The best video game villains have the ability to completely transform an experience. Games can be memorable for a great many reasons, but the most iconic gaming villains can be powerful. Whether they are otherworldly aliens, brash robots, or just a really tall vampire lady, a charismatic villain can stick in the mind unlike anything else.
The best video game villains are one of the reasons we still talk about adventures like Far Cry 3 and System Shock 2 all these years later. Why Silent Hill 2 is held up as a legendary horror experience, and why the phrase “would you kindly…” still has the ability to generate chills. Whether it’s the way they play off of the best video game heroes or work to leave us utterly terrified, here is our pick of the best video game villains of all-time.
25. LeChuck (The Secret of Monkey Island)
LeChuck has been it all. He’s been a ghost, a zombie, a demon, a pirate, a human, and a right pain in the ass. This Monkey Island villain is incredibly adaptable and often not that smart, which makes him even more interesting when it comes to his villainy. Obsessed with a woman and getting revenge on the man who keeps messing up his dastardly plans, he’s constantly popping up as some version of himself or another. He’s like Monkey Island’s Davy Jones, an evil pirate hellbent on making your life miserable. In other words, an icon.
24. Dr. Wily (Mega Man)
Mad scientists are pretty standard fare, but Dr. Wily brings a certain flair to his evil schemes. He builds or repurposes armies of robots, installs elite bosses into each base, and still finds time to construct a multi-leveled lair and his own super-powered vehicle. No matter how many times Mega Man destroys Wily’s machines (and their boss rush backups), the bad doctor soon returns with even fancier creations. He also built Zero, a hyper-advanced android that rivals future Mega Man models, cementing his legacy as one as one of the top evil geniuses of 20XX and beyond.
23. Kerrigan (StarCraft)
What we have here is the classic “chosen one turned intergalactic threat to all life.” Kerrigan, betrayed by her own people and left to die, becomes the corrupted leader of the hive-minded Zerg, with tentacle dreadlocks, boney wings, and a near-limitless army at her disposal. And she’s out for revenge in the way only the leader of a massive army could be: with war and total annihilation on her mind. Kerrigan may ultimately flip back and forth between the sides of good and evil across StarCraft’s long saga, but everything she does has an imposing regality befitting the Queen of Blades.
22. Savathun, the Witch Queen (Destiny 2)
Destiny 2’s latest expansion, the Witch Queen has gripped players in a way previous expansions have been unable to. Savathun is a Hive god, the sister to Xivu Arath and the Taken King. She is raising an army of Hive Guardians after having possessed iconic Destiny 2 character Osiris for an entire season (and he was partially conscious during it, which is awful). She’s been around in some way for quite a while, giving players an incredible payoff when she finally arrives. Players have forged a relationship with her, getting emotionally invested in Savathun with mixed feelings, unsure of how they feel about her and her plans. All roads lead to Savathun, who can’t be trusted as far as you can throw her (and you can’t throw her). It helps that Savathun is voiced by voice acting royalty Debra Wilson, who makes her manipulation all the more sinister and believable.
21. Bloody Mary (The Wolf Among Us)
She may not be the true Big Bad of The Wolf Among Us, but Fables’ Bloody Mary is a brilliant take on the haunting folk tale. With her cool, snide demeanor and the raw strength to break Bigsby’s bones, Mary is the muscle that keeps the Crooked Man in power. She’s a true sadist, drawing out fights to inflict as much pain as possible, and has the uncanny ability to teleport through any reflective surface (just like you imagined in grade school). Mary’s true form is also terrifying to behold, with her shark-like teeth, blood seeping from her eyes, and shards of mirror piercing her flesh all over. If you see Bloody Mary in your reflection, you’re not long for this world.
20. The Illusive Man (Mass Effect 3)
It’s trivially easy to draw lines between the Illusive Man’s ‘human first’ beliefs and reactionary ‘Your-Nation-Here first’ politics, so let’s skip that. The Illusive Man’s a good villain because he’s one of those exceedingly rare bad guys who doesn’t underestimate the forces of good. The Illusive Man knows exactly what Shepard can do, which is why he goes through all the effort of resurrecting the commander’s burnt-up, frozen corpse. The Illusive Man knows there’s a decent chance that Shepard will turn against him, but he also knows that’s just a risk he has to take if his greater plans are ever to succeed. The ending of Mass Effect 3 squanders much of the character’s complexity by revealing him to be another power-hungry, Reaper-indoctrinated mook, but at least Martin Sheen’s vocal performance remains strong throughout.
