Heartless, cold-blooded, depraved, manipulative, remorseless…. Judging by the success of some of television’s most acclaimed and long-running series, that is how viewers like their villains.
To compile a list of the most evil TV villains of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed listings on IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon; Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator; and Ranker, a crowd-sourced ranking site, to find criminals and other villains who were a major part of the plot in a wide variety of TV series. Only live-action shows were considered, and soap operas were omitted. We excluded villains played by multiple characters such as The Master in “Doctor Who” and The Borg in the “Star Trek” franchise. (For a look at fictional evil on the big screen, see this list of the most memorable movie villains.)
One thing that became clear as we assembled our list is that villains have gotten more interesting – more complex. The rise of cable television and the growth of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu has provided greater artistic freedom for directors and writers than they had on network television. giving them freer rein to explore their characters’ darkest motives. (These are the most memorable career criminals in TV history.)
Yet even though most of these villains lacked redeeming qualities, there was something about them that audiences found fascinating. That’s a credit to the actors who have more than just played these roles – they’ve inhabited them.
Such is the case with Villanelle, the stylish, narcissistic assassin on the BBC America series by the same name, played by British actress Jodie Comer. Another example is Ralph Cifaretto on “The Sopranos,” played by Joe Pantoliano. Cifaretto is smart, ruthless, and remorseless, and at no time does he display any admirable qualities. Yet whenever he appears on screen, his charisma keeps us focused on him.
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