If you’re making a horror movie these days, your main villain has some pretty big shoes to fill. Iconic baddies like Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lecter and Jigsaw sent plenty of chills down spines in their films, and still do when you catch a glimpse of them on a poster or film cover.
That kind of recognizable evil is what we’re talking about. The most terrifying film villains don’t necessarily all come from the horror genre, but they’ve all certainly left an impression. Click through to see if your opinion of scariest movie villain made the list!
#12 Michael Myers – Halloween (1978)
Let’s start simple with one we can all agree on, shall we? In 1978, John Carpenter defined modern, low-budget horror with the suspenseful slasher Halloween, featuring “The Shape” as the main villain. Barely on camera and adorned in a dark jumpsuit and harrowing white mask, “The Shape” was intended to represent evil as a force of nature, though later films added the name Michael Myers and fleshed out a backstory.
He’s easily one of the most iconic villains on the list, kind of like #3!
#11 The Candyman – Candyman (1992)
You’ve probably heard of the “Bloody Mary” fable. “Candyman” is an alternate version — say it 3 times, and the candyman will appear. The urban legend inspired the Candyman films, featuring Tony Todd as the mysterious and supernatural villain. One of many iconic scenes featured Todd opening his coat to release a swarm of bees. Yikes!
#10 Chucky – Child’s Play (1988)
Chucky is based on the fear that your creepy dolls come alive while you’re sleeping. The primary antagonist of the Child’s Play film series is a “Good Guy” doll possessed by serial killer Charles Lee Ray. The first movie was a box office hit and spawned five sequels, probably because a possessed serial killer doll is one of the most horrifying things you could think of!
#9 Dracula – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Dracula was famous in fiction long before his film appearances; his popularity is so enduring that he has been featured in well over 200 films. His portrayal by Gary Oldman in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula will probably go down as one of the most definitive. It’s certainly one of the most complex, and chilling.
#8 Pennywise the Clown – IT (1990)
There is just something about a clown that lives in the sewer and draws little kids to their deaths. We don’t know about you, but if this demonic clown offered us a balloon from a storm drain, we would have booked it in the opposite direction. Makes you wonder about the recent clown epidemic, doesn’t it?
#7 Jason Voorhees – Friday the 13th film series
Jason is a classic horror icon alongside the likes of Michael Myers earlier on this list. He slowly evolved into his role as the antagonist of the Friday the 13th film series. While his crazed mother was the villain of the first film, Jason made his appearance in the second, but didn’t adopt his signature goalie mask until the third. Still, he is an enduring and terrifying horror icon.
#6 Hannibal Lecter – Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Hannibal Lecter was barely on screen in Silence of the Lambs, but the cannibalistic serial killer definitely made an impression. Probably his most memorable scene was his entire escape sequence, which was just absolutely chilling from start to finish. He has gone on to become one of the most recognizable (and terrifying) movie villains of all time.
#5 Jigsaw (Saw film series)
When Jigsaw “rolled” onto the scene in 2004, he brought with him another major shift in the tone and structure of horror films. Saw was more psychological than previous films, with the villain, Jigsaw, acting as a cerebral threat while his victims were pitted against one another. The low budget gory horror spawned a massive franchise and has influenced a new generation of filmmakers.
#4 Norman Bates – Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock defined modern horror with 1960’s Psycho. You might even say that main villain Norman Bates (or “Mother” if you please) was a trailblazer for iconic, memorable film villains. Though Psycho spawned a franchise, none of the films were as successful as the first, and to this day, it is regarded as a classic in the genre.
#3 Freddy Krueger – A Nightmare on Elm Street series
Just like Michael and Jason before him, Freddy Krueger is so iconic that even non-horror fans know who he is and what he can do. Though he has been reinvented several times throughout his franchise, his original look and characterization in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street have provided the baseline for future interpretations, good and bad.
#2 Samara – The Ring (2002)
The Ring set off a chain reaction of American remakes of Japanese horror films in the early 2000s, but it’s still the best one by far. The film’s villain, Samara, was unconventional for American audiences who were accustomed to the hulking Jasons, violent Michaels and wicked Freddys. How the heck can you get away from an all-powerful little girl!?
#1 Jack Torrance – The Shining (1980)
Let’s not forget Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Could you imagine staying with your family in a large hotel for the entire winter? Then suddenly, you want to kill them. Nicholson’s portrayal is iconic (and not just for his obvious “here’s Johnny” line everyone knows) and unsettling, and absolutely deserves a top spot on a list of horror film baddies.
There are dozens more horror film villains who probably deserve a spot on this list, but sadly, we’re about out of time here. A short list of honorable mentions might include Ghostface from Scream or Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for instance.
We’re sure you guys have plenty of opinions about who deserves to be on this list and who doesn’t, so feel free to pop down to the comments and leave us a note. Please remember to share the article as well, if you have any horror fan friends who want in on the action as well!