19. Shao Kahn (Mortal Kombat)
There are plenty of bad guys in the Mortal Kombat games, but the Emperor of Outworld, Shao Kahn, takes the wickedness cake. He’s so malevolent that he doesn’t just march his armies over the worlds he wants to enslave – he plays games with them first. He taunts humanity, saying if mankind can win his fight-to-the-death martial arts tournament, he’ll leave Earthrealm alone (alas, that has never happened in the history of ever). If, by some miracle, a fighter defeats all of the Emperor’s minions, he must then fight Shao Kahn himself. Between his massive hammer that materializes from nowhere and his incessant shoulder bashing, he can be quite the real-life rage-inducer. It’s no wonder that nary a single realm has ever won his tournament.
18. Alma (F.E.A.R.)
The best villains aren’t always the all-powerful, conquering, resolutely evil types. Some of the most captivating and enduring adversaries are the ambiguous, nuanced ones who aren’t just there to be feared, but understood. Alma is one of the best of this category. Her actions are undeniably nightmarish and vengeful, but unlike many antagonists, she has genuinely justifiable things to avenge. Abused and brutalized from early childhood as a result of powers that were no fault of her own, she effectively had her life vetoed from birth by scientists arguably more sinister than she. Thus, while Alma remains a consistently terrifying, profoundly unsettling presence – and a very real supernatural danger – she’s just one element of a whole ecosystem of mutually perpetuating horrors, and ultimately one you’ll entirely sympathize with just as you nervously try to dodge her ghostly advances.
17. Handsome Jack (Borderlands 2)
Handsome Jack is a classic villain. Well-spoken, intelligent – even charming, in a way. But there’s no mistaking that he’s utterly evil with it all. He thinks nothing of killing people or animals. Brilliantly, he lives in a Death Star-style satellite in the shape of an H (which stands for his beloved Hyperion Corporation), which is always visible in the sky, especially when it’s firing lasers down onto the planets surface. And there’s no more nefarious way to flaunt one’s endless wealth than buying a pony made of diamonds and naming it Butt Stallion.
16. Lady Dimitrescu (Resident Eva Village)
Lady Dimitrescu is an example of a villain outshining its hero. The conversation surrounding Resident Evil Village was almost entirely about her, the mutant human lording over peasants in the village surrounding her castle. The incredibly tall (and attractive) Dimitrescu joined the cult of Mother Miranda, where she was implanted with a parasite that gave her the ability to regenerate and also turn into an giant dragon-woman. Lady D and her daughters are sensual and murderous, ruthless and a little bit unhinged – in other words, iconic.
15. Kefka (Final Fantasy 6)
Kefka is the most beautifully realized, nuanced, off-kilter, and flat-out terrifying villain in the entire history of Final Fantasy. He might not be a genetically modified, single-minded supersoldier or an omnipotent sorcerer capable of bending time and space to his will, but that’s exactly why he’s so scary. Kefka is a big bundle of psychosis and very human frailties, clawing together every last scrap of (ultimately apocalyptic) power he gains through his own desperate rage. Long before that point though, he was still the most effortlessly cruel of all Final Fantasy bad guys, poisoning a besieged towns water supply even after the battle was all but won. Following that, he brought about the end of the world as a casual side-effect of his ultimate grasp for power, then spent the days after the end of days nihilistically torturing and destroying the world’s put-upon survivors simply for his own amusement. A horrific, anarchic nightmare of a man/god, Kefka is regardless far from unrelatable. Essentially an angry, petulant toddler in the body of an apocalyptic harbinger of destruction, underneath his countless atrocities there always lay a scared, sad, out-of-control kid just trying to make sense of his lot.
14. Revolver Ocelot (Metal Gear Solid)
This guy’s name is already so deliciously over-the-top that you know he’s going to be a good villain from the jump. Revolver Ocelot has depth, he has character, he exhibits conflicting behaviors – at first he was a bit of a stand-in for a bad guy but since he has evolved into an incredibly intriguing character. He’s a cowboy, sure, but he’s also a double agent, always double-crossing someone or another. It’s his charisma that helps him get away with it, as he’s so dang slick you won’t realize he’s manipulating you until it’s too late. His journey and ever-shifting status make him a fantastic villain.
