I care about villains. I used to run a web site about villains. (And I’m working on resurrecting it.) The villain is often the most interesting character in a story. I like it when they win.
This is my own personal list of the 10 worst villains of all time — not “worst” as in most evil, “worst” as in dumbest. These are the villains that failed.
Of course I must have heard of a villain to include it on this list. So if there’s some obscure villain from Croatian soap opera fanfic I didn’t include, mention it in the comments below. But don’t flame me for it.
And if you’re a big fan of one of these losers, well, there’s no accounting for taste. Especially where Star Wars fanboys are concerned.
10. The Master (Manos: The Hands of Fate)
Plan for world domination: Step 1, buy a tiny ranch house outside Barstow. Step 2, enslave a bevy of moderately attractive women. Step 3: Hire a retarded “satyr” as your groundskeeper. Step 4: Kidnap a bland Midwestern couple, a la Rocky Horror Picture Show. Step 5: Profit!
Apparently, The Master learned about an evil god called Manos while attending a Frank Zappa look-alike convention. He wears an oversize black robe with giant red hands on it, and totters around making grave pronouncements and threats. He’s about as scary as a mall security guard.
Why do The Master’s wives fight over him? They should be fighting over who gets to swallow the last bottle of sleeping pills.
Even worse is The Master’s menagerie. He has a couple of “hell hounds” that look suspiciously like sweet, untrained Dobermans. And I watched this movie 20 times on MST3K before I figured out that Torgo was supposed to be a satyr — I just thought he had big knees.
Many terrible movies have been saved by a great villain — I’m talking to you, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But Manos: The Hands of Fate is not one of those movies.
9. Robot Monster (Robot Monster)
Alright, lemme give ya the pitch. This alien comes to Earth and kills everybody, see, except 8 guys. They hide out in this tract house, guarded by some kind of force beam or somethin’, it’s science, I don’t understand this stuff. So this alien, this Ro-Man, has to kill the last 8 humans or he gets it from his boss, see? He’s got his Calcinator, which turns people into calcium or something, I dunno — and the Billion Bubble Machine, which — well, it looks great. But this Ro-Man, he falls in love with the cute girl, and that’s his downfall. Ya get it?
Budget? Sixteen grand, with four days to shoot.
How are we gonna afford the alien? Aw, that’s easy. I know this guy George who owns a monkey suit. We just stick a diving helmet on it, and voila, instant alien!
Yes, the villain in 1953’s Robot Monster is a guy in a gorilla suit with an old-fashioned diving helmet on it. In fact, Ro-Man’s entire race consisted of guys in gorilla suits with old-fashioned diving helmets. And although he has access to space travel, vacuum tubes, and the Billion Bubble Machine, he doesn’t have a single weapon that could destroy a tract house.
Should I mention that at the end, the whole movie turns out to be a little boy’s dream? I hate that St. Elsewhere shit.
8. Mister Mxyzptlk (DC Comics)
You’ve got to be kidding me. Superman was never a good comic. DC never produced a decent title until Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman came along. Matter-Eater Lad my ass. And Superman was always full of stupid bullshit.
Such as Mister Mxyzptlk, who was to Superman what The Great Gazoo was to Fred Flintstone. Here’s this little extradimensional imp who can do absolutely anything, and lives to torture Supes. (For those who don’t know, it’s pronounced “Mxyzptlk.”)
He’s an example of the Villain Who Can Do Anything. I guess he’s the perfect foil for the Hero Who Can Do Anything, but they’re both stupid concepts. Sometimes the Villain Who Can Do Anything is charming and funny enough to get away with it — Q from Star Trek is an example. Mister Mxyzptlk is not charming, and is decidedly unfunny.
Or the Villain Who Can Do Anything might be particularly well thought-out and well written, like Galactus from The Fantastic Four. Mister Mxyzptlk… well, no.
Alan Moore took a stab at making Mxyzptlk dark and sinsiter; and if Moore can’t make something interesting, no one can.
Comics writers need to stop taking lame old concepts some hack invented in the 60s, and trying to make them canon. Just let it die. Superman once had an adventure with the Quik Bunny — are we going to introduce a brand mascot as the latest DC character?
7. Boba Fett & Darth Maul (tie) (Star Wars Universe)
Geroge, George, George. What the hell is wrong with you?
Boba Fett and Darth Maul both fall into a very important category of bad villain: The Great Villain Killed Off Perfunctorily.
Star Wars fans loved Boba Fett from the first moment he appeared — he was so mysterious, so cool, so entirely armored. We just knew that when Return of the Jedi came around, we were gonna see some great Boba Fett ass-kicking action.
Um, not so much. Fifteen minutes into the damn movie, Han Solo accidentally — accidentally — knocks Boba Fett into the Sarlacc pit. How delightfully wacky! Except not. One potentially great villain, wasted.
But it’s okay! Because in Phantom Menace, we were introduced to Darth Maul, Palpatine’s original apprentice. The costume was great — the long black robes, the demonic face, the double-bladed lightsaber. Sweet. And granted, Darth Maul gets to be in the single greatest lightsaber battle in the entire Star Wars series. How incredibly cool that Darth Maul will be Obi-Wan’s nemesis through all three prequels!
