‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and more: Ranking the best ever TV villains
Complain all you want about bad guys – secretly we all love to hate a solid TV villain. There have been some great ones on recent TV including The Black Hood in Riverdale and The Man in Black in Westworld, but they’re hardly a threat by comparison to some of the greatest TV villains of all time. Here’s our ranking of who we think are the eleven greatest Big Bads in TV history.
11. Al Swearengen: Deadwood
Watching Westworld recently has only reaffirmed how much we miss HBO’s previous prestige Western Deadwood. Besides the major appeal of seeing Timothy Olyphant (Justified) perpetually brood under a hood of hot facial hair was the unnerving charm of Ian McShane’s Swearengen.
The deeply immoral big pimpin’ gangster and bar owner was a total monster in every possible respect and yet the character was drawn with such humanity and delectable wickedness that you couldn’t help but root for him regardless.
10. Georgina Sparks: Gossip Girl
Gossip Girl is full of salacious Upper East Side villainy but Georgina Sparks (Michelle Trachtenberg) is the MVP of Manhattan’s most scandalous elite. Wonderfully deranged – even when she briefly “found God” – Georgina is an unstoppable force of backstabbing, scheming, and lying who seems to want nothing more than to see the Upper East Side crumble into chaos at every opportunity.
9. Kilgrave: Jessica Jones
David Tennant (Doctor Who) has never depicted a character quite as sinister or as complex as the mind controlling supervillain Kilgrave. On the one hand, the acts he forces people to commit and to endure by his own powers are inexcusable and horrifying.
However, there’s something deplorably human about the way he complains his powers have desensitized him to violence and rendered him unable to decipher the boundaries between what his victims do and do not want. He speaks like a man who desperately wants to change yet acts like a man who’s having too much fun to even consider it.
8. The Gentlemen: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
There are a lot of genuinely entertaining Big Bads in Buffy worth celebrating, but that’s an entire article in and of itself. Though they only appeared in the one episode “Hush”, The Gentlemen are the most disquieting and memorable horror villains in TV history.
They’re a fairytale style of villain cut from the bones of a speechless night terror with Doug Jones (The Shape of Water) leading the pack and bringing a harrowing sense of malevolence to the character.
7. Joffrey Baratheon: Game of Thrones
Anyone with a natural distrust of bratty children knew that Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) was a monstrous little sh** the second he turned up in the HBO fantasy soap opera.
We expected Lord/King Joffrey to be annoying and distasteful, but we never quite expected him to indulge in a bender of depravity and pain that included slaughter, torture, sexual assault, and the thankless beheading of a character we stupidly thought was in it for the long haul in S1. His reign of tyranny only made his eventual death in the Purple Wedding all the more satisfying to see.
6. The Borg: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Looking like a 90s industrial group that’s just left an underground rave at 10am on a Sunday morning, The Borg are by far the most striking of any Star Trek villains ever. But their deadpan mantra of “Resistance is futile” and their interplanetary pursuit of assimilation is genuinely chilling, especially when Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is briefly assimilated and he looks like a lost extra from Hellraiser.
5. Livia Soprano: The Sopranos
The Soprano family matriarch is a joyless husk of a woman who once tried to get her son murdered. Performed with a graceful smirking nihilism by the late Nancy Marchand (Sabrina), the character is savage on an intimate level, providing a dense black hole of irreversible damage that destroys everyone within her orbit.
4. Vern Schillinger: Oz
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) inflicts such an endless torrent of suffering upon the inmates of Oz Penitentiary – and especially against poor old Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) – that his menacing threat looms over every episode, even when he’s barely around. His great love for rape and horrifying army of white supremacists make him legitimately monstrous.
3. Gus Fring: Breaking Bad
Efficient, professional, and impossibly cold blooded, Giancarlo Esposito’s (Do The Right Thing) meth maestro and chicken shop manager is one of the most cunning villains ever seen on TV. A seemingly legitimate soft-spoken businessman on the outside, Fring was harboring murderous ambition beneath his sharp suits and emotionless smiles, making him the perfect foil for Walter White (Bryan Cranston).
By that stage, White was proudly reppin’ his drug lord credentials with flash cars and Heisenberg getup while Fring was making an effort to do the opposite.
2. BOB: Twin Peaks
Portrayed with eerie levels of delight by Frank Silva, what makes BOB such a ghoulishly great villain is that he arrives in the narrative with little rhyme or reason – his evil simply is. Like the palindrome of his name, BOB represents the terrifying notion of an endless cycle of suffering – one with a vast bottomless void at the center of it into which homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is pushed.
1. Hannibal Lecter: Hannibal
He’s smart, he’s sexy, and he’s a legit gourmet chef. He’s also a cannibal and a malevolent manipulative monster, but you can’t hold that against him. Especially not with how captivating Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange) is in the role, making you wonder whether you’d probably go along with his dinner plans knowing full well who or what was in the Amuse-Bouche just because he’s so damn charming.