Having a villain who enjoys torturing the hero is just as important to the success of a film or TV show as having a sympathetic protagonist. And yet, the tension is rendered meaningless and the audience is lost if the actor playing the villain isn't convincing or engaging. On the other hand, there is a subset of Hollywood actors who are so used to playing villains that it feels natural to them.
It's easy to conjure an image of evil in your mind when you think of this kind of person. Even if you don't know much about them or their history, you know that they make a fantastic villain. With that in mind, we've compiled a list of the top 10 actors when it comes to portraying evil characters.
10. Mads Mikkelsen
Mikkelsen became famous all over the world for his role as the main bad guy in Casino Royale, Le Chiffre (2006). Lucas in The Hunt (2012), Dr. Hannibal from 2013 to 2015, Kaecilius in Doctor Strange (2016), Galen Erso in SW Rogue One (2016), Martin in Another Round (2020), and Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts III are some of his other well-known roles (2022).
9. Christoph Waltz
Christoph Waltz, who is Austrian and German, struggled for quite some time to find success as an actor. But once he did, he became notorious as a bad guy. Waltz's big role was as a Nazi commander known as “The Jew Hunter” in Quentin Tarantino's smash hit film Inglourious Basterds, after years of acting in theatre and television.
In 2010, Waltz won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of this intriguing character. The Green Hornet, Water for Elephants, and The Legend of Tarzan all featured him in villainous roles shortly after his debut. Tarantino wrote Christoph Waltz into his next film, Django Unchained, and the actor won an Oscar for his performance.
8. Bonham Carter, Helena
Films directed by Tim Burton tend to lean on the gloomy side. His partner of many years, Helena Bonham Carter, is coming along for the adventure. The English actress has worked with Burton on multiple occasions, most notably in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, in which she played the antagonist's accomplice, and in the Alice in Wonderland movie, in which she played the Red Queen.
Carter, though, has evolved into a villain in her own way. Notably, she is best known for her portrayal as Bellatrix Lestrange, an ally of the evil Lord Voldemort, in the Harry Potter film series. She also appeared in Les Misérables, albeit in a minor role with Sacha Baron Cohen. They played the innkeepers, the Thénardiers, who take advantage of Cosette due to their greed and manipulation.
7. Ralph Fiennes
Ralph Fiennes played He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He appeared till his character's death in the final film.
Fiennes has played villains before. He played “The Tooth Fairy” in Red Dragon. In Schindler's List, he played real-life Nazi captain Amon Göth. In Holmes and Watson, he plays Professor Moriarty.
6. The Exorcist, Alfonso Herrera
Everyone struggles with similar inner turmoil. Light and dark are both parts of who we are, and I was interested in delving into Tomas's insecurities and questions about his own light with him.
What is happening now [in the United States] is a textbook illustration of how this external crisis is detonating our most primal concerns and misgivings about the future of the country. Where do I go from here? Can I trust what's happening to me and my surroundings?
5. Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez in Argo (2012)
Mexican-American CIA agent Tony Mendez was portrayed by Affleck in the 2012 film Argo, which he also directed.
Edward James Olmos, star of Miami Vice, said to Deadline that Affleck “should never have portrayed” Mendez and suggested that Michael Pea, Andy Garcia, or Jimmy Smits would have been better choices.
4. Danny Trejo
You might easily lose track of how many times this Los Angeles native has played the bad guy on screen. Danny Trejo fell into acting by mistake but is currently in multiple movies a year, frequently working with his famous friend Robert Rodriguez.
Trejo is also in a rare position to draw on his own life experiences in his professional life. Trejo is no stranger to playing inmates, having spent time behind bars himself.
But as his stardom grew, he was offered meatier parts to play. Trejo's most recognized role is probably that of Machete, a courageous cop made for him by Rodriguez, despite the fact that he is often miscast as a gangster.
3. Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
Another? One may argue that Loki became more of an anti-hero in his latter appearances (Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, and Loki), but we won't. This villain is so delightful, joyous, and “delectable” in his scheming that we can't help but admire him despite his evil. He killed Coulson. He nearly killed an old man who stood his ground. We all laugh when he says a one-liner or cheer when Hulk crushes Thor.
2. Malcolm McDowell
GQ once ranked the worst villains. They asked the actors who they thought was the most influential villain ever.
The film is a must-see for villain actors. McDowell played a scary, compelling, vicious, and controversial persona.
Sci-fi aficionados fantasize about Dr. Tolian Soran, who killed Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Generations, more than DeLarge. Add Ari Gold's employer Terrence McQuewick from Entourage, and you have three experts on how to make audiences loathe and fear you.
Thanos (Josh Brolin)
Great! When a long-teased item delivers. Josh Brolin's final two performances as Thanos are utterly rewarding. Since 2012, Marvel fans have been teased with Thanos, the universe's worst threat yet. Teases in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron built up the concept of how powerful and threatening he was.
Thanos was the monster everyone expected thanks to great action sequences, mounting tension, and Josh Brolin's quit acting. Marvel will try to build up another “big bad” over many years and projects, but it will be hard to top Thanos.