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10 best Disney movie villains

It took me about 20 years, but I finally figured out where my strange cinematic attraction to the lyin’, cheatin’, stealin’, no-good, lowdown tricksters, sheisters and baddies comes from.

Walt Disney, if you’re eavesdropping from the Great Disney Vault in the Sky, I blame you for this.

Disney, you see, got me hooked on villains at an early age (“The Sword in the Stone” remains My First, so naturally it holds a special place in my heart). And not just one kind of villain — all kinds. The mind reels at the sheer volume of creative and unique villains Disney films have introduced over the years. They range from the purely evil (Scar, Shan-Yu, Cruella De Vil) to the snarky tricksters (Jafar, Prince John) to the just plain cool (what’s cooler than a pirate?). When it comes to cranking out new and exciting villains, Disney has — or at least had — the market shaking and quaking in the corner.

And now, coasting in on a killer wave of nostalgia, let’s take a look at the great Disney villains of the past half-century or so:


1. Scar, “The Lion King”


It goes without saying that plotting the death of your own brother while leading your young nephew to believe it was his fault sends you straight to the top of the Cold-Hearted Snake Ladder of Villainy.


2. Cruella De Vil, “101 Dalmations”


Plainly put, any woman who’d stuff puppies in a sack, drown them and then use their skins to make a coat is right up there with Michael Myers in terms of sheer ruthlessness.


3. Maleficent, “Sleeping Beauty”


Because anybody who can pull off lines like “You poor simple fools. Thinking you could defeat me, ME! The Mistress of All Evil!” while looking so effortlessly sleek and stunning deserves the utmost respect. And fear.


4. Shan-Yu, “Mulan”

ShanYuImage02-200Hulking, skulking marauder and village torcher Shan-Yu, with his total lack of morality and anything resembling compassion, will put the fear of the Huns in you (and a few arrows in your back, too).


5. Shere Kahn + Kaa, “The Jungle Book”


kaaWhat we have here is a perfect combination of brute strength (Shere Kahn, all claws and big, pointy, nasty teeth) and unfathomable cunning (Kaa, unafraid to dust off that Snake in the Garden routine). Disney knows better than to sully the perfect odd couple.


6. Ursula, “Little Mermaid”


Part made man/wiseguy, part behind-the-scenes mastermind and schemer, part wise soothsayer — is there anything Ursual the Sea Witch can’t do? Of course not. It’s not fair, but life’s tough, innit?


7. Jafar, “Aladdin”


There are gangland enforcer-type villains, and then there are soliloquizing, sarcastic loonies like Jafar, reedy evil geniuses who pull the strings from behind the curtain. It’s badness without the beefcake-ishness.


8. Prince John, “Robin Hood”


Bad guys who find time to sling out witty repartee in-between running amock and perpetrating bouts of skullduggery? So much more intriguing than the lamebrained strongarms.


9. Madam Mim, “The Sword in the Stone”


Crazed sorcerers are hard to beat (see No. 3 on this list), particularly when they have a penchant for shapeshifting and know their way around some hard-core alliteration.


10. Captain Hook, “Peter Pan”


He’s a pirate (you know, eyepatch, parrot on the shoulder, “avast ye landlubbers!”?) with a hook for a hand. Need I say more?

Honorable mentions: The Evil Stepmother, “Cinderella”; Queen/Witch, “Snow White”; Hunter, “The Fox and the Hound”

29 Responses

  1. What about the hunter in BAMBI? Ya never see the guy, but he sure did make a lot of kids awful sad by killing poor Bambi’s mom.

    Oh, and Hades in HERCULES would make my list too…purely on dry wit (“Is this an audience or a mosaic?”

    In other news, what’s a fellow blogger gotta do to get added to your blogroll?

    • Minor oversight — you will be added forthwith!

      I thought about the hunter in “Bambi,” but he (or she) is so anonymous we can’t form a connection.

      • Thanks!

        As for the hunter, what about the notion that the anonymity of the hunter makes him/her even scarier? It’s just this unknown force that comes in and wrecks some poor little deer’s life.

        Kinda like the truck driver in DUEL…but y’know…without the truck.

  2. Damn, they’re all so good. But I think Gaston deserves a spot somewhere…and maybe the Witch from Snow White [best character]. But spot on with Scar, such a tortured man [lion]. Good character all round.

