Top 10 Pure Evil Fictional Characters

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Evil can come in all forms: man, woman, child, adult, real, perceived, clown, doctor…you get it.  There is much evidence on this earth to back up its existence, and has been throughout history, but some of the best depictions of evil have appeared as fiction–which is much better than having it in actuality.  Some inspired by actual evil individuals, others are purely abstract and fantastical- here is the top ten embodiments of pure evil in fiction:

10. Cruella Deville

Cruella De Ville

As far as any animal rights advocate is concerned, Cruella might as well be Hitler.  She desires nothing more than to see upwards of 101 puppies slaughtered in the name of pompous, polka-dotted fashion.  Just hear her piercing banshee scream and observe that menacing look in her eyes, and you’ll soon realize she was born without a heart, but with a huge taste for dog fur.

9. Dr. No

Dr. No

Dr. No is the quintessential Bond villain:  secret underground lair, giant laser beam, member of an elite terrorist organization called S.P.E.C.T.R.E.  He is the archetype on which every Bond villain parody is based (e.g. Doctor Evil).  While his laser beam is designed to little more than hinder the U.S.’s efforts in the Space Race, it does seem that this individual has nothing but the most evil intentions- he is after more than just a hefty ransom.  Of course he wouldn’t be the last villain whose defeat–as guaranteed by Sean Connery–would be celebrated with martinis and sex.

8. Sauron

Sauron

If Mordor is Hell on Middle-Earth, then Sauron is the devil, with his pervasive and all-seeing eye.  Under his dominion is an army full of brutish orcs and other hell beasts who wage war on neighboring races, meanwhile the all-powerful and much-sought-after ‘ring’ he originally forged has the power to entice and corrupt men, rendering them junkie-like slaves to its power.  And as we know, too much of a good thing can be horrendous.

7. Hannibal Lecter

hannibal lector

This cannibal has a literal appetite for evil.  He is a man with refined taste in every way; he even considers human flesh a rare delicacy–one that he’ll make the effort to track down.  This is where his true complexity of character comes in; Lecter will attend an opera in tuxedo but then proceed to barbarously and remorselessly slaughter a man to see what his insides taste like with some fava beans and a bottle of chianti.  He also–while captive inside the most secure holding cell imaginable–helps detectives (i.e. Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs and Will Graham in Red Dragon) track other serial killers, seemingly just for the sport in it, equipped with a brain that treats life like one giant chess game.  He also thrives on how much said detectives rely on his insight, delighting to no end in watching them squirm for it.

6. The Joker

The Joker

Adorned with twisted clown makeup, the Joker thrives on chaos and mayhem.  He has been characterized a few different ways depending on which comic series you subscribe to; more often than not, however, he is a homicidal maniac who takes joy in his own sadistically warped sense of humor.   His calling card is an unnatural grin left on the faces of his victims.  Only Gotham’s greatest Samaritan could possibly keep his appetite for destruction in check.

5. Voldemort

Voldemort

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is spoken about with the same abstractly-repulsive fear as Evangelical Christians would Satan himself. The wizard community, similarly, thinks the very mention of him is enough to summon him, as powerful as he is in his Dark Arts.  He cannot truly be killed, it seems, as his serpentine face always seems to resurrect with the aid of his evil underlings.  Voldemort kills without regret and is a veritable bigot, despising impure blood in spite of his own mixed quantum.  Also, there is no more classic symbol of evil than a snake, which is the emblem of everything he is connected to (e.g. Slytherin, that snake-language Harry can somehow speak, the basilisk from the Chamber of Secrets, etc.).

4. Emperor Palpatine

Emperor Palpatine

What we have here is the hyperbolic quintessence of a corrupt politician.  Starting out (humbly?) as a senator, he soon acquired a greediness for power, and a Macbethian willingness to let all suffer who stand in his way.  One part of a larger embodiment of evil, Palpatine figureheads the Sith–a.k.a the ‘dark side’–which holds itself diametrically opposed to all things good, just, and pure (i.e. what a Jedi knight is supposed to be).  Affiliations aside, the evil is immediately visible by the smile on his decrepit old face–and subsequent evil laughter–as he tortures his enemies with his finger-lightning.

