Have you ever wondered who the smartest movie villains are? We’ve all seen the dumb brute villains with three brain cells unable to think through a wet paper bag. However, the intelligent villains are always a few steps ahead of the good guys, getting what they want, and usually winning in the end. Sometimes they win by changing the hero, proving a greater point, or achieving their overall goals. Either way, they don’t get there with their fists alone. Here are the 25 Smartest Movie Villains Ever.
Colonel Nathan R. Jessup
Probably few actors can intimidate the audiences as well as Jack Nicholson. The fiery anger in all his performances likely sends chills down your spine. Combine that with Colonel Nathan R. Jessup’s cold exterior and cunning intellect in A Few Good Men, and you have a pretty great villain. He valiantly protects Gitmo with his leadership, keenly hazes his own men, and covers up the whole thing before easily fending off a team of lawyers investigating a crime on his base. Finally, going for a Hail Mary play, the lawyers are forced to put him on the stand. Unfortunately for him, his pride is his ultimate undoing. Still, it gave us the classic, “You can’t handle the truth!” line we all know and love.
Cold, calculating, and incredibly ominous, Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men is essentially the boogyman. A very, very smart boogyman. He tracks Llewelyn Moss down with exacting precision every single time until it finally caught up with him. There is no place Moss could go that Chigurh couldn’t find. He is a deadly, unstoppable force.
While they might only look like big black bugs, the Xenomorphs in the Alien series are actually highly intelligent, hunting down their human prey like rats in a cage. They’re always a few steps ahead, sneaking in nooks and crannies, waiting for an unsuspecting couple to go take a shower. Their biggest foil is Ripley, and even she struggles to survive against them.
Every hero needs a villain who can challenge them, the chink in their armor. Hans Gruber in Die Hard does that in spades against John McClane. While McClane is a sarcastic brute who will do anything to survive, Gruber counters this with a practical and keen intellect. He fools the police and FBI, making them think he was a terrorist. He even fools McClane (albeit not for very long) into thinking he was an innocent hostage. He has everything planned to a T, hoping to make away with millions. Unfortunately, he never plans for McClane.
A highly intelligent extraterrestrial from space, the Predator hunts the most dangerous game in Central America and is incredibly good at it. Granted, its invisibility makes hunting pretty easy. But even that is no match against Dutch, the American commando played by Schwarzenegger. The Predator is a perfect movie of cat and mouse with both characters trying to use their wits to defeat the other.
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Howard in 10 Cloverfield Lane plans for everything before the apocalypse, building a bomb shelter with power, aquaponics, and supplies to last years. Controlling, creepy, and wildly intelligent, he keeps his two bunker mates under his thumb and a watchful eye. He even sniffs out their crafty plot to escape. His ultimate undoing is putting too much trust in Michelle.
Ultron, the artificially intelligent robot from the movie Avengers: Age of Ultron, had devised the perfect plan. He would drop a giant rock on top of the earth, putting an end to humanity and letting nature decide who lives and dies. Using Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver as pawns, he craftily pitts the Avengers against each other to keep them busy while he works on his nefarious plans. For an all-knowing robot, Ultron is almost too fallible. Once again, he lets pride and arrogance get the better of him.
Jigsaw is a master craftsman of puzzles and games in the Saw series. He forces his victims to make seemingly impossible decisions. His dark and terrifying schemes send chills all over your flesh; his intellect fools you of his existence and where he might be within the puzzle. Another boogeyman type, Saw almost has no equal and always gets what he wants.
Who can contend with one of the biggest bads in the whole galaxy? Darth Vader’s strength usually lies within his incredible strength and control of the force but he can also construct his own evil plans when it’s required. In Empire Strikes Back, he deftly coerces Lando to trap Han, Leia, and the others while torturing them to lure Luke out of hiding. It all comes together without a hitch.
Aaron plays everyone, even the audience, like a fiddle in the movie Primal Fear. Pretending to be a helpless, innocent choir boy, he gradually reveals he has multiple personalities. One of his personalities (Roy) is much more violent and angry. Throughout the movie, Martin Vail, Aaron/Roy’s lawyer, tries to prove Roy is insane, and it works like magic for Roy. In the end, Vail realizes Roy was just putting on an elaborate show to get his desired outcome.
Mr. Glass, played by Samuel L. Jackson, finally finds what he’s looking for in the movie Unbreakable, a hero. However, in order to find him, he concocts various plans to crash a few trains and planes. All the while, he convinces his hero, played by Bruce Willis, he’s trying to help him become who he was meant to be. Ultimately, at the end, Mr. Glass reveals his crimes and comes to terms with his destiny.
Throughout Star Wars episodes 1-6, Palpatine orchestrates a slow and patient takeover of the galaxy. First, he creates a need for war. Then, he splits up the galaxy and plays both sides. Convincing Jar Jar and the Senate to give him supreme power, he slaughters the Jedi while luring his powerful apprentice, Darth Vader, to his side. With the Death Star constructed and at his command, he rules the galaxy with an iron fist. Even at the end, it takes Luke’s pleas to convince Vader to throw Palpatine to his ultimate demise.
