TVLine ranks the 50 all-time best TV villains from shows such as Once Upon a Time, Buffy, Arrow, Outlander, Breaking Bad and more. Read on to find out who’s the best of the worst.
50. Blaine DeBeers, iZombie
Former drug peddler Blaine DeBeers is best known as the guy who turned heroine Liv into a zombie. He ran an underground and very illegal brain delivery service, which sourced its inventory by killing street kids, fueling the fear between zombies and the general public. His love for money was only topped by his love for creating chaos. After being cured, he faked amnesia to stay close to Peyton, proving one doesn’t have to be a zombie to be a slimeball!
49. Rumplestiltskin, Once Upon a Time
Regina may have been the queen of mean, but the Dark One was a sinister, slithery piece of work. Plus, where Regina was for so long laser-focused on making Savior Emma’s life hell, Rumple had his scaly green fingers in multiple pies, battling Miss Swan as well as Hook, Peter Pan, Zelena, Mother Goethel and others.
48. Boyd Crowder, Justified
Sure, he’s a lifelong criminal with some problematic views and a nasty violent streak. But Boyd Crowder was a charmer as well, thanks to Walton Goggins’ charismatic performance, and he proved to be a very worthy adversary (“friend-versary,” even?) to Timothy Olphant’s deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. Boyd may have been a thief and a liar, but just like Raylan, we can’t quite bring ourselves to hate him.
47. Madam Satan, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Evil, glamorous and campy as hell, Sabrina Spellman’s nemesis-turned-mentor is among the Netflix series’ most spellbinding personalities, whether she’s taking the form of mousy teacher Ms. Wardwell or wicked seductress Madam Satan. As for her being two-faced, we think this photo speaks for itself.
46. Angela Channing, Falcon Crest
Join us, won’t you, in raising a glass of sour grapes to Jane Wyman’s queen of mean, whose age and Little Orphan Annie hairdo gave the entirely false first impression that she was a sweet old lady. So frosty was the First Lady of Tuscany Valley, she could kill a nemesis’ crop just by fixing it with her withering gaze.
45. Abby Cunningham, Knots Landing
The Dallas spinoff’s answer to J.R. Ewing had hair as big as her ambitions, dramatic bedroom eyes and absolutely no s–ts to give. Time and time again, Donna Mills’ sardonic supervixen proved that she thought of other women as mere hot plates: something to keep their husbands warm until she had a craving for one of ’em.
44. Fiona Goode, American Horror Story: Coven
When it comes to Jessica Lange’s femmes fatales on the FX anthology series, the wicked witch that she played in Season 3 reigns Supreme. The lethal beauty was living proof that vanity kills. Yet, despite her misdeeds, she stood on the right side of history, tasking former slave owner Delphine with serving a Black enchantress as she remarked, “There’s nothing I hate more than a racist.” You go, bad girl!
43. Number Six, Battlestar Galactica
When a character snaps an innocent infant’s neck as if it were a dandelion stem, you know that character is someone to fear. But Tricia Helfer’s character at the start of the sci-fi reboot was more than that: infinitely interesting, slinkily intimidating and coldly capable of taking out an entire civilization without mussing a hair on her Cylon head.
42. Arthur Mitchell/Trinity Killer, Dexter
In a lesser actor’s hands, Dexter‘s most famous serial killer could’ve come across as a silly cartoon. But John Lithgow’s ability to infuse Arthur with flashes of humanity made the character all the more terrifying. And for a man in his 60s, Arthur possessed the kind of super-human strength that could make anyone’s hair stand on end.
41. Sarah O’Brien, Downton Abbey
Had Siobhan Finneran’s miserable maid merely been a mean-spirited gossip, we could’ve written it off as a side effect of her station in life. But Thomas’ fearsome frenemy was anything but all talk: She not only tried to get dear Carson arrested, she tried to do the same to Thomas! And don’t even get us started on the soap incident that caused Cora to miscarry.
40. Joe Carroll, The Following
Was it any wonder that Joe had no problem rallying minions to his serial-killing cause? The Edgar Allan Poe-obsessed literature professor was so damn charming that his followers voluntarily gouged out their own eyeballs — and did far worse to others — at his say-so. And the mind games he played with FBI agent Ryan Hardy for years? Just bloody icing on the icky cake.
39. The Carver, Nip/Tuck
Here’s the thing, we don’t totally disagree with The Carver’s mantra — beauty is kind of a curse on the world! — but we also don’t approve of how the serial stabber went about teaching that lesson to their victims. Say it with us: We. Do. Not. Cut. Up. People’s. Faces.