3. Iago

Iago

Biblically-speaking, deception is supposed to be the greatest form of evil, harkening back to the Garden of Eden, where the devil convinced Eve to eat the apple of wisdom, and man gained the capacity for dishonesty.  That, then, makes Iago from Othello one of the most evil characters in the Shakespearean canon. (Lady Macbeth is up there too, self-described as the ‘snake lying beneath the flowers.’)  He is a man who’ll do anything for power and promotion, which means lying, killing, conniving and feigning sincerity.  He sets a number of traps to have fellow soldier Cassio–who received a promotion Iago felt he deserved–ousted. [spoiler alert ] Ultimately, he convinces Othello that his wife Desdemona is being unfaithful, to the point of murderous jealousy (he smothers her to death and then proceeds to kill himself out of guilt).  All this waste lain, and Iago feels no contrition (he killed his own wife after she ratted him out).

2. Damien

Damien

Damien is–at least in the 1976 film the Omen— the anti-christ, the devil’s jackal-born son.  With the family’s name on his head–literally, it’s etched there– Damien is expected to raise a lot of hell.  And he does at every attempt, riding his big wheels around the house, in a pre-meditated attempt to kill his adoptive mother and her unborn child.  All the while, Damien’s adoptive father, a U.S. ambassador for England, makes it his mission to rid the world of this ‘evil incarnate.’

1. Count Dracula

Dracula

Bram Stoker’s pale face of evil may be incredibly horrible in fictional terms, but much more so is the actual person Dracula is based on: Vlad the Impaler, whose family name–as it turned out–was Dracula.  Vlad, as a ruler and prince of Wallachia, was wickedly enthusiastic about unspeakably cruel acts of torture in high volumes, ranging from blinding to genital mutilation to (his favorite act) impalement–a slow, graphic death.  His M.O. was fear, effectively-achieved through the agonizing visuals evoked by him feasting undisturbed while an executioner dismembered corpses beside him, or 20,000 impaled bodies rotting outside of his capital.  This legendary lack of sympathy is made more sinister by Stoker’s imagination, where Dracula has a literal bloodthirst and kills and fornicates with equal and undivided pleasure.

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Bonus: Henry Evans, Maculay Culkin’s character from 1993’s The Good Son.  He is an evil little bastard–similar to Damien, although without so much the Satanic lineage– who goes much further than holding a magnifying glass to a colony of ants. Take the scene where he drops a human-looking dummy from an overpass onto a busy highway, causing a huge pile-up, and takes huge delight in the act–much to the horror of his cousin Mark (a young Elijah Woods).  Also, a kid his age shouldn’t be using the F-word.  The most gratifying scene is at the end [spoiler alert ]:  in it, Culkin’s mom, after learning about his truly evil nature, is holding Woods and Culkin–both of whom are dangling off the edge of a cliff–and finally lets go of Culkin’s hand.


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44 Comments

    • I disagree. Christopher Nolan’s Joker, just as convenient example, talks about chaos quite often, but he rarely causes it in practice. He’s betrayed by his stated desire to, essentially, demonstrate the futility and fragility of the rules and laws that underpin Gotham society. His actions are aimed at presenting potentially – or actually – catastrophic situations that stress the societal rules we take for granted to their breaking point. But the fact that there is a desired outcome and that he quite clearly takes a lot of pleasure from observing the process of people casting off or losing faith in common rules means his motives aren’t purely chaotic. He never expresses the desire to prove that ANY rules adopted by society are meaningless, only that the people of Gotham have come to place too much confidence and – indeed – pride on the particular “societal contract” – if you will – currently in place.

  1. From a foreigners point of view Vlad the Impaler was a demon
    But for a person living in Romania (Wallachia) who actually know shit about him,he was a savior

  2. Most evil characters?? Not so much. Randall Flagg from Stephen King Mythos? No?..ok…what about The Man in Black from Lost?? No…ok…tell me you at least have Cthulu…no…fail.

    • No way on Cthulhu. The Great Old Ones, including Cthulhu, are deities and, as such, desire and compete for power. That the actions of humans who’s minds have deteriorated from the influence of Cthulhu, and Cthulhu’s own actions (past and prophecied), are undeniably evil, Cthulhu’s core motivation is not evil itself but the elimination of rival deities and accumulation of power.

      In fact, I would argue that it’s motivation that makes Sauron and Lucifer more purely evil than Cthulhu as what little is written about their motivations reveals desires only to undo the work of others…they couldn’t care less what ultimately comes of any being or thing beyond its capacity to aid their efforts (Saron, in fact, could be considered more evil than Morgoth, the Valar he ultimately served in rebellion, as Morgoth wanted his contribution to Ea – the song of discord – to prevail).