13. M. Bison (Street Fighter 5)
Vega, Master Bison, Dictator – no matter what you call him, anyone who harnesses the destructive might of Psycho Power energy has got to be bad news. The leader of Shadaloo is one of the most malicious baddies of all time, scheming to conquer the world whenever he isn’t stomping his boots atop his opponent’s skull. He also embraces malevolence on the smaller scale, including (but not limited to): capturing and torturing Ryu, brainwashing Ken, murdering Chun-Li’s dad, killing Guile’s best friend, and abducting teenage girls, including Cammy, to be part of his indoctrinated Dolls assassins. Most people don’t commit those kinds of atrocities in a lifetime of evil – but for Bison, it was a typical Tuesday.
12. The Joker (Batman: Arkham Knight)
It’s not simply The Joker’s psychosis, disregard for all forms of life, or sense of total anarchic freedom that makes him frightening – although they do allow him to operate on a level Batman can never tackle directly. Joker is a powerful enemy not because he’s so different from Batman, but because the two are such fundamentally similar. They act as skewed mirror images of each other, giving the other a purpose that the Dark Knight could never have without his counterpart. That strangely symbiotic relationship is brought to the forefront in Arkham Knight, developing the Joker even further as he inhabits the dark recesses of Batman’s brain.
11. Sephiroth (Final Fantasy 7)
It must not be fun to find out your existence is merely the result of a scientific experiment, so it makes sense that Sephiroth was a tad bit upset. Unfortunately for everyone on the planet, said experiment involved Sephiroth getting injected with the cells of an alien as a fetus, meaning he grew to be super powerful and thought himself a god. Sephiroth’s master swordsmanship and immense strength made him a formidable foe, and his eerily calm demeanor is terrifying to behold. Of course, his heinous actions were a critical component to his fame. The burning of Nibelheim, the attempted murder of Tifa, the actual murder of Aerith, and the fact that he summoned a huge meteor and set it on a crash course with Gaia give you plenty of incentive to put him down once and for all. Plus, his theme song (opens in new tab) still gives us chills.
10. SHODAN (System Shock 2)
Long before GLaDOS existed, SHODAN was the feminine AI to fear. Her ever-watchful presence on the Von Braun spaceship means you have nowhere to hide, and she has a similar penchant for making you her personal lapdog in between scathing taunts. But what makes SHODAN so exceptional is her relation to the player. You created her, and she’s still plotting to kill you even during times of reluctant alliance. SHODAN didn’t just sit around while The Hacker was sleeping in cryostasis, either – she conducted biological experiments that spawned parasitic entities, which then proceeded to kill or possess all your crewmates. That’s gratitude for you.
9. Dr. Robotnik (Sonic the Hedgehog)
If we were to go down the villain checklist, Sonic’s arch-nemesis Dr. Robotnik (or Dr. Eggman to some) would cover all of the bases. He’s an evil genius, has dreams of world domination, is a master of robotics, and likes to steal really big jewels. But the main thing that makes him stand out from the crowd is his complete and utter disdain for the adorable, fluffy creatures of Sonic’s world. Robuttnik doesn’t use gasoline or battery power to run his mechanical contraptions; he enslaves rabbits, squirrels, and birds, then shoves them in robots designed to kill that speedy blue hedgehog. Who knows what horrors those cute little animals have to endure in those machines. PETA would have a field day with Dr. Robotnik’s amounts of animal cruelty.
8. Pyramid Head (Silent Hill 2)
Silent Hill 2 is ultimately an introspective journey about fighting personal demons, but you have a much more real threat in Pyramid Head. He appears sporadically throughout the game, brutalizing anything in front of him as he silently stalks the hallways of Silent Hill. Equipped with just a spear, perplexing headgear, and seemingly unending fortitude, Pyramid Head looks as creepy as anything in the game, but he has the power to back up his threatening looks. The implications of what his grotesque appearance and detestable actions mean for James Sunderland’s psyche are dire indeed.
7. Vaas Montenegro (Far Cry 3)
There’s a reason that Vaas became the poster boy for the entire Far Cry franchise, despite only appearing in Far Cry 3 – and it’s not his taste in tank tops. He gives good crazy like no one else, all thanks to his voice actor Michael Mando and a monologue about insanity that was inspired by Albert Einstein. A drug trafficker, pirate, and kidnapper, Vaas also enjoys enslaving his fellow islanders, and meets the game’s hero Jason Brody when he catches the gap year gang and throws them into his prison camp. Of all the villains on this list, Vaas is among the ones you might actually prefer to the bland, white bread hero you’re playing as – even if he might set you on fire or shoot you in the knee during on one of his bad days.