    • Scar’s got some bad jujumagumbo, alright. He’s bad to the core and he doesn’t change — thank heavens for that, because I HATE IT when scriptwriters try to pull that he-don’t-feel-so-evil-no-more wool over our eyes.

  3. I absolutely heart this list, and even more so agree with it. Scar is a purely terrifying villain animated or no, along with Cruella. Disney just doesn’t make their big bads like they used to!

    • Yeah, I simply can’t believe any villains could be more evil than the lion who kills his own brother and a woman who DROWNS PUPPIES. I mean, dear God.

  4. I saw you had this list last night, but I decided to do some pleasure delaying and read it today – its a bit like not peeking when Santa comes into the room.
    and I have to say, Im not disappointed. cracking list.
    glad you mentioned Jafar, one of the great villains.
    special shout out to Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove, which I consider to be one of the forgotten Disney gems of recent years. I honestly believe it’s up there with Aladdin – its a really funny movie.

    • Jafar belongs to that class of Disney villains I refer to as Snarky Schemers — you know, the ones who disarm the do-gooders with quips instead of weapons. Sometimes they are more fun than they are scary, but, hey, evil genius is still evil.

  5. The real Villains, Disney themselves. Without getting into the messages they are sending to children and the gross over commercialization they preach. They started one on the biggest myths of the 20th century in order to rescue the production of a documentary.

    Everyone knows lemmings commit suicide right? Well they don’t Disney made the whole thing up. It all began with Oscar winning nature documentary ‘White Wilderness’. The film promised to show “never-before-seen footage” of a lemming migration and suicide. The reason it was “never-before-seen” was simply because it never happened. Lemmings only migrate when the population grows too big for its surroundings, during these migrations (like with any migration) a few may accidentally die. To create the illusion the filmmakers purchased lemmings from Inuit children and imported from Manitoba to Alberta, Canada where they were filming. They then placed them on a large snow-covered turntable and spun it around filming the “migration/suicide” as they fell off.

    That aside, I think Toy Story is the only Disney animation I have managed to watch from start to finish.

    End of rant!

    • Looks like I hit a sore spot there! That was quite a rant. Anyone seen my head? Oh, there it is … over there, on that platter. Somehow it got lopped off.

      I kid. I’m sure Disney has perpetrated all sorts of underhanded deeds — including sneaking in that priest’s decidedly, uh, enlarged belt buckle in “Little Mermaid” — but my childhood was informed, for better or worse, by these films. And I’ll argue vehemently that the one thing Disney has done well (in the past, at least) is create great, timeless villains.

      • That must be someone else’s head on a platter, yours is caught somewhere in my throat after I bit it off yesterday! Sorry I didn’t warn you I have a first class honours degree in ranting and one of my favourite subjects is Disney. I feel another one coming on:

        I would suggest the reason Disney villains are so memorable is that they exist in a very “black and white”, “right and wrong”, “good and evil” world, in which the hero’s goodness is beyond reproach but can only be expressed by having a memorable and evil villain to play off. The villain has to find redemption or come to a sticky end. In the real world sometimes the good guy doesn’t win, sometimes there isn’t even a good guy, which is far more interesting and realistic. Disney films are as bad for kids as none competitive sports, “you won last time, it’s someone else’s turn to win now!” End of rant number two.

        By the way the greatest of their crimes, far worse than any moral issue or message is making really cheesy films that people are afraid to criticize!

      • Maybe I should clarify, Fandango: I’m not the least bit afraid to criticize Disney films. “Cinderella,” “Snow White” and “Sleeping Beauty” all push the same insulting message: Women are just a-waitin’ around to be rescued by A Good Man. Or should be. W-R-O-N-G. There are very few flawless films in the world, and I don’t think Disney has produced any on that short list.

        And I hate to say it, but why look for realism in a Disney film? That’s like — to quote Cher Horowitz — searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie. Disney’s pure fantasy and wish fulfillment; it’s about creating the illusion of a perfect world where good trumps evil, love conquers all, bad guys always get their comeuppance … all that crap. Every once in a great while, I don’t mind wish fulfillment. I’ve got movies like “The Station Agent,” “Trees Lounge” and “Requiem for a Dream” if I need a whopping dose of reality.

