The 5 Best Villains in Modern Pop-Culture

A subjective (but correct) accounting

The rules:
-Must be the antagonist. No anti-heroes.

-Modern = 20th or 21st century, ideally with a large cultural footprint.

-No monsters. Godzilla, the shark from Jaws, the “demogorgon” from Stranger Things: all out.

-Should be relatively well known. Not an absolute requirement, but there’s no bonus points for obscurity, hipsters.

1) The Joker
Many depictions, always fascinating. Difficult to counter because he’s villaining just to villain, not as a means to an end. The Dark Knight’s anarchist, who’s out to prove a point, and Batman: the Animated Series’ sadist, who thinks messing with people is funny, are the two best iterations.

2) Darth Vader
Self-assured. Powerful. Tragic backstory. Embraced the Dark Side. Killed kids. Willing to kill his own kids if he can’t convert them. Redeeming moment in the end. Awesome.

3) Nurse Ratched
I hate Nurse Ratched. I hate her so much. She’s the living embodiment of The Rules because they’re The Rules, even when they’re arbitrary and stupid. And she’s so calm and condescending and fake. (For those of you that don’t know One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, think Delores Umbridge, but colder).

4) Regina George
An unholy, manipulative terror that effortlessly controls everyone around her. Inspires obsessive devotion, even among people who don’t actually like her. Stole Aaron Samuels just because. Made her parents trade rooms. Told Gretchen Weiners that fetch isn’t going to happen. Accurately described by Janis Ian as “an evil dictator.” No villain’s comeuppance was more deserved.

5) Venom
How do you fight Super Evil You?

Loses some points for his convoluted comic book motivation/backstory (a journalist angry at Peter Parker fuses with some alien goo that is… um… evil?) Loses more points because his only live action depiction sucked. But gains all those back for being a philosophical archetype.

He has the same powers as Spiderman, but he’s stronger, faster, with stronger webbing that never runs out, plus teeth and claws. Ultimately, what enemy is more nerve-wracking than a better, crueler version of yourself? (Another example of this archetype is Ged’s shadow in A Wizard of Earthsea. Plus any evil clone that’s not Bizarro-stupid).

Honorable mention:

  • Gus Fring (Breaking Bad). The hardest omission. Such a badass. Self-assured, intellectual, vicious. I already regret it. Venom’s kind of lame. I just like the idea of trying to fight Super Evil You. Gus should be number 5. He gets a picture.
  • Hans Gruber (Die Hard). Second hardest omission. Endlessly copied. Also better than Venom. Just give me the Super Evil You concept, okay?

Great, But Not Included for a Specific Reason

  • Hannibal Lecter. He’s best in Silence of the Lambs when he’s not the villain.
  • Joffrey Baratheon. Incredibly hateable, but too one-note. And I refuse to call any other Lannister a villain. Yes, even you, Cersei, you brother-loving, wine-swilling, mass-murdering lunatic.
  • Wicked Witch of the West. Iconic. Fantastic villain one liners. Too one-note.
  • Kilgrave (Jessica Jones). Creeptastic. Also too one-note.
  • Voldemort. A little too one-note. And the movie version knocks him down a peg. Noseless Ralph Fiennes is creepy, but the backstory and complex motivations make the book version in Half Blood Prince considerably stronger.
  • The T-1000. Monster. Arguably the best movie monster, but still. The rules are the rules.
  • Keyser Soze. Anti-hero. Sure, he kills their kids, he kills their wives, he kills their parents and their parents’ friends and even people who owe them money. But that’s all in the past (and told to us by a known fabricator). When we see him, he’s just killing some time with Agent Kujan. And no one with a final moment like that is the villain.

Who’s your pick?

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