What is a movie without a good villain? While there are certainly many films that manage to get away without having an actual physical bad guy to stir the conflict, most features sport a villain of some kind who, whether sympathetic or not, drives the action and creates motivation for the hero of the story. In 2018 we had PLENTY of great villains to choose from, some we loved and others we loved to hate, and for me I found it to be one of the more memorable years in some time for great cinematic baddies to take center stage. So today I’m going to honor the meanest, most devious and even most likable villains to hit the big screen over the last year. These are my picks for the Top 10 Movie Villains of 2018.
For this list I only looked at physical beings or paranormal entities who served as the antagonists of cinematic films, so if the motivation of the film happened to be a force of nature or life, such as the loss of a loved one, it didn’t count. These are the enemies that were designed to create a roadblock for the protagonist(s) and, in many cases, serve as the main opponent throughout the narrative. I also did not count heroes who were their own worst enemy although redeemable villains were considered.
This was a hard list to narrow down so here are a few honorable mentions that, for one reason or another, didn’t make the cut:
- Michael Myers, “Halloween”
- Ghost, “Ant-Man and the Wasp”
- Emily Nelson/Hope McLanden, “A Simple Favor”
- The Bear, “Annihilation”
- Dick Cheney, “Vice”
OH and it should go without saying but a SPOILER ALERT is in order as I will be discussing plot points of the films as they relate to these villains.
With that in mind I turn it to you. Who was your favorite movie villain of 2018? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list.
10. King Orm/Ocean Master, “Aquaman”
In my opinion one of the very best things about the DCEU’s “Aquaman” is the main antagonist King Orm, the brother of Arthur Curry/Aquaman. Orm’s position as the younger sibling puts him second in line for the thrown of Atlantis but he has ascended to that thrown in his brother’s absence. While he seeks to maintain his rule it’s not just a lust for power that drives this villain. Orm is also motivated by a disposition toward the surface world seeing humans as warmongers who pollute the ocean and threaten to destroy the world through their own self-destructive ways. While more focus is put on his quest to maintain the thrown and his aggression toward his half-breed brother, Orm proves to be a multi-layered baddy as we watch his power struggle with Aquaman turn him into the war-hungry monster he accuses humans of being.
9. David Duke, “BlacKkKlansman”
“BlacKkKlansman” is based on the real life story so naturally it also packs a real life villain. One of the best parts of this biopic is how well is shows the charm of one of the most reviled and racist organizations in America’s history. To help portray that we got a cinematic take on real-life former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. He’s not only a charismatic leader, but a passive aggressive manipulator who looks down on people while also making them feel like his equal. While he mostly works from the sidelines in this film Duke makes it easy to understand how white American’s were able to fall for what the KKK was selling. A highlight moment is when the film’s main character Ron Stallworth is charged with being Duke’s bodyguard forcing Duke to play nice while also hosting many of his fellow Klansmen. The way Duke balances civility with his own ideologies shows how he and others were able to coexist with people they hated while also leading an often violent charge against them. If that’s not a worthy villain I don’t know what is.
8. Ivan and Viktor Drago, “Creed II”
Ivan and Viktor Drago serve as joint antagonists of “Creed II”. A follow-up to “Creed” and “Rocky IV”, “Creed II” pits Adonis Creed against Viktor in a grudge match to avenge his father Apollo’s death at the hands of Ivan. While this might be a predictable sequel it doesn’t forsake its villains instead delving into the consequences of Ivan’s loss to Rocky and how Creed is not the only one whose family pride is on the line. By the time the big battle arrives we feel for both Creed and the Dragos, upping the stakes and making the fight that much easier for us as viewers to invest in. We get a battle where we want one person to win, but we understand what’s at stake for the opponent. “Creed II” thankfully avoids painting the Dragos as faceless villains, giving them personality and motivations but also allowing us to look down on them for their ruthless tactics and strained father-son relationship.
7. Eleanor Sung-Young, “Crazy Rich Asians”
“Crazy Rich Asians” is one of the best romantic comedies in years partially due to its memorable villain, Eleanor Sung-Young. Like most mothers in these films Young’s villainy is shown in her attempts to sabotage the relationship between her son Nick and his girlfriend Rachel as she sees Rachel as unworthy. While others are more calculated in their own attempts to end the relationship, Eleanor is blunt and stands strong in her convictions refusing to let anything compromise her plans for Nick to inherit the family business. In a lot of ways it’s easy to understand Eleanor’s motivations and by the end of the movie she hasn’t necessarily changed her ways. However she proves that she has a heart as it’s her son’s happiness that finally turns her around. Still, the things she does and says before this revelation make her an awesome villain and a nightmare of a mother-in-law.
