Every month, our contributors submit lists of ten films fitting certain topics. Each month, we feature an alphabetical list of films along with commentary explaining our selections. There will also be an itemized list at the end of each of our individual selections.
What makes a villain to some may be different to others. Whether it’s a measure of menace, of depravity, of fright, of viciousness, of malice, or of any number of other traits, our choices for villains run the gambit form actual serial killers to Nazis to witches to housekeepers. What we each looked at was different, though we all came to similar rationales for each of our choices.
Looking over the list, none of us unified behind a single choice, but three villains managed to place on three-of-four lists. The Wicked Witch of the West, Reverend Harry Powell, and Janet Iselin are among the universally agreed great villains. Others with two mentions were T-1000 and Mrs. Danvers. Oddly enough, only one character managed to make it in under vastly different interpretations. Hunchback of Notre Dame villain Frollo/Judge Claude Frollo is represented here from both the 1939 film version and the 1996 animated version.
Whether villains make your skin crawl, make you cringe, or make you worry that they are far too real, these monsters, for indeed some of them are monsters, are among the most terrifying and frightening that cinema has ever created.
After the break, dig into our setups and follow that by reading about each film.
Wesley Lovell: While I could add plenty more to the list, this set of ten plus Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are irreplaceable. One thing to note about my list is that outside of Misery and The Wizard of Oz, all of these films regularly make my lists of best films ever made and it’s partly due to the stirring, frightening, and sheer viciousness of the villains. There are probably more iconic villains out there, but these are the most successful, both in terms of performance and how much these characters are part of each film’s success.
Peter J. Patrick: I like subtlety in my villains. I like best the ones who aren’t too obvious, those that become more insidious as their film plays out, or are complex part villains and part heroes. My list is balanced between the sexes and between leading and supporting roles. Three of the actors and three of the actresses are leads in their represented films, while two actors and two actresses have outstanding supporting roles in theirs. My list is not balanced as far as film eras are concerned. Three are from the 1930s, five from the 1940s, and two are from the 1960s. If the list were to expand 20, most would probably still be from eras gone by.
Tripp Burton: There are so many great villains in film history to choose from that I had no idea where to begin with this list. I tried to stay away from many of the icons (although a few had to still creep on – they are too villainous) and instead focus on those villains who have gotten into my head and stayed with me. Some give me nightmares, some just creep me out, but they are all personifications of evil that I’m glad are on the silver screen and not in my real life.
Thomas LaTourrette: When I first thought of villains, my mind jumped to all of the ones from Disney movies. It would have been pretty easy to just use those, but I did think I should add a few others. Eventually, I only ended up with one Disney villain on my list. Instead, two Alfred Hitchcock stars made the list, and others were definitely in consideration. The movies range from 1939 to 1994. Half of them are filmed in black and white, which lent itself to great villains. My list has four women to six men, which shows that evil can appear in either gender. I thought it would be a difficult job to come up with so many, but it was surprisingly easy. The hardest part turned out to be getting it down to just ten.
Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) – Notorious (1946)
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Rains was the consummate character actor, adept at playing both kindly men and villains. He would often be called upon to walk a fine line between the two as with his crooked United States Senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and his duplicitous police captain in Casablanca. In Notorious, the best of Hitchcock’s 1940s films, he takes the finest walk of all between genuine love and affection for Ingrid Bergman as his wife and outright contempt for her as an American spy. The audience’s concern for Bergman’s safety ironically turns to concern for Rains as he is forced to return to the den of spies in the end.
Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) – Misery (1990)
Commentary By Wesley Lovell – When we’re first introduced to Annie Wilkes (Annie Wilkes), it’s as the savior who rescued her favorite author (James Caan) from a snowy car accident and was attempting to nurse him back to health. However, as the film progresses, she slowly transforms into a vicious psychopath. Although it doesn’t take long for her faux sweetness to signal to the audience that something’s amiss, Bates’ bravura performance helps wring out each moment with grim determination, creating one of the screen’s most volatile and terrifying villains.
Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) – No Country for Old Men (2007)
Commentary By Tripp Burton – While I normally want complexity in my great movie villains, there is something frightening in the way that Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh has no dimension to him. He is compassion-less but also motive-less. He doesn’t even feel human, although Bardem gives him enough glimmers to always make him feel tangible. Instead, he acts as an arbiter of fate, flipping coins and letting them decide who lives and who dies. In the end, fate becomes the most frightening villain of all; you don’t die because someone wants you to but because a coin happened to decide you would die, friendo.
Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) – Strangers on a Train (1951)
Commentary By Tripp Burton – Alfred Hitchcock helped create his share of great villains, and you could have easily populated this list with a plethora of choices from his films. Bruno Antony is the scariest of them all, though, because he seems the least scary when you first meet him. His innocent veneer quickly reveals a darker side underneath, and by the time anyone figures it out it is too late. If the greatest villains make us scared to meet them in real life, Bruno reminds us that even the nicest of strangers can ruin our lives for good.
Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) – Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Laughton was one of the most versatile of actors who could elicit sympathy with such heartfelt portrayals as that of the Americanized British butler in Ruggles of Red Gap, the tortured Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the timid schoolteacher in This Land Is Mine. At the other end of the spectrum, he could be as monstrously evil as they come with his mad emperor Nero in The Sign of the Cross, his heartless Inspector Javert in Les Misérables, and, towering above them all, his tyrannically brutal Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty.
Cruella de Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) – 101 Dalmatians (1961)
Commentary By Tripp Burton – No villain list is complete without a Disney villain, and the Golden Age of Disney certainly gave us a litany of frightening villains. No one quite chills the spine like Cruella de Vil, though. She terrorizes a flock of adorable puppies, putting her own demented fashion sense above any sense of humanity she has for them. Disney pulls no punches with Cruella, framing her cackling in doorways and letting the second half of the film be set in a dark, rainy night that forebodes all of the slasher films that would come decades later. To children watching, she is a lesson on how not to let your vanity or greed get the best of you; to anyone watching, she is about as terrifying a character as has ever been animated. Like the song says, if she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will!
Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, voice; David Prowse) – Star Wars (1977)
Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – The all black costume is scary enough, but, add the deep stentorian tones of James Earl Jones and the magnified deep breaths, and Darth Vader becomes quite the villain. The full-faced breathing mask and the Samurai inspired helmet made him instantly recognizable. He had come to the dark side of the force and served the evil Galactic Empire. His willingness to kill his own underlings made him feared by all he worked with. Destroying entire planets and fighting his son cemented his spot on this list.
Ellen Berent Harland (Gene Tierney) – Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Tierney followed up her enigmatic classic role in Laura with her diabolic bride in this most melodramatic of films noir. After a whirlwind courtship with writer Cornel Wilde, whom she has met on a train, socialite Tierney marries the man and proceeds to love him to the exclusion of all others. Woe behold anyone who comes between them, including his handicapped teenage brother (Darryl Hickman). Little by little we see the initially charming woman turn into a monster before our eyes. Tierney’s performance is easily the scariest given by a Best Actress nominee to date.
Frank (Henry Fonda) – Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Commentary By Tripp Burton – On paper, Frank (he needs no last name) is a chilling villain but probably not one of the most memorable of all-time. What ingrains him in our memory is the fact that he is played by Henry Fonda, with perhaps the nicest screen persona in Hollywood history, and that by the time the opening credits roll we have watched Fonda kill three children in cold blood. It is the perfect use of all the baggage a movie star comes with, amping up the horror of every move Frank makes with our own cherished memories of Fonda the moral crusader digging deep into the darkness that, we now understand, could live in any of us.
Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) – Blue Velvet (1986)
Commentary By Tripp Burton – David Lynch has made a career out of exposing the darkest corners of Americana, but Frank Booth might be his darkest, or at least most dangerous, creation. A lot of that is thanks to Dennis Hopper, who manages to make the profane, gas-inhaling, Pabst Blue Ribbon-drinking gangster with a twisted charm. You know you shouldn’t go with him, but you also understand a little bit why these characters are so drawn to him. He justifies every manic mood swing. It makes every horrible thing Frank does – the raping, killing, beating, harassing, lobotomizing, and torturing – excruciating, but it also makes his more humane moments – crying at Roy Orbison, for example – perhaps the most frightening of all.
