The 15 Best Horror Movie Villains Ranked
"We don't need another hero," bellowed Tina Turner back in the eighties, eerily predicting the origin of this /Film article several decades before its emergence. Mind you, in 1984's "What's Love Got to Do with It" she also made the preposterous claim that hearts were unnecessary, so perhaps it's not wise to regard all of the esteemed Ms. Turner's lyrics as gospel.
An even bigger hive of scum and villainy than Tatooine's notorious Mos Eisley Spaceport, the following piece will take you -– in ascending order of wickedness -– through a veritable pantheon of horror's most horrific. From crooked corporations to fearsome fish, masked miscreants to sanity-sucking squids –- they're all here. With a combined body count of billions and an assumed default absence from Santa's "Nice" list, the nefarious ne'er-do-wells can be revealed unto you with just a click.
It is worthy of note that this feature will not shy away from spoilers. Without this disclaimer, you could rightfully emerge from this article condemning me as the worst villain of all.
There exists a shadowy organization, one with an unparalleled proficiency in subterfuge and manipulation. But enough about the IRS (badum-tisch), we're here to talk about The Organization, the all-seeing and all-reaching administration behind the events of "The Cabin in the Woods" (2011).
Existing to placate and appease the Ancient Ones with ritualistic sacrifice (with the worry that their equivalent of falling Nielsen ratings may summon the end of days), this worldwide conglomerate has existed since time began. They're connected to every level of government, have vast resources at their disposal -– including more trapped monsters than you'd find even at the Ghostbuster's New York Headquarters.
The Organization might be monstrous, but they're only too human -- and not opposed to the occasional bet on the ritual's results. In a meta twist, The Organization are probably responsible for a great many forthcoming entries on this list –- but if you're not happy with a powerful organization being treated as a horror villain, feel free to replace this entry mentally with "A Merman." Those things are terrifying, and the clean-up on them is a nightmare.
Bruce The Shark
Putting the "Great" into "Great white shark" is Bruce, a Carcharodon Carcharias of such immensity that it requires, nay, demands you bring a larger sea-faring vessel.
Readily identifiable by his distinctive two note theme tune, Bruce the Shark was the main aquatic antagonist of "Jaws" (1975). With a penchant for eating al fresco, this 25-foot-long Great White was responsible for the most memorable 4th of July weekend in the history of Amity Island. A far from fussy eater, Bruce was as happy dining on lone female swimmers as he was with dogs, boardwalks, and chunks of fishing boat.
Such was the awesomeness of Bruce that -- after a gas cannister explosion reduced him to 4.9 metric tons of chum –- another (possibly related) shark went after the family of Bruce's killer in revenge, pursuing them all the way to Hawaii ("Jaws: The Revenge," 1987). You simply don't get that level of loyalty or commitment from other marine life.
In my day, you knew where you stood with arcane libraries. Eldritch grimoires were easy to recognize and, provided you kept your copy of your first edition signed Necronomicon under lock and key, you were pretty safe. Then "The Babadook" (2014) went and spoiled all that by adding pop-up books to the list of forbidden tomes, being the home of one of the most terrifying entities found in literature since the all-devouring behemoth that is The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Appearing as a monochrome pale-faced phantasm in long black coat and top-hat, he's an entity that -– much like major news networks -- preys on fear and, the more you dread him, the more terrifying his appearance. He exists mostly as a form in shadow, long pallid fingers stretching from his hands like talons. Removing or destroying his book will have negligible effect -– Mister Babadook is as persistent as he is patient and, unlike the pop-up book that he calls a home, he's unflappable.
You can't keep a good machete-wielding sociopath down, and plenty have tried. The hockey-masked horror from "Friday the 13th" has been drowned, dissolved with toxic waste, blown into meaty chunks, hacked into slices by both knives and Freddy Kruegers glove, even sent to Hell -- and still insists on coming back for more. Even cryogenically suspending him only ended up making him somebody else's problem for a later date.
Jason wears a hockey mask to hide his hydrocephalic deformities, responsible for him being bullied to death in the very first Friday the 13th movie. Despite his huge lumbering form, he's an expert in both stealth and cunning. The recidivist revenant is also fond of walks by the (Crystal) lake and a keen sports fan.
The only foe presently capable of keeping Jason down appears to be the legal system, with a huge rights battle hovering over the once lucrative franchise. However, now that has been partly resolved, it's very possible that Jason may emerge again from the depths of Camp Crystal Lake.
This Canadian actor and comedian became famous for his work in the long-running TV series "Saturday Night Live" before his runaway success with the "Wayne's World," "Shrek" and "Austin Powers" franchises.
