I’ve said it before many times, a movie is only as good as its villain. It’s an old cliché and one that rang true throughout the 2010s with numerous memorable baddies setting the tone for a decade of truly fun cinematic features. In a lot of ways, the bad guys outshined the good guys over the last ten years giving us interesting, complex, despicable, frightening and even sympathetic figures that challenged not only their respective heroes but also audiences who could relate to them. As I continue to look back at the past decade, today I take a look at a small selection of movie villains that, to me at least, stood out above the rest. These are my picks for the Top 10 Movie Villains of the 2010s.
For this list any villain in a cinematic big screen feature from 2010 through 2019 was considered. In some cases, these villains appeared in numerous films and on others were only featured in one movie, but I took into consideration their full cinematic history within the decade when putting together this list. With that said villains like Voldemort whose big-screen run took place mostly outside the 2010s were less likely to make this list. In fact, SPOILER ALERT, the Dark Wizard was excluded because he was more prominent in the previous decade.
Also, another SPOILER ALERT for anyone unfamiliar with these villains as I will be delving into their backstories including details that serve as twists of their respective films or franchises.
Be aware these are only my personal preferences for best villains of the big screen over the last ten years. I’m sure many of your favorites didn’t make the list as there were countless great baddies I considered. In fact this list was composed of a selection from a short list of 25 candidates. So please let me know who your favorite villain of the 2010s was in the comments below. Let’s get to it!
10. Ernesto de la Cruz, “Coco”
Pixar has a history of great villains in its films but by far the standout of their baddies from the 2010s was “Coco’s” Ernesto de la Cruz. A surprise baddy, the movie set him up to be protagonist Miguel’s long-deceased relative and his musical idol. A celebrated musician in his time, we come to find out that Ernesto actually killed Miguel’s real ancestor Hector, stealing his music and becoming famous off of the plagiarized material. Ernesto’s reveal completely turns the film on its head and even though he gets his just deserts by the time the credits roll he is still responsible for one of the vilest and graphic crimes in Pixar’s filmography. In a film about the joys of music and family it was fitting to see a baddy that represented the crime of plagiarism and the sins of the self-centered ego so perfectly.
9. Kylo Ren, the “Star Wars” Sequel Trilogy
While the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy might have been hit or miss for many fans one of the standouts was the villain, Kylo Ren. The son of Han Solo and Princess Leia, Kylo Ren, aka Ben Solo, turned to the dark side while under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker eventually helping bring rise to the new Dark Order. A complex villain who dealt with several personal battles over the course of his three-film arc and sported a memorable character design, Ren could turn from a compassionate and thoughtful baddy second guessing his allegiances to a ruthless force master of the Dark Side at the snap of a finger making him unpredictable. Intimidating but still very human, Ren served as the perfect compliment to the heroine Rey as the two clashed numerous times and each struggled with their shared destinies to bring balance to the force.
8. Calvin Candie, “Django Unchained”
By far one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s best roles, “Django Unchained’s” Calvin Candie is a ruthless slave owner who has a way with words and a lust for violence. As the owner of hero Django’s wife, he serves as the main foil of Django and Schultz before being killed by Schultz. Candie possessed an unmistakable charm that most great villains perfectly employ to make you love how much you hate them. He saw slaves as tools of entertainment, making the men fight for his amusement and using the women as prostitutes. Candie is a huge reason why “Django Unchained” is one of Quentin Taratino’s best films. The fact that DiCaprio injured his hand on set and played it into a scene to compliment his vile character’s mannerisms and bloodlust only made Candie even more memorable.
7. The Armitage Family, “Get Out”
The 2010s brought many films focusing on the racial divide of America, but possibly the most memorable was Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”. The villains of the film were the Armitage Family who employed the practice of luring in black men and women and selling them off to high bidders as host bodies in a family-developed mind hijacking practice. Brilliantly presented as a white family that seems to over-exuberant in their attempts to prove themselves “hip” and accepting of all races, the Armitage family served as the perfect physical representation of both casual racism and cultural appropriation. Peele’s decision to double down on the symbolism by making them initially charming and welcoming only to reveal them as manipulative and self-serving further helped earn them a spot on this list.
