We all love a good TV hero we can get behind, cheering them on from our sofas as they overcome adversity and never deviate from the course of all that is good and true and honorable.
But at the same time, there’s nothing quite like a great villain.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
25. Walter White (‘Breaking Bad’)
Whether Walter White is a true villain on “Breaking Bad” has been the matter of much debate. White (Bryan Cranston) begins the series as a passive chemistry teacher and ends it a drug kingpin. That in itself doesn’t make him evil. But when you consider how he let Jane die, and that he ordered the cold-blooded murder of the docile Gale, it becomes pretty clear: he’s evil.
24. Skeletor (‘He-Man’)
The main antagonist of the media franchise Masters of The Universe, Skeletor is He-Man’s archenemy and a former pupil of Hordak, leader of the Evil Horde. If you watched kids’ TV in the ’80s, you can probably still hear the voice of the Evil Lord of Destruction (Alan Oppenheimer) in your nightmares.
23. Negan (‘The Walking Dead’)
Ranked as “The Walking Dead’s” greatest villain by E! Online, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) isn’t entirely evil — but he’s certainly no hero. He takes out innocent people to assert his authority, including the unforgivable killing of fan-favorite Glenn. Yet he’s unflinchingly loyal toward those he’s promised to protect.
22. Constance Langdon (‘American Horror Story: Murder House’)
The dysfunctional Langdons are the main antagonists of “American Horror Story: Murder House,” and Constance, played by Jessica Lange, is at the helm. From abusing one of her sons and convincing their neighbor to murder him to stealing one of Vivien Harmon’s twins to raise as her own to replace her own children, there’s nothing too wicked for this woman.
21. The Master (‘Doctor Who’)
Like Doctor Who, the Master is an alien Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey and has had several physical incarnations. Michelle Gomez portrayed the first female incarnation of the Master, known as Missy, until she was killed by the Master (John Simm), who was actually her former self. That’s right — as well as being Doctor Who’s biggest adversary, the Master is the most confusing TV villain of all time.
20. Nina Myers (’24’)
Sometimes, the best villains are at the hero’s side right from the get-go. CTU federal agent Nina Myers, played by Sarah Clarke on “24,” is the perfect example of this. Her crimes don’t stop at gathering intel for terrorists; she shoots and kills protagonist Jack Bauer’s wife, Teri, sending Jack on a downward spiral he never fully breaks free of.
19. Kilgrave (‘Jessica Jones’)
If Jessica Jones is one of Marvel’s best on-screen heroines in recent history, her greatest adversary has to be one of MCU’s best baddies. Kilgrave, played by David Tennant on the Netflix show, is unpredictable and terrifying from the very start — just his interaction with Hope Shlottman in season one proves he’s a particularly evil type of villain.
18. Clay Morrow (‘Sons of Anarchy’)
Clay Morrow, played by Ron Perlman, is one of “Sons of Anarchy’s” most complex characters, and he isn’t your typical villain. He starts the series a good guy and stays that way until season four, when he turns into one of TV’s most memorable bad guys. From that point onward, he’s on an increasingly evil quest to lie, cheat and backstab his way to the top.
17. Arthur Mitchell (‘Dexter’)
Arthur Mitchell, often referred to as the Trinity Killer, is the main antagonist of the fourth season of “Dexter.” On the face of it, Mitchell (John Lithgow) is a normal suburban dad who wouldn’t harm anybody. But he’s actually a ritualistic murderer based on a real-life killer. According to Screen Rant, the show’s writers drew heavily on Dennis Radar, best known as the notorious BTK Killer, the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who is considered to be one of the worst serial killers in American history.
16. Vern Schillinger (‘Oz’)
As the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood in Oz penitentiary, Vern Schillinger, played by J.K. Simmons, despises (and occasionally kills) all kinds of people. And being locked up doesn’t get in the way of his evil plots — he manages to plan the kidnapping and murder of Tobias Beecher’s son from behind bars.
15. Wilson Fisk (‘Daredevil’)
Marvel Comics antagonist Wilson Grant Fisk, better known as the Kingpin, is the crime lord of the NYC underground. Played by Vincent D’Onofrio in “Daredevil,” there’s no crime activity he doesn’t embrace wholeheartedly — you name it, he’s up for it. He’s also a master manipulator, whether he’s tricking the public into believing he’s a force for good, or managing to eliminate every opponent during his prison stint.
14. Sylar (‘Heroes’)
As the main antagonist in “Heroes,” superpowered serial killer Gabriel Grey — named Sylar after his preferred brand of wristwatch — targets other superhumans to steal their powers in a particularly gruesome fashion, which he does with zero hesitation. Sylar (Zachary Quinto) had absolutely no qualms about killing anyone for his own gain. Although he eventually turned good, he’ll always be remembered for his evil acts.
13. The Borg (‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’)
The Borg are actually a group of antagonists that feature throughout the “Star Trek” series. Cybernetic organisms with a zombie-like appearance, linked in a hive mind called the Collective, they transform individuals into “drones” by augmenting them with cybernetic parts. The Borg catchphrase “resistance is futile” has become a frequent message in popular culture.
12. Professor Moriarty (‘Sherlock’)
Sherlock Holmes’ archenemy Professor James “Jim” Moriarty is often considered one of the first supervillains in fiction. Despite rarely encountering Holmes in person, crime lord Moriarty (played by Andrew Scott in the BBC series, who’s since come to be known as the “Hot Priest” from “Fleabag”) was devoted to his lifelong quest to kill the private detective. He didn’t succeed but murdered plenty of others along the way.
11. Montgomery Burns (‘The Simpsons’)
The prize for the most vile cartoon character of all time goes to Charles Montgomery “Monty” Burns, Homer Simpsons’ devious, greedy billionaire boss at Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. Voiced by Harry Shearer, Mr. Burns is all that is bad about corporate America. He takes a sadistic pleasure in ordering his loyal sidekick Smithers to “release the hounds,” letting the vicious guard dogs attack intruders, enemies or even, on occasion, invited guests.
10. Al Swearengen (‘Deadwood’)
Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) may begin his “Deadwood” journey as the archetypal villain, but halfway through season one, he’s showing signs of being so much more. In his own unique way, he works on the side of good, joining forces with his former adversaries to fight against George Hearst. But it’s still hard to forget that Al once committed some evil acts, and throughout the entire series he never quite loses that vicious side.
9. Ramsay Bolton (‘Game of Thrones’)
One of the worst “Game of Thrones” villains (and yes, there are many of them), Ramsay Bolton (a.k.a. The Bastard of Bolton) is pure evil and more than a little unstable. He inflicts unspeakable pain on Theon Greyjoy and murders Rickon as a tactic to push Jon Snow to his limit. But his most evil act has to be the unthinkable violence he inflicts on Sansa Stark. In a Gold Derby poll, Ramsay, played by Iwan Rheon, came out top as GoT’s greatest villain.
8. Cersei Lannister (‘Game of Thrones’)
The fact that “Games of Thrones'” Cersei Lannister, one-time Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, has no shortage of sympathizers is testament to Lena Headey’s superb portrayal of a vain, narcissistic psychopath. Hailed as the best female villain in TV history, Cersei has no conscience and will do anything to remain in power.
7. Cigarette Smoking Man (‘The X-Files’)
Cigarette Smoking Man (real name Carl Gerhard Bush Spender, and also known as Cancer Man) was one of the main antagonists of “The X-Files.” A cunning mastermind played by William B. Davis, he toyed with Agent Mulder every chance he got and committed brutal acts, such as burning down the X-Files office. He was also the leader of a plan to wipe out much of mankind.
6. J.R. Ewing (‘Dallas’)
Appearing in both the original and revival of the hugely popular “Dallas,” Larry Hagman as the ruthless oil tycoon J.R. Ewing is the villain everyone loved to hate. Ambitious, charming, relentless and completely wicked, the pleasure he takes in tormenting his foes is obvious. Nobody was safe from his dirty dealings, not even his honorable brother Bobby, to whom J.R. sent a computer virus in his final scene.
5. The Governor (‘The Walking Dead’)
Phillip Blake, better known as the Governor (he later goes by the alias Brian Heriot) is one of the major bad guys in a show with no shortage of villains: AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Played by David Morrissey, the Governor makes his debut early in season three and quickly shows his true (dark) colors. What makes him so fascinating is that he strives for redemption, but fails every time, his violent instincts always getting the better of him.
4. Hannibal Lecter (‘Hannibal’)
In the titular role of NBC’s “Hannibal,” Hans Mikkelsen plays the brilliant psychiatrist and serial killer who is a truly inventive cannibal — who hosts dinner parties. While Lecter has some admirable traits in the series — intelligence, humor, charisma and a strong moral code — he uses those characteristics to exert total psychological power over others, which makes him as fascinating to watch as he is atrocious.
3. Benjamin Linus (‘Lost’)
Sociopath Ben Linus, played by Michael Emerson, is a somewhat polarizing character on “Lost.” Is he evil or tragic? Whatever you think, you can’t deny that someone who uses his daughter as a human shield to save his own life is probably more bad than good. Throw in a healthy amount of kidnapping and mass murder and you have one of TV’s most complex, watchable bullies of all time.
2. Gustavo Fring (‘Breaking Bad’)
“Breaking Bad” is full of evil people, and Gustavo Fring, played by Giancarlo Esposito, is one of the most calculated. A villain who hides in plain sight, his finer moments include dragging protagonist Walter White out into the desert and threatening to murder his entire family. Fring’s cool, calm, collected disposition makes his atrocities even more chilling.
1. Joffrey Baratheon (‘Game of Thrones’)
One reviewer called “Games of Thrones'” King Joffrey Baratheon “the most perfectly-written despicable television villain of all time,” and it’s an opinion shared by many. When viewers are first introduced to King Joffrey, played by Jack Gleeson, he’s a weak, whiny character — the biggest spoiled brat in Westeros. But as the show goes on, he turns into one of the most sadistic creeps ever to grace the small screen.