  3. I thought this would be an interesting list based on the use of “pure” to qualify evil. I expected the ranking to apply a qualifier to distinguish certain kinds of evil (a la forensic psychologist Michael Stone’s 22 categories of evil as featured on the “Most Evil” forensic series)…or to apply the D&D spectrum to various characters. In either case, I didn’t pick up on a common thread in the 10 you listed. Certainly there is a huge gap between the vanity of Cruella Deville and Count Dracula’s necessity that he feed to maintain his unnatural long life.

    I think we’ve been presented with a flood of fictional characters in just the last few decades that demonstrate the complexity of what we generally refer to as “evil”. In addition to Hannibal Lecter, I would have to include Christopher Nolan’s Joker and Cormac McCarthy’s Anton Chigurh.

    As always, love the site!

  4. Keith Watabayashi on

    Dude this list is terrible. Going from Cruella DeVille to Iago shows the desire and ability to cross many different genres but in order to claim “pure evil” much, MUCH more depth and analysis needs to happen. As other people have commented several of the entries are not so much evil as against what is accepted and expected. Just off the top of my head I can think of 10 characters who warrant consideration at least:

    Anton Chigurh – No Country For Old Men
    Darth Vader – Star Wars (not Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader. Remember what Obi-Wan said…)
    Lex Luthor – Superman
    Gordon Gekko – Wall Street
    Richard III – Shakespeare (he even says as much about himself)
    The Alien – Alien (the physical embodiment of rape)
    John Doe – Se7en
    John Claggart – Billy Budd
    Apocalypse – X-Men Comics

    …and by far the greatest fictional characterization of pure evil I have come across as yet, is Cormac McCarthy’s Judge Holden, from Blood Meridian. BEST QUOTE by a villain EVER:

    “Everything in creation, everything in creation that exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.”

    Great idea for a top ten list, much more work required.

  5. The original Dracula was not pure evil. He showed the ability to love Mina so whilst maybe a horrible character, not pure evil. I also agree that Hannibal Lector was not evil either and that his love ( and personal sacrifice ) proves as much

    • The writer and I had a big disagreement about Dracula. I thought the same thing as you, but Ryan was adamant about leaving him on the list. I’m still not sold on Hannibal. I don’t think he understood the concept of love and therefore it was a twisted sense of admiration for her skills, not love. Just my opinion.

      • It was not just Clarice that he showed signs of love for. His first acts of violence were revenge against the men who had murdered and cannibalised his sister Mischa, whom he dearly loved. Also he had strong feelings (love?) for his aunt-by-marriage Lady Muraski, who is insulted by a butcher so Hannibal kills him. Whilst he did evolve into a cannibal serial killer, his beginnings are based on love and revenge so I think pure evil is not apt in this case

  6. Vlad the Impaler’s family name wasn’t Dracula. The Dracula part comes from his father and it was more of a distinction than a name. It originated from his father being a member of the Order of the Dragon (Dracul). His father was known as Vlad Dracul ll so his son, Vlad Tepes, was known as Vlad Dracula lll or Vlad, son of Dracul.

  7. by definition of pure evil, according to the ten on this list (because i disagree with a lot of this), Sauron should be number one because he wasn’t to destroy the entire Earth with his armies that he himself doesn’t care about, he is just using them to do his bidding which is on a completely different level of evil..second would be Damien because he’s the son of the devil and has no love for anything or anyone..except maybe his father; the devil himself…no mention of Jason Voorhies either….i understand the movies got ridiculous, but come on, was there any greater symbolic characterization of evil in the 80’s and early 90’s other than the man in the famous hockey mask and the machete? you could argue for the other two movie evildoers Freddie and Michael…and don’t forget the honorable mention of Reverend Kane from Poltergeist…all of them should be there in place Cruella, Dracula, Hannibal, Iago, and Dr. No…in my humble opinion, of course

  8. “Cruella might as well be Hitler”

    I would have maybe added the crow “Dolf” (Alfred J. Kwak) on this list, because he really IS Hitler. A cruel dictator, who forces political opponents to work in something like labour-camps and also a racist, who thinks that crows are the most perfect animals.
    Quite realistic for a tv show for childrens.

  9. Wow… this is just a ridiculous list.

    Did you really put Hannibal Lector, The Joker, Iago and Dracular ahead of Sauron? Sauron is effectively the Satan of the Lord of the Rings canon (or almost at least – arguably ‘Morgoth’ truly is). His end game is to effectively extinguish or force it servitude all life on the planet. If you were being consistent, you’d have Sauron and Damien pretty well at equal pegging.

  10. “devil convinced Eve to eat the apple of wisdom”

    The serpent convinced Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

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