With The Huntsman: Winter’s War’s Charlize Theron set to play the big baddie in the upcoming Fast 8 and Priyanka Chopra set to terrorize Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron on the shores of Baywatch, there seems to be a trend of female villains invading Hollywood’s big budget blockbusters. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Maleficent, and Cinderella all contribute to this trend of well-developed, three-dimensional female characters occupying the ‘bad guy’ role that has, traditionally, been filled by men.
As Neil Turitz explores in his article, The Rise of the Female Villain, females villains aren’t necessarily new in Hollywood — but they have always filled a specific ‘type’ that depended heavily on gender and often tended to morph into trope. That said, there have been significant standouts in Hollywood history who have broken the mold, exerting their power, owning their worlds, and taking what they believe to be rightfully theirs – an unlucky romance novelist included.
In honor of those trailblazing characters, we’ve put together a list of 10 of the best female baddies from a few of our favorite films.
10. Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Louise Fletcher struck fear into everyone’s hearts as the tyrannical Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As the overseer of a mental institution, Ratched abuses her power to suppress any semblance of humanity that R.P. McMurphy attempts bring into her domain. Her cold-hearted demeanor, searing glare and methods of discipline undoubtedly contributed to my distrust of doctors.
9. Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada can kill an optimistic, bright-eyed spirit with two words – nay, with merely a look. Priestly represents the kind of boss everyone hopes they’ll never have to work for, and yet she wasn’t evil for evil’s sake, but in order to survive in the cutthroat world of fashion. Streep played the character with nuance and, as she always does, gave her pathos that helped us grow to love her. Why, exactly, do we love her? Please bore someone else with your… questions.
8. Hedy, Single White Female (1992)
Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, Hedy, in Single White Female illustrates the kind of villain who becomes unhinged as the result of a traumatic experience: she lost a sister and was simply trying to make one out of her roommate Allison (Bridget Fonda). Granted, she was basically trying to kill her and ruin her life — but still — all she wanted was a sibling to love. But nevertheless, Hedy is a strong example of a psychologically complex character, and an even better example of why you should never look for a roommate on Craigslist.
7. Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest (1981)
Joan Crawford was a special kind of villain — the one of the diva variety. Like Anne Baxter’s Eve in All About Eve, she is starving for fame, selfish and will stop at nothing to satisfy her own well being. In the case of the infamous high priestess of Hollywood glamour, Crawford (played wonderfully with glorious camp by Faye Dunaway) she treated her children like garbage, screwed them over when she died and, most of all, made the entire world fear the wire hanger.
6. Heather Chandler, Heathers (1988)
Ah, yes — “the bitch”. She’s egotistical, yet internally flawed and self-hating. And yes, it’s a title that many see as derogatory, but in the context of movies from the 80s about high school, we’ll allow it. Heather Chandler (Kim Walker) from Heathers was a pioneer of “bitchdom.” She was popular, manipulative, cruel and the original mean girl that spawned characters like Rachel McAdams’s Regina George in Mean Girls and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Kathryn Merteuil in Cruel Intentions. We love to hate her.
5. Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter Franchise (2007 – 2014)
Bellatrix stayed in the background while Voldermoort did most of the terrorizing, but still, every time she came on screen, this pure-blood witch was straight-up scary. In the limited amount of screen-time she got, Helena Bonham Carter hinted at the character’s fascinating backstory – which could probably fill a series of books on its own.
4. May Day, A View To A Kill (1985)
There is an extensive list of Bond girl villains that can make this list, but I’m going with May Day, played by the glorious Grace Jones. Severely beautiful, May Day’s androgynous nature and deadly skills offered a refreshing take on the typical henchwoman assigned to stop 007.
3. Selena Kyle aka Catwoman, Batman Returns (1992)
Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is the best depiction of the character that we’ve seen on the big screen, as Pfeiffer showed us what this character is really all about: the power that comes with tapping into the anger that rests just below the surface. As homely, uncertain secretary Selena Kyle, she seeks her revenge on the men who do women wrong by slipping into latex and cracking the whip. Catwoman struts the line between good and evil, exuding femme fatale sexiness without having it define the character.
2. O-Ren Ishii, Kill Bill Vol. 1
O-Ren Ishii could have easily been a one-dimensional, sword-wielding baddie who existed purely to fulfill the fantasies of Tarantino fanboys. Instead, Tarantino gave the character played by Lucy Liu a deep backstory and powerful motivation for her to transform into one of the world’s fiercest warriors. When we see her fight The Bride, we can’t help but respect the hell out of her…even if she does deserve to get her head sliced off.
1. Annie Wilkes, Misery (1990)
A list of classic female villains (or any villain list for that matter) wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Kathy Bates’s Oscar-winning role as Annie Wilkes in Misery. Bates plays the character to perfection, exhibiting a frightening ability to shift from kind to unhinged in the same caca doody breath. It’s a cautionary tale of the obsessive fan who has no boundaries – and anyone whose seen it will likely never get the hobbling scene out of their head.
Be sure to check out contributor Neil Turitz’s article, The Rise of the Female Villain.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer