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50 Most Vile Movie Villains

1. Darth Vader
Hayden Christensen/James Earl Jones/David Prowse
The Star Wars Saga (1977-2005)


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The dark side can be awfully seductive. Just ask the Jedi formally known as Anakin Skywalker, who ditched his master Obi-Wan to fight for the forces of eeevil. Vader is the quintessential villain; he's got commanding height, an intimidating voice (thanks to the vocal stylings of James Earl Jones), wicked lightsaber skills, a badass all-black getup, and domination over galaxies far, far away. He's not exactly the portrait of good health, but don't let his heavy, mechanical air-sucking fool you: The Force is very strong with this villain.

2. Leatherface
Gunnar Hansen
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)


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Sure, he was a mentally retarded, murderous cannibal wearing a mask of his victims' skin, but how many other dudes you know can both butcher a human body and pull off a chainsaw pirouette?

3. Phillip VanDamm
James Mason
North by Northwest (1959)


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One thing a great movie villain ought to have is an impressive lair, and Mason's debonair Cold War spy fits the bill with what must be the coolest house in all of South Dakota: a stylish, modern, Frank Lloyd Wright-esque dwelling (complete with airstrip) built into a mountainside atop the presidents' heads on Mount Rushmore. So give him (and Alfred Hitchcock) points for that, as well as for making Cary Grant's life miserable as he chases the hapless ad man halfway across the country.

4. Hedy Carlson
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Single White Female (1992)


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Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery — until it creeps you the hell out. In Single White Female, Jennifer Jason Leigh was riveting as a pathologically needy new roomie who tried to steal Bridget Fonda's hair, clothes, and boyfriend, while also finding time to kill a puppy Bridget really, really liked. SWF made roommate-hunting terrifying and answered a key cultural question of the time: Hey, what if Fatal Attraction had two chicks?

I have no desire to see this movie.

5. Annie Wilkes
Kathy Bates
Misery (1990)


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With her Puritanical outfits and disdain for foul language, Nurse Annie seems about as apple-pie wholesome as they come. Just don't be a dirty-bird and try to leave her, or she'll be forced to fetch the sledgehammer and hobble your wicked ass.

6. Maleficent
Voiced by Eleanor Audley
Sleeping Beauty (1959)


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Every Disney movie has a villain, but none has quite the same frightening and demeaning presence as Maleficent. With her piercing yellow stare, her lengthy skeletal physique and her devilish laughter, it's no wonder King Stefan and his wife didn't invite her to their newborn's christening. Did we mention she can also transform into a fire-breathing dragon?

7. Commodus
Joaquin Phoenix
Gladiator (2000)


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'Am I not merciful?'' yells Commodus, a weak, desperate man so hungry for power that he kills his own father to take his place as the emperor of Rome. Despite the character's vile, bloodthirsty, and spiteful nature, he emerges as more than shallow. The beauty of Phoenix's Oscar-nominated performance is that he manages to get you to feel a teensy bit bad for Commodus, who suffers by comparison with Maximus (Russell Crowe), a hero if ever there was one.

8. Hans Grubber
Alan Rickman
Die Hard (1988)


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An exceptional thief and one hell of a dresser, calculating Hans Gruber is the perfect foe for improvising John McClane (Bruce Willis). Why? Hans is clever enough to trade barbs with ''Mr. Cowboy,'' but smart enough to know when to let his gun do the talking (bye-bye, Misters Takagi and Ellis) — which makes him truly dangerous. He also earns points for letting his hostages have bathroom breaks.

9. Noah Cross
John Huston
Chinatown (1974)


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Don't be fooled by his grandfatherly appearance. This aging tycoon cloaks his viciousness in respectability, and he excuses the depths of his own depravity by insisting ''that at the right time and right place, [people are] capable of anything.'' In his case, murder, corruption, incest. Take your pick.

10. Captain Vidal
Sergi Lopez
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)


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Vidal is twisted, vain, and loathsome. As a leader of men in fascist Spain, he thrives on the power he wields and thinks nothing of killing first and asking questions later. Despite the number of deaths by his hands mounting throughout Guillermo del Toro's Oscar-winning movie, his final act of cruelty is still shocking to watch. We're not gonna tell you what it is...because we're not as cruel as he is.

