain Saw Massacre films or the newer remakes.

5. Jigsaw in Saw (2004)

"I want to play a game." Before 2004, those words weren't even remotely scary. But after Saw came out, hearing those words told us that someone was about to be tortured in an absolutely heinous way.

No matter how strong your stomach is, there's a puzzle built by John Kramer (a.k.a. Jigsaw) that'll make your insides crawl.

The character is oozing with depth and personality, and he has a backstory that actually makes you sympathize with him even though he's a despicable, sadistic killer.

4. Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Freddy Krueger is a twisted pedophile who haunts young folks while they sleep and kills them in their dreams. How's that for terrifying?

And if you don't think that's enough to land him this high on this list, don't forget that he also makes many wisecracks throughout the Nightmare on Elm Street films, which really cranks up his personality.

He's almost amusing as a horror movie villain, and that's why he'll always be remembered as one of the greats, both in terms of scariness and entertainment value.

3. Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th (1980)

Jason Voorhees and his mother are straight-up savages when it comes to taking out camp counselors. Jason has been in plenty of Friday the 13th films, and his body count seems to be never-ending.

Like many of the best killers in horror movies, Voorhees doesn't speak—he lets his machete do the talking for him. He's big, seemingly unkillable, and relentless, making him a perfect villain for slasher films.

2. Michael Myers in Halloween (1978)

Michael Myers is a master of suspense. He slowly stalks his victims and makes viewers squirm while they watch in anticipation.

He has an interesting backstory, which helps explain why he's relentlessly pursuing members of his family with murder on his mind. He stacks bodies along the way, taking out anyone who crosses his path.

Like Jason, he doesn't speak—but there's something about the mystique of Michael Myers that makes him even more badass than Jason.

1. Pennywise in It (2017)

Pennywise the Dancing Clown only gets the kill once every 27 years, but when the time comes, he definitely makes the most of it—by exploiting their greatest fears to make them truly suffer before they die.

He has some truly incredible lines throughout both It and the sequel It Chapter Two, with Bill Skarsgård portraying Pennywise in what I consider to be the single greatest performance of any horror villain.

Plus, there's the original It miniseries, which features Tim Curry as the killer clown. Between Curry and Skarsgård, Pennywise is leaps and bounds ahead of all other horror movie villains.