Best TV Show Villains Of All Time | TheReviewGeek Recommends

The foundational pillars of a good plot comes from a memorable or threatening antagonist. They have the power to either improve or ruin a tale, and the existence of a story’s main premise is frequently due to them. Like many elements involved in creating a captivating protagonist, an excellent antagonist also requires multifaceted components.

Many plots fall short of creating a compelling antagonist because they fail to assemble the essential elements. Weak antagonists typically lack motivation, and intensity, and are simply evil or malicious. These storylines prove inadequate because they don’t give the audience a chance to experience an internal struggle that would test their belief systems.

If an antagonist is presented as simply evil for no apparent reason, the audience is left with very little to consider, which harms the narrative’s quality, making it stereotypical and oversimplified.

Good stories don’t portray one side of a debate as evil. If the antagonist is only recognized as the bad side in the narrative, the debate is skewed from the beginning. Interesting antagonists make strong cases that expose a fatal flaw in the protagonist’s reasoning.

There has never been a lack of classic killers, con artists, masterminds, mobsters, alien attacks, malevolent entities, drug lords, or even just plain old detached household members who can use words as proficiently as they can use physical force in television history. There are so many deserving nemeses in television; and below we highlight some of our favourites. The antagonists chosen are definitely among the best of the worst.

Jim Moriarty (Sherlock)

Although it wasn’t created for television, so much about BBC’s “Sherlock” qualified as a contemporary retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary masterpiece. As the main protagonist Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. John Watson performed brilliantly. However, the most entertaining character in this series has to be Moriarty, Holmes’ arch-enemy.

Andrew Scott, best known for his performance as the attractive priest in Fleabag, plays Jim Moriarty flawlessly. He succeeds to infuse the role with malice, Machiavellianism, and all of the facets necessary to make the villain unforgettable. He serves as the ideal villain, with his stoned facial expressions, dead eyes, cold body language, and nonchalantly chaotic dialogue delivery.

Jim Moriarty is infamously the globe’s only “consulting criminal”, which appears to be a position designed to ridicule his sworn enemy Sherlock Holmes. He knocks it out of the park with dialogues like, “Every fairytale requires a good old-fashioned villain”, “You need me or you’re nothing” and “miss me?” to quote a few. For his own amusement, he begins toying with Holmes to solve scripted riddles, with failure resulting in the death of captives. After unveiling himself to Sherlock during one of the show’s greatest moments, he managed to continue to torment and torture the renowned detective, even stealing the Crown Jewels to pull him out into the streets.

Hannibal Lecter (Hannibal)

Several antagonists have been very successful in inciting our hatred and compassion at the same time. Even though there are many different kinds of antagonists, psychopaths very often appear at the top due to how cold-hearted they can be. One such example of an antihero is Hannibal Lecter.

By the time this show debuted, Hannibal Lecter had already demonstrated himself as a renowned cinematic antagonist. Although it may make him cling to people’s minds more, it is a rather challenging task to reconstruct such an outstanding character.

Regardless of the pressure, Mads Mikkelsen devised his own interpretation of Lecter, giving him a combination of charisma, intellectual prowess, and menace. Furthermore, it was his complicated relationship with the series’ protagonist, Will Graham, that made him such a disturbing and promising antagonist.

The Joker (Batman: The Animated Series)

There have been a number of different iterations of Joker through the years, including Heath Ledger’s infamous portrayal, Joaquin Phoenix’s most recent iteration and Jack Nicholson’s big screen blockbuster. However, Mark Hamill’s voice acting for the animated series of Batman managed to elevate the small-screen version of the infamous clown to massive heights.

Much like the comic book iteration, The Joker is unhinged, surprisingly comedic and, on more than one occasion, absolutely chaotic in his quest to stop Batman and Robin.

Arthur Mitchell (Dexter)

There has never been an absence of antagonists in Dexter because the protagonist of the story is a killer who hunts down other criminals. But Arthur Mitchell, also known as the Trinity Killer, is one who undoubtedly stands out.

Mitchell, a frightening murderer who ends up becoming Dexter’s upcoming target, was portrayed by John Lithgow in yet another brilliant antagonist role. Dexter manages to find Arthur leading a reasonably ordinary existence as a decent man and a local leader as he continues to look into this person. However, Mitchell takes catastrophic vengeance when Dexter gets close, making this one of the most disturbing scenes in the tv series.

T-Bag (Prison Break)

The series’ first episode, which premiered about eight years ago, became a massive success. This popularity can be largely attributed to its interesting characters, one of whom was so fine in a guest appearance that he ended up getting a permanent role.

T-Bag is a devious, violent, and deceitful psychopath who is routinely misjudged by the people around him. He would do anything to achieve his goals and will tolerate nothing standing in his direction. His unflinching attitude and no-holds-barred manner have greatly contributed to the success of the show.

Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)

At the commencement of the series, Tony is a member of the gang leaders and the unwritten mob boss of the New Jersey-based DiMeo crime family; he later succeeds as the group’s sole leader. In addition, he serves as the head of the family.