11. John Doe
Kevin Spacey
Seven (1995)


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Manipulating two mismatched detectives (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) who are investigating his gruesome crimes, this sadistic arbiter of biblical justice concludes his masterpiece by putting Gwyneth Paltrow's decapitated head in a box. Thirteen years later, it's still chilling.

12. Norman Bates
Anthony Perkins
Psycho (1960)


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Poor Norman Bates looks no more menacing than a choirboy, but underneath Anthony Perkins' youthful appearance is a twisted psyche that comes out when anyone threatens his deluded existence. He's the reason why the phrase ''mama's boy'' has a sinister ring to it.


13. Frank Booth
Dennis Hopper
Blue Velvet (1986)


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In David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Dennis Hopper portrays the violent, sadistic, and completely unpredictable Frank Booth, a criminal who is so mentally disturbed he can change moods in an instant. Hopper is so convincing as this killer/rapist/drug addict, it's hard to watch him in other films without remembering Frank.

14. Max Cady
Robert DeNiro
Cape Fear (1991)


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Robert Mitchum was pretty scary in the original 1962 Cape Fear as Max Cady, an ex-con who seeks vengeance on the defense attorney who screwed him over and on the lawyer's wife and daughter as well. Thirty years later, De Niro raised the bar in the same role by sporting ominous tattoos, creeping us out in his flirtatious scene with teenage Juliette Lewis, displaying a Terminator-like indestructibility — and, oh yeah, taking a bite out of Illeana Douglas' face.

15. Hannibal Lecter/Buffalo Bill
Anthony Hopkins/Ted Levin
The Silence of the Lambs (1994)


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It's worth remembering that the good Lecter movies — Silence and Manhunter — don't feature Hannibal the Cannibal as the main baddie. Which is why we've paired these two together. Besides, ''It places the lotion in the basket'' is actually creepier than ''fava beans and a nice Chianti.'' What makes lotion and baskets so creepy? Well, the association with a guy who wears the skin of his victims could be one reason.

16. Khan Noonien Singh
Ricardo Montalban
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)


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After Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) thwarted Khan's attempt to capture the Enterprise (in the classic Trek series), Kirk deposited the genetically engineered despot on a barely habitable planet and promptly forgot about him. That is, until a 20-years-older Khan surprised the now-Admiral Kirk and caught him with his pants down, tearing into the Enterprise while delivering some succulent Ahab-ian speeches. To wit, after Khan abandons Kirk inside a barren moon — sweet, sweet revenge for leaving him on that lifeless planet and causing his dear wife's demise — Khan whispers this taunt to his sworn enemy: ''I've done far worse than kill you, Admiral. I've hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her: Marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet. Buried alive....'' To which our dear James T. had but one response: ''KHAAAAAAAN!''

17. Little Bill Daggett
Gene Hackman
Unforgiven (1992)


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Hackman won an Oscar as the morally ambiguous Little Bill, a sheriff who wants no violence in his town, and who'll go to violent lengths to keep gunslingers out. In an older Western, he might have been the hero, but because he sparks a Jacobean cycle of bloody vengeance — one that turns putative hero William Munny (Clint Eastwood) back into the cold-blooded killer he used to be — he's Unforgiven's heavy. ''I don't deserve this,'' he complains, as Munny is about to shoot him. ''Deserves got nothing to do with it,'' Munny replies.

18. Bill
David Carradine
Kill Bill (2003-4)


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In Vol. 1, Bill (David Carradine) was little more than a menacing voice, the final target of the Bride's (Uma Thurman) righteous campaign of vengeance against the assassins who laid waste to her wedding and left her pregnant body for dead. It wasn't until Vol. 2 that Quentin Tarantino gave us a look at the guy, and what we found was a little surprising: He's mellow, affable, talkative, and an aficionado of Superman mythology. But make no mistake; Bill still knows how to menace. After all, he did snatch the Bride's baby and raise her as his own. ''I'm a killer, a murdering bastard,'' he tells her, just before she makes the title come true. ''And there are consequences to breaking the heart of a murdering bastard.'' Hey, at least he's honest about it.

19. The Child Catcher
Robert Helpmann
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1986)


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Kids, this is why you should never take sweets from strangers. The child catcher (played with an odd, leaping gracefulness by ballet dancer Robert Helpmann) is a grotesque-looking fellow with a Cyrano-size nose who takes a perverse glee in sniffing out and capturing hidden children in Vulgaria, a fairy-tale land where kids are verboten. That candy vendor disguise shouldn't have fooled anybody, but it works on Dick Van Dyke's tots, as the child catcher hauls them away screaming in a scene guaranteed to give young viewers nightmares.

20. Harry Powell
Robert Mitchum
The Night of the Hunter (1955)


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In Charles Laughton's dreamlike melodrama, Mitchum's itinerant preacher (with the famous ''L-O-V-E'' and ''H-A-T-E'' tattoos on his knuckles) emerges like a monster from a child's nightmare. In fact, he's stalking two kids for the fortune they unwittingly possess, and his murderous greed disguised as righteousness can be stopped only by real righteousness, in the form of rifle-toting matriarch Lillian Gish.

21. Harry Lime
Orson Welles
The Third Man (1949)


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Selling black-market medicines that do more harm than good to desperate citizens of postwar Vienna isn't very nice, but Welles' Harry Lime is still the most lively and enjoyable character in the movie, which loses some of its luster whenever he's not on screen. The character was so popular that he was spun off into his own radio drama series.

22. Amon Goeth
Ralph Fiennes
Schindler's List (1993)


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When Hannah Arendt used the phrase ''the banality of evil'' to describe the perpetrators of the Holocaust, Amon Goeth (Fiennes, in the future Voldemort's star-making role) was the sort of person she had in mind. The camp commandant in charge of liquidating the Jews of Krakow, Fiennes' Goeth is a dead-eyed void, standing on his balcony, his gut hanging out, as he shoots random Jews below simply out of boredom. And because he can.

23. Cruella De Vil
Voiced by Betty Lou Gerson
101 Dalmations (1961)


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A person shouldn't be judged by their name. Unless, of course, they have a name like Cruella de Vil, in which case, it's best to assume the worst. When Cruella isn't out kidnapping adorable Dalmatian puppies and skinning them in the name of high fashion, PETA's worst nightmare is tearing around town in her Deville-style car, chain-smoking cigarettes and throwing spectacular temper tantrums. The Disney fashionista has hair, clothes, and accessories that all seem to share a similar black, white, and devil-red motif, but it's safe to say that Cruella's heart is pure black. One look at her permanently dour expression and you'll agree: ''If she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will.''

24. Daniel Plainview
Daniel Day-Lewis
There Will Be Blood (2007)


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There's often a Freudian backstory that explains a villain's behavior, but not with Daniel Plainview, who seems to be a black force emerging from the bowels of the earth like the oil he covets. In his Oscar-winning performance, Day-Lewis makes Plainview's bloody deeds believable while preserving the mystery of his motives. Oh, and he's also got that nifty catchphrase.

25. Dr. Christian Szell
Laurence Olivier
Marathon Man (1976)


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Dustin Hoffman learns that going to the dentist can be torture, especially if the gum-gouging sadist is an escaped Nazi war criminal who's literally drilling you for information. Olivier has all the hallmarks of a classic movie villain, including an endlessly repeatable catchphrase (''Is it safe?'') and wicked weaponry — not just those dental tools, but also that switchblade-like contraption in his jacket sleeve that he uses to eviscerate his unwary foes.

26. Anton Chigurh
Javier Bardem
No Country For Old Men (2007)


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A man with a haircut modeled on a punch bowl rightfully belongs in some sort of Monty Python-esque alternate reality, but Bardem is the furthest thing from funny as the psychotic Anton Chigurh, who kills most of his hapless victims by blowing their brains out with a cattle gun. The fact that you never once gain insight into what or who created this monster makes his presence on the big screen all the more terrifying.

the ONE time i missed my american cinema class, the entire class was spent watching this movie :( i was mad, cause i really want to see it.

27. Doc Ock
Alfred Molina
Spiderman 2 (2004)


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Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) alone was a loving husband and brilliant academic, but with four artificially intelligent mechanical arms fused into his vertebrae, he went insane. The arms tapped into the doctor's own vanity and compelled him to nearly destroy all of Manhattan to prove his sustained fusion machine could work!

28. Mitch Leary
John Malkovich
In The Line of Fire (1993)


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In Malkovich's gallery of rogues, spy–turned–presidential assassin Mitch Leary may be the most memorable because he's so...reasonable. He's all purring malice and chivalry throughout his cat-and-mouse game with Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood), even when he's casually murdering innocent bystanders. Yet he's also chillingly persistent; he won't be deterred by reason, appeals to ideology, or the all-but-certain knowledge that he'll be killed once he carries out his scheme.

