Let’s hear it for the on-screen baddies!
As terrifying as they might be, there’s also something admirable about their wicked deeds and appetite for evil and corruption. Whilst we can’t condone skinning puppies, murdering your own cousin or putting a sleeping curse on a child, you can’t help but root for these beautifully nuanced femme fatales.
From Miranda Priestly to Maleficent, complicated psychopaths and drag queen inspired sea witches, here’s 12 magnificently mean anti-heroes we can’t help but love.
Bellatrix Lestrange – Harry Potter
One of the most terrifying and unpredictable characters in the Potterverse (and Voldemort’s most loyal wing-woman) Bellatrix Lestrange is one witch we wouldn’t want to f*ck with. Devoid of remorse and morally bankrupt, she’s responsible for some of the most heinous acts in Harry Potter. Need we remind you of Dobby’s demise?
She may have murdered her own cousin and tortured wizards and muggles alike but something about Helen Bonham Carter’s crazed cackle and mock baby voice made Bella a beautiful monster with mad Dark Art skills. As for traditional gender roles? She Avada Kedavras all over them.
Miranda Priestly – Devil Wears Prada
Where would we be without florals for spring, ground-breaking? The infamous Editor-in-Chief portrayed by queen Meryl may be savage, sarcastic and impossible to please, but she didn’t get to the top by being laid back and likeable. She’s savage, assertive and rules the Runway office with an iron fist, and she just so happens to be a boss who’s a woman. If she were a man, all those traits would be most unremarkable.
Maleficent – Sleeping Beauty
Sure, she may be a cold and callous Mistress of Evil but what made her that way? Why, King Stefan of course, when he robbed her wings to get to the throne. In the live action film starring Angelina Jolie, we get to see that maybe there’s two sides to every story and Maleficent isn’t the horned villain without a heart but rather a tragic hero instead.
Cruella de Vil -Cruella
Easily one of Disney’s most evil villains (clue’s in the name), Cruella has been terrifying children and adults for over 60 years. Like Maleficent, her character got the origin story treatment in the live-action film Cruella, starring Emma Stone as the infamous dog-napper. Set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, the prequel sees the titular character known then as Estella, working as a fashion designer for fashion maven Baroness Von Hellman. In this coming-of-age film, she’s not cast as the evil unhinged puppy killer 101 Dalmatians made her out to be, but a rebellious orphan motivated by the trauma of her mother’s death and driven to a life of crime. We’re not saying we forgive her, for there are some crimes from which there is no redemption and skinning fictional puppies for spotty coats is one of them. Emma Stone’s Cruella, however, is decisively more human. She’s bad(ass) but she’s not evil.
Regina George – Mean Girls
As the ultimate Queen Bee of North Shore High and leader of The Plastics, Regina George was the obvious choice for a socialite villain but was she the nastiest skank bitch we’ve ever met? That seems a bit excessive. So what if her hair was insured for $10,00 dollars and she told Jason to shave his back – she wasn’t the only wolf in pink clothing. What about Cady and Janis scheming to make her “fat”? The woman thought butter was a carb for crying out loud, she was fair game.
Whilst her character was no saint, Regina-Stop-Trying-To-Make-Fetch-Happen-George certainly gave us a whole Burn Book of iconic pop culture material to quote for years to come. She was a flawed and fallible human being just like the rest of us and to those who disagree we say: boo, you whore. As Aaron Samuels shrewdly observes, “there’s good and bad in everybody, Regina’s just more upfront about it”.
Ursula – The Little Mermaid
Embracing her fatness, her purple skin and her greys? My dear sweet child, that’s what she does. It’s what she lives for. The half-woman half-octopus is a shape-shifting sea witch with a full face of makeup she squeezes out of an unsuspecting shellfish. Poor unfortunate soul. And for that, she might just go down as one of the best villains Disney’s ever made. Her voice is all over TikTok, proving that 32 years after she first graced our screens, she’s still a bad bitch. We demand a live-action prequel.