For simple kill-count alone it could be argued that Voorhees should beat Michael Myers in this list, but despite their similarities -– a masked visage, convoluted and muddled origin(s), simple yet practical clothing, and a fondness for cutlery –- this particular malevolent mute does it all with a little more style. Myers, the proud winner of the 1978 "Falling out of a window" World championship, is refreshingly old-school in his approach. He never once resorts to the crowd-pleasing antics of, say, punching a man's head clean off or having his decaying form enhanced through nanotechnology. Simply give Michael (or his chosen alias, The Shape) a knife (or equivalent stabbing implement) and he'll be perfectly content.
Michael is also particularly fond of games of hide and seek and will play them to death.
This portly butcher's apron-wearing psychopath may spend his long balmy summer evenings impaling teenagers on meat-hooks and running amok with motorized tree-felling equipment -- but, to Leatherface's credit, he never forgets a face. Primarily because he has them dried, cleaned, and hanging up in his den.
Introduced in Tube Hooper's superlative 1974 horror, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," Leatherface is the intellectually and emotionally stunted son of the Sawyer family, a psychotic gang of cannibalistic and vicious murderers. Frequently found wearing the freshly sliced faces of his victims, he may be slow and terrifying, but he's a dab hand with a chainsaw -– which makes him both an ideal murderer and tree surgeon.
The inspiration for Leatherface was serial killer Ed Gein, a man whose varied and unusual hobbies included both murdering women and defiling corpses. Leatherface may have changed name more times than he's washed his butchers' apron -- "Bubba" in the original, "Thomas" in the 2003 remake, and "Jed" in the 3D version -- but one thing remains consistent; his poor social skills and unconventional attire make him a terrible dining companion.
The Tall Man
The very nature of their business already makes morticians terrifying –- making one a malevolent extra-dimensional traveler with a veritable army of killer dwarves and sentient spiked spheres, frankly, seems like overkill.
Inarguably both tall and male, The Tall Man was introduced in the science-fiction horror "Phantasm" in 1979 and continued to thrive across the franchise's four sequels. The terrifying white-haired elderly patron of a sanity-warping mausoleum, The Tall Man uses his pristine catacombs as a front for his true sinister purpose: to shrink and resurrect corpses to act as his slaves, undoubtedly defying all manner of local labor regulations and laws.
These hooded miniscule monks are sent through portals to another dimension to toil away for all eternity, their brains removed and placed into metal weaponized spheres to pilot them like some manner of gooey encephalic aviator. The Tall Man himself is seemingly invulnerable with regenerative qualities, but his true skill lies in grimacing whilst looking menacing, pointing a wrinkled figure at his prey, an act often accompanied by a snarled "Boy!"
Kids! Sexually transmitted diseases are far from pleasant. The Entity ("It Follows," 2014) is one of the worst of them all, capable of bending you into unnatural shapes only previous attained by a Rubik's Snake. Topical creams will not help you here.
It can take the appearance of anybody, friend, or stranger, and has the dogged stamina and determination of a salesperson trying to sell you an extended warranty. It's a curse given physical form, and one that can only be broken by having sex. The Entity will then consider them it's new target and follow them instead -- until it's snapped them like a fallen twig, when you will once again be its dedicated focus. In seventies and eighties horror, being promiscuous would kill you -– here, it's the only thing that'll keep you alive.
The Entity is fond of long summer walks, being where you'd least expect it, and jump scares.
A sentient heap of grape Jell-O might not appear like one of the most dangerous antagonists in horror history, but you wouldn't want it in the vicinity of your peanut butter.
Created as a biological weapon by the US Government during the Cold War, this sinister sentient splodge was sent into space for being too dangerous. However, clearly oblivious to the trusty maxim "what goes up must come down," the Powers that Be don't factor in the possibility of the satellite crashing down outside Arborville, California. The fallen satellite is found by a hapless vagabond who learns that you should stay away from the oozing innards of fallen space debris.
A 1988 remake of the Steve McQueen '58 original, the new (and superior) version sees the murderous mass hiding out in the sewers beneath the town, dissolving everything organic that it comes into contact with. With each new victim absorbed into the Blob's glistening goo, it grows in size and lethality, making it less appropriate to spread on toast with every passing moment.
The flambéed fedora-wearing antagonist of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies, Krueger was a child murderer who met his fiery fate at the hands of mob justice. The barbequed baddie would later be resurrected as a dream demon. Krueger's main weapon (other than his acerbic wit and dazzling charm) was his trademark glove, a razor tipped leather gauntlet. Able to kill the children of his murderers in their sleep, he dedicated his demonic existence into wreaking havoc on the inhabitants of Springwood -– before being frequently foiled but destroyed for good. The resourceful Ohioans got particularly skilled at removing Freddy permanently, having achieved said aim multiple times.
Like most supernatural slashers, he'd only remain temporarily expelled in the gap between films, ultimately resuscitated via a variety of convoluted means. (Flaming dog urine aimed at his grave was probably one of the more exotic and fragrant means of resurrection.) The most effective and permanent method of expulsion was the poorly received 2010 reboot, seemingly ridding the world of Freddy for good.
I bet you had no idea that the man of your dreams would be quite so crispy.
