The Greatest Villains of All Time in LiteratureAs we are wont to do—writers and all—we often spend some of our team meetings discussing things of merit.

You know, the things that have nothing to do with the tasks at hand or clients, but definitely lead to our culture of nerdiness.

Things such as the greatest villains in literature.

This is not a new topic among my team.

Many moons ago, Jason Konopinski laid down the law and said Randall Flagg (originally from Stephen King’s The Stand and then appearing in eight more of his novels) was the greatest villain of all time.

It created a great debate.

Randall Flagg? Of all time? Really?

Because we can’t agree on that, the subject comes up often—and it can become quite heated.

Who knew literature villains could be so…divisive?

The debate rages on as we discuss internally, but also take to social media and this very blog to see what others think.

As a result, here are the 27 greatest villains of all time, according to us and to you.

The 27 Greatest Villains of All Time

So here they are. The 27 greatest villains in literature…in alphabetical order so as not to sway anyone’s opinion.

  1. Aaron Stampler in Primal Fear. Aaron appears meek and frightened, with a severe stutter, and alludes to having had an unhappy childhood with his abusive father in Crikside, Kentucky. And yet…
  2. Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. A ruthless emotionless hitman who occasionally flips a coin to determine someone’s fate.
  3. Big Nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Granted, much of her characterization comes through the eyes of a paranoid Chief Bromden, but she represents absolute and unwavering authority to the patients. Her battle of wills with McMurphy is about controlling joy—and snuffing it out. She’s cold, calculating, and domineering. McMurphy’s rebellion against the Combine can’t stand, and she puts an end to all he is—and more.
  4. Claudius in Hamlet. Claudius is a calculating, ambitious politician, driven by his sexual appetites and his lust for power
  5. Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I vant to suck vour blood. Enough said. My small one is obsessed right now with vampires and zombies so I spend a good amount of time chasing her around the house repeating that phrase over and over again.
  6. Count Olaf in the Series of Unfortunate Events. He is cruel, lazy, and works through subterfuge to turn others against the orphans. He takes away all sense of comfort, leaving them forever on the run with no place to call home. Each time they think they’ve achieved it, he swoops in and takes it away.
  7. Cruella deVille in the 101 Dalmations. She even has a song about her, she’s that evil. But truly, anyone who can steal puppies and do unmentionable things to them, deserves to be on the greatest villain of all time list.
  8. Pazuzu in The Exorcist. Pazuzu is, of course, the demon in the book, whom most of us know as the white blurb that shows up at exactly the right time to scare the pants off of us.
  9. Dexter from Darkly Dreaming Dexter. He does all the wrong things for all the right reasons.
  10. Fernand Mondego in The Count of Monte Cristo. Mondego used a fairly complex series of lies and collusion to achieve his goals. And was without any semblance of remorse. It feels like someone who is in the White House right now.
  11. The Firemen in Fahrenheit 451. First they can destroy all other literary villains just by burning them, and second, they destroy knowledge forever which I think is the most evil thing one can do.
  12. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. He is a cannibal and he’s a genius—a very deadly combination.
  13. Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects. Despite the fact that his true identity was hidden until the film’s closing seconds, Keyser Söze has become one of the most fabled villains in movie history.
  14. Lord Walder Frey in Game of Thrones. His list of crimes is most impressive…incest, violation of the “guest” rule, murder, treason, regicide, need I go on? He’s so well written, you literally feel like you need a shower just reading about him.
  15. Man in Bambi. Every villainous act is an act of man. Bambi just exemplifies it. The villain doesn’t need to be a character per se. When you break down any work, the antagonist is a human with human flaws and failings that we can all identify within ourselves, only magnified to the unthinkable point of no return. So in this way, we are all the villain by human nature.
  16. Norman Bates in Psycho. One of my very favorite stories is about how Psycho came about because it was a complete diversion from the Alfred Hitchcock dynasty. He believed so much in the book, which he made into a movie, he was willing to put his entire livelihood at risk.
  17. O’Brien in 1984. He is someone who believes to seek freedom of thought and opinion is insane. He is willing to torture Winston Smith and we never learn enough about him to have our questions answered.
  18. Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Any one of us could be him. He is completely banal, and represents what could happen to any of us, really, if we cannot make meaning in our lives.
  19. President Snow in The Hunger Games. Cold, calculating, cowardly. perfect.
  20. Professor James Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes. Just because he was so good. A burr under Sherlock Holmes’ saddle.
  21. Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter. She is the worst kind of person: Small-minded, cruel, cat-lover, and effective—very scary.
  22. Randall Flagg in The Stand. He is so scary, he’s nightmare inducing. When I finally read The Stand five years ago, we were in Paris on vacation. I was so freaked out, I couldn’t sleep. Between that and jet lag, it made for an interesting time.
  23. Roger Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter. His psychology is so richly layered. Hawthorne shows Roger is inherently good, but the temptation of revenge consumes him completely. He is smart, eerily calm, and deeply manipulative. Like a leech depending on its host for sustenance, Chillingworth drains vitality from his enemy, Arthur, and depends on the pursuit of vengeance to fulfill him. Totally creepy, but sad, too.
  24. Satan in Paradise Lost. I mean, he’s Satan. Need we say more?
  25. The Stepmother from Cinderella. Because she is as real as it gets.
  26. Time. Time is a pretty big villain in most stories. There is never enough (just ask Jack Bauer), and when you really need more what does time do? That’s right, abandon you.
  27. Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. Right now, I spend every evening trying to convince my little one to read Harry Potter together. She keeps refusing. So no Voldemort for her!

Add Your Villain

And now it’s your turn.

If you don’t see your villain listed here, tell us in the comments who it is and why.

The only rules are the villain has to be from literature (not a movie or comic books) and there has to be a reason why.

We’ll add to the list and keep a big tally of the greatest villains of all time.

Photo by Finn Gross Maurer on Unsplash

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich