Essays · Movies

The Best Movie Villains of 2017

From evil clowns and callous colonels to killer androids  and white people, here are the biggest baddies of the year.
Rewind Villains
By  · Published on December 27th, 2017

From evil clowns and callous colonels to killer androids and white people, here are the biggest baddies of the year.

This year has seen many evildoers in the real world, from neo-Nazis to persons guilty of sexual misconduct, and then some. Villains in the movie world, meanwhile, came in their usual droves but for the most part weren’t very memorable. Or perhaps just couldn’t compete with the genuine articles? Villains should rank high among the most interesting characters on the big screen yet this year it was difficult to find enough for the list of the very best of 2017. Below is, therefore, a range of bad guys of varying distinction.

17. Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) in Power Rangers 

If you’re going to be the villain of a movie like Power Rangers (that is to say as cheesy and as expectedly terrible) you need have some fun with the role. Well, Elizabeth Banks might have had a little too much and overdid the part, because the rest of the movie was going for a relatively serious adaptation of the material. But she was the only enjoyable part with her hammy wickedness, even as she became the center of a long Krispy Kreme ad, and sort of teased what Cate Blanchett should gone for as Hela in Thor: Ragnarok.

16. Lord Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux) in The Lego Ninjago Movie

One thing this year could have used more of is humorous villains, but 2017 wasn’t great for comedy in general. This under-seen animated feature based on a specific line of Lego toys is, in my opinion, better than The Lego Batman Movie and has a much funnier bad guy in the form of a four-armed dark ninja, who attacks the title city on a regular basis, eventually unleashing a giant cat monster (played by a real cat) to fully destroy the metropolis, but softens when he finds out his son is one of his greatest foes.

15. Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) in The Mummy

Another bad movie with a decent villain, The Mummy only ever works when the title creature is on screen. Boutella does the best she can with the role, especially in a scene where she’s chained up, and appears unaware of what awful nonsense is going on around her. Much of this character comes about in the makeup and (carefully positioned) costuming, meaning at least two departments of the production were trying, but once again Boutella proves she’s destined for great things in great movies eventually.

14. The Vulture (Michael Keaton) in Spider-Man: Homecoming

Not only was it satisfying to not have another incarnation of the Green Goblin or any other CGI-heavy villain with Oscorp-based genetic origins in Homecoming, but it’s always a delight to see Michael Keaton in a costume inspired by a winged animal. Better, though, is when the Vulture is unmasked and just blue-collar dad Adrian Toomes. His scenes with Peter Parker ahead of the school dance are much more tense than anything between the decked-out villain and hero in their climactic battle.

13. The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) in War for the Planet of the Apes

Human characters, including villains, haven’t been the most memorable part of the Planet of the Apes reboot. Not that they’re bad, just overshadowed by the incredible writing and performances behind the titular chimps, gorillas, and orangutans. But in the third installment, Woody Harrelson left a greater mark as a military commander who enslaves most of the apes and poses a tremendous challenge for their own leader, Caesar. The way he goes out gave us one the most perfectly anticlimactic villain deaths in a while.

12. Lucy and Nancy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) in Okja

Tilda Swinton is arguably the greatest living character actor, and Bong Joon-ho is letting her be her most outrageously wicked self. Following her maniacal post-apocalyptic political role in Snowpiercer, she returned as a conniving CEO in Okja — plus, performing double duty, she also plays her even crueler sister. The characters aren’t too terrible nor terribly interesting as written, but Swinton, with help from everyone responsible for her appearance, still gives Lucy, in particular, a tremendous presence as a villain.

11. The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) in Thor: Ragnarok

While Hela is the big bad in Thor: Ragnarok, she’s surprisingly bland, particularly considering she’s portrayed by the amazing Cate Blanchett (whose Lady Tremaine topped this list in 2015). More delightful is Jeff Goldblum’s flashy tyrant (and it’s worth mentioning Rachel House as his bodyguard, Topaz), who is anything but terrifying but seems to devilishly take advantage of the fact that he’s so charming and Goldblumy in order to manipulate and rule and enslave so easily.

10. Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) in The Shape of the Water

In the role of a military leader who commands a government facility with an iron fist — one missing a couple fingers — while also struggling with being treated like a mere subordinate by his superior officer, Michael Shannon is his most Michael Shannon yet. That’s a good thing, even if it doesn’t mean he deserves any awards among the film’s stack. Strickland’s got his right to be upset about the cleaning lady kidnapping his “asset” and the communist spy in his lab, but with his electric cattle prod, he’s nastier than he needs to be.

9. Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard) in It

Here’s a villain whose reputation — and a previous portrayal — precedes him. Enough that Bill Skarsgard doesn’t have to do much in the role of the psycho clown haunting a small town. It does initially feel like he’s letting the makeup and costume and writing do all the work. But it’s just not as campy as expected, and Skarsgard’s relatively minimalist performance makes him creepier. Plus, this villain is a lot more than the circus freak he materializes as most of the time. He’s a monster capable of embodying all our nightmares.

8. Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) in Blade Runner 2049

She may not have the philosophical eloquence of Roy Batty or the flexible acrobatics of Pris, but Luv still gives the original Blade Runner’s replicant villains a run for their money. The Wallace Corporation enforcer is the most intimidating android since the first Terminator and for good reason, as she’s an ice-cold killing machine. And yet she’s also humanized, capable of producing tears when she sees a barren replicant slaughtered by her boss. She’s far and away the most interesting and complex character of Denis Villeneuve’s sequel.

7. Gaston (Luke Evans) in Beauty and the Beast

Another villain remade, Gaston has been one of Disney’s most iconic baddies and maybe its most beloved for the past 26 years, in animated form. For the live-action remake, Luke Evans perfectly adapts the character to flesh and blood, faithfully but also with some improvement. He’s still a conceited jerk, but he’s not unreasonable, nor is he the rapey sexual predator of the original. Sure, of course, he tries to kill the Beast, that creature who kidnapped and seems to have a Stockholm syndrome-like power over the girl he loves.

6. X-24 (Hugh Jackman) in Logan

Hugh Jackman’s greatest performance in an X-Men movie (and maybe any movie) was not just as Wolverine in Logan but also as the character’s own evil clone, X-24. At first, he’s more henchman than villain, but for a genre where so many arch-nemeses are like doppelgängers (particularly for Marvel-based properties), he’s the most significant match for Wolverine, even bettering the mutant hero in a one-on-one fight. He’s also quite deadly, killing two of the series’ most beloved characters, and is the final bad guy to defeat.

5. David 8 (Michael Fassbender) in Alien: Covenant

Regardless of your thoughts on Ridley Scott’s latest installment of the Alien franchise, one thing is for sure: Michael Fassbender is magnificent in his dual performance as the androids David 8 and Walter One, with the former being so memorably diabolical a villain that he overshadows the effect of the ferocious Xenomorphs, which have been among cinema’s all-time greatest nightmare creatures. David 8, with his flute and his charisma and his biological experimentation, is more terrifying as a scheming mad scientist.

4. Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) in Split

In the upcoming sequel Glass (a follow up to both Split and 2000’s Unbreakable), Kevin Wendell Crumb will be known as a super-villain called “the Horde,” referring to his multiple personalities that include a very strong and savage one referred to as “the Beast.” In this year’s hit movie, the character is a bit simpler, though that’s a funny word to use to describe James McAvoy’s impressively multifarious performance as Crumb’s many identities working together to kidnap and terrorize three young women.

3. The Armitage Family (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Allison Williams, Marcus Henderson, and Betty Gabriel) in Get Out

Is there one main villain in Get Out? Some have singled out Rose (Allison Williams) for being the most duplicitous. But Missy (Catherine Keener) has the most chilling role in the family operation, while Marianne, aka Georgina (Betty Gabriel) is the creepiest and ultimately most memorable. They have to be highlighted as a unit, one with a sadistically fantastical plan for a new kind of enslavement of black people. Their “Sunken Place” immediately entered pop culture as one of the scariest things and/or places ever envisioned.

2. General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

What began in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as just an interesting, rivalrous division of deputy villains serving under Supreme Leader Snoke became a more delicious duel of personalities in the sequel, mostly thanks to Domhnall Gleeson’s expressiveness when gloating or trying to suppress embarrassment. Hux doesn’t get to do a lot in The Last Jedi, and that makes him even more compelling for being a villain of competence and a certain rationale who would be rightful ruler if only he didn’t have to compete with a dark wizard.

1. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

That wizard is Kylo Ren, grandson of the most famous movie villain of all time, Darth Vader. In The Force Awakens, he showed promise as another iconic bad guy, but he was also a bit too bratty — more Hayden Christensen’s Anakin than the Vader version. In The Last Jedi, he evolves in some ways yet is still consumed by a hyper-focused need to prove himself, which is coupled with his distracting obsessive wrath against all of his father figures. He’s as complicated a villain as they come, and at the end of the latest episode, it’s difficult to see where the character is headed. One big question going into The Last Jedi was will Kylo Ren turn good, but going into the next movie it’s how bad will he get now that he’s the new Supreme Leader.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.