29. Liberty Valance
Lee Marvin
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1963)


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Marvin specialized in cold-blooded killers, and his Liberty Valance was one of the coldest, a gunslinger so memorably mean that he dominates John Ford's classic Western even when he's not on screen, which is most of the time. No wonder Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne both sought credit for shooting him down.

30. Archibald Cunningham
Tim Roth
Rob Roy (1995)


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Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, Roth's often been typecast as modern-day hoods and thugs, but his villains don't come any more dastardly than this one, nemesis to the 18th Century Scottish folk hero of the title (Liam Neeson). The foppish, bewigged Cunningham is a thief, a womanizer, a despoiler of villages, and an expert swordsman. For good measure, he even rapes Mrs. Rob Roy (Jessica Lange). All that's missing is a waxed mustache for him to twirl.

31. Sgt. Tom Barnes
Tom Berenger
Platoon (1986)


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Throughout Oliver Stone's Oscar-winning Vietnam movie, Berenger's scarred, bitter war criminal Barnes and Willem Dafoe's still-idealistic, by-the-book Sgt. Elias are the devil and angel perched on the shoulders of raw recruit Taylor (Charlie Sheen), battling for his soul. Of course, it's a lot harder for Good to overcome Evil when Evil goes ahead and frags Good.

32. Freddie Krueger
Robert Englund
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)


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Freddy Krueger has the wit of a lame stand-up comic and a viciously poor fashion sense (sweater and fedora every day?). But those knife claws and his annoying propensity to attack the Elm Street teens absolutely anywhere — especially their dreams — kind-of tip the scales towards ''overwhelmingly demonic.''

I <3 Freddie

33. Vincent
Tom Cruise
Collateral (2004)


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Cruise's 180-degree career turn as Vincent — a salt-and-pepper-haired hit man who enlists Jamie Foxx's cabbie for help while unleashing an all-night killing spree — made us wonder what happened to that perennial good guy from A Few Good Men and Jerry Maguire.

34. Frank
Henry Fonda
Once Upon a Time in the West (1969)


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One thing that makes methodical hired gunslinger Frank so astonishingly frightening is, of course, that he's played by Fonda, who'd spent 30 years in Hollywood playing icons of rectitude and moral authority. Who knew (besides Sergio Leone) that Fonda's ice-blue eyes could reveal such cold-hearted ruthlessness?

35. Hal
Voiced by Douglas Rain
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)


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His real name is ''Heuristically programmed Algorithmic Computer,'' but you can call him HAL. In 2001: Space Odyssey, HAL seems innocent enough; a smooth-talking red light with impeccable manners and charming conversational skills. He boasts an array of features: HAL can recognize human speech and facial expressions, he has an appreciation for the arts, he can play a mean round of chess...and, uh, he can reprogram his own directives to have you killed. A killer spaceship computer who does a chilling rendition of ''Daisy Bell,'' HAL is one technological advance you won't be cheering about.

36. Ming the Merciless
Max con Sydow
Flash Gordon (1980)


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Emperor Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow) has rocket ships, death rays, robots, a harem, and some of the galaxy's fiercest outfits at his disposal. He also happens to be an unfortunate ''yellow peril'' stereotype, which adds a whole other level to his villainy. And, to top it all off, his motivation for wanting to destroy Earth is simply boredom.

37. Keyser Soze
Kevin Spacey (again)
The Usual Suspects (1995)


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Few have seen the elusive Keyser Söze, but his brutality is legendary (he killed his own family just to prove that he would) and his cunning is unrivaled. After all, would you pretend to be the dim-witted, handicapped loser ''Verbal'' Kint if you didn't have a darn good reason to?\

38. Gollum
Andy Serkis
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)


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He may only be a CGI character, but the conflicted, bipolar Gollum managed to be both cute and scary — a feat we hadn't seen accomplished since Gremlins. Love him or hate him, you can't deny that his tendency to break out into cheerful song in between ruthlessly chasing the ring of power was, well, precious. Plus, he bit off Frodo's fingers. And that's pretty bad-ass.

39. T-1000
Robert Patrick
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)


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Sure, Ah-nold was intimidating as the Terminator in the first film, but place him alongside the sequel's shape-shifting, cold-blooded T-1000, and his futuristic robot suddenly appears to be as dangerous as a very-well-armed Energizer Bunny.

