The world of fantasy is a broad and all-encompassing universe in which our greatest dreams can be brought to life through literature, animation, film, performance, and graphic novels. However, many heroes are only as great as their strongest villain, so along with our dreams, sometimes comes incredibly complex and powerful nightmares. Sometimes these villains are so well conceived that they make their corresponding hero seem shallow or one-dimensional. Other times they do exactly what we need them to: create a strong, thoughtful antagonist to a well-developed protagonist. Using an extremely complex algorithm that combines fame and power level (basically… I winged it), here are 25 Diabolical Fantasy Villains That May Cause You To Shiver In The Night.
Gollum – The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings (Books / Films)
Let’s face it, as far as power goes, Gollum isn’t very impressive. Sure, he’s got a pretty nasty bite, but the only people who ever had trouble fending him off were Hobbits, and not ones that were accustomed to combat (spirit be damned). However, (especially due to his fantastic movie portrayal) he is known and recognized around the world, and his character was very well written regarding the perils the hobbits faced from the one ring.
Scar – Disney’s The Lion King (Animated Film)
Even as far as lions go, Scar isn’t all that strong. However, one must not underestimate his ability to manipulate others in order to either make his dirty work easier, or straight-up do the dirty work for him. Combine that with manipulation of social structure (otherwise Nala would’ve just ripped his face off) and an army of (mostly) loyal, savage hyenas, and you’ve got a near-perfect animated foil to the noble Mufasa.
Gaston – Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (Animated Film)
The comical, arrogant, walking pile of muscles and misogyny, Gaston is an excellent example of how the strong, popular figure can turn oppressive and dark when you get past the surface. Scar is more intelligent, but Gaston edges him out in terms of raw power (biceps to spare), established hunting ability, and the ability to whip up a frenzied, armed mob (extra points for the hilarious musical numbers, especially the stage-exclusive “Me”).
Dolores Umbridge – Harry Potter Series (Books / Films)
The first of our Harry Potter references, we hate her. God, we hate her. Her slimy, evil character is so well-written that you root for absolutely horrible things to happen to her (which, it’s implied, happens). Her character represents the politicians you hate, the teachers you despised, and the racist ignorance exhibited by far too many people historically in power. To cap it all off, when push came to shove, she wasn’t even all that strong of a witch (at least compared to a number of other primary characters).
The Joker – DC Comics’ Batman (Graphic Novels / Films)
Though he’s had various incarnations over the years and has no real super powers, the Joker combines extreme cunning and intelligence with unpredictable insanity. This combination has allowed him to humiliate and effectively defeat both his genius nemesis, Batman, along with several other DC heroes with all manner of super powers. Though later reneged (as comics often do), the Joker brutally beat and killed Batman’s young sidekick, Robin, in what was one of the darkest Batman stories to that point, and it continues to reverberate throughout the Batman mythos.
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Bellatrix Lestrange – Harry Potter Series (Books / Films)
Combine the insanity of the Joker with the vile, hateful evil of Umbridge, then add much more respectable magical power, and you get Bellatrix Lestrange. She was the dark lord’s most loyal consort and reveled in torturing and killing all who opposed him. (Especially if they were disowned members of her own family!) Lestrange was responsible for murdering some of Harry Potter’s closest allies including Nyphadora Tonks, Dobby the House Elf, and her cousin (and Harry’s Godfather) Sirius Black.
Jareth The Goblin King – Labyrinth (Film)
Love makes us do crazy things. Such was the case for the King of the Goblins, Jareth. While certainly less evil than some listed before, Jareth already had some pretty twisted ideas of love in his head, and then he allows his desire and jealousy for Sarah to bring him to kidnapping, torture, extortion, and a number of other implied horrors. As the ruler of the labyrinth and the goblin city, he wielded a multitude of magical powers, mostly involving dreams and desires, along with his army of minions.
Professor Moriarty – Sherlock Holmes Stories (Books)
Wait, what? Why is Moriarty so high on this list? (I actually wanted him higher, but couldn’t justify it.) One word: Mastermind. We’ve had some extremely intelligent villains on the list so far, but compared to the mental ability of Professor James Moriarty, they are amateur at best. No matter the powers of some of the previous entries, Moriarty would run circles around them and likely defeat them before they ever set eyes on him. He is a genius at manipulation, utilizes advanced mechanical devices (that would be impressive even now,) and sets elaborate traps for his victims.