Freddy Kreuger (Robert Englund) – A Nightmare on Elm Street series (1984-2003)
Commentary By Wesley Lovell – In horror, the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees have been stalking and murdering teenagers for decades; faceless, voiceless killers hunting their prey as they flee in terror. Freddy Kreuger (Robert Englund) was a different kind of serial killer. Killed by parents who were incensed that he got away with the rape and murder of several children, Freddy has taken to stalking the children of those parents, exacting revenge on their vengeful actions. Unlike Michael and Jason, Freddy is merely a dream stalker, a man who infests and haunts your dreams. Few horror frights have been born out of such a realistic and haunting premise and fewer still have come off so iconic.
Frollo (Cedric Hardwicke) – The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Hardwicke, who had been seen in mostly sympathetic roles, including the kindly bishop in the 1935 film version of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, had his greatest screen role as the personification of evil in this most celebrated version of Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. The character, as written, is an archdeacon in the Church, as vile a personification of a religious hypocrite as ever put on paper. On screen, Hardwicke’s Frollo is the brother of the archdeacon, softening the religious hypocrisy, but not the evil of the character who causes the object of his lust (Maureen O’Hara) to be sentenced to death for a murder he committed.
Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) – The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Commentary By Wesley Lovell – Disney’s animated films have created countless iconic villains from the witch in Snow White to the puppy-murdering Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians and myriad others. While these terrible people suffered from things like vanity, greed, jealousy, and other foibles, the darker, more seedy sins had often been left alone. Until Judge Claude Frollo (voiced by Tony Jay), in the light, but potent adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, none had been so grounded, or so realistic. Desirous of the gypsy girl Esmeralda (Demi Moore), he stops at nothing to sate his lustful desires. His piousness and position of legal authority present a unique specimen of Disney villainy and it’s so effectively wrought, especially in the brilliant musical sequence “Heaven’s Light/Hellfire,” that he easily stands among the best villains of they’ve ever created.
Gollum (Andy Serkis) – The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
Commentary By Wesley Lovell – At the heart of The Lord of the Rings is a lonely hobbit whose mind and will has become corrupted by a dark artifact. While Sauron and Saruman are more fundamentally evil than Gollum (Andy Serkis), neither are more haunting. Gollum had been in possession of the One Ring for so long that his fragile mind eventually fractured, seeking refuge within the confines of a cave where he could stroke and protect his Precious. The innocent hobbit of yore battles perpetually with the greedy, vicious, murdering thug that the ring brings out in its possessor. The duality of the Gollum character is one of the most fascinating stories in literature and cinema and Serkis brings that to life with vivid creativity. A character who cannot understand that he is the villain is a most compelling individual.
Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) – Gaslight (1944)
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Boyer is pure evil as the conniving jewel thief and murderer who systematically convinces wife Ingrid Bergman that she is going out of her mind. Bergman won an Oscar for a role in which she is not entirely believable – Bergman was too intelligent a woman to be believable as one who is so easily manipulated, but Boyer, who was nominated for his performance, is totally convincing in his. The ending in which the tables are turned comes about too quickly, but is totally enjoyable as we watch the cat squirm while the mouse rakes him over the coals. Joseph Cotton, Dame May Whitty, and Angela Lansbury, in her film debut, add to the fun.
The Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) – Westworld (1973)
Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – Yul Brynner will always be remembered as the king of Siam, but he was equally as good as the relentless gunslinger in Westworld. The robot is quickly dispatched in a gunfight early in the film, but returns more malevolent than before. One character still thinks he is harmless until he is shot and killed by him. Richard Benjamin’s character flees and is ceaselessly tracked by the gunslinger. Even after being blinded by acid and then burned to a shell, he continues his search. He proved a frightening android.
HAL 9000 (Douglas Rain) – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Commentary By Wesley Lovell – Cinema has created many fascinating human villains, but making a computer program, programmed to protect humankind, capable of betraying humanity in order to protect itself is a sci-fi construct that has never been done better than in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction classic has a lot of story heft to it, but among its myriad unusual details is a computer named HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain) who mistrusts the two humans who share the spacecraft he’s installed in. Afraid that HAL may be in error, the two astronauts plot his demise, but HAL is fully aware of their duplicity and has plans of his own should they try to disconnect him. It’s a chilling prospect, stuck far away from home with a machine that could snuff out your life without a second computation or thought.