Villanelle – Killing Eve
From her impeccable couture outfits to her unique mannerisms, Villanelle is the delightfully dangerous assassin no one wants to cross. She slaughters people for a living and takes great pleasure in inflicting cruelty on others. Remember when she threw that kid’s ice cream onto her lap in the first episode? Zero fucks given. Her penchant for evil paired with her fanciful personality is enthralling to watch and the main reason we tune in, season after season.
Catwoman – Batman Returns
“I am catwoman. Hear me roar.” With lines like that, you can’t help but root for this leather rocking anti-heroine. As Batman’s longest-reigning villain, his greatest enemy, crime-fighting partner and high-key love interest, Selina Kyle aka Catwoman has enjoyed quite the evolution from the timid secretary she once was. She’s one of the most progressive female characters in the male-dominated comic book world, where women are often relegated to the sidelines to look pretty. She defies social conventions, refuses to bow down to the patriarchy and doesn’t take bullshit from anyone. We’d rather be rescued by her any day of the week.
O-Ren Ishii – Kill Bill: Vol 1
Expertly played by Lucy Lui, O-Ren Ishii aka Cottonmouth is a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DeVAS) and queen of the Tokyo Yakuza underworld. She’s also one of Tarantino’s best ever villains. Case in point: she claims her spot in a male-dominant industry and beheads the only boss who was against having her as the Yakuza leader. All whilst wearing a kimono. The final scene sees her swing a katana around like a badass in a snow-filled duel to the tune of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood by Santa Esmerelda, and it’s pure movie magic. You knew shit was gonna go down the second she took off her sandals…
Anna Delvey – Inventing Anna
Ozark actress, Julia Garner, is simply iconic in her role as real-life fraudster Anna Delvey – the Russian-born German who faked an identity as a wealthy heiress to cheat New York socialites out of large sums of money. Ever since the nine-part series landed on Netflix, we’ve been captivated by Shonda Rhimes’ dramatisation of the real Soho grifter. There’s just something about a female con artist! Just don’t ask us to do her accent…
Red – Us
In an incredible dual performance, Lupita Nyong’o plays both the hero and the villain in Jordan Peele’s pure blood-curdling horror movie Us. Such is her talent!
The film opens in 1986 with a young girl named Adelaide, who’s visiting the Santa Cruz boardwalk with her family. She wanders up the beach and encounters a creepy house of mirrors where she appears to come face to face with her double. Years later, Adelaide returns to the beach in California for a vacation with her family and utter chaos ensues when a group of doppelgängers known as ‘The Tethered’ begin terrorising them, one of which has been following Adelaide since she was a kid. It’s no coincidence that they look just like the Wilson family – they are copies of the humans that live above earth whilst they are forced to live in the shadows below…
Nyong’o is the star of the movie with her embodiment of the terrifying and robotic Red, whose guttural voice is the stuff of nightmares. We advise multiple viewings to get your head around *that* twist ending.
Winifred Sanderson – Hocus Pocus
It’s hard to believe Hocus Pocus was a box office flop when it premiered in 1993. The audacity. What exactly did they watch?
Fortunately, millennials everywhere loved it for its 90s nostalgia – Madonna’s cone boobs, anyone? It’s since cemented itself as a Halloween cult classic, impacting the sales of Black Flame candles indefinitely.
The star of the movie is undoubtedly Winifred “Winnie” Anderson (her and Thackery Binx of course, who we later decide we fancy when he’s in a baggy white shirt and no longer a cat. Quite the plot twist).
Sure, she terrorises the town, sucking the life out of the children of Salem before sunrise to stay alive but questionable morals aside, there’s something fascinating about Bette Midler’s bucktoothed villainess. Maybe it’s the way she says ‘booOook’ or her hatred for mornings (can relate), whatever the essence of her on-screen magic, Halloween simply isn’t Halloween without an obligatory Winifred or ten wafting about with her signature lippy and red wig.
The spooky sequel is officially in the works and set to be out in fall ‘22, with all three actresses reprising their roles as Sarah, Mary and Winifred, so hold onto your broomsticks sisters, it’s been 300 years but the old broads are finally back to run amok. Amok! Amok!