This guy used to scare me when I was little :(

40. Damien
Harvey Stephens
The Omen (1976)


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You thought your babysitting gig was bad. Spawn of Satan Damien was so evil, he drove his nanny to hang herself, without saying a word. One look into that evil, icy stare and even you'll believe that it really is all for him.

41. Peyton Flanders
Rebecca de Mornay
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992)


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Okay, she breast-fed another woman's baby. And if that's not enough to convince you that this nanny was no Mary Poppins, she also deliberately lodged an earring in an infant's mouth in order to make a show of saving him. We don't even want to know what else is in her carpet bag of tricks.

42. Nurse Ratched
Louise Fletcher
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)


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Fletcher was sixth in line to play Nurse Ratched in Milos Forman's masterpiece — Anne Bancroft and Angela Lansbury, among others, turned down the role — but it's a good thing she bagged the part. After all, who else could have so perfectly channeled author Ken Kesey's character, a villain who spoke softly, but carried a big, oh-so-evil stick? As soon as audiences watched the mental institution's tyrant seamlessly drive the troubled Billy Bibbit to commit suicide, it became obvious that Fletcher was destined for Oscar (she was awarded Best Actress in 1975).

43. Scar
Voiced by Jeremy Irons
The Lion King (1994)


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With a sly nod to Hamlet, Scar killed his own brother — king-of-the-jungle Mufasa — then chased the heir to the throne into exile, turned the lush Pride Rock into a wasteland, and clawed his way into the pantheon of dastardly Disney villains.

44. Mrs. Iselin
Angela Lansbury
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)


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Fans who only know her as Jessica Fletcher would never guess that Lansbury could muster the soft-spoken menace that helped her earn an Oscar nod — and a place in movie history — for her role as a manipulative mom in this Cold War classic.

45. Henry F. Potter
Lionel Barrymore
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)


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Even stuck in a wheelchair, the great Lionel Barrymore (yup, he's Drew's great-uncle) loomed large over Jimmy Stewart as a cold-hearted scrooge in Frank Capra's yuletide tearjerker.

46. Johnny Friendly
Lee J. Cobb
On the Waterfront (1954)


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With a name like ''Friendly,'' who needs enemies? Certainly not the corrupt mobster who rules the waterfront with an iron fist, and whose idea of communicating with his employees involves throwing them from rooftops. He finally meets his match in ex-prizefighter Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), who takes a hell of a whopping and not only lives to tell the tale, but takes the rest of the dockworkers with him — leaving Friendly rather friendless, indeed.

47. Jack Torrance
Jack Nicholson
The Shining (1980)


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Nicholson's trademark line — ''Heeeere's Johnny!'' — gets all the attention, but the real thrill of Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece is watching the actor quietly morph from dad to demon with mesmerizing intensity.

48. The Wicked Witch of the West
Margaret Hamilton
The Wizard of Oz (1939)


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No Halloween parade would be complete without at least one green-faced homage to the queen of cinematic sorcery. With her army of flying monkeys and that nails-on-a-chalkboard cackle, the Wicked Witch (played by former kindergarten teacher Margaret Hamilton) has earned a spot on this list by scaring the crap out of generations of Oz-loving kids. And their little dogs, too.

49. Shere Khan
Voiced by George Sanders
The Jungle Book (1967)


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George Sanders often played an urbane, purring villain (see: All About Eve, Rebecca), even when voicing a jungle cat. His tiger, who spends the whole movie hoping to make a meal of man-cub Mowgli, is the most feared creature among all the animals in this Disney adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling classic, and he terrifies without ever raising his voice (though Sanders' aristocratic sneer and arched eyebrow do make the transition to animation). His cool, cruel cat was a model for later fearsome felines in the Disney canon, including Prince John (Robin Hood) and Scar (The Lion King).

50. John Ryder
Rutger Hauer
The Hitcher (1986)


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It sounds like a line from The Terminator: He absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead. That's what C. Thomas Howell's cross-country driver Jim learns when he innocently gives Ryder a lift. As fast as you can say ''severed finger,'' Jim's life is turned upside-down by this scourge of the blacktop who hunts him wherever he goes, killing everyone in his path. And the moral of this story is, don't stop driving, folks.

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