Every hero needs an antagonist, the dark to their light, the yin to their yang. The greatest villains live on in our memories long after the final showdown, when the dust clears and life returns to normal. Animated movies, in particular, have a long and proud history of incredible villains, and indeed often they’re the most memorable character in the whole film. With the release of Despicable Me 3, I decided to take stock of the animated movie villains, and see who comes out on top.
Narrowing down the vast list of excellent villains to just ten is a tall order, so I’m going to refine my criteria a bit. A truly excellent villain has both the smarts to devise an evil plan and the cunning to follow through with it, relishing the suffering it causes. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to pick the most unsettling and devious bad guys and girls, rather than just the run of the mill quippy, self-absorbed, or egotistical scoundrels.
Note: I could’ve quite easily made this an all Disney list, but I tried to spread the love around a bit. Between Disney and Pixar, the House Of Mouse has churned out some 70+ films, and a good number of those contain memorable villains, so it was difficult to limit them.
On with the countdown!
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians, 1961)
She veers wildly from snobby to downright deranged, but at the end of the day, this crazy broad just wants to make a fur coat out of puppies. PETA would have a field day with her, and I think all that hair dye has seeped into her brain.Sharptooth (The Land Before Time, 1988)
An honourable mention for the only villain to actively rip flesh on camera, Sharptooth was terrifying to a dinosaur-obsessed little boy who’d just been through the trauma of Littlefoot losing his Mum.Hopper (A Bug’s Life, 1998)
Just look at him, he’s freaky as hell and every inch the bad guy. Lazy, self-serving, and not above killing to get his way. A Bug’s Life might not be the best Pixar movie, but Hopper is right up there in terms of villains.
Saddam Hussein (South Park: Bigger, Longer, And Uncut, 1999)
The only guy who could make you feel sorry for Satan, the South Park version of the Iraqi dictator is a douche bro to the millionth degree. He’s cruel and abusive to his boyfriend, whilst also being a pretty bad guy overall, you know, with the whole dictator thing and the war mongering. You just want to yell at Satan “you can do better girl, get out of there!” but unfortunately like a lot of abusive relationships, that’s easier said than done.
Ursula (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
You’ve got to admire the tenacity of this sea witch. Not only does she steal Ariel’s voice, severely handicapping her true love quest, but then she goes and Single White Female‘s her and almost marries Prince Eric out from under her! Like most of the best Disney villains, she also has an unhealthy lust for power, gets her own catchy song, and is pretty terrifying in the final battle. And while it’s correct that true love won the day, scoring a boat mast in the gut helps matters along as well.
Lotso Huggin Bear (Toy Story 3, 2010)
It’s the ones that you think are nice that become the most unsettling. This holds true for Lotso, who begins as a kindly old bear before his true motivations come out. Some people think he’s just a carbon copy of Toy Story 2‘s Stinky Pete, but I would argue that Lotso’s evil runs deeper, and he’s not above shoving everyone (including himself) into an incinerator to get his way. Straight up cold.
Lord Shen (Kung Fu Panda 2, 2011)
The villain in Kung Fu Panda, Tai Lung, had reasons (albeit misguided) for his rampage, but the sequel’s Lord Shen is just straight up evil through and through. This haughty peacock with knives in his tail has big plans and an even bigger ego. Like Disney knows well, if you want a villain done right, get a Brit to voice him, and Gary Oldman tears into the Shen character with villainous glee. We’ll overlook the slight white-washing, he’s just too good.
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, 1996)
For starters, he’s a creepy, self-righteous “justice” minister who’s locked an orphaned, deformed boy in a belltower for his whole life. Do you need any more reasons to hate him? What about the whole Gypsy genocide plan? Or the weird obsession with Esmeralda? You guys on board yet? The worst part is that he doesn’t even think he’s doing anything wrong, it’s just “God’s will”. Yep, Frollo, you’re on the list.
General Woundwort (Watership Down, 1978)
The entirety of Watership Down is upsetting on many levels, but General Woundwort really takes the carrot as the worst part. The over-sized, one-eyed tyrant rabbit smashed any stereotypes you might have of bunnies being cute and cuddly. He rules his rabbit empire with a vicious brutality and stops at nothing to keep his subjects in line, even hunting them down when they try to escape. Never have you wanted a woodland creature to be taken out so badly.
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty, 1959)
Horns? Check. Magical powers? Check. Unhealthy obsession with a young girl? Check. Maleficent checks all the evil boxes and then some. To think that all of the events in Sleeping Beauty might have been avoided if she’d just been invited to Aurora’s damn christening! Way to hold a grudge there Mal. Between the stalking of Aurora and the eventual transformation into a freakin’ dragon (!!), Maleficent more than earns her spot on this list.
Jafar (Aladdin, 1992)
If there was ever an Olympics of Evil, Aladdin’s Jafar would certainly be on the medal podium. But on this list, he’s going to have to settle for bronze. Equal parts cold, calculating and charismatic, he’s as comfortable ordering executions as he is trying to usurp the throne. He’s also wickedly funny, which makes him all the more memorable. If he hadn’t let his ginormous ego get in the way, and used the old noggin’ a bit more, then he might’ve actually followed through on his evil plans.
Other Mother (Coraline, 2009)
The evil version of Coraline’s real Mum, this lady’s a real piece of work. A spider-like witch with buttons for eyes and hands made from sewing needles, she defines wicked. Her dastardly scheme: to lure children into the Other World with the promise of constant attention, and then remove their eyes, replace them with buttons, and then eventually steal their souls for good measure. Way to go, Coraline, thanks for making Mums creepy!
Scar (The Lion King, 1994)
As if there’d be anyone else sitting on top of this throne, Scar just wouldn’t allow it. The Shakespearean animated bad guy for the ages, Scar is a preening, conniving mess of anxieties and entitlements. He not only kills his brother and blames it on his nephew to grab the throne, he also systematically destroys the ecosystem and dooms the whole pride… way to go there big guy. Deliciously brought to life by the dulcet tones of Jeremy Irons, you just can’t get better than this dastardly lion.
So there you have it! Did your favourite villain make the list? Anyone we’ve missed? Sound off in the comments below, or on our Facebook page!