10 Movie Villains More Popular Than Their Heroic Counterparts


As children, we grow up idolizing the heroes of our favorite stories. Whether it’s Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter or Wonder Woman, the movies are full of legendary protagonists who have proven to be some of history’s most enduring characters. Usually these heroes find themselves up against fearsome villains, antagonists who have their own reasons to foil the leader’s plans at every turn.

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We’re meant to root against these bad guys, instead cheering on the good guys as they save the day once again. Sometimes the audience finds themselves turning against the hero and cheering on the villain instead, which makes us wonder “are we the bad guys?” Whether it’s because they’re likable, have a relatable motive, or are just plain cool, some villains have proven to be more beloved than their heroic adversaries.


The Joker – ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)

Available to stream on HBO Max.

Heath Ledger as Joker in The Dark Knight

Batman has one of the biggest rogues galleries in superhero history, trading blows with Harley Quinn, The Riddler and Poison Ivy. None of his foes are as popular as the Joker, however, a villain who has transcended his role as Batman’s nemesis to become a cultural icon in his own right.

The Joker has had several fantastic portrayals in media, including being played by the likes of Joaquin Phoenix and Marc Hamilbut no performance is as beloved as health book‘s. Cast as The black Knight, Ledger sadly passed away before the film was released, but quickly became the film’s most popular aspect.

Hannibal Lecter – “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and Showtime.

Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs

The rise of true-crime podcasts in recent years has shown that audiences are obsessed with serial killers, and Hannibal Lecter is one of the most infamous fictional murderers of all time. A brilliant psychiatrist who also happens to be a cannibal, Lecter’s carnivorous desires don’t betray his intellectual personality.

Lecter has appeared in several productions, but he is best known for appearing in Thesilenceofthelambs. When FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) contacts the imprisoned Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to get help on a case, the two share enlightening talks as Lecter raids his interviewer’s mind.

Anton Chigurh – “No country for old people” (2007)

Available to stream on HBO Max.

Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men

A rare case of the movie is better than the book, There is no country for old people stars Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss, a war veteran who comes across $2 million in a drug deal gone wrong. Taking the money for himself, Moss soon crosses paths with Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a contract killer hired to collect the money.

Hailed as one of the most realistic portrayals of a psychopath in cinema, Chigurh is a captivating presence whenever he is on screen. Armed with a bolt-action rifle normally used for slaughtering cattle, Chigurh flips a coin to decide the fate of his potential victims, in a way not too dissimilar to Two-Face in Batman.

John Kramer – ‘Saw II’ (2005)

Available to stream on Hulu.

Jigsaw smiles devilishly in his studio and his iconic black and red dress
Image via Lionsgate Films

John Kramer remains an invisible presence for most of the premiere Seen movie, rather called the puzzle killer. Once his identity is revealed, however, he becomes a major fixture in the franchise as his backstory and murder motive are explored in detail through numerous flashbacks.

Several dark events set him on his path as Jigsaw, where he abducts those he deems not cherishing their lives to play his deadly games. This has led some to see John as an anti-hero, as most of his victims deserve their punishment. Regardless of what you think of his motivations, John Kramer is one of the greatest horror icons of the 21st century.

Pennywise – ‘IT’ (2017)

Available to stream on Netflix and HBO Max.

Pennywise looks forward and holds a balloon

One of Stephen Kingthe scariest creations, THISPennywise has haunted those living with coulrophobia for decades. An alien creature who takes the form of a jovial clown to better attract unsuspecting children, Pennywise preys on his young victims and their fear of sustenance.

While most of the attention of THIS and its sequel is about the Losers Club as they attempt to defeat the creature, Pennywise is by far the most popular character. Both versions of Pennywise, played by Tim Curry and Bill Skarsgard respectively, have become pop culture icons that even non-horror fans recognize (and are terrified of).

Cruel – ‘Cruel’ (2021)

Available to stream on Disney+.

Emma Stone in Cruel
Picture via Disney+

One of the most popular Disney villains to come out of their animated and live-action films, Cruella is the antagonist of the 101 Dalmatians series. Adorable dogs aside, Cruella has proven to be this franchise’s most enduring character.

Whereas Glenn Closethe portrayal of is definitely a villain, Emma StoneThe recent take on the character is leaning more into anti-hero territory. Always a chaotic character, Stone’s Cruel relies on lawlessness as she plots against Baroness van Hellman (Emma Thompson), responsible for her mother’s death.

Beetlejuice – ‘Beetlejuice’ (1988)

Available to stream on HBO Max.

Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice
Image via Warner Bros.

One of Tim Burtonmost popular movies, beetle juice follows married couple Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin), who tragically dies in a car accident. Condemned to the afterlife, they learn that a new family has moved into their beloved home and is tearing apart everything they’ve worked so hard to build.

Not content to sit idly by, the Maitlands enlist the services of Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), a “bio-exorcist” who claims to scare away new owners. Things quickly get complicated, however, as Beetlejuice reveals his full chaotic nature, a trait that has led him to become one of the funniest movie villains.

Roy Batty – “Blade Runner” (1982)

Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty

Potentially the most influential cyberpunk film of all time, blade runnerThe impact is still felt today. Set in a dystopian version of 2019, the film follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), an agent tasked with tracking down a group of rogue androids led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer).

With his bleached blonde hair and black trench coat, Batty is a striking figure. Having only been activated three years ago, Batty is still learning to manage his emotions and the world around him. This makes him a likeable figure as he only wants to live, while he also delivers the film’s most iconic moment with his “tears in the rain” monologue.

Hans Landa – ‘Inglourious Basterds’ (2009)

Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa

Quentin Tarantino has created countless great characters throughout his career, but Hans Landa might just be his best. Played by Christopher Waltz in his Hollywood breakthrough, Landa is a Nazi officer during World War II who excels in tracking down Jewish civilians in hiding from the military.

Despite his obnoxious occupation, Landa remains a charming character throughout. Inglourious Basterds, even when he is about to commit murder. The Waltz has a lot to do with the character’s popularity, as her performance brings a side to the character that audiences can’t help but be captivated by even when we should be repelled by her actions.

Darth Vader – ‘Star Wars’ (1977)

Available to stream on Disney+.

darth vader reaching out

Cinema’s most famous dad, Darth Vader immediately caught the public’s attention as a badass in a dark suit who wields a red laser sword. That would be enough to sell his popularity, but the reveal of his backstory as a tragic villain made Vader the show’s most popular character. star wars fandom.

After revealing himself to be the father of hero Luke Skywalker, Vader sacrifices himself to save his son’s life. The prequel trilogy would continue to further explore his history as Anakin Skywalker, but his role in the original trilogy remains his most iconic and popular appearance.

NEXT: 10 movies where kids are the bad guys


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