The 20 Best & Worst Villains of All Time — Part 2: The Best

Now that you’ve seen the top ten worst villains, let’s check out my favorites.

Choosing just ten was agony. I’ve included a list at the bottom of my almost-rans, so don’t flame me until you check there. And my number one IS number one, no question.

Cut me out of THIS movie, I’ll break your legs!10. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)

Let’s start off this list with a villain who’s got two great things going for him. He’s a Bond villain; and he’s played by legendary character actor Christopher Lee. (Trivia: Lee was Ian Fleming’s cousin, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s friend. Keen, huh?)

Scaramanga is the archetypical Bond villain. He’s an assassin and a hedonist, like James Bond. He has his own island with a secret base, complete with death traps and bikini girls. He’s egotistical and clever. He has a bizarre distinguishing characteristic, a third nipple; and an affectation (a golden gun with the victim’s name on the bullet). And in the movie, he has a superweapon, the Solex Agitator. He also has his midget sidekick, Tattoo Nick Nack.

Scaramanga makes the classic villain blunders, like welcoming his nemesis as a guest. (Trivia: In the novel, Bond is brainwashed by the Soviets and tries to assassinate M. Since they can’t trust Bond anymore, MI6 sends him to kill Scaramanga, the world’s deadliest assassin. They expect Bond to fail – it’s a suicide mission.) Seriously, dude, as soon as you see Bond, CAP HIM IN THE ASS. You’re an assassin, for chrissakes. Assassinate!

A side note: Scaramanga. Saruman. Count Dooku. Rasputin. Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster AND The Mummy. Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man, Professor Stone on The Avengers — Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE is the greatest villain actor who ever lived.

Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.9. Agent Smith (Matrix Trilogy)

As a sci-fi fan, there were plenty of things to dislike about The Matrix. It was derivative; none of its ideas, which blew the minds of soccer moms and middle school hessiers everywhere, were unfamiliar to anyone who had read William Gibson or Shirow Masamune. The action was ripped off from a dozen different Hong Kong martial arts films. And the lead actor had all the charisma and talent of a tube steak.

And yet, it still KICKED ASS.

Much of the credit belongs to the villain. Agent Smith starts out as just one of three (a “trinity?” Eh? Eh?) faceless Men in Black. But it’s soon clear that one of these things is not like the others. Agent Smith is more than a relentless, soulless machine. He hates. He loathes. He abhors. He yearns to destroy a world that repulses him. Because of this, he will do whatever it takes to take down the hero (Morpheus, not Neo) and his friends.

What’s more, he’s played by Hugo Weaving, whose portrayals of Agent Smith and Elrond Halfelven have made him the actor most beloved by geeks since Christopher Lee passed away. (Whaddya mean, Christopher Lee’s not dead? Didn’t being in the Star Wars prequels kill him?)

Smith is scary because he’s not robotic like a robot – he’s machine-like like a machine gun. He’s viral, unrelenting, and very angry. When Neo kills him off, it’s a great moment because relief floods over you. And when he returns in the sequel, it’s even better, because you’re glad he’s back. And back and back and back and back….

This is my weapon. I thought it was so-so but actually its not so bad. Found Yoshimi and Kuramoto dead next door, strung up all cozy. Not my scene! I’LL NEVER DIE LIKE THAT!

8. Souma Mitsuko (Battle Royale)

One brand of villain that unfortunately got the short shrift on this list is the psychopath. Hannibal Lechter, Frank Booth, Tyler Durden, Keyser Soze; everybody loves a charismatic sociopath. But when that sociopath is a sexy Japanese teenage girl, it tends to stick in your memory.

If you haven’t seen 2000’s Battle Royale, click away from this article and go Netflix it right now. It’s a disturbing film, and American distributors won’t touch it. A classroom of middle school kids is kidnapped, dropped on an island, and forced to murder each other until only one is left. Some try to cooperate to survive; others reluctantly become killers; but two revel in the opportunity to slaughter their classmates. One is Souma Mitsuko, Shiroiwa Junior High School, 9th Grade, Class B, Girl #11.

Pretty but unpopular, Mitsuko snaps — and gleefully sets off on a revenge-killing spree, slicing up other kids with a kama (a Japanese scythe). She doesn’t hesitate to pretend distress, or flirt shamelessly, to lure her victim into a false sense of security.

When the film’s other sociopath, Kazuo, kills her, one of the best shots in the movie is the astonished look on her face, quickly replaced with sadness.

