As I promised last week, we’re going to talk about the darker side of women on screen: the villains. Some of the best female characters to have graced the screen are villains. Some are violent and crazy, some are just crazy, some are justifiably crazy, and some are just plain awesome. Sure, I could go into a lengthy discussion about the sanity of women as shown in film and TV and what it says about society at large, but that’s not the purpose of this list. This list is just to celebrate some pretty awesome lady villains. To that end, I’ve picked 11 of my favorites to include in this list and have ranked them according to some random standard in my mind. Enjoy!
11. Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Louise Fletcher)
There is nothing scarier than someone in a position of power who is more than happy to abuse said power. This is, apparently, a theme that I’ll be coming back to as this list continues. Nurse Ratched was the head administrative nurse at the mental institution in which the protagonist finds himself. She was brutally effective with an emphasis on the word brutal. As long as her patients stayed in line, no one questioned her definitely questionable methods. After all, she really meant well, right?
10. Cersei Lannister from “Game of Thrones” (Lena Headey)
One of the sassiest queens on TV, Cersei Lannister is devoted to her family (more or less). In some cases, disturbingly so. With a single-minded focus that she and her incest-begotten progeny survive, she has gone to great and awful lengths to ensure their safety. You’ve got to hand it to a woman so cunning and devious. She’s managed to survive thusfar in Westeros and that’s a lot.
9. Harley Quinn from “Batman: The Animated Series” (Arleen Sorkin)
It must have been something special for the folks who came up with Harley Quinn to see their creation be added to official comics canon. She was so well-received by the audience that she’s now one of the most enduring and well-known female characters in the DC line-up. Introduced as just another of the Joker’s henchmen, Harley rose to just about be the second in command of his operation. Well, as much as the Joker had seconds in command. Batman once said of her that she was the one who’d come closest to killing him. That’s quite an honor indeed.
8. The White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Tilda Swinton)
First thing’s first, The White Witch was played by Tilda Swinton in this iteration. As awesome as Barbara Kellerman was in the BBC mini-series adaptation, she just didn’t have the presence that Tilda had. There was just a certain amount of cold seduction in the way Tilda’s White Witch approached things. She knew which buttons to press and how they should be pressed. Coupled with the way she ruled Narnia with an iron fist, she was a force to be reckoned with who rocked that ice crown.
7. Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Imelda Staunton)
Sometimes, evil is a bureaucrat with a fondness for felines and pink. So much pink. I think Umbridge was partly my inspiration for a LARP character I played whose signature color was pink. Anyway, the weapons she wielded were words, discipline, fake smiles, and new autocratic rules. She was a formidable adversary for the heroes of Hogwarts. In fandom circles, she’s frequently found more frightening than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
6. Callisto from “Xena: Warrior Princess” (Hudson Leick)
Callisto was introduced as a foil for the show’s titular heroine. With similar traumatic backgrounds, they both chose a path of violence and revenge. Whereas Xena (Lucy Lawless) left that life behind her and chose a more righteous path, Callisto spent most of her life as a villain. Sure, she got her own redemption arc later, but she was best when she was bad.
5. Atia of the Julii from “Rome” (Polly Walker)
While some would argue that Atia wasn’t necessarily a villain, just a self-serving and selfish opportunist, I’m putting her on here because she’s just so awesome. No matter what difficulties life threw her way, she took them on the chin and somehow managed to endure. Through love, loss, and personal betrayals, she managed to not only survive but become even greater still. So what if she had to do some terrible things along the way. People were expendable and her family meant everything to her. Besides, she had some of the best lines from the show. Particularly her last line. I won’t spoil it for you here if you haven’t seen it, but you should watch the whole show. You won’t regret it.
4. The Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact (Alice Krige)
The inhuman ruler of the nigh-unstoppable Borg, the Borg queen was terrifying and alluring in her own, creepy way. She hoped to continue to expand the collective by including Data and reclaiming Captain Picard. She even tried to seduce Data by offering him skin so he could feel things. Seriously, that’s some sexy level of creepy right there, right? Okay. Some people are into that. Not me, really, but some people. I’m not judging.
3. Azula from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (Grey DeLisle)
In times past, the role of “perfect sibling” for an angsty anti-hero would have been a brother. In this show, Azula held that honor. An incredibly talented Fire Bender, she was the favored child of Fire Lord Ozai (Mark Hamill). She was also sociopathic and had no idea how people actually associated with each other. One of the fascinating things about her character was how they fleshed her out and made her more than just some cackling villain. There was pathos there. Scary pathos.
2. GLaDOS from the Portal games (Ellen McLain)
I’m a gamer. I couldn’t not include everyone’s favorite creepy AI. With her devotion to science and testing, she should be someone to admire and emulate. Okay. Perhaps not considering the mortality rates of her testing subjects and her lies about certain confections. If one promises cake, one should deliver. Not doing so is just plain, well, evil. At least we’ll always have her snark and sarcasm even if the cake has fallen through.
1. Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (Eleanor Audley)
I haven’t seen the recent film that bears her name and is ostensibly about her. I’ve heard conflicting reports about it, but I’ll likely end up seeing it because, damn, she’s one of my most favorite villains of all time. Armed with magic, wits, and sharp smiles, she was the true star of Sleeping Beauty. She’s the character most remembered. Her and the mind games she played. Oh, and the way she changed to a dragon. Everyone remembers that. How could you forget?