38. Pelant, Bones
The computer hacker/serial killer tormented Brennan, Booth & Co. for seasons with his almost omniscient-like technological skills, draining Hodgins’ bank account and leaving behind haunting clues for Bones. Somehow, Pelant always seemed to be one step ahead of the Jeffersonian team, making him a worthy foe for the intellectual squints.
37. Sylar, Heroes
Zachary Quinto’s Big Bad wasn’t just a soulless serial killer. He was a soulless serial killer who could manifest anyone’s super powers and use them for evil. Scary combination!
36. Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal
On one hand, he’s an esteemed psychiatrist with a refined palate, interesting fashion sense and a seductive manner of speaking. On the other hand, he kills people and eats them. So while we certainly have a healthy fear of Hannibal’s dark side, we do admit we developed a taste for him over three seasons. (From a safe distance, of course.)
35. Patti Levin, The Leftovers
Honestly, any member of the HBO drama’s chain-smoking Guilty Remnant could’ve earned a spot on this list, so appallingly indifferent was the cult to humanity. But Ann Dowd’s unfeeling leader of Mapleton’s chapter was particularly vile and terrifying, what with a commitment that ran so deep, she slit her own throat just to ensure that tormented Kevin couldn’t get in the last word.
34. Hive, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
We’ll always have a soft spot for OG baddie John Garrett, but Hive was pure nightmare fuel. A body-snatching parasite akin to John Carpenter’s The Thing, this Inhuman was so powerful that it long ago had been banished to the planet Maveth. But when a Kree monolith plopped Coulson and others to Maveth, Hive plotted to take Earth by storm — and reignite HYDRA’s fire — in the guise of bad penny Grant Ward.
33. Rachel Duncan, Orphan Black
Calculating, manipulative, and oh-so cold-hearted, Rachel was raised to be a cutthroat clone who made savage decisions that benefitted an evil corporation’s agenda rather than her own sestras. She only feigned empathy when it seemed to benefit her, making her motives and allegiances permanently gray areas. The power-hungry clone even kidnapped sweet little Kira! Though she eventually turned around to help Sarah and the others, we never, ever fully trusted her.
32. Yvonne “Vee” Parker, Orange Is the New Black
Who among us didn’t cheer when Miss Rosa purposely struck and killed Vee with the prison van? (“Always so rude, that one!”) Lorraine Toussaint’s sociopathic alter ego wasn’t necessarily the most vicious villain in OITNB‘s storied run, but she was easily the most ruthless (and most frightening) antagonist due to her uncanny ability to manipulate and deceive those she took under her wing, including Suzanne, Poussey and Taystee.
31. Evelyn Poole, Penny Dreadful
Like a cat toying with a mouse before going for the kill, Helen McCrory’s seductive rhymes-with-bitch delighted in messing with our protagonists — literally, in the case of besotted patsy Sir Malcolm. (Ahem.) But, despite her considerable powers and warped creativity, the leader of the Nightcomers never could quite get under her thumb daughter Hecate, who set up Mommie Dearest to be werewolf Ethan’s scratching post.
30. Sue Sylvester, Glee
Before revealing herself to be a total softie in the musical comedy’s final season, Sue was a living nightmare for the students at McKinley High, stopping at nothing to destroy the lives of anyone associated with its precious glee club. Should we really be surprised that she eventually became a conservative news correspondent before getting elected Vice President of the United States?
29. Lucretia, Spartacus
When Lucy Lawless’ Roman spitfire wasn’t acting as an accessory to her wretched husband Batiatus’ many war crimes, she was perpetrating diabolical acts of evil herself. In fact, she has more murderous notches on her belt than any other female character in the series.
28. “A,” Pretty Little Liars
Rosewood’s textual terrorist was so frightening, it took but a single letter to send a chill down the spine of any liar, pretty or otherwise. And while a number of beautiful sociopaths assumed the dreaded moniker over the course of the show’s seven-season run, “A” was very much an entity unto itself — and it was a bitch.
27. Arvin Sloane, Alias
Avuncular on the outside and a Rambaldi zealot on the inside, Sydney’s SD-6 boss spent half his time trying to kill her (and a not-inconsiderable amount of time gunning for people she loved… R.I.P, Danny). His fervor for chasing down Rambaldi’s secret to immortality made him merciless, but karma got him in the end: After achieving eternal life, he was trapped in a cavern, doomed to spend the rest of time alone and underground.
26. Dr. Kimberly Shaw, Melrose Place
A master of seduction, infidelity, kidnapping and, of course, returning from the “dead,” this killer queen wouldn’t just blow up your life, she’d blow up your entire apartment complex — and she’d do it with a smile on her face.
25. Lucifer, Supernatural
When first introduced, the fallen archangel was far from what the Winchesters and viewers were expecting. The baddie was almost soft-spoken and contemplative — but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have an agenda that he wouldn’t stop at anything to achieve. And even after Sam sacrificed himself to trap Lucifer, Lucy still found his way back to Earth, eventually even spawning a Nephilim son (who has, thankfully, not turned out to be like his bio dad).