6. Pennywise, The “It” Duology
Pennywise the dancing clown was an icon well before he was brought to the big screen, but the “It” duology of the late 2010s further built on this agent of fear’s legacy. Adapted straight from the pages of Stephen King’s immortal novel, Pennywise terrorizes the Losers Club as both kids and adults in the two “It” films taking the form of their worst fears but most often embracing the frightening visage of a clown. Brought to life by Bill Skarsgård, Pennywise was literally the stuff of nightmares almost immediately becoming one of cinema’s most iconic big-screen horror antagonists. While both “It” films focus more on the personal journeys of the Losers Club, it was Pennywise that served as the main selling point and the most memorable aspect of this short but effective franchise.
5. Loki, The Marvel Cinematic Universe
There were a lot of big bads of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that could have made this list but most of them got left on the cutting room floor. However, there’s no way I could leave Loki out. The most prominent villain in the MCU, appearing in six films over the course of ten years, Tom Hiddleston fully embraced the God of Mischief’s entertaining personality showing his shift from jealous brother to full on villain to anti-hero and finally making the ultimate sacrifice in an attempt to stop a greater evil. Shown to be a cunning, ruthless, and resourceful trickster always prepared with a one-liner, Loki served as the literal representation of a God complex. He was the first great villain of Marvel’s massive multi-billion-dollar franchise and one of the series’ most iconic baddies second only to one other villain, but more on him later.
4. Terence Fletcher, “Whiplash”
While it’s fun to see over-the-top villains in film, it’s the most real bad guys that are the most frightening. You know, the ones you could actually meet in the real world. Terence Fletcher, brought to life through an Oscar-winning performance by J.K. Simmons, is one such villain. The maestro of a jazz band, Fletcher demands nothing short of perfection from his students. At first, he seems relatively patient, but he quickly becomes unhinged and resorts to violence and vile insults to push his students to be as perfect as possible. This approach makes him manipulative and emotionally abusive, the way many teachers of different arts can be in the real world. Fletcher is such a great villain because he’s so real and raw, yet he’s also spectacularly human and someone you could actually meet in reality. He really does show pride in being able to finally help at least one student reach their full potential…but at what cost?
3. Arthur Fleck/The Joker, “Joker”
I debated whether or not to have this version of Batman’s arch nemesis quality for this list, but in the end Arthur Fleck does indeed cross over the line into villainy by the end of his solo outing. Played spectacularly by Joaquin Phoenix who won an Oscar for the role, this version of the Joker represents not a crazy crime lord, but a damaged man who gives in to anarchy and chaos when the world leaves him behind. In a decade where villain-based movies seemed to be a growing fad we got a picture that fully embraced the depth such a character study could explore providing us with a tragic villain who we don’t agree with, but we completely understand. He’s the product of the world we have created and as such by the time Fleck dissolves and the Joker takes his full form we’ve seen the transformation of a man whose evil might have been avoided if the world around him was just a little more compassionate.
2. Amy Dunne, “Gone Girl”
“Gone Girl” was one of the best films of the first half of the 2010s and contained one of the best villains of the decade in Amy Dunne. Rosemond Pike is downright unforgettable as the jaded wife who fakes her own kidnapping in order to frame her husband. The film takes her character well beyond that simple idea though showing her to be deceitful, cunning, malevolent and ruthless and yet…it’s so hard to hate her. She serves as an unreliable narrator, coaxing you, and maybe even herself, into believing she is justified and yet the things she does are clear evidence that she is a psychopath. What makes her even more impressive is that, unlike many villains on this list, she wins in the end. She’s unstoppable, partially because she’s always one step ahead and partially because she’s a woman in a world where it’s her word against the man’s. She’s a downright perfect antagonist, a brilliant villainess that both embraces and transforms stereotypes to create something totally new and unforgettable.
1. Thanos, The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Sure, it’s an obvious and uninspired choice but one I couldn’t resist. Thanos was what ten years of Marvel movies was building up towards and he did not disappoint. The main overarching villain of the entire MCU, Thanos was teased in several movies before he got what was basically a standalone film in “Avengers: Infinity War” where his journey to gather the Infinity Stones and wipe out half of all life was fulfilled. His philosophical rants and justifications spawned a conversation about whether or not he was actually right. A movie villain who killed half of humanity convinced people he was in the right, let that sink in. When we finally see him return in “Avengers: Endgame”, or rather a past version of himself with less years and thus less appreciation for his own mission, he’s a more straight forward villain but still an imposing force that truly pushed our heroes to their limits. There’s no villain that had more of a cultural impact in the 2010s than Thanos and that’s why he earns my number one spot today.