Without villains, there can be no heroes. Not a famous quote, just something my mind blurted out, promise. Unfortunately not all villains are fictional. In the real world evil people are plentiful and like your increased chances of finding a venomous snake in Australia, your chances of finding a villain can be narrowed down by looking at the annual Forbes rich list. It’s either that or Satan, depends on your beliefs. Luckily your belief system doesn’t matter when it comes to fiction and villains can be quite a lot of fun in the realm of make believe. Often the villains are the most interesting characters, which makes the task of deciding the greatest villain of all time very difficult. I’m not up to that task, but what I can do is provide you with a list of some pretty strong contenders.
As soon as I think of the word villain, the haunting tone of Mark Hamill’s cackling chuckle echoes through my brain. The Joker has probably done more for popularising the Batman series than any other villain from any other series, outside of Star Wars. Where the Joker differs from Darth Vader and Jar Jar is that he is incredibly interesting. No matter how hard you look, you could never find an origin story to stick. Whether it’s a vat of chemicals, an abusive father or Batman himself, it’s always hard to determine just how he did get those scars. I think the best way to describe it is left to Batman himself; “Like any other comedian, he uses whatever material will work”. Which leads me on to my next point, the jokes. Despite being called the Joker, his jokes have never been funny and can quite often end up being just plain disturbing. Nevertheless he always seems to get a laugh, whether it be forced or from his own disfigured jaw.
The decision to make the Joker a scary clown was quite simply genius. Clowns have been around for centuries and the amount of time they have been funny is quite rapidly being taken over by the amount of time they have been terrifying. This clown is the most petrifying of them all, which could be all a little clearer if we just knew why he revels in so much chaos. There is never a method to the Joker’s madness; he simply enjoys making a mess and giggling over Batman’s attempts at cleaning it up. One might say, he’s like a dog chasing cars. Thought of that one myself as well, thank you very much.
Arthur Conan Doyle set a lot of the standards throughout all fiction when he penned the Sherlock Holmes stories whether he wanted to or not. An argument can often be made for a little of Professor James Moriarty in every major rival since the stories’ publication. The key word there being “rival”, in every sense Moriarty is the ultimate rival. Over the years and countless adaptations of the character Moriarty has had various different personality traits but one the one that always stays the same is his/her(it’s not a spoiler if you don’t know which adaptation I’m talking about) rivalry with Sherlock. Sherlock and Moriarty are equally matched in intellect, physical prowess and influence amongst Victorian London. Even some of their flaws align and these similarities call for a fair amount of respect to be mixed in with each other’s mutual feelings of distrust. They are so alike in so many respects that one can’t go down without the other and that quite literally happens in the stories.
It’s fair to say that the Sherlock/Moriarty rivalry can be seen in countless rivalries throughout the fictional universe. The Doctor and the Master, Vegeta and Goku, Neo and Agent Smith and even Ronald McDonald and the Colonel. I say that’s pretty impressive for a character that was only invented to rid Sherlock from Doyle’s life in the first place.
To be classified as one of the best villains ever, you don’t necessarily have to be the most evil villain of all time. What it really comes down to is how interesting is the character. GLaDOS is by no means nice, she’s definitely evil but her sights are set just a little bit lower than the other villains on this list. No matter what you think of her intentions, there is no denying GLaDOS is interesting. Interesting with a hint, no a heap of funny. It’s very hard to hate GLaDOS when she is constantly coming out with one liners as good as this, “Unbelievable, you, (subject name here), must be the pride of (subject hometown here)!” There are times during the Portal series where even Chell must be thinking GLaDOS isn’t all that bad.
GLaDOS’s motives are very intriguing as well. She’s just doing what she was programed to do and no one can blame her for that. If you delve into her backstory that’s when the waters start to get a bit murky and Valve managed to write the game in a manner that allows the player to decide where she came from. Whichever one you choose, the origin story is always very creepy and while GLaDOS can be hilarious at times there are other times where she can be legitimately menacing.
There can be any number of motives a villain can have for doing the evil things they do. From pain to greed or the struggle for power, none can ever be more intimidating than pure hate. Now when people say pure hate, they generally don’t mean that, there’s always a bunch of other emotions bundled up with them but when it comes to the daleks, nope it’s just hate. It seems a terrible idea to refine hate and one that has no purpose to build the ultimate villains but Davros was a twisted Kaled and he was so twisted that he reverted his entire race. I am always baffled at the amount of concepts that classic Who managed to come up with that were so ahead of their time and the daleks are right at the top of that list.
Pure hate seeps out of the daleks, so much so that it’s contagious. The Doctor generally will have compassion for the monsters he fights but when it comes to the daleks he echoes their sentiments and in many ways the daleks have made the Doctor a more refined killer. These beasts have inspired some beautiful writing and some of the best episodes revolve around them. Often the best lines are about the daleks themselves and no one can explain a dalek better than the Doctor; “Imagine the worst possible thing in the universe and then don’t bother, because you’re looking at it right now. This is evil refined as engineering.”
Generally when you describe a villain, evil is your go to word. Describing Mrs. Coulter is a lot different because Mrs. Coulter is nasty. When Phillip Pullman wrote His Dark Materials he did not scrape on the characters. Every character is beautifully written and so lifelike that they do everything but leap out of the page. So whenever those horridly ordered letters, “Mrs. Coulter” appear on the page you know you are in for a rough ride. It makes you pine for Lyra, wanting to reach through the pages and pluck her from within Mrs. Coulter’s icy queen grip.
Mrs. Coulter isn’t even the most evil character in the story, yet you wouldn’t be blamed for disliking her the most. She has the uncanny ability, like a blue-ringed octopus to not only hide her malice with her beauty but she can poison a person without them feeling a thing. And don’t even get me started on that horrible little gold monkey.
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