10 of the Most Popular Actors Who Played Best Villain

10 of the Most Popular Actors Who Played Best Villain

You can’t say that a movie is a good one when one of the most important parts is not played well. I don’t mean the protagonist, but the other one. You know what I’m talking about – You know them, you hate them, but if you’re like me, you can’t help but love them. These are the villains of your favorite stories, and I say to you, my readers, that they are the most important part of those stories.

I have long had a fascination with the villains in stories. And why is that? Because the villain drives the story.

Without the villain there is no story. What was once your hero is now some ordinary person (though probably with powers or some sort of destiny they must fulfill) but they have nothing holding them back. It’s true that there are other ways to cause conflict.

Those are all great in their own regard, but I think of them more as seasoning. What I mean by this is that they help spice up the story. The story (in most cases) should still have an antagonist, especially when telling a story through a digital medium such as in movies. So in this series I want to look at what makes a good villain. Because by making a spectacular villain, so storytellers can often save an otherwise dull story or make the story just that much better.

We have compiled a top 10 lists of actors who have truly breathed life into their intimidating characters and who tend to steal the show.

We select those who typically play well-written ones, inject lots of energy into the proceedings and/or who mainly play this type of character with very few exceptions made.

Dennis Hopper

Hopper was an American actor, filmmaker and artist. As a young man, Hopper became interested in acting and eventually became a student of the Actors Studio. He made his first television appearance in 1954 and appeared in two films featuring James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956). During the next 10 years, Hopper appeared frequently on television in guest roles, and by the end of the 1960s had played supporting roles in several films.

He directed and starred in Easy Rider (1969), winning an award at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay as co-writer. Journalist Ann Hornaday wrote:

With its portrait of counterculture heroes raising their middle fingers to the uptight middle-class hypocrisies, Easy Rider became the cinematic symbol of the 1960s, a celluloid anthem to freedom, macho bravado and anti-establishment rebellion.

Film critic Matthew Hays notes that “no other persona better signifies the lost idealism of the 1960s than that of Dennis Hopper.”

Movies played as villain:

Movies Character

Blue Velvet(1986)

Frank Booth

Easy Rider (1969)


24 (2001-2010)

Victor Drazen

Speed (1994)

Howard Payne

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

King Koopa / King Koopa Bowser

Waterworld (1995)


Jeremy Irons

Irons is an English actor. After receiving classical training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Irons began his acting career on stage in 1969, and has since appeared in many London theatre productions including The Winter’s Tale, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, Godspell, Richard II and Embers. In 1984, he made his Broadway debut in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing and received a Tony Award for Best Actor.

Irons’s first major film role came in the 1981 romantic drama The French Lieutenant’s Woman, for which he received a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor. After starring in such films as Moonlighting (1982), Betrayal (1983) and The Mission (1986), he gained critical acclaim for portraying twin gynaecologists in David Cronenberg’s psychological thriller Dead Ringers (1988). In 1990, Irons played accused murderer Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune, and took home multiple awards including an Academy Award for Best Actor. Other notable films have included Kafka (1991), The House of the Spirits (1993), The Lion King (1994), Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), Lolita (1997), The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), The Merchant of Venice (2004), Being Julia (2004), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Eragon (2006), Appaloosa (2008), and Margin Call (2011).

Irons has also made several notable appearances on TV. He earned his first Golden Globe Award nomination for his breakout role in the ITV series Brideshead Revisited (1981). In 2006, Irons starred opposite Helen Mirren in the historical miniseries Elizabeth I, for which he received a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Since 2011, he has been starring in the Showtime historical series The Borgias.

Movies played as villain:

Movies Character

Die Hard: with Vengence (1995)

Simon Peter Gruber

Appaloosa (2008)

Randall Bragg

The Time Machine (2002)

The Über-Morlock

Lion King (1994)


Ralph Fiennes

Fiennes is an English theatre and film actor. A noted Shakespeare interpreter, he first achieved success onstage in the Royal National Theatre.