Except not. Obi-Wan, hanging off the edge of one of those unnecessary bottomless pits, telepathically retrieves Qui-Gon’s lightsaber and chops the guy in half. Might I point out, a la Revenge of the Sith, that Darth Maul had the “high ground,” and should have been the victor?
But it was okay, or so I thought. Darth Maul would be back in Clones, wearing the Darth Vader suit! Nope. Despite efforts to resurrect a great villain in some of the Expanded Universe nonsense, Darth Maul was dead. Leaving us with no decent villains for the rest of the prequel trilogy.
And although he didn’t make this list, let me take a moment to mention Count Dooku. How is it even possible to waste as great an actor as Christopher Lee? How do you suck all the presence out of that man? Was it the green screens? The dialogue? Working opposite Hayden Christensen? Dooku, indeed.
6. Gargamel (The Smurfs)
So let me get this straight. You’re an impoverished old alchemist who lives alone in the forest. You have access to countless potions and spells, and even have the ability to create new lifeforms. Yet the only way you can think of to get rich is to capture little blue mushroom-dwelling dandiprats and turn them into gold. Is this the missing ingredient Isaac Newton needed to find the Philosopher’s Stone? Little PVC figurines?
Gargamel is the archetype of the hapless villain, and no one likes a hapless villain. If your bad guy is bound to fail due to his own stupidity, timidity, or clumsiness, then what’s the point? Even in a kids’ show, we should have some small concern for the safety of the good guys. Disney gets this — their villains are often too scary for kids.
I loved The Smurfs as a kid, but didn’t care at all about Gargamel. I always thought Azrael the cat was kind of scary though. I imagine that without Gargamel to hold him back, I think Azrael could have brought us Deady Smurf, Corpsy Smurf, and Smurf-left-on-your-porch-as-a-gift-y Smurf.
5. Darth Vader (Star Wars prequels)
Oh, don’t get your panties in a bunch. Darth Vader is on BOTH the Best and Worst Villain lists. Original Trilogy Vader is on the Best list. Here we’re talking about Prequel Vader.
Where to begin? We can’t consider the brief existence of pre-black-suit Darth Vader without examining the ignominious career of Anakin Skywalker; annoying brat child, whiny adolescent, puerile Jedi Knight. The cool thing about Original Trilogy Vader was his mysterious back story, and fans waited two decades to finally see how good, noble Anakin Skywalker was seduced to the Dark Side. Well, this Anakin was neither good nor noble. And he wasn’t so much seduced as molested by a creepy older man.
I always got the impression that Original Trilogy Vader loved his work. Sure, he was mean and short-tempered; but I think he got off on blowing up peaceful planets, slaughtering moisture farmers and force-choking admirals. As soon as Prequel Vader defenestrates Samuel L. Jackson and turns all dark and moody, his attitude seems to be “well, it’s in the script, I guess I’d better bear down and kill the younglings.” Hayden Christensen’s idea of being evil is peering out from under his eyebrows and sneering. Prequel Vader is just as whiny about the responsibilities and consequences of being a Sith Lord as he was about being a Jedi Knight. Isn’t there any way to please this guy?
Complaining about the Star Wars prequels is a common geek pasttime, so I’ll let it be. But George Lucas had a wonderful opportunity to flesh out one of the great screen villains, and he blew it on every single level. “Do not want” indeed.
4. Count Baltar (Battlestar Galactica 1978)
A villain should be three things: charismatic, scary and sympathetic. The original Battlestar Galactica’s Baltar was 0 for 3.
John Colicos’ Baltar was doughy and unlikeable. He whined, he vamped, he chewed his lines. You wanted to hate him for betraying humanity, but you just couldn’t. He was too much of a loser. You could not believe for a second that the Cylons, particularly Lucifer, would put up with this asshole. Why eradicate practically the entire human species, just to preserve the sorriest specimen?
Let’s edify ourselves by comparing him to the re-imagined Dr. Gaius Baltar. James Callis’ Baltar is very charismatic. He’s not really scary, because he’s not really the villain. He’s a total coward who will do whatever is necessary to survive and to feel better about himself. You don’t feel sympathy for him, because he’s so reprehensible. But unlike Callis’ Baltar, the viewer is interested in Gaius’ motivations. You want to know how the hell he’s going to get out of the latest jam into which he got himself.
The original BSG had one or two interesting heroes, particularly Starbuck. But as for villains, the Cylons were faceless machines — scary, but not really characters. That put the onus on Baltar to put a human face on the enemy. He failed.
By the way, I don’t mean to slam Colicos. He was a perfectly good Klingon. I blame the original BSG writers.
3. The Ferengi (Star Trek Universe)
Even after they stopped sucking quite so much, the Ferengi were always annoying. Whenever they popped up on Next Generation or Voyager, one was tempted to change the channel, maybe take in some Small Wonder*. And with Deep Space Nine, you couldn’t get away from the nasal-voiced, big-eared homunculi.