6. Andrew Ryan (BioShock)
While there are plenty of video game antagonists that have commanded our fear, few actually demanded our respect. Andrew Ryan is the rare villain that does both. Building a sprawling metropolis at the bottom of the sea is a triumphant display of hubris, and though Rapture was a failed experiment that cost thousands of people their lives, its ambition is admirable. Ryan wanted to do something crazy, and he almost made it work. That, alone, is worth acclaim. But with his passion comes a dark, dangerous side. Andrew Ryan makes it clear throughout the game that he’s a man, and you’re a slave. You obey orders, you do what you’re told, you follow anyone with a radio and a “would you kindly.” He, on the other hand, is a man who does what he wants – even if that is to demand you beat him to death with a golf club. In the end, his stubbornness leads to his demise, making for one of gaming’s most complex characters.
5. Albert Wesker (Resident Evil)
Wesker is known for a scarred psyche, superhuman strength and speed, and a sexy pair of sunglasses. And despite being one of the more cartoonish adversaries in an otherwise grim franchise, you can’t help but love Wesker’s unbridled megalomania. He led the S.T.A.R.S. team in the original Resident Evil, but was a double agent for Umbrella. Wesker soon struck out on his own, making brief appearances in the next four Resident Evil sequels, continually plotting and scheming. By Resident Evil 5, he was ready to unleash a global viral infection as well as kill former teammates Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. It took hundreds of bullets, two rockets, and an entire volcano to stop him, but we won’t soon forget the man in black.
4. Ganon (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild)
Unlike many of the other villains on this list, Ganon’s strength isn’t in his characterization. The only things you ever need to know about Ganon are that he’s evil, he wants to rule the world, and Link and Zelda are the only ones who can stop him. Ganon’s strength is his mutability. Somewhere between taking over Hyrule as a Gerudo king in Ocarina of Time and haunting the castle as Calamity Ganon in Breath of the Wild, it became clear that Ganon isn’t meant to be a single, defined character. Ganon is evil. Like evil in our own world, Ganon can never be completely contained or eliminated. He’ll always appear again in a new form suited to subverting the peaceful ways that arise in his temporary absence. But no matter how great his power seems, when people unite and rise against him, Ganon’s true form (a shrieking, orange-haired, overgrown swine) will be revealed and beaten back once more.
3. Frau Engel (Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus)
Being a Nazi automatically ensures you’re the actual worst and deserve to go straight to the bad place, but somehow Frau Irene Engel manages to be the most monstrous character in a game that features Adolf Hitler. She’s a sociopathic but backseat character in Wolfenstein: The New Order, at least until you get to her with (spoiler warning) a big robot – but in the sequel she’s legit nightmare fuel. In Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus (opens in new tab), it’s not her mangled face that makes her so abhorrent – a result of your last encounter with her – it’s her sadistic streak that twists every interaction. Watching her with her daughter Sigrun (one of her six children) is especially unnerving, a touch of humanity making her all the more real, and all the more frightening for it.
2. Bowser (Super Mario Bros.)
In terms of sheer staying power, nobody beats Bowser. The King Koopa has been a thorn in Mario’s side almost as long as games have existed, and he’s almost always the reason for trouble in the Mushroom Kingdom. Even when he’s not the main villain (Super Paper Mario, for example), he still manages to make a grand entrance and let his presence be known. He’s not particularly violent, nor has he destroyed the world like some other entries on this list. His motives are often left unclear: sometimes he wants to marry Princess Peach, sometimes he wants to rule the Mushroom Kingdom, sometimes he abducts fairies or living hats. And he’s pretty much always handed his tail at the end of the day. But his simple, classic design is unmistakable, and for a cartoon dragon turtle, he’s pretty intimidating. Other villains may be badder, but few are more iconic than Bowser.
1. GLaDOS (Portal)
“Didn’t we have some fun though? Remember when the platform was sliding into the fire pit and I said ‘Goodbye,’ and you were like ‘No way!’ And then I was all, ‘We pretended we were going to murder you.’ That was great.” Quotes like that are what pushed GLaDOS to number one on our best video game villains list. Your journey through the various perils of Aperture Labs wouldn’t have been the same without the snarky, autotuned commentary of the one-eyed robot, and her wicked intentions both in the original Portal and Portal 2 were equal parts hilarious and horrifying. We’d love to see her make a return in any kind of Portal sequel (though we’re aware that’s probably never going to happen). Until then, we’ll continue to sing “Still Alive (opens in new tab)” and reminisce almost fondly on that time she went evil in Portal and then made a deadly return in the sequel. Just don’t mention the cake.