Throughout the entire series, Tony faces challenges to strike a balance between the demands of his household and the Mobster he is in charge of. Because of this man’s excellence, the show’s popularity soared quickly in its early years. Tony Soprano’s demeanour continues to be regarded as among the best.

Gus Fring (Breaking Bad)

There is a compelling argument to be put forward that Walter White had been the real antagonist of Breaking Bad. However, when Gus Fring was there, it most definitely didn’t feel that way. Slowly, the seemingly innocent fast food restauranteur turned out to be a real threat.

Fring had the ability to quickly transform from a cordial entrepreneur to a heartless hindrance. He established himself as an antihero who should not be trifled with as Walt watched him coolly cut a man’s throat whilst also looking into his eyes.

Joo Dan-Tae (The Penthouse)

A case could be made for a lot of different people to hit the list for best villains across The Penthouse’s three seasons. Cheon Seo-Jin could easily be included here, as could some of the bratty kids too. However, it’s Chairman Dan-Tae who makes the cut, bringing his slimy resourcefulness and a nonchalant demeanour toward those around him suffering.

As the seasons progress and more of his history is unveiled, Dan-Tae is undoubtedly at the top of antagonists for this makjang!


Al Swearengen  (Deadwood)

Perhaps one of HBO’s most outstanding projects to date is the crude and violent Western Deadwood. Although it is full of nuanced characters, neither of them have the same overall effect as Al Swearengen.

Al is presented as the holder of the neighborhood parlor, but it quickly becomes apparent that he holds more power than he initially appears to have in the town in question. Although he has the capacity to speak and do some truly horrible things, he is such an open book about his selfish and cunning ways that it is difficult not to respect him in certain small significant ways. He is a powerful presence who, whenever he comes on screen, completely takes over the tv series.

Wilson Fisk (Daredevil)

A handful of antagonists are physiologically and spiritually more daunting than this man. Wilson’s living is as empty as a bird’s bone due to a turbulent early life, which was tarnished by his dad’s unprovoked stabbing, as well as the plague of loneliness that drives him away from emotional intimacy.

Prior to Vanessa’s arrival and subsequent change in his life, both wealth and power had proven insufficient. The very first season of Marvel’s “Daredevil” received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics for its unwavering loyalty to the historical record of its subject matter and the character roles.

Critics gave D’Onofrio additional appreciation, with the general sentiment being that Fisk is unquestionably among the darkest characters the folks have ever witnessed.

Boyd Crowder (Justified)

Boyd Crowder is the ideal outcast if Justified is a contemporary interpretation of the Western genre. He also ranks among the antagonists that the viewers could actually pay attention to for several hours because he is so immensely entertaining.

Boyd has a compelling story that runs the length of the series, leaving viewers wondering whether he is actually an antagonist or simply an antihero. That adds to the Western aesthetic of the series because historical outlaws may have thought of themselves as heroic figures but were really just killers.

Joffrey Baratheon (Game Of Thrones)

It’s challenging to pick just one antagonist from Game of Thrones since there are so many. There seems to be one villain, though, who managed to become the most despised on TV – and it is virtually impossible to ignore him.

The pampered and depraved child of King Robert later ascends to the throne and causes chaos; Joffrey is more complex compared to the other whimsical bad guys on GOT. He often harms popular characters in gruesome and sadistic ways, but he also exhibits signs of insecurity and frequently throws hilarious hissy fits while seated on the Iron Throne.

The Daleks (Doctor Who)

A list of best villains would not be complete without the familiar robotic foes of The Doctor. Around since the 60’s, the timelord has done battle with these menacing foes constantly throughout all 13 different regenerations.

Although other foes like the Cybermen and The Master could have made this list, it’s The Daleks who have maintained that aura of menace since they first showed up on our screens.

Homelander (The Boys)

The Boys would not be the success that it is without Homelander. Played by Anthony Starr to perfection, this maniacal, unhinged evil-Superman is undoubtedly a scene-stealer every time he shows up on screen. What makes him so menacing though is that element of unpredictability, making him hard to figure out.

In one scene you could be laughing at his milk-drinking antics, in another empathizing with his troubled childhood or even shocked at his relentlessness, regularly killing people for fun.

The Cigarette Smoking Man (The X-Files)

Fans of the X-Files will fondly remember seeing those familiar wisps of smoke curling into the air, accompanied by a thin sliver of orange embers in the dark. The Cigarette Smoking Man was undoubtedly a big part of The X-Files’ mystery, proving to be a worthy foe for Mulder and Scully across all seasons of this popular sci-fi series.

He not only managed to channel the right level of antagonistic menace, The Cigarette Smoking Man also managed to play his cards close to his chest, making sure to keep plenty of secrets from the FBI duo over the big conspiracy surrounding Mulder’s missing sister.

Mr Burns (The Simpsons)

The Simpsons has a myriad of popular and familiar characters, each with their own catchphrases and quips. However, Mr Burns is undoubtedly the biggest antagonistic threat in The Simpsons. Unless you count the monorail man trying to change Springfield of course!