24. Negan, The Walking Dead
The Saviors’ former leader may have been rebranded as a lovable antihero, but we’re as likely to forget his past villainy as his “wives.” How could we when we still have nightmares about the time Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Chatty Cathy forced Carl to sing? (Shudder.) What? Did you think we were gonna say the time he “struck out” Abraham and Glenn? Did you hear Carl sing?
23. Samaritan, Person of Interest
Whereas the super-A.I. known as The Machine was out to do good (by dispensing Social Security numbers that could help stop forecast crime), its “evil twin,” Samaritan, was out for Greer and the other Decima goons — while going to any lengths necessary in the name of self-preservation. Samaritan saw everything and knew everything, making for a nearly inescapable adversary.
22. Mr. Burns, The Simpsons
Easily the most hated man in Springfield, this crusty, coldblooded billionaire takes great pleasure in making others miserable, whether he’s squeezing every last penny out of the less fortunate or releasing his hounds to maul any trespassers. He even tried to blot out the sun at one point! It’s no wonder that, when he was shot back in Season 6, nearly everyone in town was a suspect.
21. Dr. Leland Townsend, Evil
We’ve only spent a season with the wicked Leland thus far, but his insidious influence over Kristen’s mother and his ability to manipulate his troubled therapy patients into committing horrible acts has already set him apart as a disturbing psychological mastermind. We’re absolutely terrified to find out what else he is capable of.
20. Cigarette Smoking Man, The X-Files
We’ll be the first to admit that Cigarette Smoking Man, aka Cancer Man, aka C.G.B. Spender, lost a little of his creepiness as the seasons went on. (A jacked-up, retconned backstory will do that to a bad guy.) But think back to when he was the silent, shadowy figure lighting up in the corner of Blevins’ office in the pilot, and we defy you not to shiver.
19. Dan Scott, One Tree Hill
The deeply flawed husband and father seemed to have no limit when it came to despicable behavior: He physically and psychologically abused his sons, tormented his ex-wife Deb so much that she turned to booze and pills, and, worst of all, killed his own brother. So when a dog ate his donor heart, it felt like karmic payback.
18. Kilgrave, Marvel’s Jessica Jones
How can you possibly defeat someone who has the power to control others’ minds? In the first season of Netflix’s comic book drama, even Jessica Jones — who doesn’t fear much of anything — was tormented by the very thought of Kilgrave, who once kept Jessica under his thumb for months and convinced her to do awful things. Kilgrave’s ability to turn even innocuous actions into torturous punishments, like ordering a man to turn and face a fence forever, made him an especially chilling baddie, and David Tennant’s deliciously twisted take on the role kept us fixated on our screens — no persuasion needed.
17. Slade Wilson/Deathstroke, Arrow
Take Slade Wilson — a badass with a legitimate beef — and jack him up on Mirakuru, and you get the most formidable, and personal, of foes for Oliver Queen. The way that one-eyed Slade slid back into Oliver’s life still gives us chills, while his brutal kills (not Moira!) made us double over, as Oliver did, in anguish.
16. Commander Waterford, The Handmaid’s Tale
As if it weren’t bad enough that Fred Waterford participates in state-sanctioned, ritual rape every month — and it is so, so bad — Gilead’s merry misogynist has the audacity to play humiliating mind games with his handmaid and chop off his own wife’s finger when she dares step out of line.
15. Nina Myers, 24
Nina Myers was 24‘s most twisted bad guy. Originally second in command at CTU: L.A., she had everyone fooled with her deep cover and lies… us included! The mole sold classified government information right under everyone’s noses, and attempted to buy and sell a deadly virus after already receiving a presidential pardon. Plus, she killed Teri Bauer! Jack Bauer fought heaps of terrorists over the course of his career, but this one was painstakingly personal.
14. The Borg, Star Trek: The Next Generation
The best Star Trek baddies since the original Klingons, this collective of alien cyborgs were a terrifying vision of A.I. run amok, with a relentless drive to “assimilate” any and all beings they encountered. Their hyper intelligence and lack of human emotion made them formidable enemies, and if you dared to stand in their way? Even Jean-Luc Picard learned that “resistance is futile.”
13. Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan, Dynasty
Joan Collins’ scheming, acid-tongued antagonist was as groundbreaking as she was popular; the character’s dramatic arrival in the Season 2 premiere gave the initially ratings-challenged ABC soap a much-needed shot in the arm, propelling it to the top of the Nielsens and paving the way for generations of primetime female evildoers to come.