Ursula the Sea Witch – Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Animated Film)
Ursula has all the scheming of previously mentioned Disney villains, but a whole lot more power to back it up. In addition to being able to transform body mass and state, she is super-humanly strong and can see remotely via minions as her avatars. Ursula is also a master manipulator (as evidenced by all the poor unfortunate souls she has collected), which compliments her greatest power: the power to draw up one-way contracts that can achieve a number of effects, but more importantly reduce those who fail her contracts to helpless polyps in her collection.
Jafar – Disney’s Aladdin (Animated Film)
Jafar is a close match for Ursula, but thanks to his evolution, just barely notches her out. Jafar is a textbook psychopath and a skilled manipulator. He initially relies on cunning and certain artifacts (such as his staff) for his power. However, once he wishes to become a sorcerer, he gains an impressive amount of power and is not limited by specific way of casting (as Ursula is until she gets the Trident).
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Morgan Le Fay – Arthurian Legend (Various)
Over the centuries, Morgan (Morgana, Morgause, Morgen, etc.) has taken many forms and roles. But most recent tellings have a few pretty strong aspects they agree on. Morgan is the half-sister of Arthur who studies various forms of magic (including black magic) while learning to be a healer. She later studies under Merlin and grows even more powerful, often able to magically duel him. Using said magic, she tricks Arthur into impregnating her, causing the birth of Mordred and Arthur’s eventual fall.
The Wicked Witch of the West – The Wizard of Oz (Film)
With one obvious weakness, The Wicked Witch of the West is an extremely cruel, self-centered, and powerful villain. Among other powers, she can teleport, fly (with a broom), create and control fireballs, cast sleeping spells from afar, and command an army of flying monkeys and other terrifying creatures. All that for a pair of slippers? Wicked.
Dracula – Bram Stroker’s Dracula (Book and subsequent films)
The original vampire definitely does not sparkle. This also means he is the iconic, powerful, world-famous monster of lore created in 1897 and fleshed out in the 1992 film based on the book. In this case, it was shown that he was capable of walking in a “human” form during the day (negating a major vampire weakness) but preferred the night. He also had all the traditional super-vampire powers: super strength and speed, flight, shape-shifting, weather control, mind control, and of course, the ability to make more vampires.
The Lord of Darkness – Legend (Film)
Though much lesser-known, The Lord of Darkness makes up for it by being an iconic, classic, and powerful rendition of the devil’s son. This guy hates and is only vulnerable to daylight and wants to bathe the world in eternal darkness by killing the last two unicorns (who are obviously the bringers of light). The Lord of Darkness has all the powers you’d expect from a devil spawn: illusions, fireballs, mind manipulation, enhanced strength, shape shifting, and durability against anything that isn’t light-based.
Lord Voldemort - Harry Potter (Books / Films)
The consummate evil wizard needs little introduction. Why does he rate so high on the list? Because unless you’re “the boy who lived,” you have virtually no means of killing this guy. Sure he can be defeated or incapacitated, but he’s functionally immortal, so for him it’s only a matter of time. Add that to his already superior magic ability that allows him to teleport, torture, and kill at will, and you can see why nobody wanted to speak his name.
Hades – Disney’s Hercules (Animated Film)
Probably the tamest versions of the Greek underworld’s king ever, he is also one of only a few depictions in which Hades is a villain. Fortunately, as a legit bad guy, he’s also hilarious. Though he’s not as all-powerful as some incarnations, this Hades is no slouch. As a god he is obviously immortal, but beyond that he has control of fire and smoke, can teleport, seems to use a sort of general dark magic, has minion demons, and can summon and control dangerous creatures such as the Hydra or Cerberus.
Jadis, The White Witch of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Book and Film)
Powerful, nearly immortal, ruthless, and provider of a superior Turkish delight, the White Witch of Narnia was immensely strong and arguably more wicked than any wicked witch. Not only did she enslave the vast majority of intelligent, talking beasts in Narnia, but at the slightest sign of resistance, she would petrify them! Add that to the capture, torture, and murder of the lion-god Aslan (later shown to be intentional on his part), along with the enchantment of an endless winter over the entire realm, and you realize that Narnia was lucky to see another spring.
Maleficent – Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (Animated Film)
Mostly ignoring the recent live action film, the original Maleficent was a badass sorceress with all the powers of hell at her command. As “the mistress of all evil,” she was offended by the royal family not inviting her to Princess Aurora’s christening, so she lays a curse on the baby that will keep everyone in dread for the next sixteen years…and then still basically succeeds. In addition, she conjures lightning, can fly, teleport, raise a barrier forest of thorns, and can turn herself into a full-fledged dragon.