Imagine the humiliation. You've took your flying saucer out for a quick jaunt to see the relatives in the Magellanic clouds and, without warning, it breaks down and you end up crashing headlong into some backwater planet. You've forgotten to pay your AAA (Astronomical Automobile Association) subscription, so you're stuck there. Next thing you know, you're frozen and have to wait until you're defrosted by some pink creatures with weird bone-tentacle digits. You're just trying to get home, but they're all trying to kill you.
A remake of 1951's "The Thing from Another World," John Carpenter's "The Thing" burst onto cinema screens in 1982. A sci-fi horror with a truly alien alien, the creature in question was a nebulous entity with no proper appearance of its own, capable of taking the form of any creature it had encountered and absorbed into its amorphous mass. E.T. may have been released in the same year, but despite them both just wanting to get home, there's only one of the extraterrestrials you'd let anywhere near your Reese's Pieces or bike basket.
The egg marketing campaign in the UK in the 50's had an advertising slogan; "Go to work on an egg." Sage advice, but unfortunately, guidance that fellow Brit Kane followed too literally in the 1979 Sci-fi horror "Alien", becoming the unlikely host for what would become a full-grown xenomorph.
Standing taller than a man, with an oily black insectoid mesodermal skeleton, the adult Xenomorph is the ultimate apex predator. With acid for blood and lethal claws beyond the remit of even the most skilled of pedicurists, this Internecivus raptus was the last visitor you'd ever want on your space-ship –- Shakespeare's Banquo with two sets of jaws.
Science Officer Ash (having never seen "Aliens" and witnessed the slaughter of dozens of the lofty critters) declared the xenomorph to be unkillable, the perfect organism. It's a creature that's sadly had much of its mystique flushed out of the airlock, but it's important to remember quite how terrifying it was back in the '70s.
Led by DIY enthusiast and Hell Priest Pinhead, the Cenobites are extra-dimensional servants of the Labyrinth, the hellish reality from the Hellraiser series of movies. Followers of the demon god Leviathan –- which appears as a vast, spinning octahedron -- they are twisted and transformed by his powers into mockeries of their human selves, often inheriting some attribute from their old mortal shell.
All Cenobites entered and were transformed by the labyrinth via the same means -– the puzzle box, or Lament Configuration. Working like some manner of a less frustrating Rubik's Cube, it opens the door to the hellish paradigm and its unmeasurable pleasures and pains.
Pinhead has had a number of Cenobite subordinates over the years, including CD (a cenobite capable of throwing compact discs, essentially defeated in later years by streaming services), Chatterer (a demon with excellent dental habits) and Camera Head (who, unsurprisingly, has a camera in his head). Leviathan is clearly a very busy demonic entity, with very little time available for thinking up clever names for his loyal team.
Cthulhu (AKA High Priest of the Great Old Ones, The Sleeper of R'lyeh, The Great Dreamer, Ol' Tentacle face) is a Great Old One, a vast interstellar entity from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft. Appearing across multiple venues -– the Kristen Stewart vehicle "Underwater" (2020), "Call of Cthulhu" (2005) and the darkest forbidden corners of your sleeping consciousness -– this lethargic leviathan has made a number of cinematic appearances, possibly acting as the hand model for the entity at the climax of 2011's "The Cabin in The Woods"
A huge humanoid entity with a head resembling a huge bloated octopus, Great Cthulhu lies trapped in a death-like slumber beneath the Pacific Ocean, ready to emerge when the stars are right –- or when the Beetlejuice sequel is released, whichever comes first.
The works of Cthulhu creator H.P. Lovecraft have appeared in a number of horror films, notably in the works of Stuart Gordon ("Re-Animator," "Dagon," "From Beyond"), and his trademark themes of nihilism and existential dread have featured across countless movies (The "Ernest Goes to" movies, and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," 2009).
Although only ever there present as a concept and not in person (and therefore not applicable for acting credits due to broadcast laws), Death is the undisputed star of the "Final Destination" franchise. Impressively solely responsible for the triumvirate of mortality, thanatophobia and existential dread, the Grim Reaper possesses the rare trait of being the unofficial employer of every single entry from this list.
Sometimes only appearing as a concept, sometimes as the familiar Bergman or Matheson and Solomon's anthropomorphic Grim Reaper variant ("The Seventh Seal" and the "Bill and Ted" franchises), it's a constant and unwelcome presence across all movies, let alone just the horror genre. Whether it's a scythe-wielding skeleton ("Monty Python's Meaning of Life," 1979), or a bone-crested Angel of Death ("Hellboy 2", 2008) the motivation and goal remain the same.
It can sometimes be tricked, but never truly fooled. You might temporarily outrun it, but it'll catch up with you in the end. Indeed, from its own words in "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey," "You may be a king, or a little street sweeper, but sooner or later –- you dance with the Reaper."
Read this next: 13 Box Office Bombs That Are Truly Worth A Watch