They weren’t even an intelligent statement on the evils of Capitalism. Star Trek’s writers always steered clear of the fact that the United Federation of Planets was clearly a Socialist utopia; maybe they didn’t want to piss off the network or the sponsors. Portraying the Ferengi as the Gnomes of Zurich was a social commentary the producers were clearly uncomfortable with; and I’m sure it pissed off the Helvetian Anti-Defamation League as well.
But I’m writing about the original Ferengi, the season one Ferengi, the animalistic, laser-whip-cracking, sniveling mealy-mouthed rat-men that the Enterprise encountered on the Tkon planet. Gene Roddenberry was a hero to many of us in the sci-fi fan community, and legitimately so – but boy, could he have some bad ideas.
The Ferengi were originally intended to replace the Klingons as the main Star Trek villains. Um… no. No one would care if the brilliant and heroic Jean-Luc Picard had to face off against little Anti-Semitic stereotypes every week. Fortunately, the producers realized this right away, sent Gene off to Kinkos, and created The Borg to be the new Star Trek über-villain.
*Small Wonder was the worst television show in the history of the medium. Hence, preferring it to the Ferengi is really saying something.
2. Terl (Battlefield Earth)
Those who have seen Battlefield Earth and ask themselves, “What the hell was John Travolta thinking,” need to remember this man believes that the ghosts of dead aliens cause all your psychological problems. (In his defense, however, I must point out that what Scientologists believe is slightly less absurd than what Christians believe.)
Still, this movie was a freaking mess, and Travolta’s eye-grating, cringe-inducing emetic of a performance is the center of the crap-storm. The former Vinnie Barbarino played Terl, the scene-chewing Psychlo security chief who lords it over the oppressed humans with all the nuance of Carson Kressley after too many appletinis.
Of course the worst thing about Terl is that we don’t care. His appearances don’t thrill or frighten us, they only annoy. Then again, if you’re sitting through this execrable film, a bad movie starring a bad actor and based on a bad novel by a bad writer, then you have other problems.
1. Wilhelmina W. Witchiepoo (H.R. Pufnstuf)
I lived my childhood in terror. My parents had no idea. My teachers did not know. Social workers and Child Protective Services never came to my aid. In the 1970s, the horror that stalked me was ubiquitous, leering from every television screen.
The things I feared more than death, Disco and nuclear war were the television programs of Sid and Marty Krofft, the Lucifer and Beelzebub of children’s programming. Saturday morning, previously a bastion of joy and contentment for every little boy and girl, was transformed by these demonic siblings into a poisonous buffet of horrors. From the disturbing, drug-reference-laden haberdashical torture of Lidsville to the abhorrent, drug-reference-laden pelagic nightmare that was Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, my Saturday mornings were torture sessions to whet the envy of the most perverse Guantanamo interrogator.
The worst offender was… hold on. I have to go take some meds before I can continue. Maybe a shot of liquor, too. It’s hard to face these childhood demons, to reach back past years of post-traumatic stress and face the inky blackness that stains my soul. I weep as I type these words. The worst offender was… H.R. Pufnstuf.
Man-sized full-costume puppets, a la Pufnstuf and Barney, are like clowns. Everyone understands what they’re supposed to be, and that they’re meant to be entertaining. But they’re not, and no one can explain why they persist. We got rid of mimes, 80’s hair metal and ragtime jazz; why can’t we rid the world of these tick-infested felt-swaddled non-talents?
The titular “hero,” Mr. “Hand-Rolled” Pufnstuf, was bad enough; the crude googly-eyes, one stuck in position while the other roamed at random; his “speech,” which consisted of the puppeteer shaking the head up and down while writer Lennie Weinrib voiced the bipedal dragon as a mildly-retarded Andy Griffith; and the pantomime acting, too exaggerated even for a man in a lizard suit. Godzilla had more subtlety.
But the nightmare that still wakes me at 3am, drenched in flop sweat, clinging to my sheets as I scream for my mother, is the show’s so-called villain, Witchiepoo. Now don’t get me wrong – Darth Vader scared the pants off me as a kid, but he was a great villain. So did The Robot Gunslinger from Westworld, Box from Logan’s Run, and Willy freakin’ Wonka.
Witchiepoo didn’t frighten me because she was a scary villain. She frightened me because grown adults with their own television program would create such a thing and think kids would enjoy it. It threw my whole worldview out of whack. If grown-ups could be so completely and inexplicably wrong-headed as to create Witchiepoo, what other terrible mistakes were they making?
Growing older, of course, hasn’t changed my view of humanity, only solidified it. Maybe Sid and Marty did me a favor.
Witchiepoo was an idiot, so why would we care of she won or lost? Whiny, stupid, vain and childish. Her costume was okay, kind of a pre-Goth witch-meets-Alice-in-Wonderland thing. But that face makeup – oh god, I’m going to vomit!
I’m back. My hhands are ssshaaking, I ccan’t tttype. Suffice it to say that Witchiepoo ranks number one, as the Least Entertaining, Most Ill-Conceived, Worst Performed, Worst Everything WORST villain of all time.
And now for Part 2: The Greatest Villains of All Time