Grendel – (Original Poem, and Various Pop Culture Forms since)
What he lacks in mainstream notoriety, he makes up for in raw, historic evilness. Grendel was originally conceived in 700 AD making him a really old-school horror. Though interpretations differ, the primary attributes of Grendel are his horrible appearance and penchant for mercilessly slaughtering those who party too loudly and make him envious/jealous. He snuck into the hall in the middle of the night, brutally murdered thirty people, then returned for the next twelve years for more. As the descendant of Cain, he was evil for evil’s sake and there was no reasoning with him. On top of that, he was nearly unstoppable; an amazingly strong ogre who was also capable of moving silently in the shadows and was near invulnerable. Oh, and he often ate some of his victims on the spot, then took the rest back to his lair for a snack.
Smaug – The Hobbit (Book and Films)
The last great dragon of middle-earth, Smaug was greedy, psychopathic, sadistic, violent, cruel, and very intelligent. He was massive, could fly, extremely strong, and mostly invulnerable to weapons. His entire body radiated with intense heat, and he laid waste to entire towns with his fire breath. He killed countless dwarves as he took the gold of Lonely Mountain for his own and terrorized the surrounding countryside for many years before retiring to his treasure hoard. For two hundred years, he was uncontested, and likely would’ve remained so if the heroes from “The Hobbit” had not been very, very lucky.
Magneto – (X-Men Graphic Novels, Movies)
The “Master of Magnetism,” who walked the line of hero and villain over the years, always took his own path, and that path was almost always the subjugation of humanity. As a mutant, Magneto felt that his species was above that of ordinary humans, and every act of hate against mutants fueled his drive. He wielded near-godlike power with his magnetic manipulation ability. In addition to metal manipulation on an astounding scale, he can generate force fields, electro-magnetic pulses, and even affect the structure of atoms themselves by manipulating the electromagnetic bonds between electrons and nuclei. His only real weakness is his own human psyche and endurance.
Sephiroth – (Final Fantasy VII Video Game and Supporting Games / Materials)
Very arguably the most iconic and well-known villain to come from the Final Fantasy game series, Sephiroth has all the makings of a powerful fantasy villain. Originally a hero, he learns he was subjected to experiments as an infant and injected with cells from an extraterrestrial life form that attempted to subjugate the planet 2000 years earlier. As a result, he decides it’s his destiny to follow in those footsteps and take control of the planet and has no problem killing anyone who happens to be in his path. He evolves into several forms, from an extremely skilled swordsman to a straight-up god, and along the way manages to summon a meteor that would decimate millions of people and change the face of the entire planet.
Sauron (The Lord of the Rings – Books and Films)
Sauron was a being of immense power as the lieutenant of Melkor, who was, for all intents and purposes a near-omnipotent fallen angel. There are many long and complicated conflicts, but the core of it was that Sauron grew to be the “master and god of men” and had the rings of power forged, along with the one ring, that would give him power over all the others. When in physical form, he had tremendous power and durability, single-handedly battling entire armies, and even when finally defeated, he remained in spirit, corrupting those with weak wills and who coveted the power of the rings. All in all, his machinations were directly responsible for centuries of war, hatred, and the deaths of millions.
The Nothing (The Neverending Story – Novel and Film)
The Nothing “is a force of absolute oblivion that erases everything and everyone it touches from existence and leaves no trace whatsoever.” In the world of Fantasia, a place that is built on humanity’s hopes, dreams and imagination, The Nothing represents human apathy, cynicism, and the denial of childhood dreams. As it spreads, all Fantasians it destroys are turned into lies and deceit, which manifest in the human world. Were it to completely destroy Fantasia, everyone in the real world would be driven mad by the destruction of all hopes, dreams, and imagination.
Satan (Paradise Lost)
Obviously, depending on your religion, Satan is not actually a “fantasy” character. However, there are many fictional stories based on said deity, which would most definitely fit the fantasy genre. Paradise Lost depicts a relatively close story to the biblical Satan. This makes him immensely powerful, unopposed by essentially any being except for the Archangel Michael and God himself. On top of that, he’s got an army of immensely powerful angels at his command, of which it requires the full force of heaven itself to combat. Even despite being defeated by heaven, using his wit, charisma, trickery, and a great deal of magic he is able to strike a blow against heaven by tainting paradise and introducing sin and death to the origins of humanity. It’s going to be pretty hard for any other villain to match that.