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Top 10 Most Pernicious Movie Villains Of All Time

There’s something about great movie villains that drive a movie like no hero ever could. Where would Luke Skywalker be without his father, and would anyone watch 12 Monkeys without John Doe? No, of course not, since that would be boring, but it takes a lot of talent to bring a perfect villain to the silver screen.

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For nearly a century, movies have been a huge part of our lives, there have been countless villains, but that includes a ton who were forgettable. The truly memorable villains are the insidious and most pernicious ones, who bide their time and execute their plans with furious intensity, often building up a body count that can leave an audience speechless.


10 Loki—The Marvel Cinematic Universe

One of the best villains of the MCU is also one of the first. Loki may have started out as the main villain in the first Thor movie, but he quickly rose to become the principal antagonist of the first Avengers film, and he didn’t hold back on the evil one bit. Loki was fully driven to do whatever it took in his quest to open a rift in space over New York City. He killed and corrupted everyone in his path, and through his trickery and manipulation, he managed to turn the Avengers against one another on multiple occasions.

Once the rift was open, scores of Chitauri invaded Earth, killing a large number of people. The Avengers rallied to fight together against the threat and won the day by not only shutting the rift but also by lobbing a nuke at the mothership, killing all the Chitauri involved in the invasion. While they were bad guys, those bodies still count towards Loki’s rather impressive list of kills in the MCU. Fortunately, he became slightly less evil over time, and developed into an anti-hero of sorts, having given his life in a last-ditch attempt to kill his one-time benefactor, Thanos.[1]

9 Agent Smith—The Matrix Franchise

Agent Smith was one of many programs introduced into the Matrix to maintain order. Agents could assume the bodies of anyone inside the Matrix, and supplant their form with their own. They were designed to be superhuman, and near-invincible killers, who would investigate any anomaly in the system with direct and intense violence. They were seen as government operatives by the people in the Matrix, but in truth, they were sentient lines of computer code, who ultimately followed the rules of the system, and maintained order.

That is, of course, until Agent Smith was destroyed by Neo at the end of the first film. Instead of letting himself be deleted, he returned to the Matrix, upgraded, and unplugged from the system. He went on to infect the residents of the Matrix with his code, effectively copying himself over and over again until nobody remained but him. Neo forged a deal with the machines to once more enter the Matrix, and destroy Agent Smith, which he ultimately did at the end of the third film, finally fulfilling the prophecy, and striking a peace between man and machine after years of bitter conflict.[2]


8 Ultron—Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Tony Stark and Bruce Banner developed Ultron from the Mind Stone at the heart of Loki’s scepter, which they captured from Hydra at the beginning of the film. Ultron was an advanced form of Artificial Intelligence, developed to “save the world,” but the AI was malevolent, and interpreted this to mean he needed to wipe the human race from the planet’s surface. He jumped into a robot body, copied himself onto the Internet, and fought against the Avengers. He then went on a campaign to create an army of robot bodies of himself and engineered one out of Vibranium, making himself nearly indestructible.

He then enacted his plan to destroy the human race by turning the city of Novi Grad, Sokovia, into a meteor. Using Stark’s technology and his own intellect, he managed to completely lift the city, which he planned to crash down onto the surface of the Earth, mirroring the destruction caused some 65 million years earlier, which wiped out the dinosaurs. With the help of some S.H.I.E.L.D. friends, the Avengers managed to save most of the people of Sokovia from Ultron’s plans, but he still managed to build up a hefty body count before he was ultimately destroyed.[3]

7 Lord Voldemort—The Harry Potter Franchise

Thomas Riddle was a powerful wizard early in his life, but he was plagued by an intense hatred of his parents and himself for being born to a Muggle father. He grew up in an orphanage before being taken to Hogwarts School of Whitcraft and Wizardry by Professor Dumbledore. While at the school, he excelled but explored the nuances of dark magic, which further eroded any decency he maintained via the creation of Horcruxes, which are magical artifacts that contain a portion of a wizard’s soul and can only be forged through murder.

He took on the name Lord Voldemort, and became the most powerful dark wizard of all time and amassed a legion of like-minded followers who terrorized the wizarding world, as well as the world of men. He killed without hesitation, including the parents of Harry Potter. When the boy grew up, he was continuously attacked and harassed by Voldemort’s followers until they could return their Dark Lord to his corporeal form. This led to a great war, which ultimately saw Voldemort’s soul trapped in Limbo for all eternity.[4]


6 Darth Vader

If you look through movie villain lists all over the Internet, you won’t find many without a spot for the Dark Lord of the Sith. Darth Vader is one of the most iconic movie bad guys in history, and for good reason. After accepting the advice and tutelage of Darth Sidious, Anakin Skywalker embraced the Dark Side of the Force and was christened Darth Vader. One of his first acts after taking on the new name was to kill all of the younglings in the Jedi Academy. After this, his actions led to the death of his wife, and he turned against his closest friend and mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Vader then donned his infamous black armor, and traveled the galaxy, finding and killing every Jedi he came across. Every Jedi he killed was someone who would have once called him an ally, which makes his actions all the more insidious. Vader then stood by as countless billions were killed via the machinations of his Master, making him complicit in the deaths of entire star systems. In the end, he was redeemed by his son, though that hardly wipes out the incredibly large body count he left in his wake.[5]