There are a lot of unforgettable things in this violent, manipulative, brilliant film. But apart from the video “Big Sister,” sweet little Mitsuko is the most memorable of all.

You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshall Dillon?7. Hans Gruber (Die Hard)

He’s a former German terrorist turned thief, a literate and fashionable killer in an expensive suit. He’s smart, confident, and wily. He can fake an American accent, and deftly handle a Heckler & Koch P7. He’s Hans Gruber, the most memorable non-super-powered villain in cinema.

It’s the role that made Alan Rickman’s career; facing off against a shoeless Bruce Willis in Die Hard. The Citizen Kane of action flicks, Die Hard hit every note perfectly, including the most important – having a great villain. The best bit about Hans Gruber is his growing, comical frustration that his brilliant plan (and it is indeed a great plan) is consistently and increasingly sabotaged by one barefoot New York cop. Indeed, failure to improvise is Gruber’s downfall. All he had to do was let McClane take his wife and go.

The audience identifies with Gruber as much as it does with McClane, and there’s a small part of you that would be perversely satisfied if Gruber did blow up all the hostages and make off with the money. And that’s the best kind of villain – the sympathetic one.

I don’t know, rocket fire at long range - somehow it lacks that personal touch.6. The Master (Doctor Who)

One villainous archetype is the evil doppelganger of the hero; a person identical in almost every way, except a dark mirror, a cautionary tale about the path the hero could have taken. Indiana Jones has Rene Belloq; Luke Skywalker has Darth Vader; Sherlock Holmes has James Moriarty; and The Doctor has The Master.

Seven actors have played The Master canonically. He’s The Doctor’s enemy, and his brother; nemesis and compatriot. Driven insane as a child by staring into the Untempered Schism, The Master seeks to dominate all reality. The Doctor heals; The Master harms.

But in a strange way, they need each other. The Doctor never tries to destroy The Master, only to redeem him. The Master doesn’t really want to kill The Doctor; he needs The Doctor to witness his triumph and suffer for it, or the victory is meaningless. In the last season ender, the mortally wounded Master refuses to regenerate and save himself, knowing that sacrificing himself is the only way to hurt The Doctor. When The Doctor thinks The Master is dead (apparently he’s not), our hero weeps openly, cradling The Master’s lifeless body. He then gives The Master a hero’s funeral by pyre, identical to the one Luke Skywalker gave his father in Return of the Jedi.

The Master is an archetypal villain in other ways as well; the black Nehru jacket and goatee, the megalomania, the cavalier attitude towards life.

Also, unlike The Doctor, The Master travels through time and space in fully-functioning TARDISes. Although he has a habit of misplacing them.

I find your lack of faith disturbing.5. Darth Vader (Star Wars, original trilogy)

When I was 11 years old, Star Wars opened, and life changed forever. There was no “New Hope,” no Jabba the Hutt, the dewbacks didn’t move, and Han shot first. It was the single greatest movie in the history of the Universe, and quite possibly still is.

The next day at school, I described the film to my friends who still hadn’t seen it. The best character, I said, was the bad guy, “Dark Invader,” who fought with a sword made of light and could choke people from a distance. The first moment he appeared on the Tantive IV, striding out of the white smoke in his jet black armor and flowing cape, I was scared shitless. What the hell was that mask supposed to be? And what horror was it hiding?

Not a pasty-faced old guy or a sniveling teenager, I can assure you that.

The guy blew up entire, peace-loving planets, fer crissake. Well, Gran Moff Tarkin did, but Vader just stood there and watched!

In Return of the Jedi, I thought Vader’s conversion back to good was a bit… sudden. But I attributed that to Luke’s powers as a Jedi Master, rather than bad writing. Little did I know. I was disappointed with the final reveal of Vader’s face, but just because I wanted him to be horribly scarred and mutilated. Why did he wear that helmet all the time, just so his underlings wouldn’t know he was doughy?

I keep coming up with complaints about the original Darth Vader, but they’re affectionate taunts. He was a fantastic villain, from the costume to the voice to the mysterious past. The mysterious past that I wish had remained mysterious.

Such a shame. She was so beautiful.4. Magneto (Marvel Comics)

If comic book villains dominate my top five, it’s only because villainy is so central to the genre. In other types of fiction, the moral differences between the protagonist and antagonist can be subtle, confused, or even reversed. In comics, some Marvel and indie titles notwithstanding, it’s often a squeaky-clean hero versus an absurdly malevolent villain, each wearing outlandish outfits designed to clarify who’s good and who’s bad.