Fiennes’ portrayal of Nazi war criminal Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List (1993), earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor, and won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. His performance as Count Almásy in The English Patient (1996), garnered him a second Academy Award nomination, for Best Actor, as well as BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations.

Since then, Fiennes has starred or appeared in The Prince of Egypt (1998), The End of the Affair (1999), Red Dragon (2002), The Constant Gardener (2005), the Harry Potter film series (2005–2011), in which he played Lord Voldemort, The Reader (2008), and Clash of the Titans (2010). In 2012, Fiennes played Gareth Mallory in the James Bond film Skyfall and Magwitch in Great Expectations.

I don’t feel I’m playing villains all the time. I feel I’ve also played some very benign people. Voldemort in Harry Potter is kind of the high-profile villain. Of course the guy in Schindler’s List is a bad guy. No way around that one.

Movies played as villain:


Movies Character

Harry Potter Deathly Hallows 2 (2011)

He Who Must Not Be Named / Lord Moldymort / Lord Valdemort / Lord Voldemortgage / Lord Voldimtzctschnzw / Tom Marvolo Riddle / Tom Riddle / Lord Voldemort

Clash Of Titans (2010)


Red Dragon (2002)

Francis Dolarhyde

Schindler’s List (1993)

Amon Goeth

Maid In Manhattan (2002)

Christopher Marshall

In Bruges (2008)


John Malkovich

Malkovich is an American actor, producer, director, and fashion designer. Over the last 30 years of his career, Malkovich has appeared in more than 70 motion pictures. For his roles in Places in the Heart and In the Line of Fire, he received Academy Award nominations. He has also appeared in critically acclaimed films such as Empire of the Sun, The Killing Fields, Dangerous Liaisons, Of Mice and Men, Con Air, Being John Malkovich, and RED, and has produced numerous films, including Juno and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

I’ve always felt that if you can’t make money as an actor, you`re either incredibly stupid or tragically unlucky.

“I’m drawn to a character with a lack of humanity. People give reasons for being cruel or sadistic but I think it is just a lack of humanity and concern for others. I think I’m good at them because I don’t like them. Audiences are attracted to them but I hate them. It’s strange.” – On why he enjoys playing evil characters.

“I don’t like all of the crap associated with it. If I wanted to run wind sprints, I’d be a sprinter. Or if I wanted to lift weights, I’d be a weight lifter.” – On why he doesn’t like doing research for the characters he plays.

Movies played as villain:

Movies Character

Con Air (1997)

Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont

In The Line Of Fire (1993)

Mitch Leary

Rounders (1998)

Teddy KGB

Kevin Spacey

Spacey is an American actor, director, screenwriter, producer. He grew up in California, and began his career as a stage actor during the 1980s, before being cast in supporting roles in film and television. He gained critical acclaim in the early 1990s, culminating in his first Academy Award for The Usual Suspects (Best Supporting Actor), followed by a Best Actor Academy Award win for American Beauty (1999). His other starring roles in Hollywood include Seven, L.A. Confidential, Pay It Forward, K-PAX, and Superman Returns in a career which has earned him several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. Since 2003, he has been artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in London. He currently stars in the Netflix series House of Cards.

He’s been described as a lot of things in his career: arrogant, vain, inscrutable. Does he recognise any of those qualities in himself?

“Am I arrogant? I’ve been arrogant, sure, everybody’s been arrogant. Haven’t you been arrogant? Is that my overall 100 per cent quality? No, I don’t think so. That isn’t who I am.”

Why is it people keep coming back to him to play the villain, I ask. I’m thinking of Jack Vincennes in LA Confidential, John Doe in Se7en, Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects. What is it they see in him? “I can’t answer that question because I don’t see it as a villain. I don’t play villainy. I wouldn’t even know how to play it. That’s for an audience to decide. I can’t judge the characters I play, I can only play them.”