        Eek … that’s a lot of ranting for two days. I’m beat. Truce? Also, I need my head today — I’m getting a haircut shortly. 😀

  6. Great list, totally agree that no character other than Scar could have been top of that list !!!

  7. Rant free response this time I promise. Well I’ll try!

    First and foremost my comment about being afraid to criticize Disney films was directed at reviewers in general and not you. To see what I mean take a look at reviews of disney films in mainstream media, even the worst ones get okay reviews. The Quite good ones get amazing reviews. That was close I nearly went into rant number three! I have no problem with fantasy. I enjoy many, horror, sci fi and fantasy films I just find Disney to be poor examples of the genre with questionable morals aimed at the most impressionable minds. Finally, I am not a conspiracy theorist who things Disney is pure evil, I wouldn’t give them that much credit.

    Hope the haircut goes well!

  8. I have to throw in my two cents, being an avid Disney fan. How about Frollo from Disney’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME? Certainly one of the most complex and haunted villains of the canon. I think Maleficent has to be my favorite, though, for being inexplicably evil through and through. 🙂

    • Interesting choice … hadn’t thought about Frollo. It’s been too long since I’ve seen “Hunchback.” But I’m certainly a fan of “evil through and through”!

  9. […] They range from the purely evil (Scar, Shan-Yu, Cruella De Vil) to the snarky tricksters (Jafar, Prince John) to the just plain cool (what’s cooler than a pirate?). When it comes to cranking out new and exciting villains, Disney has …This Post […]

  10. Awesome list, M! I’m torn between Ursula and Maleficent, they’re both so marvelously evil! But Maleficent probably wins, that voice and just how elegantly she moves. When I saw The Devil Wears Prada, I thought Meryl Streep’s character must be inspired by her! I like Scar too, voiced to perfection by Jeremy Irons!

    I agree with your sentiment “And I hate to say it, but why look for realism in a Disney film? That’s like — to quote Cher Horowitz — searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie. Disney’s pure fantasy and wish fulfillment…” That’s why those movies are called fairy tales… The stinker is today’s rom-coms STILL follow this derogatory formula (have you seen the Leap Year trailer? Ugh!) that should’ve been left to cartoon characters!

    • Maleficent is certainly the more attractive villainess Disney has yet created. She even rocks the green skin. I can see her being inspiration for Miranda in “Devil Wears Prada,” but I think there’s a bit of Cruella De Vill in there, too.

  11. […] View original here:  10 best bDisney movie/b villains « M. Carter @ the bMovies/b […]

  12. This post is scaring me a bit…although I have to admit that I am slightly attracted to Hook…is there something wrong with me?

  13. This is a fantastic list. Thanks to Ross for shouting out to Yzma though- that was my first thought when I read this post- she’s a great villain, but was sort of lost in the Disney’s-declining-and-doesn’t-know-what-to-do-with-themselves phase. She’s got some awesome lines, though. Also, everyone forgets about him, but Mr. Clayton from Tarzan deserves some sort of creepy stalker you-think-he’s-good-but-really-he-blows type recognition. Absolutely terrifying to see as a nine-year-old. I wouldn’t put either of them on the top ten list, but I thought both deserved mention.

    Oh, and fucking Susan Sarandon in Enchanted. Complete. Total. Badass. I don’t care if she’s supposed to be a combination of all the Disney villains put into one- I absolutely love Narissa.

  14. very very cool list… but c’mon Captain Hook is #10?.. I can’t wait to see Princess & the Frog next week… Oh have you checked out Sleeping Beauty on Blu-Ray… it is absolutely an unreal experience!

    • Go ahead and brand me old-fashioned, but I don’t own a Blu-Ray player. Nope, it’s just me and my plain ole’ Symphonic DVD/VCR combo. The minute I win the lottery, though, I’ll be happy to replace all my DVDs (I lost count after 200) with Blu-Rays.

      I like Captain Hook, but he’s just not as scary or “evil genius’y” to me as the others on this list, particularly Jafar or Kaa the Python.

  15. As an honorable mention I would nominate the horned king from “The Black Cauldron.” The dude is a living skeleton and is creepy as all get out. It’s true that the movie itself is not very good, especially when compared to the source material, but that guy and his army of “Cauldron Born” deserve mention based on their physical appearance alone.

  16. […] M. Carter, who is slowly becoming one of my favorite blogs to follow, has taken a moment to rattle off her Top Ten Disney Villains. […]

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