Our number-four villain has done some truly terrible things, but he’s not wholly evil. He just wants to save his ethnic group/human subspecies from slavery and annihilation. Is that so wrong?

Erik Lensherr survived the Holocaust to work side-by-side with future nemesis Charles Xavier in an Israeli hospital. Fleeing with stolen Nazi gold, Lensherr founded the supervillain group with the most direct and descriptive name ever, The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

Magneto’s mutant power was control of magnetism, and his power level swung from awe-inspiring to godlike, depending on the writer. He was also a leader, at various times commanding the Brotherhood, The New Mutants, The X-Men, and the entire island nation of Genosha.

Magneto was always an exceptionally cool and well-written villain, from the earliest Silver Age X-Men comics through the “Classic” X-Men era in the 80s and 90s. He would probably have made this top ten anyway. But it’s Sir Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Magneto in the X-Men films that bumps the Master of Magnetism to epic villain.

McKellan’s pitch-perfect portrayals of Gandalf and Magneto have made him the actor most beloved by geeks since Vincent Price passed away. His Magneto is smart, wily, wise, angry, driven, an ideologue; and most importantly for any villain, charismatic. Patrick Stewart is also an excellent actor, Hugh Jackman is dead-on as Wolverine, and Famke Janssen is just smoking hot. But the one performance that stays with you when the movie is over is McKellen’s. Even in the suck-fest known as X-Men: The Last Stand, the scene where Magneto abandons Mystique was one of the most powerful in the series.

Kneel before Zod, son of Jor-El!3. General Zod (DC Comics)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Superman is the dumbest superhero ever invented. Just awful. To summarize the problem: there’s nothing less interesting than a guy who can do anything. Compare Supes with the actual best superhero ever, Spider-Man, and you’ll see the difference. It’s Spidey’s limitations, not his powers, that make him so interesting.

Superman has given us a few great villains though. It was painful not to include Lex Luthor on this list. The brilliance of Luthor is that he goes up against the god-man Kal-El with absolutely no superpowers whatsoever. He’s definitely number 11 in this top ten.

The best way to give Superman an interesting villain is the guy with no powers. The only other way is the guy with exactly Superman’s powers. Enter Zod.

Dru-Zod was Military Director of the Kryptonian Space Center, until he created an army of robot duplicates and tried to take over the planet. Banished to the Phantom Zone, he later escaped and attempted to conquer the Earth and destroy Superman. As a fellow Kryptonian, he got the same superpowers from Earth’s yellow sun.

As a comic book character, General Zod was, you know, okay. At least Superman usually has to trick him to defeat him, instead of just relying on muscle. But it’s as a film character, in the otherwise disappointing Superman II, that General Zod became a classic villain.

As portrayed by the English actor Terence Stamp, Zod is arrogant and megalomaniacal, actually disappointed that his yellow-sun powers make conquering the world so effortless. His charisma and effete British charm made him far more likable and interesting than stupid ol’ Clark Kent.

It’s Stamp’s portrayal that made “Kneel before Zod” a common geek meme, and puts General Zod near the top of this list.

Curse you, Richaaaaaards!2. Doctor Doom (Marvel Comics)

Ah, beautiful Latveria. Nestled where Serbia meets Romania and Hungary, this tiny Eastern European paradise features centuries-old fairyland castles, skiing, hunting, fishing and more. And it’s ruled by the greatest supervillain the world has ever known.

Victor Von Doom was born to gypsy parents. His mother was murdered by a Satanic demon, his father hounded to his grave by the Baron of Latveria. Young Victor vowed to take his revenge upon all of humanity.

Attending college in New York with Reed Richards, Von Doom used his superior intellect to master advanced science and occult magic.

He devised an experiment to communicate with his dead mother; Richards warned him it was too dangerous. Von Doom’s face was maimed in the explosion; although some say it was only a tiny scar, magnified in Von Doom’s mind to hideous proportions by his vanity.

Fleeing to Tibet, Von Doom crafted his famous steel suit, and crafted his plans for world domination. He returned to Latveria and crowned himself king.