Harry Roat, Jr. (Alan Arkin) – Wait Until Dark (1967)
Commentary By Tripp Burton – Wait Until Dark is one of the great stage thrillers in American theatre; the fact that it also made a terrifying film is in large part credit to Alan Arkin. Harry Roat Jr., the enigmatic but sadistic gang leader terrorizing a blind woman, plays into all of Arkin’s talents: he has to chameleonize himself into several different personas, each with its own charm, all with a level of danger simmering under the surface. What makes Roat so villainous isn’t anything physical, though. It is the fact that everything that happens in the film has been meticulously planned by him, every detail painstakingly thought out, and he will always be three steps ahead of everyone else at every moment. There is literally nothing you can do that he hasn’t already considered and it is futile to try to outsmart him.
Janet Iselin (Angela Lansbury) – The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Commentary By Wesley Lovell – A Russian sleeper agent slips into the U.S. hidden within the mind of a now-decorated soldier (Laurence Harvey). As his Senator father looks to root out Communism in the U.S., Harvey’s Raymond Shaw is on the verge of being activated by the person you least expect: his mother. Angela Lansbury delivers one of the greatest screen performances of all-time in this Cold War thriller that sees suspicion and threat mixed together in a piece of political commentary that’s both chilling and fascinating. Lansbury’s villain, Janet Iselin, is a complex, conniving woman whose ability to blend with chameleon-like grace into her surroundings is part of what makes her so terrifying.
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Lansbury had two of her best roles as overbearing mothers in 1962, both of which were directed by John Frankenheimer. In All Fall Down, she was the mother of Warren Beatty whose latest girlfriend is played by Eva Marie Saint, who in real life is a year older than Lansbury. In The Manchurian Candidate, she is the mother of Laurence Haryey, who in real life was only three years younger than her. “Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?” still chills, as does Lansbury’s climactic speech. Was there ever a more loathsome female character who got her just desserts any better than she does in the end?
Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – Mrs. John Iselin does not look like your typical communist agent. As the force behind her senator husband, she at first appears to be a driven spouse, simply striving for him to achieve more. But she is willing to use her brainwashed son to further her own ambitions of taking over the presidency under communist influence and with emergency powers. As portrayed by Angela Lansbury in an Oscar-nominated role, she is one cool woman willing to kill anyone in her path. Never trust the queen of diamonds.
Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Commentary By Wesley Lovell – Revenge is a common motivation of villains in cinema and a long-unresolved conflict from the original series of Star Trek brought Ricardo Montalban, who originated the role of Khan Noonien Singh in the episode “Space Seed,” back into the fold as the primary villain of the second feature film entry of the Star Trek franchise. Montalban, who had become best known at the time as the friendly Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island, proved to be one of the most potent and convincing villains the franchise ever created. He was a man of super intelligence and capability, whose own vanity and self-delusion helped bring about his own undoing.
Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis) – Of Human Bondage (1934)
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Davis finally achieved hard-fought stardom as the cold, manipulative waitress who makes life hell for medical student Leslie Howard in the first and best film version of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel. Has there ever been another line uttered by an actress as heartbreaking as Davis’s Mildred Rogers saying “It made me SICK when I had to let ya kiss me. I only did it because ya begged me, ya hounded me, and drove me crazy! And after ya kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth! WIPE MY MOUTH!” No wonder her fellow actors cried foul when she failed to be nominated for an Oscar and wrote her name in anyway.
Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon) – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Gordon made her film debut in 1915, had a long and rewarding career as both an actress and a playwright on stage. Less successful on screen, she nevertheless had been a four-time previous Oscar nominee, three times for writing and once for acting three years earlier when she played Natalie Wood’s senile mother in Inside Daisy Clover. No Oscar winner was ever more joyful than she when she finally won for her portrayal of the creepy witch next door in Rosemary’s Baby, which turned her into a major film star at the of 72. She still sends chills up and down your spine whenever you watch it.
Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) – Rebecca (1940)
Commentary By Wesley Lovell – What makes a character like Mrs. Danvers so convincing as a villain is that her machinations are entirely personal and filled with nuance by the brilliant Judith Anderson. Mrs. Danvers is the housekeeper to Laurence Olivier’s Maxim de Winter and his late wife Rebecca. Her appreciation for and admiration of Rebecca towers over the relationship Maxim has with his new wife (Joan Fontaine). As Mrs. Danvers lurks in doorways and glowers at the new Mrs. de Winter, her performance lends an air of malice and mystery to the film, which was Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film.
Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – The great stage actress Judith Anderson did few films, but created one truly memorable character, Mrs. Danvers, in Rebecca. As the head housekeeper of Manderley, a stately manor, she never got over the death of her employer, Rebecca de Winter. When the master returns with a new wife, the second Mrs. De Winter, Mrs. Danvers does everything she can to undermine her. She shakes her confidence, tries to break up the marriage and even encourages the second Mrs. de Winter to kill herself. She was devoted to her mistress and does not feel that the new wife deserves Manderley. She is willing to burn the manor down, and herself, in order to keep it from the resented new wife.
Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) – Psycho (1960)
Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – When Marion Crane first meets Norman Bates, he comes across as a nervous young man who cannot deal with an attractive woman. When the audience sees him act as a voyeur to spy on her, he seems more creepy than insecure. Then when his mother takes over, he becomes a killer. It turns out that mother is jealous and possessive, and his alternate personality is not stable at all. The role became Anthony Perkins’ most famous part, and justifiably so as he was so good in it.
Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) – Double Indemnity (1944)
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – At home in everything from social dramas to melodramas to murder mysteries to westerns to musicals to comedies, Stanwyck could play just about anything better than anyone else. She was often at her best in villainess roles, none more so than as the femme fatale who will use anyone to get what she wants. What she wants is her husband dead. To that end, she seduces insurance salesman Fred MacMurray and then convinces him to help murder her husband for the insurance money. MacMurray proves to be equally bad as he devises a plan that will result in a double indemnity payment in this masterful film noir.
Regina George (Rachel McAdams) – Mean Girls (2004)
Commentary By Tripp Burton – Regina George is frightening because anyone who was ever a teenager knew Regina George. She is the embodiment of every Queen Bee we encountered growing up, a bundle of anxieties outsourced into a manipulative force of nature. Played by Rachel McAdams, who has a girl-next-door beauty and charming personality, you understand why everyone is both terrified of her and wants to be her best friend at the same time. As an audience, we never want to see her again yet never want her to leave the screen. She is the villain next door and, although she may be the funniest villain on this list, she is still one who you never want to cross.
Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) – The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Commentary By Wesley Lovell – Esteemed actor Charles Laughton’s only directorial effort is one of cinema’s greatest features. Robert Mitchum plays Harry Powell, a former minister-turned-serial killer who attempts to locate the $10,000 a former cell mate talked about and who he believes hid the money with his wife (Shelley Winter). As Powell stalks her and her two children across the countryside, he maliciously hums a religious hymn that becomes a chilling part of the film’s dark malevolence. Mitchum delivered his finest performance in this vicious, menacing, evil figure.
Commentary By Tripp Burton – Harry Powell’s Love and Hate tattoos have been copied and parodied so many times that it is a testament to Night of the Hunter, and Robert Mitchum’s performance, that his speech explaining them still sends chills down your spine. Mitchum’s sadistic preacher will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it includes terrorizing two small children. The fact that we see Powell through their young eyes, as if he is half boogey-man and half abusive father, makes him all the more powerful. He lumbers around like a movie monster, but with a religious conviction and twisted morality that makes him scarier than any supernatural force.
Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – With his hands tattooed with “L-O-V-E” and “H-A-T-E,” Robert Mitchum’s Reverend Harry Powell makes quite an entrance. Robert Mitchum was never known for playing warm cuddly types, but he is downright spooky as the reverend who does not mind killing sinful women and seeking money. Trying to find a stolen $10,000, he does not mind killing his new wife nor menacing her two young children in pursuit of it.
Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) – The Bad Seed
Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – Fresh from her Broadway triumph in the play, Patty McCormack repeated her performance as the devil child in The Bad Seed. No, not Damian, but just a little blonde girl with braids who wanted things her way and was willing to do whatever it took to get them. And if that required murder, so be it. The movie was probably scarier in 1956, but she made such an improbable monster that she makes my list. The play had a better and eerier ending, but perhaps movie audiences then needed a happier ending.
Scar (Jeremy Irons) – The Lion King (1994)
Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – With the urbane tones of Jeremy Irons emanating from him, Scar was a classic Disney villain. The character is, in many ways, a direct descendant of Shere Khan the Tiger in the earlier Jungle Book. That character almost made my list but I finally decided that I liked The Lion King better as a movie. Scar plans the death of his brother the king and hopes to kill his nephew as well. He becomes the ruler, but makes many poor choices that eventually lead to his downfall. However, with that smooth, silky voice, it is easy to see why some might follow him.
T-1000 (Robert Patrick) – Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Commentary By Tripp Burton – Many people have tried and failed to make indestructible villains frightening, but too often there is nothing intimidating about them. They become so unrealistic that they border on the ridiculous. It is a testament to James Cameron and Robert Patrick that T-1000, the liquid-metal robot who can become anything and regenerate from any injury, is one of the greatest threats in film history. He can move quickly or saunter towards you, he can look like a friendly policeman or a metal mannequin, he can stab you through the eyes, open elevators, or escape explosions, and nothing seems to stop him. He is the perfect foil to body-building Arnold Schwarzenegger, and after 25 years has lost none of his wonder or villainy.
Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – The original Terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a pretty good hunting and killing machine, but his successor, the T-1000 played by Robert Patrick, was even scarier. Made of a liquid metal so that it could shapeshift, turn its arms into blades, and reform itself from multiple pieces, proved an even fiercer pursuer than the first one. At one point it looks like it will win, so humanity would be lost. Patrick made a sleek and scary killer, the “Porsche” to Arnold’s “Panzer tank.”
The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) – The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Commentary By Wesley Lovell – For every child, the Wicked Witch of the West has become one of the first villains they become familiar with. The family classic positions Margaret Hamilton as a vainglorious green-faced hag hell-bent on taking back the ruby slippers her evil sister once wore after the young girl Dorothy (Judy Garland) lands her house on and kills her. Although the film is best remembered as a classic cinematic fairy tale, it’s thanks to the ever-present villainy of the Wicked Witch that helps give the film its foundation. Hamilton’s performance was so convincing that even passers-by who recognized her would believe that she was the Wicked Witch incarnate and that’s testament to her brilliance and the effectiveness of the character.
Commentary By Tripp Burton – There are few Hollywood characters more iconic than the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West, from the cackle to the broom to the litany of classic quotes. As played by Margaret Hamilton, she is a force to be reckoned with, striking pure evil in every moment she is on screen. This is one of the first frightening characters most of us ever encountered as a child, and I wouldn’t doubt that the nightmares about her still linger for some adults decades later.
Commentary By Thomas La Tourrette – Although she appeared in over 100 movies and television shows, Margaret Hamilton will always be remembered as the Wicked Witch of the West. She was so good at frightening children in it that it probably hurt her career, but she will always be remembered. Even as the nasty neighbor Miss Almira Gulch, she was scary. But with the green makeup and cackle, she became truly terrifying. She said, “I don’t look on it as any great shakes of acting, it’s not subtle or restrained.” It may not have been subtle, but boy was it memorable.
Wolf Larsen (Edward G. Robinson) – The Sea Wolf (1941)
Commentary By Peter J. Patrick – Robinson remains most famous for his 1930 portrayal of the gangster Little Caesar, a role which haunted him throughout his career. In truth, however, he played more heroes than bad guys in films like Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet, Double Indemnity, and Scarlet Street. There was one bad guy, however, who was even more evil than Little Caesar and that was the cruel Captain Wolf Larsen in the definitive 1941 version of The Sea Wolf. He was so maniacal he made Charles Laughton’s Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty look like a pussycat.