12. Ramsay Bolton, Game of Thrones
Picking just one villain from HBO’s fantasy drama was a daunting task on its own. But for us, Ramsay tops ’em all — even the snot-nosed Joffrey and menacing Night King — because he reached levels of diabolical we didn’t even know existed. Even worse? He absolutely relished each one. To be clear, we don’t approve of the way Ramsay endlessly tortured Theon, or his utterly despicable treatment of Sansa. But of Thrones‘ many adversaries, Ramsay will forever stick out as the most sadistic and dread-inducing; not even a literal army of the undead could scare us as much.
11. Klaus Mikaelson, The Vampire Diaries
The first of his kind, this vampire-werewolf hybrid’s unspeakable reputation preceded him, making Klaus an imposing presence long before finally appearing at the end of the show’s sophomore season. And even though he received a thorough redemption arc — along with a five-season spinoff to further explore his demons — he’ll always be remembered as one of the most fearsome beasts to walk the streets of New Orleans.
10. Homelander, The Boys
The Seven’s twisted leader fights super villains, and yet, he’s as far from the definition of “hero” as you can get. Devoid of empathy and capable of squishing a skull in seconds, Homelander is an unpredictable, narcissistic sociopath with serious mommy issues, making him one of the most dangerous (and complex) supes on the series.
Lost, Michael Emerson as Ben Linus
9. Ben Linus, Lost
Sure, the Smoke Monster had moves (and made that discomfiting rattling-chain noise), but Ben as a mortal among humans was a more tangible threat to Jack, Kate et al. First introduced as meek Henry Gale, Ben was soon revealed to be the leader of the Others, setting in motion a domino chain of dastardly reveals. In the end, he was good, but when he was bad, he was awful.
8. Diana, V
As diabolical as she was gorgeous, the most vicious of Earth’s Visitors would stop at nothing to hasten her rise to power. (And it showed — she eventually became Supreme Commander.) But the scene that will always stay with us — and no, therapy hasn’t helped — is the one in which we caught our first glimpse of the secret lizard lady unhinging her jaw and swallowing a guinea pig whole.
7. Veronica Harrington, The Haves and the Have Nots
A word to the wise: If David’s psychotic ex-wife ever challenges you to call her a simple bitch… uh, don’t do it. Not because Angela Robinson’s character is really all that complicated, but because she’s as crazy as they come: a homophobic thirst trap who shoots first, asks questions never, and once drove her long-suffering gay son to stab her in the breast implant. In. The. Breast. Implant.
6. Moriarty, Sherlock
Long before he romanced Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Fleabag‘s “Hot Priest,” Andrew Scott terrorized Benedict Cumberbatch as the Big Bad Moriarty. The legendary villain was a psychopath, yes, but he was a brilliant, clever, eccentric, unpredictable lunatic. And there was nothing he wouldn’t do to destroy his longtime nemesis, including shooting himself in the head in order to compel Holmes to take his own life.
5. Bob, Twin Peaks
The demonic “possessing spirit” spent most of his time inhabiting other bodies, but it was in his true form — that of a long-haired vagrant played to creepy perfection by the late Frank Silva — that he was the most terrifying. He was a literal nightmare come to life.
4. Gus Fring, Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul
Walter White may have been the one to break bad… but no one was badder than Gus Fring. Played with chilling precision by Giancarlo Esposito, Gus was an unassuming drug lord, so mild-mannered that he could double as the manager of a fast food chicken joint and no one would look at him twice. But underneath that calm demeanor was a stone-cold killer who used his keen intellect to rule the local meth trade and crush his enemies with ruthless efficiency. We’re glad Better Call Saul brought him back: Even though we already knew his fate, we still wanted more Gus.
3. J.R. Ewing, Dallas
The fact that the late, great Larry Hagman appeared to take such delight in playing Dallas‘ iconic scoundrel put J.R. in a class by himself, making the character alternately charming and despicable. Hagman also never let the audience lose sight of the fact that J.R.’s treachery was driven by his love of family, however misguided that love often was.
2. ‘Black’ Jack Randall, Outlander
The Redcoat captain may have looked exactly like Claire’s gentle husband, but that’s where the similarities ended. The 18th-century sadist received way too much pleasure from endangering the lives of Jamie Fraser and his British bride — and that’s way before the abominable assault that happened at Wentworth Prison near the end of Season 1.
1. Angelus, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
When Buffy’s boyfriend experienced a moment of true happiness and lost his soul, he went truly evil, snarking about his and Buffy’s night of passion and, worse yet, tormenting her loved ones with almost sadistic zeal. After Angelus eagerly snapped Jenny Calendar’s neck in a tragic twist we’re still not over, it became abundantly clear the show had done the unthinkable: turned its romantic lead into its most formidable enemy.