Von Doom is the archetypal supervillain, the way Kirk is the archetypal starship captain or Indiana Jones the archetypal adventurer. He’s brilliant, fanatical, monomaniacal, diabolical and malevolent. He’s the master of both science and magic. He rules with an iron fist, protects himself with robot duplicates, and schemes ceaselessly against his do-gooder enemies. Best of all, he perverts his diplomatic immunity as King of Latveria to shield himself from prosecution. There’s nothing like taking advantage of a “hero’s” greatest weakness, the Rules.

Of any villain who is actually a human being, Doctor Doom is the greatest of all.

Note: movies like to ruin comic book villains – Bullseye, Mr. Freeze, Dark Phoenix. The worst known case of this is the pathetic excuse for a “Doctor Doom” we get in the Fantastic Four movies. There’s just one word for this guy: FAIL.

There is no life in the Void.1. Sauron the Deceiver (Tolkien’s Legendarium)

He’s an occult villain, capable of changing shape, invading minds, bending wills, and spying over great distances. He’s a supervillain, complete with secret bases, hidden death traps, and countless fanatically-loyal henchmen. He’s a politician, the commander of vast armies, conqueror of most of the world, the greatest totalitarian dictator in history, casting a shadow over the whole of the Earth. He’s a monster, a werewolf, a creature of fire and iron. He’s immortal, a fallen angel, a god.

Sauron Gorthaur, the Dark Lord, the Black Hand, the Necromancer, Lord of Barad-dûr is the eponymous character of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Contrary to what you may have seen in a certain otherwise-excellent series of films, Sauron is not an evil lighthouse. He is a fallen god, born at the beginning of existence, servant of a much greater and darker evil. Turned to darkness and corruption, he seeks power and dominion over all the earth, and very nearly succeeds in getting it.

In the First Age, Sauron takes the form of a tremendous wolf, and leads the Armies of Angband in war against Elves and Men. He corrupts many servants, Elf and Man and Maia, to his cause – the absolute dominion of Melkor over the earth. He suffers a mild setback, however, when Melkor is defeated by the Valar and chained to the outside of the sky.

In the Second Age, Sauron makes his big comeback. With Melkor out of the picture, Sauron is free to claim the earth for his own. Seeking dominion over all races, he takes on a pleasant guise as Annatar, Lord of Gifts, and helps the hapless and witless Elves forge the Rings of Power. The scheme fails against the Elves (in the short term), but soon the Dwarves are corrupted and the Kings of Men of Middle Earth fall under his sway.

Sauron is “captured” by the Númenóreans, but it’s all part of his evil plan. He succeeds in utterly destroying Númenór, and returning to his homeland of Mordor, goes to war against the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. There Sauron suffers for his Achilles heel – he put too much of his power in the One Ring. It’s stolen from him, Sauron is weakened, and has to go into hiding for a few millennia.

In the Third Age, Sauron returns, tanned and rested. He quickly regains dominion over the Men of the East, and marshals his invincible forces against the West. There’s just the matter of one ring, “a trifle that Sauron fancies.”

No villain in fiction is as powerful, pernicious and frightening as Sauron. The Lord of the Rings is the only book I’ve ever read where, three-quarters of the way through, I genuinely believed the good guys could not possibly win. Sauron never even makes an appearance in the book, yet fear of him drips from every page. He is the greatest villain ever.

Read his blog here.

In no particular order, here are some villains who just barely missed the top ten: Lord John Whorfin, The Borg Queen, Hannibal Lecter, Jerome Facher, The Terminator, The Alien, Roy Batty, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Khan Noonien Singh, Dark Phoenix, Edward Rooney, Lex Luthor, Keyser Soze, Sephiroth, Hank Scorpio, Galactus, Gaius Baltar, James Moriarty (both original and Star Trek), Desire, Sir William Gull and The Invisible Man.

The 20 Best & Worst Villains of All Time — Part 1: The Worst

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.

Arise my wifes. Give ear to the words of Manos. Arise my wifes! And hear the will of Manos!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.

Ro-Man, with his advanced alien vacuum tube technology.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.

Mr. Mxl-whatever.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?

Darth Fett.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.

I hate those Smurfs!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)

Why is Darth Vader so pouty?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.

Oh yeah, the up-lighting really makes you scary. 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.

Can I interest you in a variable rate mortgage?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.

Would you rub a man’s foot?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.

Read The Ten Worst Sci-Fi Films of All Time: Battlefield Earth

Oh god, I forgot about the bird and the bug.  The HORROR. 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