In the early days of cinema, female characters were often portrayed as weak, subservient, and in need of saving. However, as the industry evolved, women began to be given more prominent and complex roles, including some of the most iconic and terrifying villains in film history. These deadly female characters shatter the stereotype that women are less capable of being menacing and demonstrate that women can be just as deadly and formidable as their male counterparts.
Although the story is often told from the hero’s perspective, there’s no denying that a good story is never complete without a vicious villain. A well-written villain adds depth and intrigue to the story, and when that villain is female, it adds an additional layer of complexity and an extra level of intrigue. From witches such as Bellatrix Lestrange, to disturbed Annie Wilkes to ruthless Ma-ma, these women have demonstrated that evil is not only limited to men.
1 Rose from ‘Get Out’ (2017)
Jordan Peele’s horror thriller follows a young Black man (David Kaluuya) who visits his girlfriend’s family, only to uncover a sinister secret about this white family. What started out as an awkward meeting quickly turns into a struggle for survival.
Get Out is a uniquely strange film, but its true terror lies in the hidden main antagonist, Rose (Allison Williams) and her family of murderers. It is truly terrifying how she can switch from seeming caring and sweet to a ruthless psychopath. Tasked with forming relationships with unsuspecting African Americans, in order to lure them to her home, Rose manages to deceive both Chris and the unsuspecting audience to perpetuate her evil.
2 Annie Wilkes from ‘Misery’ (1990)
In this dark horror film, a novelist, Paul Sheldon (James Caan) finds himself trapped after an obsessive fan nurses him back to health after a crash. Stuck in her cabin, he becomes a subject of her violent behaviors and tendencies. Paul Sheldon must find a way to escape or risk becoming forever stuck in this nurse’s twisted fantasies.
Annie Wilkes, in Misery is a chilling representation of an obsessive fan. Her actions, as she tortures her favourite author due to her twisted fantasies, are disturbingly realistic. Though she may appear as just another story lover, she is considered one of the most terrifying characters created by Stephen King, earning her the nickname “Killer Nurse.” Kathy Bates received an Oscar for her outstanding portrayal of this disturbed character.
3 Madeline ‘Ma-Ma’ from Dredd (2012)
Following a report of terrible crimes being committed in a slum neighborhood under the control of a dangerous kingpin Ma-ma, Dredd and Cassandra venture into this danger zone to bring the perpetrators to justice. Trapped in a maze and without any assistance, these cops must fight their way to survival.
In this awesome comic-to-film adaptation, Lena Headey plays yet another iconic villain in its apocalyptic world. Her portrayal of the ruthless, brilliant, and unapologetically evil character demonstrates her versatility as an actress.Headey’s outstanding performance, along with other factors, contributes to the overall appeal of this underappreciated sci-fi film.
4 Alex Forrest from ‘Fatal Attraction’ (1987)
This film centers on a happily married man, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) who has a causal fling with an editor, Alex Forrest (Glen Close) and becomes an object of her aggressive obsession. As Alex becomes increasingly violent, Dan Gallagher must find a way to protect his family from this stalker.
Due to the themes present in this film, it was one of the most talked about films when it was released. Glenn Close’s portrayal of Alex Forrest, a chic woman who transforms into a stalker as her obsession with Dan grows, contributed to the film’s profound impact. While some may see Forrest as a victim, her manipulative and violent actions solidify her as one of the most terrifying female villains in film history.
5 Amy Dune from ‘Gone Girl’ (2014)
Adapted from a novel of the same name, this psychological thriller follows a Missouri couple, Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dune (Rosamund Pike) whose seemingly perfect marriage comes crashing down when Amy goes missing. Under serious accusations of being his wife’s killer, Nick must watch his life fall apart while Detective Rhonda pieces the puzzles together.
Amy is unquestionably dark, complex and yet so realistic in this masterpiece created by David Fincher. Tired of playing the “Cool-girl” she seeks revenge on her husband in a twisted and sadistic manner. Despite being vengeful, sadistic and creepy, she manages to elicit sympathy from a lot of viewers with her rather sad story.
6 Elle Driver from ‘Kill Bill’ (2003/2004)
To exact her revenge on her former boss and lover, this Lethal female assassin (Uma Thurman) must go through Bill’s younger brother, Budd and Elle. But with them already on her tail, will she succeed in her mission?
Kill Bill features a diverse cast of villainous characters, making it difficult to determine who is the deadliest. However, Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) stands out as the most venomous with her impressive fighting abilities, use of a black mamba, and constantly scheming mind. Despite her missing eye, she proves to be a formidable opponent for the Bride, ultimately receiving a brutal death sentence. Her close-quarters fight scene with the Bride is considered one of the most realistic and brutal in the film.
7 Nurse Ratched from ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo Ratchet Nest’ (1975)
This dark psychological dramedy directed by Milos Forman and based on the novel by Ken Kesey, tells the story of Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a criminal who feigns insanity to avoid serving a prison sentence. McMurphy is sent to a mental institution, where he finds himself under the control of Nurse Ratched, a tyrannical and oppressive authority figure. McMurphy and other patients must band together to defeat this nurse.
Nurse Ratched is the antithesis of the ideal nurse, as she exacerbates tensions and exploits the patients’ vulnerabilities for her own gain. She may not be an over-the-top villain, but her manipulation and cruelty certainly put her on the list of the deadliest female villains. Louis Fletcher was simply brilliant in her portrayal of this atrocious nurse and deservedly earned her an Oscar.
8 Dolores Jane Umbridge from ‘Harry Potter’
This fantasy adventure film, inspired by J.K. Rowling’s beloved children’s book, follows the story of an orphan who discovers his magical abilities on his eleventh birthday. Enrolled in the school of wizardry, this young wizard must fight the dark forces that pose a threat to their magical world.
Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) is highly detested and is considered one of the series’ most villainous characters in the series. The most terrifying aspect of Dolores’ villainess is the demeanor she maintains while committing cruel and oppressive acts. Her ultimate goal may be to maintain order and control, but her methods are brutal and unjust. As she wields her deadly power against anyone who tramples on her ideals, she maintains a deceitful smile that makes her even more menacing.
9 Wicked Witch of the West from ‘Wizard of Oz’ (1939)
Based on L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s novel, this musical fantasy movie follows a young girl, Dorothy (Judy Garland), and her dog Toto as they are whisked away to the enchanted land of Oz by a tornado. To return home, she sets out with three newfound friends to seek out the great wizard who will grant their wishes.
After vowing to avenge her sister and retrieve the ruby slippers, the villainous witch (Margaret Hamilton) goes all out to destroy Dorothy. There’s no denying that the Wicked Witch of the West was terrifying, dark, dangerous, cruel and deserving of the title “Wicked”. This tyrant was not only despised by the audience and Dorothy, but her castle guards thought her so evil they rejoiced when she melted.
10 Bellatrix Lestrange from ‘Harry Potter’ (2001-2011)
In this fantasy tale, Daniel Radcliffe plays Harry Potter, as he sets out to defeat the nefarious dark lord. Throughout the story, Harry must navigate a perilous journey as he learns to combat the various villains who threaten his world.
This pure-blood witch (Helena Bonham Carter) is unwaveringly dedicated to serving the Dark Lord and destroying his enemies. Her loyalty borders on the extreme and her methods are often considered to be quite ruthless. One of the most unsettling scenes in the film is when she tortures Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). The character is played creepily well, and many consider her one of the best in the franchise.