Movies played as villain:

Movies Character

Se7en (1995)

John Doe

Pay It Forward (2000)

Eugene Simonet

The Usual Suspects (1995)

Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint

Horrible Bosses (2011)

Dave Harken

Hugo Weaving

Weaving is an English film and stage actor. He is best known for his roles as Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy and Elrond in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and The Hobbit film trilogy. Other notable works include Tick in The Adventures of Priscilla, V in V for Vendetta, Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger and multiple roles in Cloud Atlas. He has also provided the voice Rex in Babe, Noah in Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two and Megatron in the Transformers film series as well as starring in numerous Australian character dramas. He has received many award nominations and wins during his career, including a Satellite Award, an MTV Movie Award and several Australian Film Institute Awards.

Movies played as villain:

Movies Character

Transformers (2007)

Megatron (voice)

The Matrix (1999)

Agent Smith

Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers (2002)

Elrond (voice)

The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Dessert (1994)

Anthony ‘Tick’ Belrose / Mitzi Del Bra

Captain America: First Avenger (2011)

Johann Schmidt / Red Skull

The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Agent Smith

V For Vendetta (2005)


Christopher Walken

Walken, is an American actor, screenwriter, and director who has appeared in more than 100 films and television shows, including The Deer Hunter, Annie Hall, Joe Dirt, The Prophecy trilogy, The Dogs of War, Sleepy Hollow, Brainstorm, The Dead Zone, A View to a Kill, At Close Range, King of New York, True Romance, Catch Me If You Can, Pulp Fiction, Batman Returns, Wedding Crashers, The Rundown, Click, Hairspray, and Seven Psychopaths, as well as music videos by recording artists such as Madonna, Journey, Paul Simon, PIL, Run–D.M.C., The Left Rights and Fatboy Slim. Walken has received a number of awards and nominations during his career, including winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1978.

Walken’s films have grossed more than $1.8 billion in the United States. He has also played the main role in the Shakespeare plays Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Coriolanus. He is also a popular guest-host of Saturday Night Live, having hosted 7 times as of April 2008. His most notable roles on the show include record producer Bruce Dickinson (no relation to the singer with the same name) in the “More Cowbell” sketch and his multiple appearances as The Continental.

Walken debuted as a film director and script writer with the short film Popcorn Shrimp in 2001. He also wrote and acted the main role in a play about Elvis Presley titled Him, in 1995.

“I play disturbed people a lot, but always with a bit of distance or tongue-in-cheek,” says Walken. “Most of the villains I play are essentially harmless.” One of the exceptions is Robert, the British-Italian bar owner in Paul Schrader’s 1990 adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, The Comfort of Strangers. “That guy got to me. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but he did. I didn’t want him hanging around and, for a while after the film wrapped, I couldn’t get rid of him.”

Movies played as villain:

Movies Character

A View To A Kill (1985)

Max Zorin

Mousehunt (1997)

Caeser, the Exterminator

Wayne’s Wold 2 (1993)

Bobby Cahn

Nick Of Time (1995)

Mr. Smith

King Of New York (1990)

Frank White

Batman Returns (1992)

Max Shreck

Gary Oldman

Oldman is an English screen and stage actor, filmmaker and musician. As an actor, he has collaborated with many of Hollywood’s biggest filmmakers, including Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Nolan, Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott, Quentin Tarantino, Luc Besson and Francis Ford Coppola. Some of his best-known roles are Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears, Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Drexl Spivey in True Romance, Norman Stansfield in Léon: The Professional, Ludwig van Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series, James Gordon in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Oldman is also known for his role in the films Meantime, The Firm, State of Grace, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Basquiat, The Fifth Element, Air Force One, The Contender, Kung Fu Panda 2, and Lawless. As of 2013, Oldman’s films have grossed over $3.7 billion at the United States box office, and over $9.6 billion worldwide. Aside from acting in films, Oldman wrote and directed Nil by Mouth, and appeared in television shows like Friends and Knots Landing, as well as recording music with David Bowie and Glen Matlock. A Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Court Theatre alumnus, Oldman is also a classically-trained actor who has appeared in many stage productions.