6. Billy Lee, “Bad Times at the El Royale”
While he only arrives in the finale, Billy Lee casts a dark shadow over the entirety of “Bad Times at the El Royale” as an often mentioned threat waiting in the wings. In the film one of the El Royale’s residents Emily Summerspring is on the run from Lee having been a member of his cult and kidnapped her younger sister Rose, who remains loyal to Billy. When Billy finally arrives he threatens to kill the hotel residents, actually going through with it in some cases, and promises to burn the El Royale to the ground. Billy Lee is everything a cult leader needs to be to prove to his followers that only he knows the truths of the world. Lee might take a while to join the action, but thanks to an awesome performance by Chris Hemsworth and a sharp script from writer/director Drew Goddard when he finally does arrive you know something dangerous has entered the picture and that the real terror has only just begun.
5. Jatemme Manning, “Widows”
While nothing more than a henchman in the grand scheme of things, Jatemme Manning (shown above on the left) is probably one of the most intimidating villains to come out of 2018. Played to absolute perfection by Daniel Kaluuya, Jatemme is one of those villains who sends a shiver down your spine not just with words and actions, but with mannerisms and confidence. In “Widows” he is an enforcer for his brother Jamal, a politician seeking retribution for a theft against him by the late husbands of the titular widows. While Jamal works from the sidelines, Jatemme is the muscle who stares down victims with a soul-piercing glare before delivering one liners with confidence and perfect cadence. He doesn’t just kill targets, he plays with them and, in some cases, even gives them hope that they can escape just to mentally torture them before he seals their fate. He may be the best sidekick villain of 2018 overshadowing both his boss and another surprise twist antagonist who was working behind the scenes.
4. Steve Lift, “Sorry to Bother You”
“Sorry to Bother You” was one of my favorite movies of 2018 for its many different themes and expertly crafted absurdist comedy, but one aspect of the film often overlooked is its villain Steve Lift. Played by Armie Hammer, Lift is the head of WorryFree, an agency selling services through RegalView which just happens to be the company that protagonist Cash works for as a telemarketer. Long story short Lift is a much more conniving businessman than even the viewers could have imagined as a big twist reveals a plan to creating a perfect work force. I won’t spoil the twist here, but trust me it’s brutal and inhumane and the fact that he manipulates public opinion to earn support for his shady money-making strategy makes him that much more infuriating to watch. The best villains are ones that are frustratingly likable even when we can see through them. Lift fits that bill perfectly.
3. Paimon/The Paimon Cult, “Hereditary”
While I didn’t enjoy “Hereditary” as much as others, I still attest that it’s a great horror picture in its own right. One of the best thing about it is the villain/villains that are behind everything we see unfold. The entire plot, which revolves around a family that experiences a traumatic loss creating ripple effects that tear them apart, turns out to be a carefully crafted and manipulated series of events all meant to provide a new host for the demon Paimon. Throughout the film Paimon himself is shown to mentally torture the Graham family, even if we never actually see him, while the cult working to help procure his new physical form is slowly revealed to have been the driving force behind much of the film’s events. Once we come to that revelation “Hereditary” feels a whole different the second time around. The dedication and meticulous planning it must have taken to pull everything off is astounding. Of course they did have some supernatural help through Paimon himself. While “Hereditary” might be a slow burn this villain and his followers make the result worth the journey.
2. Killmonger, “Black Panther”
You knew it would be between this guy and another Marvel villain, but we’ll get to the other one in a minute. For now let’s examine Killmonger, the villain of “Black Panther”. Michael B. Jordan turns in an awesome performance as the cousin to Black Panther T’Challa who puts into place an elaborate plan to overtake the thrown he feels is rightfully his. Killmonger’s alternate motivations are more understandable in the grand scheme of thing. He has lived in society outside of Wakanda and watched how the world has treated their race (African Americans) and wants to use Wakanda’s resources to finally help “people like him” fight back against their oppressors. Killmonger is one of Marvel’s most developed and relatable villains to date. Even if we don’t agree with him, we understand and can actually respect his motives. His ideals are so powerful that even the Black Panther himself is influenced by them to change how Wakanda relates to the rest of the world.
1. Thanos, “Avengers: Infinity War”
Marvel had been working up to this villain’s appearance for ten years and when we finally got to see him in all his glory on the big screen he did not disappoint. Thanos is much more than a garden variety conqueror and warmonger. He has a purpose, and one he believes is noble and just. He seeks the six infinity Stones which together will allow him to simply snap his fingers and eliminate half of all life in the known universe, a mission he feels is justified due to the overpopulation of worlds and the lack of resources to sustain that growth. Thanos once attempted to save his own world through such logic, which they ignored and ended up regretting when the population of Titan went extinct. “Infinity War” was essentially Thanos’ solo film, allowing his story to be fleshed out and even presenting some intriguing moral conundrums that caused fans to debate to this day whether or not this villain was actually in the right. Driven by an amazing performance by Josh Brolin, Thanos lives up to expectations and then some and is not only the best villain to come out of 2018 but one of the best cinematic villains of the decade and beyond.