Played by Tom Cruise, Vincent in Collateral is a smart, smooth-talking assassin, controlling his cab driver with intimidation and coercion. With every problem coming his way, somehow Vincent figures out how to talk or shoot his way out of it. Using his intellect, he pushes his cab driver, played by Jaime Foxx, to the brink, making him question everything he believes.
In Inglorious Basterds, Hans Landa knows how to use silence and intimidation to his advantage, scaring the truth out of almost anyone he comes in contact with. However, he also is smart enough to know when his side is losing and when to turn the tables to his advantage. Realizing if his side loses he’d be likely put before a tribunal and hanged, Landa decides to make a deal with the American soldiers he caught. He’ll hand over Hitler and all his top ranking officials in exchange for amnesty and high honors in the Western world. It’s too good an opportunity to pass up and the Western generals give in to his deal. Little does Landa know, Aldo the Apache doesn’t forgive Nazis and makes his mark on Landa’s forehead.
Bane in The Dark Knight Rises has both brains and brawn. Using Catwoman to lure the Batman down into his lair, he quickly breaks the Batman and puts him into a pit. With the Batman out of the way, Bane is free to rule over Gotham. But, instead of taking control, he plays politics and tells the people they have control and do whatever they want. With chaos reigning, Bane uses the distraction and continues to look for the one thing he wants most, the nuclear device to wipe Gotham off the map.
The ultimate trickster, Loki’s intelligence, wit, and snarky smile consistently fools his brother Thor and most of the Avengers for that matter. In The Avengers movie, Loki develops a plan to subjugate humanity using an army of the Chitauri. But first, he willfully gets captured by Captain America and Iron Man to infiltrate their flying aircraft carrier. Using the Hulk and a brainwashed Hawkeye, Loki breaks up the Avengers to keep them distracted. His cunning almost brings him to his goal, but the Avengers put a stop to it just in time.
Another boogeyman no one in the wizarding world wants to meet is Lord Voldemort. While his presence is gradually seen through the Harry Potter series of movies, we come to realize he’s not only super powerful but also kind of a wizard genius. By splitting his self into horcruxes and hiding them, he’s able to live forever and terrorize Hogwarts and the wizarding world to his heart’s content. But, of course, then there was The Boy Who Lived.
The Joker in The Dark Knight is perhaps one of the greatest villains in cinematic history. As the pure opposite of Batman, The Joker’s anarchy consistently acts as a foil to Batman’s yearning for order and control. The more the Batman punches and pushes against The Joker, he merely laughs and absorbs his strength, turning it against him. All his intelligent and wacky plans execute perfectly, turning Gotham against each other and corrupting their white knight Harvey Dent into a murderer.
A classic villain of the space epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL 9000 is an intelligent computer onboard Discovery One. He controls and monitors all activities on the spaceship, but over time starts to malfunction, and by that, it essentially thinks for itself. At every turn, HAL fools the crew, making them believe he’s under their control when in fact its the opposite. Eventually, the crew tries to stop HAL, but he continues to disobey, uttering the famous words, “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Verbal Kint in the movie The Usual Suspects is perhaps one of the smartest villains of them all. He is intelligent on several levels. First, he helps plan all of his gang’s heists and ambushes. He also fools people into thinking he’s weak by pretending to have cerebral palsy. And he infiltrates the leader Keaton by emotionally becoming his friend and confidant. No one suspects Verbal, not even the detective questioning his story. And that’s where one of the greatest twists in movie history comes in, Verbal Kint is Kaiser Soze.
Oliver and Cheryl Lang
In the movie Arlington Road, Jeff Bridges’ character Michael Faraday teaches a class about terrorists and conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, he suspects his neighbors Oliver and Cheryl Lang are up to no good. Except, he has no idea of their ultimate goals. As each layer of the onion is peeled, it becomes rather clear Oliver and Cheryl Lang are crazy masterminds setting Michael Faraday up. He easily falls into their master plan, and everything goes exactly as they want.
In Inception, Cobb is a master thief, able to hack into anyone’s dreams and steal valuable secrets. However, turns out, his greatest enemy is his own wife, Mal, who haunts his own dreams every waking moment. In every mission, Mal acts as a wrench in his well-tuned engine until she finally drags him down into oblivion where there’s no way out.
In Captain America: Civil War, many of the Avengers adventures go too far, costing more innocent lives. With the Avengers divided over the Sokovia Accords, Zemo uses this to his advantage and frames Bucky/The Winter Soldier as a terrorist. Controlling Bucky with code words, Zemo continues to drive a wedge between Captain America and Iron Man until they finally duke it out at the end. Zemo’s ultimate goal is to break them up entirely. By the end, he’s arguably successful.
Perhaps one of the most notorious villains in modern time, Hannibal Lecter is so smart, he moves and manipulates people behind the confines of a small cell. While Clarice Starling thinks she’s using Lecter for his insight and notes about a serial killer, Lecter is actually using her. By the end, he’s home free and calls Starling, saying if she doesn’t chase him, he won’t go after her.
In Seven, two detectives track down a serial killer who kills people that violate the seven deadly sins. They don’t know the serial killer’s name so he goes by John Doe. John Doe is always miles ahead of the detectives. Even when they catch him, they’re only falling into his devious scheme to finalize the last sin. In the end, once he opens the box, Doe forces Mills to make a choice: kill him or let him go.
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