“Playing the villain is Gary Oldman’s specialty, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do anything else. Oldman plays the legendary Beethoven with enormous conviction and a wealth of passion. With every note Oldman plays as Beethoven, it’s as if he is truly transforming his emotions into musical sound. Oldman as Beethoven is rage and bliss rolled in gold.”

Movies played as villain:

Movies Character

Leon: The Professional (1994)


Dracula (1992)


True Rommance (1993)

Drexl Spivey

Batman Begins (2005)

Jim Gordon

The Bookof Eli (2010)


Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004)

Sirius Black

The Fifth Element (1997)

Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg

Air Force One (1997)

Ivan Korshunov

Alan Rickman

Rickman is an English actor of stage and screen. He is a renowned stage actor in modern and classical productions and a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His breakout performance was as the Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. Rickman is known for his film performances as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Sheriff Of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for which he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 1991, Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film series, Éamon de Valera in Michael Collins, and Metatron in Dogma.

Rickman has also had a number of other notable film roles such as Jamie in Truly, Madly, Deeply, P.L. O’Hara in An Awfully Big Adventure and Colonel Brandon in Ang Lee’s 1995 film Sense and Sensibility. More recently, he played Judge Turpin in the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. In 1995, he was awarded the Golden Globe, Emmy Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for his portrayal of Rasputin in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny. He has been named one of the best actors to have never received an Academy Award nomination in 2010.

“You can’t … say to yourself, ‘I am playing a villain.’ [The characters] don’t think they are anymore than heroes think that they’re heroes. They’re just who they are and this is what they want. It’s other people that put that label. So you can’t judge the character you’re playing ever.

“[Playing a villain is] a very small part of whatever I’ve done. It’s like two or three parts, and they just happened to have big publicity budgets. But … it’s not the major area of my work.”

Movies played as villain:

Movies Character

Die Hard (1988)

Hans Gruber

Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991)

Sheriff George of Nottingham

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (2002)

Severus Snape

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (2007)

Judge Turpin

Christopher Lee

Lee is an English actor and singer. Lee initially portrayed villains and became best known for his role as Count Dracula in a string of popular Hammer Horror films. Other notable roles include Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Saruman in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (2001–2003) and The Hobbit film trilogy (2012–2014), and Count Dooku in the final two films of the Star Wars prequel trilogy (2002, 2005).

He was knighted for services to drama and charity in 2009, and received the BAFTA Fellowship in 2011. Lee considers his most important role to be that of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the biopic Jinnah (1998), and his best role to be Lord Summerisle in the British cult classic The Wicker Man (1973), which he also considers his best film.

Always noted as an actor for his deep, strong voice, he has, more recently, also taken to using his singing ability, recording various opera and musical pieces between 1986 and 1998 and the symphonic metal album Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross in 2010 after having worked with several metal bands since 2005. The heavy metal follow-up titled Charlemagne: The Omens of Death was released on 27 May 2013. He was honoured with the “Spirit of Metal” award in the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden God awards ceremony.

“There’s no one else with a film career like his. From playing Dracula in Hammer horror films in the ’60s, to a Bond villain in “The Man With the Golden Gun,” to a Sith Lord in the “Star Wars” prequels, Lee is best when he’s bad. ”

Movies played as villain:

Movies Character

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)


Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers (2002)

Saruman the White

Taste Of Fear (1961)

Doctor Pierre Gerrard

The Wicker Man (1973)

Old Gentleman

Horror Of Dracula (1958)

Count Dracula

Star Wars: Episode II Attack Of The Clones (2002)

Count Dooku / Darth Tyranus

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