A huge number of movies are based on the actions or the lives of heroes. “Sergeant York” starring Gary Cooper was about the life of a war hero. “In Harm’s Way” with John Wayne was about an admiral who leads his ships into a brutal but successful battle with the Japanese is another. One the other side of each of these characters is villain or villains. And, some movies focus almost entirely on the villain’s character as the center of the narrative.
The range of movie villains over the last century of film is breathtaking, spanning from unrepentant murders and corrupt cops to mechanic sharks (Bruce in Jaws) and possibly ghosts (Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street). There are murderous housewives and queens, and faceless hunters. Some are based on real-life people, which makes their villainy even more disturbing. Despite their badness some elicit a measure of sympathy (like Baby Jane Hudson).
To identify the most popular villains of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the American Film Institute’s (AFI) The 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains. Casting and movie information also comes from the AFI.
The most popular villain of all time was Hannibal Lecter, portrayed by Anthony Hopkin, in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Former psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter helps FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in her pursuit of another serial killer, “Buffalo Bill,” who murders and skins young women. Both leads won Academy Awards for their performances in this psychological thriller that shouldn’t be accompanied by a meal of fava beans and liver.