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5 Skynet—The Terminator Franchise

The Terminator films focus 99.99% of their attention on the robotic assassins sent back in time to kill specific people, but those individuals are only foot soldiers in a war fought all over the world in the near future. Skynet was initially designed as an Artificial Intelligence computer system the military planned on using to control its nuclear armaments. Shortly after being brought online, Skynet became “self-aware” and came to the conclusion that the real threat was humanity, so it launched the United States’ nuclear arsenal at Russia, triggering a global nuclear holocaust.

The initial war killed around three billion people, and many more died soon after from the fallout. The survivors were left to fend for themselves in a post-apocalyptic war where the machines reigned supreme. Skynet sent Terminators and killer vehicles all over the world to kill the human resistance, and when the war was finally won by humanity, a desperate act by Skynet sent the first Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor, the woman who would one day give birth to John Connor, a resistance commander who became instrumental in winning the war.[6]


4 Grand Moff Tarkin—Star Wars & Rogue One

In the Star Wars universe, there are members of the Empire who hold a rank even higher than that of Darth Vader. One such person was Grand Moff Tarkin, a man Princess Leia greeted by saying, “Governor Tarkin! I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.” His influence and power within the Empire was nearly unmatched, as he was the first person to hold the rank of Grand Moff in the newly created Empire. He was also the first Governor of the Outer Rim.[7]

Tarkin was also the man behind the construction and development of the first Death Star, after taking that role from Orson Krennic as soon as it became operational. As soon as the Death Star was fully constructed, he took it to the Alderaan system and compelled Princess Leia into giving him the name of the system, where the Rebels could be found. She gave him a false name, but before he could take steps to determine this, he destroyed the planet of Alderaan anyway, instantly killing billions of innocent people.[8]

3 Sauron—The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy

It’s hard to find a villain more pernicious than Sauron in all of fiction, and that’s for good reason. J. R. R. Tolkien made a point of developing a character his readers wouldn’t have any trouble hating, as he is a pure representation of evil and malice. Sauron was a fallen Maia, the creator of the One Ring, and the conqueror of Arda. He crafted the Rings of Power to corrupt his enemies, and he was first defeated in the War of the Last Alliance during the Second Age, but this only weakened him for a time.

Sauron lost the One Ring during that battle, which robbed him of his corporeal form, but after centuries of lying dormant, he rebuilt his strength, and his mighty armies to once more conquer in the Third Age. Because he put so much of himself into the One Ring, it needed to be destroyed, so Sauron could be killed absolutely, so a young Hobbit carried the ring to Mount Doom, and cast it into the fires of the volcano, finally bringing about the end of an evil being who preyed on all that was good and virtuous for thousands of years.[9]

2 Thanos—The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Thanos spent a large portion of his life killing half the population of the planets he visited in a perverted attempt to save them from destroying themselves. This made him the enemy of pretty much everyone in the universe, but things didn’t ramp up to apocalyptic levels until he filled all of the Infinity Stones into his gauntlet, and snapped his fingers, resulting in the deaths of half of all life in the universe. That act alone earned him a place on this list, but not the one most would think.

Most people might insist Thanos deserves the top spot on this list, but unlike every other evil bastard found here, he’s the only one to have his work undone by his enemies. Five years after annihilating half of all life, which included all single-cell and multicellular forms of life everywhere, his work was undone. Through some time travel shenanigans, he attempted to regain the Stones and recreate the universe as he saw fit, but was destroyed before he could carry out his plan. That being said, he slaughtered wantonly across the galaxy for decades, so he’s still an evil S.O.B.[10]

1 Darth Sidious—Star Wars Sage

Darth Sidious, otherwise known as Emperor Sheev Palpatine, is easily the most pernicious villain in all of movie history. The man defines the word manipulation, and through his tiresome machinations, he managed to kill and supplant his Master, learn the secrets of immortality, develop weapons that easily destroy planets, slaughter nearly all of his rivals, and plenty more. With the release of Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker, he returned to prove that everything fans had seen from the previous eight films had been the result of his work.

Trying to determine his body count is next to impossible, as any killings carried out in his name while he was the Emperor, or the deaths of anyone who was a follower of his during that time aren’t fully know. His work led to the destruction of at least 14 planets were destroyed in all of canon, which likely adds up to anywhere from 15 to 30 billion people killed. Deaths are only one aspect of Sidious’ blight on the galaxy, as entire species were wiped out or enslaved, making him the perpetrator of multiple genocides.[11]

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Jonathan H. Kantor

Jonathan is a graphic artist, illustrator, and writer. He is a Retired Soldier and enjoys researching and writing about history, science, theology, and many other subjects.

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