The two-part episode, “Who Shot Mr Burns?” ended up becoming one of the most iconic episodes in The Simpsons’ history, managing to really show the level of hate thrown his way from various different people across the town.

Heroes Season 1

Sylar (Heroes)

Although Heroes went off the rails following its excellent first season (thanks in part to the writer’s strike), Sylar was one of the biggest reasons for the show’s success. The power-stealing maniac managed to send shivers down our spines on more than one occasion, as he began to acquire more and more powers, growing into a near-unstoppable force at the end of season 1.

The later seasons toyed with Sylar’s allegiance, shifting back and forth between antihero and villain, but in the end Sylar’s first season portrayal of this ice-cold killer is definitely up there with one of the best.

Coach Kim (Sky Castle)

There are a number of different villains in K-drama land that stand out as some of the most menacing. Coach Kim in Sky Castle is arguably one of the best. She not only embodies the damaged, ice-cold queen of manipulation to perfection, she also has a surprisingly poignant redemption arc toward the end of the 20 episodes. If any name deserves an entry on this list, it’s got to be her!

Joon Woo Jang (Vincenzo)

Vincenzo is certainly not without its problems but one of the better parts of this crime drama stems from the unhinged performance of Joon Woo Jang, brought to life by Taecyeon. With a mix of flair, menace and bags of charisma, there are more than a few similarities to The Joker in the way this character was brought to life.

The evil look he gave Vincenzo late on after being humiliated on stage is a definite stand-out moment, while his (Ever-so-slightly homoerotic) scene featuring Woo Jang topless and choking out his associate is a similarly bone-chilling moment. Woo Jang was undoubtedly one of the best parts of this show.

Yoo Jae Myung (Itaewon Class)

Itaewon Class did lose its way toward the second half of its run, meandering through the same repeated plot points and failing, in many ways, to make good on its initial promise for a red-hot revenge tale.

However, Chairman Yoo Jae-Myung, father to equally antagonistic Jang Geun-Won, is a worthy foe for our protagonist  Sae-Ro-Yi.

As Sae-Ro-Yi climbs the ladder to success, Chairman Yoo is there every step of the way to thwart him and his friends. In the end, both characters get a decent resolution, although it’ certainly more surprising than one may be expecting.

The Borg (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Star Trek: The Next Generation is undoubtedly one of the best sci-fi series of all time. Its interesting, thought provoking cases managed to balance politics with drama, showing both sides of the argument rather than sticking to one specific political ideology.

However, the later seasons of the show switched things up, introducing the cold-hearted Borg. Although there have been other villains to thwart Picard and the crew, not to mention Wesley (cue Picard’s trademark “Shut up Wesley!”), the show managed to present the Borg as a massive threat that pushed the crew to its absolute limit.

Benjamin Linus (Lost)

Remember when Lost was the must-watch show on TV? There was a time before Game of Thrones where fans eagerly awaited Sunday nights to roll round to find out exactly what secrets the desert island Jack and the others uncovered. Around season 2, we started to get some answers in the form of Benjamin Linus.

Originally presenting himself as a balloonist called Henry, it was soon revealed that Ben is actually an integral part of the island’s history and a massive thorn in the side of our characters. He too gets a redemption arc toward the and but during the middle portion of the show’s long run, Ben was a big part of Lost’s antagonistic appeal.

Killing Eve Season 2

Villanelle (Killing Eve)

Although Killing Eve ended in a rather subjective way, with a pretty poor ending all round, Villanelle and Eve’s regular verbal and physical duels became a massive part of the show’s success. Sandra Oh did a great job as Eve but it’s undoubtedly Jodie Comer’s portrayal of Villanelle that deserves all the plaudits.

Somehow Villanelle managed to blend both comedy and menace together into an unforgettable portrayal that included plenty of murders and *checks notes* throwing a baby in a public bin.

Angelus (Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel)

Choosing one villain from Buffy the Vampire Slayer for this list is not an easy feat. Spike could very easily take this spot, while big foes like Gloria, The Gentlemen and The Master all deserve a mention. However, it’s the evil Angelus that deserves the spot here, contrasting beautifully to the soft and kindly mannerisms of Angel.

The forbidden romance between Buffy and Angel was a big part of season 2 – and of the show’s mythos to be fair – and the heartbreaking way Buffy’s life was turned upside down thanks to Angelus resurfacing, really changed the balance of power.

Angelus also showed up in Angel too, during season 4’s chaotic (and rather messy) story, adding to the menace and unpredictability.

J.R. Ewing (Dallas)

Played by Larry Hagman, J.R. Ewing’s villainous scheming in Dallas made him an infamous foe to contest with. The amoral oil baron spent much of his time bribing, bullying, blackmailing, womanizing and manipulating everyone in a bid to amass full control of his father’s Ewing Oil Company.

Even after all these years, Ewing stands out as one of the best TV show villains of all time, which is a testament to Hagman’s excellent performance.

So, there we have it, our picks for the best TV show villains through the years. What do you think of our picks? Do you agree? Are there any notable omissions? Let us know in the comments below!

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